Dish­ing it Out

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

THERE ARE many things to love about eat­ing in big, fancy restau­rants. There are the crisp white table­cloths, gleam­ing with the prom­ise of a good meal. There is the smartly-uni­formed wait staff, with nary a soiled shirt­front or stained trouser in sight. There is the soft whis­per of muted con­ver­sa­tion, the dis­creet tin­kle of wine glasses, the oc­ca­sional clunk of the sil­ver­ware, all of it adding up to an at­mos­phere of tem­ple-like calm – all the bet­ter for you to en­joy an out­stand­ing meal served up by the pre­sid­ing de­ity in the kitchen.

What’s not to love, right?

Right.

But even at the risk of sound­ing like a churl­ish grump, I

So, if any­one who runs or works in such an es­tab­lish­ment is read­ing this, here’s a handy list of the many things I hate about eat­ing out in fancy restau­rants.

Wait­ers who rush up the mo­ment you are seated, un­furl the nap­kin ly­ing in front of you and place it, with a flour­ish, on your lap. There are so many things wrong with this sce­nario that I don’t quite know where to be­gin. There’s the as­sump­tion that you can’t per­form a sim­ple task like un­furl­ing your own nap­kin. There’s the in­tru­sion into your per­sonal space, when your server’s hand are per­ilously close to your bo­som/ stom­ach/groin area. And there’s the as­pect of hy­giene: why would I want that pris­tine cloth that is about to be placed on my lap to be touched by some­one else? (The last one is prob­a­bly just me and my OCD speak­ing.)

The first ques­tion you are asked when you have been seated and ‘nap­kin-ed’ in­vari­ably is: “Still or sparkling?” Or, if the es­tab­lish­ment is even more pre­ten­tious than most, the ques­tion comes coached in terms of “Evian or Per­rier?” I have yet to visit an ex­pen­sive restau­rant that of­fers you tap wa­ter as an al­ter­na­tive. If you want tap wa­ter – which is per­fectly safe in such es­tab­lish­ments – you have to ask for it. And they are de­pend­ing on the fact that you will be too em­bar­rassed to ask (for fear of be­ing seen as a cheap­skate) to make a profit on ev­ery sip you take. Which is why I make it a point to do so.

Food served in shal­low bowls or plates with a rim. As far as I am con­cerned, the only thing that should come in a bowl is soup, or at a pinch, a risotto. Any­thing that re­quires cut­ting with a knife and fork should come in a plate; be­cause there is noth­ing quite as awk­ward as try­ing to cut a piece of meat or fish in a shal­low bowl which wob­bles pre­car­i­ously with each at­tempt. And no plates with a raised rim please. When I place my fork and knife on the plate be­tween bites, I have a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion that they will stay in place, not clat­ter off and fall on the floor. It’s em­bar­rass­ing for me, and more work for the wait staff if they do. So, just stick to sim­ple, old-style plates, and we’ll do just fine.

Upselling every­thing, from the aper­i­tif to the wine to the overpriced lobster. This is es­pe­cially galling when you see your host be­ing press-ganged into or­der­ing pink cham­pagne as a pre-din­ner drink, or an ex­pen­sive bot­tle of red/white, even though he was look­ing for a bar­gain. And wait­ers/man­agers who push your guests to­wards the Bel­uga caviar when asked to rec­om­mend some­thing de­serve a spe­cial place in din­ing hell.

When I vi­sivisit a restau­rant what I want is a good meal with­ouut a side-or­der of freez­ing-to-death. But no mat­teer what the sea­son, you can be sure that the tem­per­ra­ture in a fancy restau­rant will be Arc­tic in naa­ture. If you com­plain, three mem­bers oof staff will come and of­fer you a shawl (“We have pash­mi­nas in ev­ery shhade for our lady guests”). Surely it wwould be sim­pler to just turn up the tem­per­a­ture on the AC con­trols. But no, that seems a step too fair. It’s the pash­mina or per­ish­ing in tthe cold. Take your pick.

Soome­times when I come out to lunch or din­ner with a book, I re­ally am look­ing for­ward to read­ing that book. But to the wait staff at a restau­rant, I just look like a sad, lonely soul, who has been re­duced to eat­ing out alone. So, they gamely – and I am sure, with the best of in­ten­tions – try and sit in for my miss­ing friends, mak­ing small talk as I eat my meal. And no mat­ter how mono­syl­labic my replies or how dis­cour­ag­ing my body lan­guage, they per­sist with their con­ver­sa­tional gam­bits. But guys, I re­ally am okay be­ing on my own. And I re­ally would like to read my book. In peace. With no in­ter­rup­tions. Though an­other glass of that pink cham­pagne would be just great.

THE KNIVES ARE NOT OUT There is noth­ing quite as awk­ward as try­ing to cut a piece of meat or fish in a shal­low bowl which wob­bles

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