He’s a big boy, is Dave O’Neil. When thinking of him, I am drawn to another large fellow, Sir Harry Secombe and his nick name,’Circumference’. I doubt DO’N will ever espy this so I won’t apologise for the analogy, but his recent musing in a recent ‘Shortlist’ supplement of the Age also had me thinking. It was on one of his favourite topics – tucker. And you can see this man enjoys lusty helpings. Like me, he’s no gourmand, but he knows what he wants and in ‘Why I’m Not Sharing My Food’, riffed away on some recent restaurant trends that have caused him displeasure. He rails about the sharing of courses, about tapas and whines about the new necessity of lining up for a table, rather than being able to pre- book. So let’s examine this complaints in reverse order.
Once upon a time one took up a phone, rang a restaurant, gave time and number of diners and an evening meal was assured. But another practice has now even reached my far-flung corner of culinary delights – here local eateries have, in increasing numbers, taken to not accepting reservations unless you’re a party of seventy-six or some such number. If we are a couple, or even worse, a single – then a gamble has to be taken. Yep, this involves lining up – or getting quietly sozzled at the bar whilst awaiting a placement. Neither are my idea of a fun night out. If I am away, in a mainland city for instance, I am happy enough, within reason, to get in a queue, as generally I am coming in off the street. In this situation a fullish establishment is usually a sign that the food is more than agreeable. It also gives me a chance to gauge what is on the plate. In the cut throat market that exists in Melbourne or Sydney, a meal provider with idle staff is patently heading for the rocks and there’d be a good reason for that.
In Adelaide, recently, my darling loving partner and I came in off North Terrace to sample a certain restaurant’s fare and ended up having a ninety minute wait before a harried, novice maitre d’ could seat us. In the end it turned out worth it as there was a quality waiter; as well as quality random fellow diners, (these almost seated up under our armpits – imagine if they’d been dicks) – and then added in was the quality of the dishes we ordered. Together these more than made up for the delay. It gave my lovely lady and I one of our best dining experiences in recent times. Jamie Oliver’s Italian was extremely busy that evening – a great sign considering it was a Monday night. It had a vibe and ambience that perhaps would not be suited to a romantic night out, but gee, if we ever get a franchise of it in Hobs, I’d be a regular.
Now I have a mate who uses a different system when he is away from home for selecting a restaurant to meet his needs. For him the tucker and the room’s fullness are secondary. He does his best to ensure that his choice is based on the number of attractive women it possesses as wait staff – and when you reach the age he (and I) are at, being attended to by a beautiful woman plying one with adequate fare is not to be sneezed at. For me, though, that would be a bonus on top of what is, in quality and amount, served up. I wonder if my pal’s methodology has ever entered DO’N’s head?
‘No, what I want is large, tasty servings on a normal sized white plate.’ states DO’N. I’m in agreement. A night of tapas or finger food delivered at intervals at a function where one is gormlessly standing around, racking the grey matter, searching frantically for something remotely interesting to talk to fellow invitees (most only remotely known) about, is, in my book, the pits. The weather is usually quickly exhausted, so then some subtle questioning needs to take place to discover if your fellow sufferer is into any topic we may have some inkling of in order to strike a chord. If it’s male, footy or cricket, even politics are options – for female, try books or movies. It’s hard work and rarely enjoyable as you struggle to get enough down the gullet to be remotely satisfied. More often than I care to remember this small-talkaphobe is stumped for said topic and I end up staring woefully into my drink. Now if one is seated at the table, with some relative unknowns, for a proper dining experience – well then the menu delivered will provide a most useful initiator for establishing common ground. Many, many times I have gotten quite ‘Mr Wobbly’ having the time of my life at a large table with people I’ve never met before, nor likely to meet again, having a hilarious time. With generous amounts of craft ale or luscious reds thrown in on top of great tucker – then these are simply the best nights. Nights that will linger despite one’s woozy state. I intensely dislike the notion of ‘circulating’, trying desperately to be jolly whilst furtively clock-watching, wishing the whole damn thing was over and I can get the hell out of there.
Now tapas. I avoid tapas bars at all costs. As DO’N says, export the bloody stuff right back to whence it came. The whole odious notion of the Spanish affliction put me in mind of similarly portioned, equally odious food fads of the past. Do you remember them – fondues and nouvelle cuisine??? I have recollections of, in pre-Maccas times, when these were in vogue and a night out, suffering through it all, required an obligatory detour to the fish’n’chippery on the way home. There is nothing remotely positive about fiddling around with cubes of bread and vegetables and a pot of molten lava like cheese. Neither is there any satisfaction to be attained with being served exquisite morsels of food the host’s wife or chef has spent a solid twenty-four hours straight preparing. The ‘n’ in ‘nouvelle’ could just as easily stand for ‘noxious’, ‘nauseating’ or simply just ‘nothing’. So please don’t get me started on today’s trendy diners that serve microscopic amounts of rare foods, admittedly as gorgeous looking as miniature art works, with smatterings of jus or foam, on plates the size of bathtubs – and charge exorbitantly for our displeasure. Quelle horreur!
As for food sharing, I do disagree with DO’N here to a degree – occasionally it can work if the proprietors of the restaurant are generous enough. A second Adelaidean experience saw my beautiful lady and I sampling Korean with another couple. Here the shared portion was ample in volume and delicious to boot. But usually I inwardly shudder when the suggestion to divvy up a number of menu listings is made by someone in our party – usually after I have already selected a couple of servings for myself from the bill de fare that already have my juices flowing in expectation. Then the dish turns up with an amount of offering that would struggle to get a Bangla pauper excited. Invariably the same person will suggest the cost of beverages are also shared, promptly ordering the most expensive bottles the venue’s cellar possesses. Generally I prefer an ale with my meal when out, solely because of the minuscule amounts of wine poured by drink waiters, these days, to ensure maximum profits will be made in keeping the customer well lubricated.
Yes DO’N, dining out in the modern age is a minefield, so when you (or I) find an eatery with your simple definition (‘…what I want is large, tasty servings on a normal sized white plate.’) then we should religiously frequent it, recommending it’s name to all and sundry so we do our best to keep it serving up great tucker. We must then stick to our guns to ensure those eateries that misfire (pun intended), in any of the above ways, have their comeuppance by going pork-belly up (tee-hee).