I READ in the UK press about Ryan Simpson, until earlier this year head chef at The Goose, in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire. He worked hard to win a Michelin star but within the month was fired because the pub owner considered his food “too poncey” and wanted to go back to basics.
Well, “poncey” food got me thinking about the whole concept of “poncey” restaurants. And what, for me, is the sign of a pretentious restaurant. Well, let’s start with a menu riddled with over-elaborate food descriptions. Big words to describe small portions of plain grub, sold to an unsuspecting public at grossly inflated prices. I’m always irritated to be presented with a couple of cubic inches of food on a plate the size of a car wheel, the price in inverse proportion to the portion, while you’re left like a blind man in a brothel forever asking, “What’s this supposed to be?”
And while we’re on the subject, don’t let’s forget the awful Purple Menu Prose. Take, for instance, Gooseberry Fool: “The chef has hand shaved each gooseberry using a razor made from fairy wing gossamer” and so on. No, please! Using made-up, franglais or archaic words is also so pretentious. I once went into a restaurant and saw on the menu as a starter: “A selection of Blanchebait” and a main course “served with a gurgle of garden peas”‘. Goodness grief. Also annoying are the numerous, over-elaborate descriptions of chips: Potato Fries, French Fries, Chipped Potatoes, Soldier of Potato. What’s wrong with, er, simply “chips”?
Another irritation (as you’ve noted, it doesn’t take much) is stating the blindingly obvious. “A succulent steak served with fresh asparagus”. This to distinguish it from the “clapped-out, putrefying steak served with wilting, four week old asparagus” you can get at the restaurant next door? Or careless overstating. One of my favourites is a menu that announced: “A trio of three desserts”. You can imagine my disappointment when only three arrived…
And other pet hates? Well, what about the “specials”. If you are going to announce them, do tell me how much they cost. It’s not the first or probably the last time that an intriguing-sounding special is the most expensive thing on the menu. And as for waiter theatrics, spare us please! I recall once the waiter said: “Oh, and our specials tonight are…”, then looked around quizzically as he pulled a card from his top pocket as though he had forgotten and read them to us. Sadly he repeated it at every table. Yes, you guessed! They were the same specials every single night.
Restaurants with “poncey” food are regularly launched with more hype than a new Madonna album. The good stuff we barely notice. The bad stuff we never forget.
Nora Johnson´s novel, The De Clerambault Code (www.nora-johnson.com) available at Amazon. Profits to Cudeca
Breaking Views By Nora Johnson