In a restaurant the other week, I saw an absolutely artistic masterpiece, so aesthetically pleasing that I wanted to take a photograph of it and display it on my kitchen wall as a work of art. Sadly, it was my main meal and although it was beautiful to look at, the dish in question had barely enough food to satisfy a hungry dormouse; in fact a hungry dormouse would have been able to eat it in one go (and would almost certainly have complained afterwards).
As a human being, hundreds of times larger than your average rodent, what bloody chance did I have with this meal? I’m not going to name and shame this restaurant because it is one of thousands throughout the world that change the emphasis on your dining experience. Call me boring but when I go into a restaurant, I want the food before anything else. The very fact that I am going to a restaurant means that I am hungry. The depth of that hunger will typically range from “more than a little peckish” to “so ravenously hungry that if you don’t feed me within ten minutes I will rampage through your kitchen eating anything that is vaguely edible”.
Almost all of the restaurants I choose to go to satisfy this one basic requirement: to drive out my hunger in the most pleasant way possible and leave me fully sated and happy with my dining experience. Sadly, there are a number of restaurants that shift the emphasis from eating to “a fascinating dining experience”. I will describe a typical night out in a restaurant such as this.
Picture the scene.
Mrs PM and I arrive at the restaurant for our table which is booked at 8 o’clock. We arrive early out of courtesy. We are greeted at the door by a very pleasant European maître d’hôtel who immediately charms us with his lovely French accent.
Maître d’ : Good evening, sir and madame. Do you have a reservation?
Plastic Mancunian: Yes. I have a reservation in the name of Mr Mancunian for 8 o’clock
Maître d’ : Ah, oui, Monsieur Mancunian. You are early and your table is not quite ready. Would you like a drink in the bar while we prepare your table?
Plastic Mancunian: Certainly.
We stroll over to the bar and a charming barman, also French or Italian, greets us and asks what we would like to drink.
Plastic Mancunian: I’ll have a pint of bitter please.
Mrs PM: I’ll have a glass of sauvignon blanc.
Barman: I am very sorry, sir, but we do not sell bitter. We have bottled premium lagers.
The barman then rattles off a list of lagers that I have never heard of. I opt for a weird Lithuanian pilsner called something like Kibiras.
Barman: Would you like to pay now or put it on the bill?
Plastic Mancunian: I’ll pay now.
Barman: That’s £15.
Mrs PM: Are you OK Dave? Why are you lying on the floor?
Plastic Mancunian (getting up); £15?????? £15?????????
Mrs PM pays the barman while I continue to question the price. At precisely 8pm a wonderfully charming waiter leads us to our table and presents us with our menus before departing to leave us to make our choices.
Plastic Mancunian: £15????????????
Mrs PM: Will you shut up about the bloody drink prices?
I just can’t get the price out of my head. There I am with a small bottle of Lithuanian beer that probably costs £7.50 and it tastes just like every other pretentious continental lager I've ever had. Just because it comes from Lithuania doesn’t mean that I should pay a fortune for it.
Then I look at the menu.
Plastic Mancunian (frowning): There’s a misprint.
Mrs PM: Why do you say that?
Plastic Mancunian: £10 for a bowl of soup.
Mrs PM: That’s not a misprint.
Plastic Mancunian: £10?????????????? £10?????????????????
Mrs PM (through gritted teeth): Shut up!
Plastic Mancunian: £10 for a bowl of soup????? £15 for a glass of wine and a tiny bottle of Lithuanian beer?????? That’s £35 if we both have a bowl of soup. And we still have to order out main courses.
All of the starters are roughly the same price. The main courses are even more expensive and I try not to look at the prices (fearing the wrath of Mrs PM). The waiter comes along and takes our order. I opt for a prawn cocktail starter and the “Lamb Poubelle”, the description of which makes it sound like the best dish ever, fit only for royalty and the privileged elite. It is described as follows:
A tranche of the finest lamb, lightly cooked to your liking, resting on a bed of pommes de terre puree and with the finest legumes du jour and drizzled with jus de rôti.
I try to ignore the price: £35.
I also try not to moan about the restaurant because, clearly Mrs PM is beginning to have violent thoughts. I change the conversation to something more pleasing. And then the starter comes.
I stare in disbelief at my prawn cocktail that has set me back a cool £8.
It is a single lettuce leaf, shaped like a face, with two prawns, strategically placed to give the appearance of two eyes, a single cherry tomato sliced up artistically to look like a nose and a wafer slice of gherkin forming the mouth. Carrot shavings form the hair and a little mayonnaise (two tiny pipette drops) signify the cheeks.
