Food *AND* drink

Another post about food I’m afraid, so if you’re one of those people who eats in order to live, you might want to look away now.

One of the main things that makes food (and by this I really mean restaurant dining) so interesting is the perpetual need for reinvention.  Lots of restaurants tend to look at bit old-hat after they’ve been open a few years and unless you’re serving uber-traditional fare (which can itself be rather daring) the chances are that you’ll be next year’s fish and chip paper.  Restaurants come and go; many go because they are not very good, or they are unlucky, or they’re a poor business model, or people simply get bored of them,  There’s certainly no shortage of people with an idea (nay, a concept) willing to take their place.

Korean food seems to be big at the moment, but it was Peruvian last year, small plates the year before, pop-ups the year before that, all the way back to when extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in little china bowls on the table seemed rather high-class.

But it’s the new-ish concept of ultra-limited menus that surprises me, both in terms of concept and popularity.  It’s barely a concept – making your menu smaller and smaller until you end up with just two things on the menu seems to obviate the point of a restaurant.  When I go to a restaurant I expect choice and sometimes I don’t know what I want until I get there.  I’m not suggesting that I’m the sort of person who will go to McDonald’s for a hangover burger and once there will change my mind and have a McGrape or a McCarrot but I like to feel when spending more money that I’m at least going to have a choice.  Otherwise it’s rather like dining at home.  When cooking at home I make one meal and the absence of choice is accepted as one of the inevitable drawbacks of eating in.

London restaurateurs have managed to make people believe that offering a far less extensive menu is a guaranteed sign that what is on offer will be great.  There’s partial logic in this – if the restaurant has fewer things to concentrate on it might be able to make the small number of things that it makes a little better.  But surely this doesn’t usually work.  Pizza joints, curry houses, chicken shops – these are the traditional homes of the ‘one product’ restaurant and they’re the sort of places that provide grisly mixtures of protein, bread and sauce rather than high-end cuisine.

The opening in London of Tramshed, Burger and Lobster and Bubbledogs all in the last year or so herald the new breed of ultra-limited menu joints.  Tramshed only serves chicken and steak.  Burger and Lobster has only two dishes on the menu (though there’s a fair few in between posh crustacean and fast-food meat-between-bread).  

Surely the most ridiculous idea is that of bubbledogs, a restaurant that serves hot-dogs and champagne.  That’s right, the ‘barely-meat’ staple of the monstrously fat American red-neck and the world’s most expensive sparkling wine.  Champagne got all tarnished when footballers decided that Cristal (with its nasty orange plastic wrapper) was the drink for them, but surely the generally accepted advice that champagne can be drunk with anything is being pushed a little by pairing it with that pink offal-tube usually to be found swimming in it’s own bile at the base of a cart in Central Park.  The converts will inevitably say that these are not your common or garden hot-dogs, these hot-dogs are made with properly sourced meat, with lovingly crafted toppings.  But it’s still a hot-dog.  These things, like burgers, we not supposed to be restaurant food.  That’s why they have a piece of bread on either side, so that you can pick them up and eat them on the go.

What’s next?  I will not be satisfied until the first branch of ‘Salt and Pepper’ opens, a restaurant dealing only in seasoning, where pink Himalayan sea-salt flakes are complemented by ‘Grains of Paradise’ peppercorns.  Trust me, some dick-head would go.