Since embarking on my 100 Best Restaurants quest I have become more observant, more critical and more judgemental about the places where I dine. After all I am paying out hard-earned money and I should not come away feeling cheated. Looking back over some of my reviews I notice that there are a few items that niggle me on a regular basis. And there are a few more that I will add in for good measure.
Ambient temperature, I notice, features frequently in my posts. It is reasonable to expect to dine in shirt/blouse sleeves in winter. I don’t need to wrap up in a jumper when I am eating at home in mid-winter nor should I have to when I go out to eat. Restaurants should make full use of the double door systems to keep the cold out! By the same token, in Ireland, there is rarely a need for air-conditioning as it freezes the customers that are sitting near it. When I think about it I don’t think I have ever been too warm in a restaurant but I’ve often been cold in one. And I’m the kind of person that wears short sleeves in March.
Bread is another restaurant item that often fails to please on a number of different levels. Firstly there is the case of good restaurants serving really bad bread. Then there are the restaurants that take portion control to the extreme and ration bread too strictly. Finally, most restaurants insist on taking the bread away when the starters are finished. What happens when you have a delicious sauce with your main course and you want to mop it up with some bread? In Ireland it is clearly not acceptable to ‘fare la scarpetta’ as the Italians do.
There is a substantial number of restaurants that still use the enormous pepper mill. Why can’t there be a normal sized pepper mill on all the tables. A customer might want to adjust the seasoning halfway through a meal. It is pepper, not saffron, that is being held hostage here. The same happens, albeit a little more understandably, with Parmesan cheese. But one must remember that seasoning is very subjective and may require constant adjusting. I rarely use condiments as I will trust the chef to prepare a tasty dish but I believe that there should always be salt and pepper to hand.
Very often, after being shown to a table, we are asked if we would like some water. More often than not we are only given the choice of still or sparkling water. In these lean times we also need to be offered tap water and we should not made to feel scabby about choosing it. Some restaurants are fabulous about presenting free water in pretty jugs. Others will almost throw the water at you. Remember that tap water is good for the environment as well as your pocket .
Finally, when I go to a restaurant can I please be in charge of my own wine? A lot of restaurants pour wine too quickly and a bottle can be finished before the main course has been consumed. White wine is ofter ‘disapppeared’ out of sight. I prefer to have my ice bucket or wine cooler at the table. I know nobody is ‘stealing’ my wine but how can I be certain when I can’t see the bottle?
None of these items are ‘food’ related but they all form part of the dining experience. Attention to detail is as important outside the kitchen as it is inside. Restaurateurs need to remember that.