Plastic Mancunian: Excuse me I ordered prawn cocktail.
The Waiter: Monsieur, this is your starter.
My prawn cocktail looks like a ginger person with green skin, prawns for eyes and a red nose. I look around for flies because a tiny insect could scoop up my starter in a mouthful and still be ravenously hungry. In fact, I devour the food in one gulp. I feel as if I have just set fire to a five pound note and skimmed three pound coins into the sea. If that was a starter then I am Brad Pitt.
I look across at Mrs PM who has ordered the same. She, too has eaten her tiny portion and is looking as disappointed as I am. I want to rant; I want to storm into the kitchen, grab the “chef” and say:
“What the %*$% was that? You may be able to fool an art critic or a pseudo intellectual that what you presented them was worth eating but I tell you what, mate! You don’t fool me! How much did it cost to prepare that piece of crap? 20p? And you want to charge £8 for it? You, sir, are a thief. You, sir, are a blackguard.”
The waiter returns and takes our plates. I want to stand up and punch him on the nose.
The conversation remains stilted. Mrs PM wants to mention the starter but fears that it will be like arming a nuclear warhead. I want to stand on the table and scream blue murder but I am not sure whether Mrs PM agrees with me and I don’t want to annoy her.
The waiter returns.
The Waiter: Would you like another drink sir?
Plastic Mancunian: (thinks – GO OUT TO THE PUB ROUND THE CORNER AND GET A PINT OF BITTER AT A REASONABLE PRICE YOU THIEVING SWINE!!!!!!!) Yes, please. I’ll have another kebab.
The Waiter: You mean the Kibiras? It is a fine beer brewed for centuries by Lithuanian monks, using an 800 year old recipe.
Plastic Mancunian: (thinks – Oh is that why it costs nearly a tenner? Was the bottle flown to the UK in a first class seat? Is that why this bottle of gnat’s urine costs over a bloody fiver?). Oh, that’s interesting. Yes – a bottle of gnat’s, pi... er, sorry, Kibiras.
The Waiter: And for madame?
Mrs PM: Nothing for me.
I begin to believe that Mrs PM realises how much this meal is going to cost. The waiter returns with my beer and another waiter arrives with our main courses. With a “bon appetite”, he leaves our “main course” with us.
I will say this once (through gritted teeth). The “meal” looks amazing. There is a huge plate that could accommodate an enormous quantity of food, enough to satisfy even the hungriest Mancunian. The food itself has the appearance of an art masterpiece; the meat has been carved to the shape of a little lamb and the jus de rôti (or gravy) has been spread to make the little lamb look as if it bounding happily in a field. A small chunk of mashed swede has been carefully placed to give the appearance of the sun shining and there are no potatoes to be seen – oh hang on, they are underneath the lamb.
Sounds good, eh?
It is the smallest meal I have ever seen. I eat the bloody thing in two seconds (one second to think about it).
It is a monumental rip off. It cost me £35. £35!!!!!!!
In my head I can contain myself no longer. In my head, I stand up and throw the plate at the wall. In my head, I take Mrs PM’s equally pathetic fish dish and smear it on the waiter’s face (barely covering a quarter of his cheek). In my head I tell the waiter to stuff his Kibiras up his bloody arse, preferably breaking the top of the bottle before he does so.
In reality, I tell Mrs PM to hurry up (only to find she has already eaten her “meal”) so we can clear out of the place. The waiter returns, takes our plates, offers us a dessert (to which thankfully we both say NO!!!) and gives us the bill.
Plastic Mancunian: I don’t want to see how much it is. Just pay it.
Mrs PM: OH MY GOD!!!!!! You DO NOT want to know the price.
Plastic Mancunian: Just pay it.
Mrs PM, now almost as angry as I am, pays the bill and we leave the restaurant as quickly as is humanly possible.
Mrs PM: Fancy some fish and chips?
Plastic Mancunian: I thought you’d never ask.
Of course, the above scenario may seem a little over the top, but I swear that I have been in a situation that was extremely similar. I mean, come on! How can restaurants justify giving you barely enough food to feed an anorexic ant and then charge you a small fortune to eat it, just because it looks nice? And why do people put up with and, worse, return to the place to be robbed again?
It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
It’s time we made a stand. Some people have more money than sense.
It makes me so mad I could drink a bucket of Kibiras.
(Kibiras is used by kind permission of the Plastic Mancunian’s warped imagination. Any similarity to any existing beer, Lithuanian or otherwise is purely coincidental).