Food & Wine
Organs and other "unfashionable" cuts of meat are appearing on more Wellington menus as restaurants struggle in the downturn.
A national survey by the Restaurant Association found dishes such as beef cheeks were becoming more common, and 15 per cent of the 133 respondents had increased the use of chicken to cut costs.
Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said most restaurateurs were making only about a 3 per cent annual profit and paying themselves below minimum wage.
"Whenever there are difficult economic times, it does tend to promote creativity in menus."
Association president Mike Egan, owner of Monsoon Poon, said there had been a rise in offal dishes on Wellington menus, which diners may not have eaten since their grandmother's tripe.
While the trend had started with high-end restaurants, it would become mainstream.
Dominion Post restaurant reviewer David Burton said cutting-edge chefs, such as The Larder's Jacob Brown, were finding ways to "make offal presentable and acceptable to the public".
"More restaurants are offering offal. It is really, really cheap and it's something that is sort of like a new frontier for some people.
"When those people lead, others will follow."
He ate chicken at home and it was "the last thing I want to order out. I imagine there are a lot of people the same."
Des Britten, the 2011 Wellingtonian of the Year whose former restaurant, The Coachman, fell victim to the 1987 crash, said restaurants were always among the first to suffer in tough times.
There was no longer a stigma over cheaper meat cuts, he said. People were willing to give dishes such as chicken liver, beef cheeks and lamb shanks a go. "People shouldn't be afraid of them."
Every two months, St Johns Bar and restaurant in central Wellington puts on a $75-a-head five-course offal event that general manager Robert Hill said was so popular this week that staff turned away customers. While using offal was not specifically about saving money, it was a meat that made economic sense and adhered to "nose-to-tail" dining. "If an animal is killed, we should get joy out of every inch of that animal."
The Dominion Post asked readers how often they dined out since the economic downturn, whether they chose cheaper menu items, and if they would order offal.
Megs Lawson, 19, unemployed, Thorndon:
Doesn't eat out often, even less since the downturn. Conscious of menu prices: "I choose the half-serving items." Wouldn't eat offal.
John Chan, 57, sales, Miramar:
Eats out "only for special occasions". Wouldn't necessarily pick cheapest menu option. "I choose wisely, depending on the type of place we go to." Would eat offal when out – "I know who is good at dealing with offal."
Geoffrey Bruno James De Santis-Burke, 20, waiter, Newtown:
Doesn't eat out often. When he does "it's one of those times I'll splash out, buy a nice wine, eat nice food". Wouldn't eat offal: "I don't eat anything that was alive."
Nina Fischer, 39, engineer, Strathmore:
Doesn't eat out often as she has a child. "I am conscious of [menu pricing] but I wouldn't not choose something because of the price." Would eat offal, but not at a restaurant.
Maui Maui, 52, building and cleaning industry, Karori:
Eats out less since the downturn, "probably once a month". Would choose something affordable. Wouldn't eat offal.
Richard Howarth, 59, security officer, Oriental Bay:
Eats out, "but less than we used to ... six days a week at home, maybe once on the weekend". Doesn't splash out on expensive meals. Offal? "Oh shivers, yes. Lamb's fry and bacon, or kidney – it is superb."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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