Payment in Loo!

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Payment in Loo!

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

JD Wetherspoon must be chuffed to bits this week after winning the "Loo of the Year" Award. And the story appeared in Caterer & Hotelkeeper above the Advanced Sommelier Award and the Chef of the Year, such was its obvious importance to the catering world.

Apparently, after assessing hundreds of toilets across the UK in the hospitality sector, independent judges (probably with very sore bottoms and chapped hands from all that cheap toilet paper and hand washing) voted JDW the winner of the Loo of the Year Awards, 2011 and C&H even published a picture of a golden loo which presumably was the "trophy" awarded to the lucky winner. It says nothing about the "runners-up" and I am trying very hard not to make any obvious remarks about running and loos for fear of being accused of running a smutty blog (again!).


Not to be outdone, however, the Japanese have beaten the golden loo hands down (or maybe I should say "trousers down"). The Telegraph ran an article today entitled "Japan builds lavatory encrusted with diamonds" and I am expecting no jokes about the Man with the Golden Bum or such like. This crystal loo has no fewer than 72,000 Swarovski crystals and is valued at over £64,000. Vajazzle that Essex!

According to the article, the crystal loo is dedicated to the god of lavatories (whoever that might be) and is intended to draw more customers to a posh shopping district, "in a year fraught with economic gloom and natural disaster". There's nothing like a crystal loo to make you forget the recession and go shopping!

Maybe, depending on the exact positioning of the crystals, you can gaze into them and see your future ... or your past ... or your bottom if the light is right?

One Japanese woman was reported to have said that she'd like to invite her friends and hold a party around it. That's women for you. They just love having a party in the loo - in case you wondered why they take so long in there.

Toilets have certainly come a long way since Roman times when they were made from stone, and patrons sat next to each other without any division walls, before wiping their behinds with a sponge on a stick.

But one thing the Romans did well was Wine - the drink, not the emotion.

And whilst I seem to have taken ages to get to the point of this month's blog, we have now finally arrived at "Wine".

Am I the only one in the restaurant industry prepared to admit that wine is mysterious?

All that sniffing like a cat on heat, swirling it around your tongue and then spitting it into a silver bowl. Why do we do that? Because allegedly, there could be anything in there as wine suppliers don't have to put a list of ingredients on the bottle. Remember the "cat litter" in the bottle scandal of 2008 when the Australian Wine Research Institute announced a list of around 40 "acceptable" chemicals in wine, including bentonite - an absorbent material, used in cat litter, which helped remove excess protein from white wine.

In the same article, The Mail claimed that the wine industry was "populated by liars, scroungers and cheats, administered by charlatans and snake-oil salesman and run on a system of misrepresentation and ritualised fraud", or was that banking?

Take that you twitchy-nosed sommeliers with your little silver grape lapel badges and condescending attitude.

But does it have to be like that? Or is there a new breed of honest sommelier willing to share their knowledge with you?

Tatler Magazine were kind enough to bestow their Sommelier of the Year award on our head sommelier at L'Oranger a couple of years ago and the young man concerned was certainly no snake-oil salesman. He made the entire wine experience a thrill for all and the "theatre" of knowledgeable wine service was certainly not lost on our customers.

So what if you could secretly check on your sommeliers? Underhand? Maybe. But no more so than Mystery Diners who check on everything else you do, at your request, to make sure you stay at the top of your game.

Well now there is a new service out there called Mystery Winer which I imagine is the kind of wine equivalent of Top Gear where a mystery man in a crash helmet, known as The Stig, races cars around a track to see what they're made of.

Would you let this man taste your wine?!

Mystery Winer guarantees anonymity in their reports so only the owners or operators get to see all the gory details.

Now owners can check on their sommelier or wine service team to make sure they are just screwing the corks and not the wine margins.

Rumour has it that the "Wine Stig" must be French or even that he is the illegitimate love child of Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke, born with advanced sense of smell and taste (except in clothes and helmets, obviously).

I remember attending a rather posh wine tasting in my early days as a partner in a City firm of lawyers. The senior partners were all sniffing and swirling whilst I gulped a glass of white in ignorance. "What did you think of the bouquet?", the wine expert asked me, condescendingly. Glancing around the room for a bouquet of flowers, I had no idea what he was talking about and so, in a vain effort to redeem myself, said "Lovely. It reminded me of Liebfraumilch". You could have heard a pin drop. It was like someone had brought a bacon sandwich to a barmitzvah. "Liebfraumilch!", exclaimed the expert, tidying away his props in disgust, "I 'ave never been so insulted".

How was I to know that liebfraumilch was actually wine made from sweeping up the leftovers off the floor - it tasted perfectly fine to me at under £3 for a bottle of Blue Nun! Oh, the good old Eighties. The flares ... the shoulder pads ... Knight Rider ... the Six Million Dollar Man - or in my case the six million dollar divorce (if my ex wife and her lawyers had had their way!).

And now, as it's nearly Christmas, it's time to round off with a quick Christmassy joke:

"Why is Christmas just like a day at the office?  Because you do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets the credit!"


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