Category Archives: food

Tipping Tyranny

Service charges, gratuities, tips in restaurants – call them what you like, they need to go.

When I’ve looked into the justifications for the existence of this antiquated convention one that comes up frequently is that it supplements the income of poorly-paid waiting staff. Another popular one is that it allows you to reward exceptional service.

Allow me to demolish both.

If restaurants are paying staff so badly that waiting staff are obliged to solicit (or at least tacitly hope for) supplementation from customers directly, it sends the message that the restaurant isn’t paying its staff a living wage. I’m not comfortable giving my custom to a business that incorporates inadequate wages into its business model. Neither do I want to see a separate “service charge” on my bill. I don’t see a “service charge” when I buy my groceries at the supermarket and I don’t want to see one at a restaurant. I’m not interested in the costs of any other aspect of a particular restaurant’s business model. Just incorporate the cost of staffing into the price of the meal and spare me the hassle of umming and ahhing about how much to tip when I’m in a hurry to leave at the end of the meal.

As for rewarding exceptional service, that logic risks over-attentive, obsequious and artificially “friendly” behaviour by waiting staff desperate to impress. I want waiting staff to provide very good service as a norm because it is the house policy to do so. If an individual goes above and beyond I’ll reward it with good feedback in social media and, most importantly, repeat business.

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Magnus Nilsson and the restaurant at the end of the universe

Looking forward to seeing Magnus and Valentine at the Abergavenny Food Festival, so reblogging the Festival’s post.

The Abergavenny Food Festival Blog

We are all incredibly excited at the prospect of the young Swedish chef  Magnus Nilsson speaking  at this year’s festival in conversation with Valentine Warner.

At just 29 years old he has already achieved a remarkable reputation in the food world.

His restaurant Fäviken seats just twelve diners and is located near the edge of the Arctic Circle. Everything on the menu throughout the year is produced locally.

For the second year running, Fäviken is included in Restaurant magazine’s  The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Magnus is cited as one of Europe’s Top 10 young chefs.

René Redzepi of Noma is quoted as saying: “if I had a chance to go anywhere in the world right now, I would go to Fäviken.” Endorsements don’t come much better than that.

Magnus’ cookery apprenticeship included three years in Paris at  3-Michelin Star restaurants L’Arpège and  L’Astrance before returning  to Sweden…

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Pancetta or bust

Months, literally months after attending a curing and smoking course at River Cottage I got around to making some of my own pancetta. It was easy: the hard bit was worrying that I had made something that would make people sick, but this didn’t happen. These are the pics I took during the process.

CuringRolled

Charcuterie frenzy

When I was a teenager I had phases. There was the cars phase, then computers, followed by tropical fish and logically enough, girls. With middle age it appears that phases are coming back and this year’s seems to be charcuterie: eating, producing and consuming it. When you buy a new car, you suddenly notice how many other wise people have also bought the same model as you. Well, in a similar vein, since becoming interested in charcuterie, I’ve noticed how surprisingly available locally-made cured and smoked goods are in and around Monmouth. So pleased was I by this that did a vaguely arty Instagram photo of some pancetta, smoked pork belly and salami that I bought within ten miles of Monmouth.

My kingdom for a Choucroute Garnie

Sometimes serendipity or perhaps Providence plays a role in the delivery of a meal. One such is a Choucroute Garnie I cooked today. Chance encounters with ingredients that, on their own, don’t promise much, bubble away in my subconscious until I have an “Aha!” moment in which I realise what they could become together.

So it was with the piece of smoked belly pork and kielbasa suasages on special offer at Lidl this week. Buy some then think about about what to do with them. Being a semi-German household there’s always a bit of sauerkraut available. It must be Choucroute Garnie. Of course. Google some recipes. It’s obvious that there is no definitive recipe: it’s probably one of those dishes that exists as a meme, a set of principles. In this case, it’s essentially smoked pork cuts and sausages slowly simmered in sauerkraut, then served on a monstrous platter in its steaming Rabelaisian glory.

But do we have the ingredients? Riesling? Juniper berries, spare ribs, bay leaves, duck fat? Yes to some and no to others. Belt down to Waitrose to get the missing bits and cure the spare ribs overnight. In the morning, I am reminded that Keith Floyd (hallowed be His name) had a recipe for a Choucroute Garnie in his Second Epistle to the Gastronauts, Floyd on France. No spare ribs there. But wait! He adds liver dumplings. I’m about to leap into the car to go and buy some liver when I am reminded by my wife that we have leberknoedeln in the freezer. As one does.