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Our Friends In The North


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Evening everyone. New to the forum and posting a new topic - oh well, might as well jump in with both feet, just don't be too hard on me! Also, let me know if this has been the subject of another thread.

Living in Newcastle, it is quite evident that the so-called dining revolution in the UK is still very strongly London-centric. We have some very good restaurants up here, but not that many. As a regular London visitor it always amazes me how much easier it is down there to eat very well at a relatively modest price compared to here. In the small number of really good places up here you are looking at about £35 to £50 per head at dinner for food only, excluding service charge. At the top end that is heading towards Michelin * prices.

I suspect the simple answer boils down to basic economics. Places up here will be busy at weekends but midweek and lunchtimes will be a lot quieter. The number of covers that an average London restaurant will achieve in a given week will be a lot more. This must be one of the few areas where it's cheaper to be in London than the North.

I do get a bit grumpy about the lack of national coverage of regional restaurants. The majority of restaurant critics churn out review after review of London places and if they are feeling adventurous might venture into the Home Counties. There is one in particular who I swear never seems to review anything outside Knightsbridge or Kensington!

Anyway, grumble over. I await the incoming flak. :rolleyes:

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hi alan

i've no idea of the dining scene in newcastle, i suspect it's like manchester, enough cash around to support some serious gastronomic restuarants but it just doesn't happen, my sweeping generalisation based upon terry laybourn downgrading his place to a bistro!

in terms of general restuarant economics the problem is that excluding rent, food costs, utilities, taxes etc are the same as in london as up north and you don't have the expense account diners midweek.

In my experience the success or otherwise of the week was predicated by your weekend trade, if you can be busy at a decent margin midweek you've cracked it.

I would also go as far to say that staff cost may actually be cheaper in many respects in london due to the influx of eastern europeans , i can assure you can't get staff for minimum wage in rural yorkshire but i bet you can in the major cities, and that is usually the biggest cost for a business circa 25 - 30% if you're running it properly.

although rent is london is no doubt prohibitive you're noot exactly talking cheap to rent or buy anything up north, the pub route used to be a cheap way in but you're looking at serious money to gain a foothold now freehold or £1000-odd a week rent, you need to take proper money to cover those costs.

and i would entirely agree that the 'foodie revolution' is no where near as widespread as we would like to think, the big portion mentality is alive and kicking and woe betide if you don't give oodles of free veg!

Edited by Gary Marshall (log)

you don't win friends with salad

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hi alan

and i would entirely agree that the 'foodie revolution' is no where near as widespread as we would like to think, the big portion mentality is alive and kicking and woe betide if you don't give oodles of free veg!

:biggrin: believe me that mentality is not just in the north !!!

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hi alan

and i would entirely agree that the 'foodie revolution' is no where near as widespread as we would like to think, the big portion mentality is alive and kicking and woe betide if you don't give oodles of free veg!

:biggrin: believe me that mentality is not just in the north !!!

or west! :angry:

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Ah yes, the large portion syndrome beloved of pub owners. So many of the local reviews that are published up here focus on the Pub Sunday Lunch, the quality of which seems to be judged by how many different roast meats you can have on the plate, the number of vegetables and the size of the Yorkshire pud.

It amuses me the number of people who would almost faint at the prospect of paying £40 per head for a meal. They are often the same people who will happily put £80 in their pocket, visit the Newcastle Quayside pubs and clubs, eat a kebab, get a taxi home, having spent the whole lot.

As a nation we don't particularly respect food as a culture. I know you can eat badly in Italy or France, but you also have a damn good chance of having a very good meal at a modest cost. Especially in urban locations I'm not sure food has ever meant a lot to the Brits. Ironically, everyone seems to watch cooking programmes on TV but still goes out and buys Supermarket ready made gloop. Funny old world.

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Ah yes, the large portion syndrome beloved of pub owners. 

hey, don't blame us (ex) owners we'd happily save on food costs! It's the market that demands it and you can't always swim against the tide.

an aside, i was customer number one at anthony's - food of that ilk had never before been seen in leeds, customers 2 & 3 on table opposite took one look at main course 'where's the veg?'

wouldn't mind if people actually ate the bloody stuff :laugh:

you don't win friends with salad

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hi alan

and i would entirely agree that the 'foodie revolution' is no where near as widespread as we would like to think, the big portion mentality is alive and kicking and woe betide if you don't give oodles of free veg!

:biggrin: believe me that mentality is not just in the north !!!

or west! :angry:

...............or as recently pointed out in one of the Irish posts, in Ireland. I think I commented (jokingly) it may hark back to the famine and the need to make sure there is a plate of spuds and over boiled veg on the side, in case starvation occurs!!!

Is their a similiar mind set here in the UK, to do with WW2 and rationing :wacko:

I think it is a common belief that a meal is good or a success if you leave the table feeling stuffed. I have heard so many people remark about places being fantastic because you get 'loads of extra veg....they pile your plate up.....you have to undo your belt after eating' etc. Alternatively others deem a place terrible because ' the portions were tiny......there was no side orders....I had to go to the chippy after' etc. Why is the trad Sunday dinner/christmas dinner so popular and the nation's favourite, because it is shit loads of food piled on a plate, and how does one feel afterwards......?

Ok off to cook my one plate minimalist tea...........

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Agree with you RDB. Our food culture seems to be at least partly based on greed. Look at the number of buffet restaurants these day where the attraction is to pile as much on the plate as you can.

