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I like to think I'm reasonably broad-minded when it comes to food. I don't beat the wife if my meal isn't on the table when I come home from work; in fact, I do more than my fair share in the kitchen. My repertoire - if you can call it that - encompasses Italy, Spain, France, China and India and the last time I had meat, gravy and two veg was Xmas dinner last year. I like to eat out too. So if I had to rate myself on a scale between Neanderthal and Renaissance Man, it would be closer to the latter.
But there are things that really get my goat and top of the list at the moment is tapas. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Spain and the Spanish and spent a wonderful week recently in Spain's tapas capital, San Sebastian, bar-hopping and munching my way through all sorts of delightful tapas (or pinchos, as they refer to them in the Basque Country). But that's the whole point - tapas are bite-sized morsels meant to accompany a drink in a bar. For some unknown reason, UK restaurateurs have leapt onto the tapas bandwagon with seemingly every other restaurant, Spanish or otherwise, offering 'small plates', 'sharing plates', Italian tapas, Thai tapas. It's just an excuse to charge exorbitant prices for tiny portions and the only honourable exceptions to this mass fleecing are the Cantonese who have been knocking out dim sum since Europe was in the Dark Ages.
Mention Chinese though and that gets me on to my next pet hate - designer pizzas. I suppose you could argue that putting duck and hoi sin sauce or chicken tikka on top of a pizza is creative, even innovative. You could argue that but you'd be wrong. The French have a word - terroir, literally soil - which is used a lot with reference to wine and food products. It's hard to translate but the gist of it is that if a wine or food exhibits terroir it reflects the characteristics of the soil and area it's grown in. Regional food styles have grown up over centuries, reflecting deep-rooted cultural mores, so unless you're telling me that Marco Polo came back from China to Italy with a ship full of Peking Duck, I'll stick to mozzarella, tomato and proscuitto on my pizza, thank you very much.
Last but not least is the amuse bouche, or as I prefer to call it, the mess with the bouche. For those of you that are scratching your heads, the amuse bouche is the tiny little freebie course that posh restaurants randomly dish out in the middle of your meal. You don't want it; you didn't order it, it interrupts the flow of your meal, and if - like me - you spend time and money trying to match decent wine with the food you've ordered, it it's invariably some spiced concoction that ruins your delicate Burgundy. Don't get me wrong - if I go out to eat with the express intention of having Heston Blumenthal, Simon Rogan or Paul Kitching strut his culinary stuff with some marathon tasting menu, I expect to have my taste buds and preconceptions challenged (stick with champagne all the way through is my tip). But if I'm out for a meal with the wife and in-laws, 'this comes compliments of the chef' are not the words I want to hear.
-- RHODES ARNOLD
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