I walk past most restaurants without wishing I was inside. Crisp white tablecloths, sparkling wine glasses, table napkins and hovering waiters do nothing for me except make me feel mildly uncomfortable. I don’t like formality, never have, never will. I don’t want deference from the people who serve me with food and drink… not least because I know I’ll have to pay for it. Anyway it’s always a pantomime of deference. The restaurant staff knows it means fuck all, except to justify higher prices; I know it means fuck all, and I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m flattered by the waiters’ attentiveness.
Posh restaurants create expectations, which fail to make the food taste any better. Even not-so-posh restaurants and gastropubs are getting in on the act these days. I don’t want to sample the wine; just pour it out (better yet, I’ll do it). I don’t want to be made to feel ‘special’ (I’ll be paying for that too). I don’t want the menu to be in a foreign language, and I don’t want to read a list of aspirational adjectives (‘natural’, ‘farm-fresh’, 'country', etc. I’ll be paying for them: a quid a time, I reckon. Has the chicken been ‘pan-fried’? Well, that’s ‘fried’, as far as I’m concerned. And 'oven-baked' is 'baked'). I don't to read a story about what I'm eating, and I don't need to know the name of the farmer who supplied it. Don't tell me the chicken's been 'corn-fed'. Don't tell me a sandwich has been 'hand-cut'. I can remember when 'artisan bread' was just 'bread'. Let's dispense with the florid, overblown lexicon of restaurant food (puffed up like the pastry pompadour on a beef-in-ale pie). I have a pretty good vocabulary for a man of my age, weight, height and disposition; don’t make me learn new words for no reason.
Don’t pile my food up into a tower; I used to do this when I was a child, and then I stopped. I want to eat the food, not dismantle it. Don’t put things in separate containers, so I have to dole them out onto my plate (chips don’t need to come in a metal pail or a miniature chip fryer. And they don’t need to be “cooked three times”. Has everyone been to the same food-serving seminars?). Don’t make eating a meal into a pointless chore. Don’t sprinkle the edges of the plate with white powder. It could be talcum powder for all I know, or care. I don’t want anything ‘drizzled’. Give me some food, on a plate (not a wooden trencher, note, or a piece of slate), then leave me alone. I don’t want to spend the last ten minutes of my meal speculating how much I should leave as a tip. And don’t give me a hot face flannel; that’s what sleeves are for.
This means that my ideal restaurant is a basic curry house in Bradford, where the curry comes in a chipped white bowl, with three chapattis and a glass of water (yes, downstairs at the Kashmir will do nicely). If you want cutlery, you have to ask for it. No-one will enquire how the meal was; you haven’t paid enough for these niceties, which is a relief. Hell, you know how it was. If it’s Madras, it’ll be quite hot; if it’s vindaloo, it’ll be very hot. If it’s a ‘meat’ curry, you can draw your own conclusions, or, better yet, no conclusions at all. If I’m in West Yorkshire, but not Bradford, then give me a portion of fish & chips & scraps (and maybe a pickled onion on the top). I’ll put the salt and vinegar on myself, thanks. Back in Yorkshire tomorrow, and one of my favourite chippies will be my first port of call. Mmmmm… I can smell newspaper soaked in vinegar - it's the English marinade - as I write…