I have been on a couple of P&O cruises with mainly UK passengers. I avoid the buffets like the plague but you see huge numbers of people wandering about with plates so full they can hardly carry them. Ironically they end up often throwing half the contents away. Some people's concept of value for money with food seems rather distorted!

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But surely its not about greed, rather about physical and emotional fulfillment. If a restaurant only gives intellectual fulfillment, one can never expect it to appeal to the vast majority of people simply because the core function of food is to, uhhr, feed.

I might love eating at Anthony's, but it's intellectually interesting/satisfying, not physically. And, while I'm not a demander of extra veg, I don't really see why I should pay £100 for a meal and then need cheese on toast when I get home. There's a happy medium here (and the Fat Duck gets round it by fooling you into thinking you've eated a lot, of course...)

FWIW, I was absolutely stuffed at the Blacksmiths. Couldn't move for days. But then I ate the veg.

It no longer exists, but it was lovely.

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hi alan

and i would entirely agree that the 'foodie revolution' is no where near as widespread as we would like to think, the big portion mentality is alive and kicking and woe betide if you don't give oodles of free veg!

:biggrin: believe me that mentality is not just in the north !!!

or west! :angry:

Or the US - Woody Allen starts Annie Hall (1975) like this:

"There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women

are at a Catskills mountain

resort, and one of 'em says: "Boy, the

food at this place is really terrible."

The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and

such ... small portions."

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OK, so you don't always need a chrome dish piled high with microwaved veg with every meal, but am I the only one who feels utterly stiffed when a restaurant charges separately for every side dish?

I mean, you fork out £20ish for a main course, all you get is a piece of artfully presented meat with fancy garnish/foam/jus/whatever and then they expect you to pay another £3 or £4 for some mash. It seems reasonable that the main course of a traditional 3 or 4-course meal should be adequately filling.

- Tony -

(P**sed off by Bibendum a few years back)

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We have customers who will ask for a side of roast potatoes even if roast potatoes or mashed potatoes come with their dish i.e. on the plate as a component. We also have people who will ask for a side of greens (purple sprouting broccoli, black cabbage, spring greens etc) when their dish includes say spinach, chard or something similarlly green. Quite a lot of food is left over. I resisted for two and a half years with listing 'extras' on the menu but parenthood seems to do something to wither resolve for the debate. Give them what they want, I don't mind as long as they pay for it. Never chips though.

Some customers also feel the need to eat their full rounded meal every meal even if it is their one people out a week. I.e. if their dish is say cod, lenitls, spinach they want potatoes and veg because their meal is not 'balanced' without it. Doesn't matter that they may have had them for lunch, are going to have them tomorrow night and the next.......

Their habits often remind me of the scene from the film Big Night (Stanley Tucci) when the customer asks for a side of spaghetti with her risotto or vice versa...can't remember precisely, havn't seen it for a while. The film was set in 50s America but I could recount many simliar requests that happen as frequently.

Edited by bakerestates (log)
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We have customers who will ask for a side of roast potatoes even if roast potatoes or mashed potatoes come with their dish i.e. on the plate as a component... Never chips though.

as someone who regularly has chips with fish pie, I shan't comment. I knew I was a powerful and important person when I got our chef to stop doing skipole and start making fat chips.

Look, carbohydrates are important okay?

It no longer exists, but it was lovely.

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i did take to writing on our menus 'all dishes are accompanied with complimentary vegetables' to make the point, still didn't stop people asking for things that weren't on the menu eg 'i usually like cauliflower cheese with my roast beef' hmm really how interesting, lets start taking individual requests for veg now shall we to really make service swing!

i can't tell you how pleased i am not to have to spend valuable and ever decreasing brain cells worrying about these things :biggrin:

you don't win friends with salad

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Perhaps two different scenarios are to be recognised here:

1. Menu quotes the main part of the dish i.e. meat or fish with appropriate sauce/dressing and that is all you get. Suddenly, what looks an attractive price starts to inflate once side dishes are added to make a substantial meal.

2. Chef carefully designs a plate of food with specific accompaniments. In this case I wouldn't be too chuffed to have customers requesting the entire dish be reconstructed to suit their whims on accompanying vegetables etc. I wonder what the result would be of such a request if a certain Mr Ramsay was in the kitchen? :raz: On that note didn't Nico Ladenis throw people out of his restaurant if they asked for salt and pepper, or is that apocryphal?

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As RDB mentioned, there was a bit of discussion on the type of restaurant a particular area can sustain on one of the Dublin threads (Thornton's or Mint)... and we were talking about the critical mass in Dublin! Outside of Dublin, Cork, Wexford , Belfast and parts of Kerry and Waterford, eating well can be tough going. Without the country house tradition in the west of Ireland it would be frightening!

There was also some discussion on people requesting chips in Thornton's (not on the menu, the restaurant has one Michelin star), the chef agreeing to make them, but then a bit of a hoohaa when the chips arrived late. After an exchange of words, a swift ejection from the restaurant ensued. click here This story was taken up by most of the papers after some of the ejected diners phoned in to one of the leading radio chat shows, and Kevin Thornton the chef did an interview the following day.

A few days later, the Sunday Independent critic was thrown out of Balzac in Dublin (a new brasserie in the failed Novelli spot) for being too critical of the food when she was there.

And judging by what the new Telegraph critic said in one of his pieces, it looks like he can't wait to be thrown out by some restaurateur.

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