Flash, bang, wallop

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   A reader emailed that his recent dinner at Medlar in Chelsea, London, was spoilt by constant flashes as the couple at the adjacent table took photos of one another and every dish they were served. This is now an all too common feature of restaurant life. So, too, is the phenomenon of watching smokers pick up their wine glasses and head outside, between courses, for a nicotine hit, a practice that, ironically, coincides with more and more restaurants’ offering long…






Restaurants with art galleries

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   This month sees the art world and the restaurant world merge even closer than ever. As Frieze opens its doors in London, numerous chefs are planning their various temporary outposts. Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson from Rochelle’s Canteen will run the VIP side of the art fair alongside brigades from Mark Hix, Caravan, Pitt Cue the barbecue specialists, Gail’s the bakers, and Moshi, Moshi Sushi. Those at Frieze Masters will be able to choose from the Italian cooking of Giorgio…






The menu is the message

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   ZUNI CAFÉ, SAN FRANCISCO  This menu excites me visually on several fronts. Firstly, I can immediately spot those dishes that I would only want to eat sitting here in the California sunshine: the house-cured anchovies with celery; the bowl of polenta with mascarpone; and Zuni’s longest-running dishes, their Caesar salad and the roast chicken for two cooked in the brick oven. Then this menu effortlessly takes me on a tour of those farms which, if they have passed the scrutiny…






Noise (and too much of it)

Noise (and too much of it) in modern restaurants – 2006 It took me far longer to track down the most suitable person to answer the question numerous FT readers have been putting to me for some time now – why are so many modern restaurants so noisy? – than to think of the most appropriate restaurant in which to meet. In the end, thanks to a tip from the man responsible for the rebuilding of the concert hall within the Royal Festival Hall and all its attendant acoustic challenges,…






Do you have any reservations?

Do you have any reservations? – 2006 ‘Good morning, Oxo Tower reservations, how can I help?’ By the end of just half an hour sitting in the subterranean, windowless basement opposite the five receptionists constantly at work at the Oxo Tower restaurant and brasserie to handle the 1,100 phone calls they receive daily my head was swirling with this phrase that they use, very politely, to answer each call. I had asked to sit here because I had come to realise that while the technology in the kitchen today may…






The importance of good service

The importance of good service – 2003 The past 20 years, which I believe has been the golden age of restaurants, has produced some exceptional and highly unlikely occurrences: the emergence of exciting British and Australian chefs; French sommeliers who now acknowledge that great wine can be made outside their homeland; and the sheer iconoclasm of many American restaurateurs. But perhaps the most unlikely is the emergence of two young New Zealanders, James O’Connell and Nick Penrose, who have set up The Greatwaiter School in the South Island’s capital Christchurch,…






How to get service right

How to get service right – 2006 For Marian Scrutton, who has spent 30 years at the coal-face of numerous successful restaurants, there is one particular reason why the customer must never leave disappointed. “Whenever you choose a restaurant and for whatever reason the host’s reputation is on the line and the staff must understand this,” she explained. Happily, I hope, Scrutton did not think worse of me for my choice of the recently opened Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea where poor food and uncomfortable surroundings were overshadowed by inept service….






Cigars and their smoke

Cigars and their smoke – 2007 As a cigar smoker who welcomes the complete and long overdue smoking ban that will come into force in all workplaces, and therefore all restaurants, pubs and bars, in Wales on 2 April, Northern Ireland on 30 April and England on 1 July this year, I realise that I may be in a small minority. But I believe that my reasons for this seemingly contrary position are valid. When I was a restaurateur, I, and whatever I wore, suffered the effects of secondary smoking…






The sommelier’s view

The sommelier’s view – 2006 Sommeliers, or wine waiters, are the dark horses of the restaurant world. They can contribute just as much to the enjoyment of any meal as chefs, their far better known colleagues, and can, quite easily and unintentionally, ruin what promises to be a highly enjoyable evening. An unsuitable wine recommendation or perhaps a confrontation, however minor, over whether a wine is corked or not, can prove uncomfortable, unforgettable and a justifiable reason for never returning. And as wine prices rise, a sommelier plays an increasingly…






Giaconda News

Giaconda News – 2008 My fully justified, highly enthusiastic review of The Giaconda Dining Room just off Tottenham Court Road where Australian Paul Merrony is the only chef in a one-person kitchen did end by saying that the viability of the business rested solely on his broad shoulders. Fate has unfortunately intervened. Cycling home from work on Halloween after what he subsequently described as ‘a record week’, Merrony had an accident that has resulted in a broken right elbow. Fortunately, he is left-handed. The restaurant has been closed since then…