Stephen Jardine: Making dog’s dinner of meals on a plate

Fantastic food doesn't need gimmicks like slates and dog's dishes to amuse the customer. Picture: Contributed
Fantastic food doesn't need gimmicks like slates and dog's dishes to amuse the customer. Picture: Contributed
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TREND of using anything but crockery to serve food must stop, says Stephen Jardine

A letter arrived from a reader this week. In this electronic age, it’s so long since that happened, the entire production of this week’s column was thrown into chaos.

I’d planned to write about supermarket Christmas trading figures or maybe the progress of New Year food resolutions but instead the letter is taking us in a different direction. By popular demand, this column is devoted to plates. Or the lack of them.

“Am I a lone diner in finding it most peculiar to eat food in restaurants from plates, boards and such like?” asks Esther Taylor in her letter. The answer is no, Esther. In fact you are part of a growing backlash from consumers fed up with this latest fad.

What seemed to start with chips being served in metal baskets has meta­morphosed into steak on slates, rice in flower pots and even bread presented inside carpet slippers.

However, the worst offender has got to be the pub that serves sausage, beans and chips in a metal dog bowl. Yes, literally a dog’s dinner.

For the past year, the focus of customer complains has been the Twitter account We Want Plates which boasts about 85,000 followers and has no time for this latest food fad.

Founder Ross McGinnes rails against pretentious presentation which he says can leave customers looking like “infantilised idiots”. That could be a reference to the macaroni served on a mousetrap, or the burgers lined up on a mini skateboard.

Having spent a year recording the most extreme examples, Ross and his followers have now turned to direct action and are demanding food served on anything weird and wacky should be transferred to a normal plate before they will eat it. That’s a tactic Esther might want to pursue.

The Griffin Bar in Glasgow has embraced this approach with a billboard outside promising customers that food will be served on “actual plates”.

But surely something new and interesting is OK as long as the food is good? I suppose it depends what you want from your restaurant. If you eat out for a good giggle at the crazy things the chef can do with food, then slates not plates are clearly your thing.

The weirder the presentation, the more concerned I would be that the aim is to distract your attention from everything else. Fantastic food doesn’t need gimmicks to amuse the customer.

And there is another concern. Just how hygienic is it to serve meat or fish on slates or wooden boards? Since boards are not suitable for the dishwashing machine, you are in the hands of the kitchen porter with his high pressure hose and scouring pad.

And where will the presentation craze end? When chefs run out of weird and wonderful objects will the next step just be to dump the food on the table and leave the customers to get on with it? That’s already the messy approach of one spaghetti restaurant in the States.

At the other extreme, I think the white plate purists are going too far. Variations of colour and stonework can highlight the visual impact of a well-presented plate of food.

But anything that is not a plate is a step too far. So well done Esther for highlighting one of the current restaurant bugbears and proving that, even in 2016, the pen is still mightier than the keyboard.