Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Eating out

Jenny and I eat out at restaurants quite a lot, and I think I've finally worked out the essentials of an eating-out success - exceptional food and pampering.

The meal has to be special, a cut above home cooking with an extra indefinable something we can't create ourselves. And ideally with unique dishes we couldn't find anywhere else. Since Jenny's cooking already sets a high standard, that's asking a lot.

I also expect to be pampered - to be treated like a valued guest with friendliness, attentiveness, flexibility, a touch of style in the furnishings and decor - and generous portions. I don't want to feel like just another customer to be got rid of as quickly as possible.

Every niggle and annoyance about eating out really boils down to those two things, the basic yardsticks that divide the good, the bad and the ugly. And my, how swiftly good turns to bad when the staff don't follow those simple principles.

If those two qualities are lacking, what's the point of going to a fancy restaurant at all? If the food and service are unexceptional, why pay a premium? You might as well go down the road to the local takeaway and pick up some unexceptional pizza or curry.

Jenny and I have tried a wide range of restaurants in South and East Belfast and it's frustrating how often they disappoint. You would think it was easy enough to meet those basic requirements, but so often carelessness and brusqueness strike the wrong note.

Why run a restaurant at all if you're not prepared to put your heart and soul into it and give every diner an experience to remember, where every detail of the meal is a pleasure and a delight? Is that so hard?

And is it so hard to provide a few tasty vegetarian options? With hundreds of meatless ingredients to choose from, why am I offered such bland and predictable fare? Why such a lack of imagination?

PS: See Jenny's comments on three popular East Belfast restaurants

18 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm with you Nick, it is amazing how often you can run into surly and sloppy when dining out and paying expensively for it. That is why it is such a pleasure to be treated with excellence. It should be the norm.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - I suppose when you're dealing with hundreds of customers day in and day out you can get a bit jaded, but even so diners still expect something special for the amount they're forking out.

kylie said...

i love to eat out, too.
i dont do it as often as i would like but i almost always have a good time. i think that the restaurant business is pretty competitive in sydney so most places try pretty hard.
i have a new fave, "the pavillion" on the promenade at maroubra. so low key but so damned good!

Baino said...

Ah I read Jen's post . . yep I want food that's fiddly , that I couldn't be bothered cooking at home, vegetarian or otherwise and if I say so myself, I'm not a bad cook. I also want service. It pisses me off that a tip is expected from some backpacker who constantly reaches across me. . serve from the left man . . the left. Sadly, I don't eat out often and frankly Nick, even for the meatysauruses, there's the lamb, beef, chicken or fish . . some don't eat more than one of these so it's not anti-vegieism, just trying to please the punters. Sadly meatysaurus chef's have difficulty with imaginative veggie dishes.
My advice, go straight to the dessert . .

Baino said...

OH and thank Goodness you're not a celiac now they have problems.

Nick said...

Kylie - Hmmm, so either Sydney restaurants are all brilliantly run, or you're prepared to overlook a few minor failings? The Pavilion looks fabulous - right on the beach!

Baino - I wasn't aware that many meat-eaters are only prepared to eat one animal! That must make life difficult for the restaurateurs. Straight to the dessert - now there's an idea. Not very nutritious though....

Megan said...

We eat out so seldom that it is a treat just to get something a little different. I don't really pay attention to the service unless it is aggressively inattentive (or the opposite, which can be equally annoying - I hate halting the conversation 10 times in an hour to say "no, we don't need anything more, thank you!").

Anyhow, for the really good food, I go to my dad's. As long as he stays able, no restaurant will be able to beat him...

Cinnamon said...

You have described all the reasons why I prefer to eat at home! I think you have to pay megabucks to get the satisfaction you are looking for. As for veggie- you often get great veggie food in unpretentious wholefood cafes. Round here anyway :)

Nick said...

Megan - Indeed, constantly asking you if you need anything can get irritating. Likewise constantly asking you if you're enjoying your meal. So as long as dad's able, no restaurant table....?

Cinnamon - It can certainly reach megabucks if you impulsively over-indulge. Lucky you, having unpretentious wholefood cafes. Unfortunately neither wholefood or vegetarian restaurants in Belfast. One glaring absence in a city that has so much....

Quickroute said...

Nick - you wouldn''t be happy over here - they either boil or fry the goodness and taste out of every veggie :-(

Nick said...

Quicky - Yuk! And I always thought they knew how to bring out flavour in your part of the world. I'd better cross Hong Kong off my travel list....

conortje said...

I hear your pain Nick. I was in Paris last weeknd with my OSF who, like me, is also veggie. We didn't have one good meal. Disastrous. I'm actually a bit worried about travelling and getting decent food. ah well, at this stage my standards aren't so high hehe

Nick said...

Conor - Sorry to hear that, getting a decent veggie meal abroad is a real challenge, isn't it? Hopefully on your Grand Tour you'll find some Italian or Asian places that are more accommodating.

Rummuser said...

The problem I suspect is that the restaurant is left to be run by managers and hired help while the original promoter is busy setting up another one somewhere else.

Chains are the worst offenders in this matter.

I quite sympathize with your observation on vegetarian food. My advise? Emigrate to India!!

Nick said...

Ramana - Certainly the owner of Alden's was not in evidence when we ate there. I suspect an absentee proprietor is sometimes the problem, as you say. Emigrate to India? I'd prefer Australia!

Nick said...

Ramana - Jenny corrects me re Alden's, she says the owner WAS there, though he didn't actually speak to us.

Rummuser said...

Good Lord Nick, I am advised by excellent sources that the national dish in Australia is Kangaroo steak! Vegetarian food? You will have to grow your own!!

Nick said...

Ramana - We've been to Oz twice and managed to find vegetarian options quite easily - particularly Thai and Italian food. We had no need to try kangaroo!