Friday, 4 May 2012

Why Must we Dine in Discomfort?

Why is it so popular at the moment to make eating out such a non-occasion? When did eating out forget all ceremony? It is now seemingly desirable to get your own food, drink out of tumblers and sitting so close to your neighbour that in some countries you should marry? There is no denying that it is all well-made and delicious, but did I really just go to a restaurant and eat corned beef and pay thirty quid for the pleasure? Here are some foods that are undoubtedly better when professional chefs make them, and there is no doubting their skill, but still, in the back of your head, you can hear your mum squawking ‘I could make that at home for a pound!’

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, they’re doing it very well (not to mention London's massive obsession with burgers), but as time goes on, I sometimes yearn for something a little more… refined.

All of the hip restaurants do not serve food that is so simple that we could do it ourselves – there is of course, a lot of skill in what they do and the devising of delicious menus, but for once I’d like to go to a restaurant that’s not ‘nostalgic’ or being cool purely because of the fact that they serve once very unfashionable and cheap cuts of meat with large markups.

The casual attitude to food, presentation and everything else is very cool at the moment, but why? So they put their menu on tracing paper and put their wine in chipped builders mugs, fair enough, but the hipsters come in their drones and enthuse about how it’s so cool and ‘making a statement’ and then about this corned beef hash that was 'AMAZING' (your mum used to make you eat it and you HATED IT and you probably wouldn’t eat it again if you hadn’t read about it in that blog).

I suppose I’m just yearning for something that’s a bit more… effort. I want it to be cool to dress up for dinner again, and to be able to read a menu that is beautifully typeset on embossed 400gm paper (not scrawled on a bit of scrap paper every day), and proper wine glasses and beautiful white crockery. The no-bookings policy is what’s made everything so casual. Show up at any time, be seated at any time - it seems to be in favour of the restaurant rather than the customer. Small plates for sharing that arrive as and when as opposed to set courses. There’s no ceremony. It's almost like people are beginning to prize being made to feel uncomfortable when dining.

It feels like there is far too much of this 'quick fix, flavour hit' culture (strong, spicy or barbeque flavours). People take pride in having some 'filthy' ribs or pulled pork. It's almost been reduced to recreate a dirty kebab experience, on a sofa in a dingy bedsit. It's like they're trying to recreate the pot noodle ad by HHCL (ad agency) which famously got banned because they touted it as 'the slag of all snacks', with the no-bookings, communal dining and even sometimes feeling like you are in a school canteen. 

Perhaps that’s why Dabbous is so popular now: The formality of booking (there’s a 3-month waiting list currently) which is something of a rarity in new restaurants opening in Central London currently, coupled with the fact that the food is beautifully presented with more than a nod to fine dining. And it’s so cheap (which is another thing about gourmet comfort food these days. It’s expensive). So restaurateurs thinking of starting up a business, the market is already saturated with comfort food. Try something a bit different, with formality and food delicately presented on a plate. I’m not talking haute cuisine, I just wish that going out to dinner affordably could be more comfortable, and that it could feel like more of an occasion. Without 4-month-long queues.


  1. This is BANG on. Everything you have said here sums up perfectly how I feel about the current trends. I don't want to go to a no reservations restaurant and pay top restaurant prices. A no res place used to be a café, or a diner. You just walked in and took what they had. Now you walk in - if you are lucky - and maybe get a seat, or wait, and wait.

    Meatliquor is a prime example. When it was Meatwagon is felt right. Now...too hip for my blood.

  2. I don't like the kind of places you describe. They aren't for me. I can't see in dim dingy light. I hate shouting above loud music. I have a large arse that demands a large seat (and a bad back and crappy hips which start aching after too long on a stool instead of a chair). I hate queueing for the same reason. I am a planner and I like to choose when I eat myself.

    So I agree with many aspects of what you say.

    However, there are still many, many, many options for those who want dining out to have a little more pomp and circumstance, a little more of the air of treat about it. I don't think they will be dying out any time soon.

    Actually, for me, although I like the slightly more formal and indulgent dining experience too, I actually quite like the trend for more casual dining too. That bit of things, I don't mind at all.

    But I know that some of the new places are simply not aimed at me. I'm not the target audience, and nor is it fair for me to expect to be the target audience for all the new openings and all the latest trends.

    I don't like dark. I don't like loud. I don't like discomfort. I don't like queueing.

    I do like great food but I can still find that minus the above, so I do.

  3. Oh and stop it with the high tables/bar stools style of things too. If there are choices, then fine, but if that's all you offer, the people with back problems or disabilities sadly have to go elsewhere.

  4. It seems you are annoyed at these places as if they are purposefully making themselves as uncomfortable and awkward as they can on purpose.

    I'd say this isn't the case at all. Think about who is opening these restaurants, have they experienced the ceremony of fine dining? Have they ever dressed up for a meal? How many of us have, really, and how often?

    In my 28 years I've had maybe two or three "Fine Dining" experiences, all of them organised by an employer and I've felt the same each time, uncomfortable and underfed.

    Restaurants are making the food that they enjoy in an environment that they are used to which is possibly more cramped than they would like because well, who can actually afford the space in London otherwise? It's hardly a great time to be starting a new business with nothing to tell the bank manager except "We are making BBQ food and telling people about it on Twitter"..

    You can't blame people for not taking the risk and keeping things basic and they seem to be doing well from their approach. If a restaurant isn't to your taste feel free not to go there but to suggest that those who do are stupid or led by their peers is insulting, the restaurants know their audience, clearly, and you aren't it.



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