On a recent trip to Florence, I was struck by the authentic individuality of the restaurants and coffee shops. For example, the organic pasta restaurant I tried served pasta, breads, salad, wine and spirits. I don’t speak much Italian, but I suspect the sign on the door said: “If you’re looking for a burger and a beer – or even a pizza – look somewhere else.”
In Britain by comparison, the overriding quest to appear cosmopolitan and chic or niche is fake because it’s diluted by our demands as well as being over manufactured. Can everyone just stop showing off please?
In order for you to appreciate the ‘gastro’ experience, without which you’d simply be having a pub lunch, there’s probably a piece of greaseproof paper underneath your crusty, avocado-topped ciabatta, with some pretentious nonsense written on it. Be warned: the paper you’re tearing with your knife will, no doubt, find its way into the ingredients, adding no nutritional value I can fathom.
In an English restaurant and bar a while back, I was struck by how uncomfortable the experience was simply because the management had decided to create something uncommon. To begin with, all soft furnishings had been removed which always makes a place, especially one with music, shockingly noisy and the iron furniture was not only hard, but so ridiculously high, heat from the overhead light fittings seemed to scorch my scalp. I had to take a run-up to get onto the chair, but despite being many feet from the ground, the table was so much higher up, some of us were at eye level with the strange doodahs our food arrived on.
I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky chips in a plant pot.
Seriously, where have all the plates gone? After struggling for a while to lance my meat served in a bowl designed for a medical emergency most probably, I politely requested the flat surface traditionally used for the purpose. The waitress returned with a side plate and looked puzzled when I said: “No thanks, I’d like a dinner plate to eat my dinner off.” Either that or take it away and cut it up for me.
I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky fries in a plant pot, but as I’m not going to sketch a still life drawing, I’d rather have the right crockery if it’s not too much trouble. There’s now a website where you can upload photographs of the most imaginative plate alternatives, so widespread is the batty practice, although posting photos of our food on social media has surely added to the trend of reclaiming unusual objects from the rubbish on which to offer food.
At the other end of the hospitality scale, many coffee shops now expect us to manage with just a napkin as a barrier between the cake and the probably unwiped table because their dishwasher is designed to take only cups. Mind you, I’m always grateful for a cup rather than a cardboard receptacle, the only benefit of which is choosing the name to be written on the thing while passing the time in the queue. Drew likes to hear them shout out: “Max Power?” presumably to feel like a superhero for a moment. I usually settle for “Bunty”.
Queueing for coffee is unavoidable since those clamorous, complicated coffee maker arrangements became standard. Watching the ‘barista’ drag a dubious looking rag over a tube, before dispensing your fluid of choice through it, combining it with whatever drained that way beforehand, is never as thrilling as Tom Cruise mixing a cocktail to music. And you know those chocolate sprinkles splattered in the general area of your foaming drink, without any thought given to avoiding the rim where it crusts unappetisingly in seconds before transferring to the corners of your mouth, leave you looking like a sad clown at the end of a hard day at the circus.
While we’re on the subject of chocolate: despite asking for hot, hot chocolate – it never, ever is. Perhaps there’s a health and safety restriction, but if I’ve read “hot chocolate” on the menu and I ask for hot chocolate, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with lukewarm chocolate. In Florence, I was lucky enough to sample the artisan hot chocolate served in glass ‘fairy’ cups with saucers, which makes our thin, pale, powdered effort seem pathetic. I was drinking rich, melting, deep brown chocolate, or rather spooning it into my face, it was that thick and sticky. I stopped at one glorious place noticing the chocolate fountain in the window only to be stunned by the wall of liquid chocolate behind the counter, slithering and ‘glissading’ perpetually. Mmm …
Er, did I mention I was in Florence recently?
Not showing off, am I?