In the last week we’ve eaten lunch in two pubs. In the first, the bill was £30. We were stuffed to the gunwales and groaning for the rest of the afternoon. In the other, the tally was double that. While we were satisfactorily full by the end of the meal, we didn’t feel like turkeys fattened up for Christmas. The food in both was tasty.
So, which did we think was the better meal?
The answer is the second.
Although the food in pub 1 was tasty, its presentation was basic, the sort of fare we could easily have thrown together ourselves. Additionally, they were overly generous with the vegetables, so there was an imbalance on the plate. It was also just too much of a carb overdose. The second pub edited their food portions so that we didn’t feel cheated, but neither did we feel bloated. We were still able to see off a sticky toffee pudding and a salted caramel cheesecake between us. The food was more professionally presented, which can make a difference – it shows the creator takes pride in their work.
There are many people who judge restaurants on the amount of food piled onto their plates – quantity over quality. It’s not just the Brits who do this. American portions are notoriously ‘generous.’ There are other nationalities for whom volume is important. A common comment on Spanish and Portuguese restaurant reviews involves praising the amount of food related to the price. But that, to me, doesn’t necessarily equate to good food, or an enjoyable meal.
Too much food is a turn off. The art of cooking involves achieving the right balance, in both flavour and the amount of food served. In a rural restaurant in Corsica, we were overwhelmed by the starter alone – hearty cheese beignets. So much so, we didn’t look forward to the main course at all. The rest of the meal was a slog rather than an enjoyable experience. Surely that’s not any restaurant’s objective? In Portugal’s Alentejo, we gave up eating out after a couple of weeks because the size of portions left us feeling almost ill. It was generally good quality food, and great value, but it wasn’t what we want from a dining out experience.
It wasn’t just the amount of food on our plates which put us off, it was also the fact that menus were meat-heavy and dishes were basic. To put it bluntly, the food put in front of us didn’t appeal as much as the food we ate at home.
A huge ‘must’ for us when it comes to eating out is the food should be substantially better than what we can cook ourselves. That doesn’t matter if it’s a burger that cost five quid, or a Michelin star tasting menu at a hundred pounds per person. I don’t want to pay for mediocre food whatever the price. A mediocre meal out means a wasted meal at home I would have enjoyed far more. There’s no point eating out when it’s not as good as what we put on our dining room table. This is why I particularly like tasting menus and Michelin star food. Incidentally, I’ve not had one yet where, at the end of a series of small dishes, I’ve come out feeling as though I haven’t had enough to eat. Good chefs know how to balance portions.
There can be inverse snobbery at play when it comes to Michelin star cuisine. It’s often described and dismissed as fancy or pretentious by people who prefer their food to be conventional. Maybe it is, so what? I’ll happily embrace fancy if it blows my tastebuds away. Bring on the pretentiousness presentation if the food tastes sublime. However, I don’t like pretentiousness and snootiness when it comes to the way the food is served. But that’s only happened once, in France. Usually, it’s a lot of fun – pure theatre, an experience that stays with you long after the adventurous flavours have melted away.
One of the things I’ve noted over the years is that people who dismiss creative food tend to think the people who like it only enjoy ‘fancy’ food. In my experience, the people I’ve met who like, and even create, avant-garde cuisine also equally well enjoy the equivalent of a bacon butty, or fish and chips, because good food is good food irrespective of whether it is traditional fare in an unassuming restaurant, simple street food bought from a roadside stall, or something that looks like a work of art on a plate.
We eat out because we enjoy a diverse range of food and dining experiences. That could be in a shack on the beach, eating something cooked over a charcoaled oil drum, or from a chic, sleek Michelin star restaurant.
When you’re a foodie, you don’t erect barriers where any eating experience is concerned.