Jar food: pretty to look at, tricky to tackle
Mostly I'm a happy eater-outer, enjoying the company of friends and family at a restaurant as much as the food, service, wine-list and atmosphere.
It doesn't have to be flash, just have a few essential elements. The other night I had dinner with a friend at Sichuan Style, a Chinese eatery on Hamilton's Collingwood St. The surroundings were spartan, the food anything but and the staff friendly. We shared three fresh, generous dishes, perfect with the Chinese beer on offer. We each spent $25 or thereabouts, it was an excellent night. All the right ingredients.
Mostly it's the little things that I get a tad grumpy about in restaurants, rather than the big things. I've made a list of a few dining issues that have been bothering me, and offer it as constructive feedback rather than criticism.
A jar too far: Glass jars have been reinvented in cafes as serving vessels; there are images of this trend all over the internet. I've been served smoothies in jars, desserts in jars and breakfast in a jar. The breakfast was muesli and rhubarb compote, served in the style of the dumpy Agee jars that my mother always used for bottling spaghetti and tomato sauce. While jar food may look pretty, it can be quite difficult to eat the contents. Jars weren't really designed for this purpose. The muesli was the worst, there was a tall spoon in a short jar and the spoon threatened to topple out of the jar whenever I put it down to drink my coffee. It was also tricky to get at the last bits of fruit and cereal. I'm not sure the panna cotta dessert jar worked particularly, either. Put the jars back in the pantry where they belong.
Mission impossible: Cutlery pre-wrapped in a paper napkin that's been dipped in water to tightly seal it. So last century. You can never unbundle this little package without buggering up the napkin. Goodness knows, I've tried. Just give us the cutlery and napkins separately, please.
Small wine glasses: It's not that I'm after more wine, I just like a decent- sized, elegant glass to swish my beverage around in, releasing the aroma. Many places that should know better serve wine in small, poor-quality glasses. Full marks to Gothenburg on Hood St, which is doing a fine job with its stemware.
Tapas: No problem with the concept of shared plates. I like them. I'm just saying that purveyors of these need to be attentive to their customers' needs and remain flexible on serving portions. For example, if the salmon blini tapas has four portions to a plate and there are five people at a table who want to share them, then five blinis are required (with relevant price adjustment). No-one wants to be the blini loser, and some things are too darned tricky to cut into smaller portions. Another nod to Gothenburg, which informs and accommodates its tapas customers very well.
Queues at the counter: I've banged on about this before, the tiresome crush to order at cafe counters, the people who vacillate, or winkle their friends into the line, holding up the queue, annoying the person who's just nipped in for a takeout coffee. So another plug for table service at cafes; it can work even where there's a mix of cabinet food and menu dishes. It may mean more staff, but it will also mean happier customers. Scotts Epicurean, in Victoria St, is my benchmark on this. They've had table service from day one.
Why are we waiting? If the kitchen is running behind on getting orders out, let incoming customers know there will be delays. Then they can make up their mind whether to stay or look elsewhere. Otherwise they may end up very shirty and short- changed.
Keep an eye on the state of the menus: Spotty, crumpled menus are a turn-off, and nowadays it's dead easy to refresh the printouts. I don't want the previous customer's accidental spillage in front of me when I'm ordering.
Um, keep an eye on the loos too: A cafe owner (sadly departed from the scene) once told me she had a regime of tidying and cleaning the loos every hour. It worked, they couldn't be faulted. It is dispiriting to find a grotty bathroom at the back of an otherwise pleasant eatery.
Running out of ingredients: Ordering of restaurant supplies is a kind of art form, and mostly it is seamless. A plate of many ingredients appears before you like magic. What I don't understand is how come when the kitchen is out of something really simple, such as almonds, tomatoes, capers, beetroot or feta cheese, they don't just send someone to the nearest supermarket to quickly plug the gap? It seems lame to be told, "sorry, we've run out of capers".
That's all. Keep up the good work everyone.