Wednesday, 8 March 2017

6. The One Eyes Have It.

 It's true isn't it? Most of us would like to say nasty, deliciously caustic things about someone and have the world as our audience and at the same time do it with a sense of impunity. Fortunately most of us are not psychopaths nor in a position to fulfill such a secret wish. Thank the good Lord.
  Of course the unspeakable Tripadvisor does give a lot of people the misplaced sense of empowerment which leads them to launch written assaults on defenceless dining establishments which are frequently doing their best to deliver as good a service and food as edible as they can possibly manage, and make a living out of it as much as is feasible and employ people as well. But the vox populi is a fearsome beast and the opportunity to let rip against a restaurant for what is seen as a slight, a mild impertinence, minimal error, a tiny incompetence or whatever is an opportunity which more and more people feel incapable of resisting regardless of the consequences on a business, its owners and employees.
  
The One-Eyes Have It 
 
 But it's the professional critics whom we all really envy. Giles Coren - now there's a name to conjure up in the history of the development of the food scene in Birmingham. He generated much heat in 2015 by writing in The Times, "Honestly, if I'm going out of London to eat, it's more productive to leave the country". The Birmingham Mail reported on 6 February 2015 that Coren said that Birmingham's "posh" eateries were "not my sort of thing at all" and that he had branded Brummies as being "bumpkins, yokels and one-eyes". The final remark had come at the end of a seeming retraction of his comments about "provincial dining" - he had opened a tweet that he "was not qualified to comment on Brum's food scene" and described his comments as "boring fob-offs" but closed with "Although they're all quite true. I would just normally mince my words to avoid offending the bumpkins, yokels and one-eyes".
  The problem with the writings of Giles Coren is that are often very enjoyable and it's not difficult to disagree with many of his opinions though he can be viciously cruel. Who can forget his vicious nastiness when he reviewed what was then the 1 Michelin-starred Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire where he very reasonably launched a diatribe on sous vide cooking but savagely attacked the lovely chef Emily Watkins? It's fun to read witty criticism but quite another thing to read savage destructiveness.
  That's TripAdvisor - too many people who can't spell correctly, never seemed to have used any punctuation in their life or really have just never learnt any good manners, are given voice and opportunity to destroy a restaurant's reputation at the click of a computer key. And none of them are likely ever to be a Giles Coren.

Tripadvisors working out how to concoct a negative review and get a discount
out of the restauranteur. "The  Bean Feast" by Jan Steen, 1668.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

5. Are Potatoes A First Course Or Just An Accompanying Vegetable?

Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters"

  I had a home for many years in Sheffield and whilst finding Yorkshiremen friendly and straightforward I did manage to get a feeling of how cautious many of them could be when it came to spending money. Thus when you visit them and they are kind enough to serve you a roast beef dinner, they can't resist feeding you with a starter of a large plate of Yorkshire pudding thus rendering you considerably full before you get to the main course and resulting in there being no need to serve you quite as much expensive beef as would have otherwise been the case had you not been laden down with a stomach full of batter.

  Recently I have set about wondering whether Brummies are turning into Yorkshiremen by following a similar strategy - that of filling you with potatoes in the place of a batter pudding as a starter thus reducing the amount of meat or fish that is needed to be served resulting in a lower cost of ingredients used in a main course dish.

  Take Carter's Of Moseley for instance where the cooking is fine enough to earn Brad Carter a Michelin star but where, after a couple of delightful appetisers, a dish of Mayan Gold potatoes, perfectly mashed but perhaps a little less buttery than I should like, is served as the first course of the lunchtime menu with a light bone marrow gravy. The dish is generously sized and its contents not surprisingly filling so that to wish for large dishes of meat to follow would result in abdominal discomfort were those wishes brought to realisation.
  
Mayan Gold potato


  Then there was Glynn Purnell's splendid special Christmas dinner which was tied to the launch of his new book, Rib Ticklers & Choux-Ins, which got off to a fabulous start with champagne and delicious appetisers but then moved on to a potato-based starter - tiny baked potatoes with a slightly underwhelming chorizo mayonnaise - which was, to be honest, not really all that nice. The problem with baked potatoes is that they really are at their best when served with butter and salt and not a lot else - of course nowadays we have the ubiquitous "jackets" filled with cheese, baked beans, chilli and so on but there is nothing like a fair-sized perfectly baked potato stuffed with with a big melting lump of butter sprinkled with salt to one's taste. These mini-potatoes might have looked good to the standard one might have expected from a Michelin chef but they were more style than substance. Still the meal improved considerably after that.

  Chefs! - potatoes are wonderful things. They rank among the highest placed of God's gifts to Man but they are not a basis for a first course. Potatoes are an accompaniment not a starter. 

  Just look at Van Gogh's painting shown above which is called "The Potato Eaters" - the subjects do not really look as though they're enjoying their meal. Now if they had been served with a bit of meat at the same time, perhaps a little gravy as well, think how much more cheerful they might have looked. Of course they are French peasants so that may also explain their facial expressions to some degree. 

  I hope the "Potato starter" is not going to be a trend in 2017. Otherwise I might end up looking like Van Gogh's French peasants. That would be a pity. Brummie chefs - please do not turn into honorary Yorkshiremen.