"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


My mother always taught me to be polite.

I hold doors open for people, I always say “please” and “Thank you” and I have been known to help people cross a busy road even if they didn’t want to. “Manners maketh Man” she would say and she was right, polite is a good thing.

Well…….. not always. There is a politeness about a certain levels of restaurants in London that is beginning to get right on my wick, particularly places representing the cooking of nations known for their appreciation of life and their vibrant cuisine.

Too many places now are almost apologetic in the way they present food and neuter menus to avoid offending customers, removing some of the best dishes and ingredients because they think that the fraidy cats of good old London town will run squealing into the streets at the sight of a tripe taco or a brain curry.

DH were discussing this at some length as we stared down our mixed Parillada at Garufa, a relatively new Argentinean steakhouse in Highbury. It’s not that the steaks were bad, they weren’t. The meat had decent flavour and they had been cooked rare as requested. It was all just a bit, well, here’s that word again. Apologetic.

It had started well enough. It’s a pleasant room, although we were pleased to be near a radiator when a chill blast swept through every time the door was open. Our server was friendly if a bit hapless not even knowing which cut of steak was which on our mixed grill. Our starters of empanada were even good enough for us to immediately order another portion after our first bite.

But, these places are about the steak and at Garufa they were just, well just too polite. I can forgive the fact that they were not up to the levels I experienced in Buenos Aires it would be silly to expect them to attain such heights. But a great Argentinean grill should conjour up some level of excitement for the meat being served, the burning embers under the grill spitting up flames, the full on seasoning of the flesh by the grill master and the presence of fat without which as HP says “it just becomes dead protein”

It’s culinary theatre and the presentation of the mixed grill with its challenging cuts of steak, plump morcilla, spicy chorizo, crisp entrails and melting provoletta is, at its very best, worthy of a round of applause. Our last supper at Santa Maria in Hackney received just that. At Garufa, we just gave a bit of a weary shrug as we surveyed the tiny cuts of rump, fillet, rib eye and loin and shared out the undistinguished black pudding and chorizo. Their small electric griddle was hidden in the kitchen as if they were ashamed of it and, of course there were no chitterlings that would be far too scary. Even some decent patatas bravas did nothing add to an experience that did little to justify a place in the memory banks.

It’s not cheap with a cheap bottle of Pinot Noir and a shared dessert of ice cream nudging the bill over £90 for the two of us. Too much for a neighbourhood joint and particularly for one that only confirmed our opinion of so many of London’s restaurants

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Blogger Frequent Traveler said...

Too polite described it well. If you have a passion, you can't compromise.
Either you believe in your food - and that people will want it - and it is worth having a business based on your niche - or something is wrong...
Obviously reveneues matter. But sometimes too much of an eye on that takes out the excitement / culinary theatre aspect, as you said.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 3:38:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Scottish pal made a similar point at dinner a few weeks back.But he extended it a bit,as he felt that this was part of the onslaught against "men's food" i.e meat,being led by a very vocal, though tiny minority called vegetarians.His theory was that eating gutsy food was all about terrific meat.And the vegelunatics had made eating meat reprehensible in the public consciousness,aided and abetted by the BBC(few of whose cooking shows ever feature the glory of meat).He said that restaurant menus have become "meat light" over the years.There are few real meat dishes on many restaurant menus now,compared with 15 or 20 years ago when the menus were dominated by meat with perhaps one fish option and then only on a friday.According to him,most of the great stews,pies,soups etc that featured meat have gone from the menus.
If he is not wrong,then maybe that is why restaurants are becoming furtive in their meat offerings. Time for the Hermanos to lead the fight back?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 9:57:00 am  

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