We’ve had the great things I have eaten and my predictions for 2015 in the world of food in an earlier post so, in the interest of balance, (and to retain my rep as a misanthrope) here’s some of the things I’d like to see the back of. In no particular order.
Hunks of meat and food on the street. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beef short rib and those hunky lumps of pork cooked down into a soft mush, all with burned edges, caught and crisp. But enough. You’ve missed the boat, the plane has flown, this culinary ship has sailed, taking much of the skill and originality with it (probably to Hawaii which is the new land of pork glory). The same applies to those stratified pork bellies slopped onto plates with poorly rendered flabby and pallid fat backs. Send those over elaborate burgers back to the pass too- intimidating, daunting and indecent, often the product of a disillusioned bankers vanity project – that dirty food joint or street cart, kitted out to resemble a truck that has bounced along the rutted streets along the US/Mexican border towns although these banker wanker ones have barely lived six months off the production line. I love food trucks, the ‘real’ ones whose food has evolved from the clientele, surroundings and background of their owners, established because their owners either cannot afford stratospheric rents and business start ups or because they truly live the street food lifestyle. I hate these fake Disney versions seen all over the UK now. They have no soul.
Damn roofing slates and off cuts of olive wood under everything. When I have paid over £11 for a course, I do not expect to lose half of it off the side of my roofing tile/lump of wood/chopping board. Plates please or at least some semblance of appropriateness with regards to what you put under my food. Things that scatter (fries, peas) don’t work. Things that sit there in damp lumps (coleslaw, burgers) might do.
Greaseproof or butchers paper under everything. I am not seated in a South Carolina pulled pork joint with a tar paper roof and mesh over the sindows or a Chesapeake Bay soft shell crab shack where the paper table coverings are pulled off the roll between customers. I am in a suburban eating house with a stock cupboard full of flatware, linens and cutlery. Use them.
Jam jars, Mason jars and Kilner jars. Unless they are act of preserving or serving proper pickles, home preserves or condiments, they have no place on my table. They don’t look homespun or even down home. They look pretentious at best, the appropriation of a life we don’t have at worst. Even more deplorable are the places where the Branstons and pre bought pickled onions are decanted into them. Drinking out of jam jars makes me dribble my drink too, something I thought I had grown out of in 1966. I can just about cope with this when I am outside, at dusk and barely visible, surrounded by pleasantly inebriated peers (who don’t notice). Inside, no, especially when I have paid about eleventy billion pounds for my cocktail or ice tea.
Uptight over intellectualised food. Humourless, clenched and earnest to the point of devout, where has the fun gone from food and eating out? Let’s have some perspective and some light heartedness without the arch knowngness either. I don’t go out to eat to hear some cobbled together philosophy of food alongside the genealogy of every ingredient on the plate- it is boring. And the only food journey I am interested in when eating out is the time distance between order and food in front of me.
Single food joints. We have the cereal cafe in East London and although I don’t think the proprietors are behind the breakdown in economic and social order in Shoreditch, as intimated by the infamous Channel 4 interview, I do think these type of places are tiresomely arch, self conscious and contrived. I also go <blech> at the thought of beard hairs+milk+cereal particles coming together in an almighty collision of boak-dom. Next we’ll have the cheese on toast bar where you can choose from a mix n match menu of toast and cheese varieties. We already have water menus so that particular piece of sadness is already with us. When I see these I think of W C Fields: “Don’t drink water, fish fuck in it.”
Paleo bollocks, ‘clean’ eating, worthy juice bars, nutritionist written books and menus by people with a diploma from an obscure online college. Believe the state registered dieticians who have been through years of externally assessed, peer reviewed training and are professionally and legally accountable for their practice, but be wary of some nutritionists- especially those that ascribe moral values or personality traits to food and eating. A food stuff does not possess inherently bad qualities; it is the way it is grown or distributed that is bad or good. This demonisation of sugar or bread or eggs or dairy is ridiculous. Beware the diet and lifestyle guru that resembles a pale, etiolated fish bone.
The fetishisation of poverty and cucina povera. No Jamie, the Sicilians do not feed a family of four on three San Marzanos, a bag of mussels and some olives grown on Uncle Tomassos’ farm. Neither can they do it for a few euros. Families across Italy, Spain and Greece are suffering economically, are experiencing a reduction in farm fresh, easily available foods because of encroaching supermarkets, and world wide recession. Stop romanticising a world that has changed greatly over the last decade.
The same goes for the fetishisation of bare boned food joints and corner stores. Stripped back brick, exposed wiring and heating, pressed tin ceilings, formica topped tables and even sawdust on the frigging floors. These places are like this because they cannot afford to decorate any differently (not because they decorated that way) or because there is no need to tart them up, and apeing them is the food equivalent of dressing in rags because you saw it some poor kids in them on the TV news and thought they looked cool.
Paying for the prime reservation times in restaurants, a free market economy action that is only free to those who can pay for it: often those least appreciative of good food. Just as many sporting events and major rock concerts fill their front row seats with corporate entertainment ‘guests’, as opposed to true fans, restaurants are starting to do this too. Yes you need to survive, to have a good turnover of high rolling customers but really, is this the soulless clientele you most desire? If so, re-name your place Hogarths and widen the doors to welcome the striped shirted, thread veined faced Soams-ian people of the world.
Food waste. Restaurants need to subscribe to food waste minimisation programmes, campaign for the reinstatement of laws that allow pigs to be fed on kitchen waste (an environmentally friendly way to produce food) and work towards educating customers about the level of food wastage, estimated to be between 20-40% of all catering food stuffs.
Disgusting illegal practices surrounding tipping. The British government made it illegal for companies to use tips or service charges to make up a minimum salary. Employers must differentiate between the service (or cover) charge (which they are allowed to keep or deduct an administration charge from), and tips which they are not. They need to ensure customers understand that a service charge intended as a tip may not go to their server at all. This should be clearly written on the menu. I have recently been made aware of three businesses in my home town of Bury St Edmunds who are retaining part (or all) of staff tips on occasions for different reasons and I intend to bring this to the attention of the relevant authorities.
In the meantime, customers should:
Make sure they pay any tips or service charges in cash and ask the restaurant whether all of the tips are paid to staff on top of the minimum wage- remember tips paid via credit or debit card for the purpose of being taken from the till as cash may not end up in the servers pocket;
If you are not happy, do not pay the service charge on your bill – it is usually optional – and also avoid any establishments that do not pass on their tips to staff. Make sure the management know of your objection to their policy.
Fucking cupcakes, tiers of over decorated layer cakes and cakes covered in thick slabs of fondant, shaped like trucks, Hulk Hogan or the terracotta army or something. These cake reality shows have a lot to answer for in their attitude of “fuck the taste, as long as it looks like something that is not a cake.” Cake pops, whoopie pies and (sad to say) supermarket macarons all go in the skip of hatred too. These are, more often than not, mouthfuls of saccharine poison.
Enough of the smoked, brined, barbecued, pickled and cured foods. You’ll all be giving yourselves stomach cancer at this rate. Ease up.