There is no disputing that British restaurant food has lifted its game considerably in recent years. Search diligently, choose wisely and you can end up enjoying a reasonable meal and, if you are really lucky, one that represents value for money.
But, really, it’s not all that good. The choice is limited to “safe” dishes, lacks enticement and rarely extends beyond the basic fare endured for decades.
There are numerous talented chefs working the nation’s stoves. But when viewed as a percentage of the whole eat-out scene they are but a dribble of sauce in a culinary desert – or dessert.
There is nothing wrong with basic fare – fish and chips, roast and two veg, steak and chips, even sausage and mash. But surely, after decades of serving mundane, allegedly home-cooked fare, chefs could at least make it edible and enjoyable.
If they can’t get the basics right, what hope is there? How much longer must diners stomp up their hard-earned for food no better than they get at home?
Dining out is supposed to be an occasion, a moment to savour but not a replication of what could be much cheaper, and better, from their own kitchens.
Worse still, not only is the basic fare on offer so mundane but too often the diner is enticed into ordering a classic only to find it falls way short of the mark.
Three times in three days at three different eateries I have been lured into ordering dishes that should be part of any competent chef’s basic classic repertoire.
A seafood linguine was drier than the Sahara after a sandstorm; a Caesar salad would have been instantly disowned by its creator, and a moules mariniere with pommes frites was enough to justify the Norman Conquest all over again.
These are simple dishes, tried and true, and should be part of any professional chef’s repertoire. Anything less than an edible, tasty approximation of the original is simply not good enough.
The salad was a bowl of tired lettuce and croutons that would have withstood a nuclear blast. The linguine offered leathery prawns and a puddle of creamy nothingness in the bottom of the bowl. The moules were lukewarm rubbery bullets and the frites were simply not frites.
These were not exceptions.