The insatiable craze of tasting plates

The current fad for tasting plates makes me want to break some dishes. Preferably Greek style. I want to break them one tiny tasting plate at a time until all the world’s tasting plates have been eliminated and we can get back to one square meal on a non-square plate.

According to this self-styled foodie, tasting plates are a cunning, not to mention, successful way to drive profits. These tasty sharing plates come with a rather hefty price tag, usually retailing at $16 and upwards.

According to restaurant marketing people, the ethos behind the whole tasting plate craze is that you share them and make the meal a convivial experience and in so doing make the world a better place. Possibly even create world peace between Greeks and Germans. At least until you get the bill.

It seems that tasting plates are really just a pimped up entree. How else can you explain that menus now offer the option of tasting plates followed by the main meal? How else can you explain the augmented price tag? How else do you explain words like pulled pork belly on a bed of cauliflower puree and passionfruit sauce? Not to mention duck and Bunya nut cream or any words involving spanner crab and lettuce.

I reckon tasting plates are a good way to spend good on garnish and a weird meat and the sooner the tasting plate craze gets unceremoniously sent back to the kitchen to wash dishes, the better.

Taking the plate is a jarring note

Due to great plate shortage and the knife and fork famine circa 2012 and ongoing to this day, cafes are serving things up in jars and the plate has gone the same way as the tonka bean.

Why?

It’s like a pair of smelly old sandshoes is in charge of table service and thought it would be classy. Either that or Manu, in a French-flavoured fit of pique, cried, “They don’t like ze escargots infused with duck fat?! Let them eat splinters from chopping board wrapped in a salmonella jus. I’ll even throw in this old set of steak knives.”

You know, those in the know will say it’s an attempt to juxtapose the complexity of modern life with a pared down existence, walls, lighting, table settings, all pared back to the underpants.

Those not in the know, will just think that’s a lot of jam to get through to empty out all those jars.

As for death of a plate, food is now presented on chopping blocks, bricks, anything but a plate which has done the job for approximately 30 centuries but that hasn’t stopped inner city hipsters from having a go at it.

Knives and forks are still floating around, but brought to the table in another jam jar. They are trying to make everything look homestyle by having it mismatched. But weirdly, nowadays, thanks to pressure from Better Homes and Gardens everything at home now matches.

It’s not all restaurants or cafes that have no cutlery. Just the expensive funky ones, usually with one word names like Roast, Grill, Sal and Whip (sorry, ignore that last word, I got carried away).

There is no point complaining. This is an actual conversation in Sydney today.

Restaurant goer: Waiter, I’m eating soup off a bathroom tile with an eggbeater and a fish knife.

Waiter: well, sir/madam/gender of choice this is a hatted restaurant. What did you expect? A plate? (insert Sydney waiter sneer).

It’s hard to know where this will end. Will it end? Will your next meal be served on a an old vinyl record, car wheel, playing cards, the kitchen floor.

On that note, excuse me,  have to go and open a jar of jam. I have run out of cups.

How to get ’em queueing

It’s easy to make money in Sydney. All you need to do is not do anything people actually need and instead buy a struggling old business, do a Mexican streetfood refit and then advertise your new eatery.

There are virtually no post offices, old-school garages and butcheries left in this town, they’ve already been transformed into The Garage, The Butcher’s Block or La Stazione or Il Postino. Bookstores have already turned themselves into cafes, and next will surely be newsagents and banks.

Meanwhile the owners of the themed cafes are laughing all the way to the bank. People are queuing up faster than you can say doppia macchiato to get a slice of contrived action.

As for menu, well, basically sorted. Pepe butter, Sonoma bread, Hanks Jams. There must be macaroons, vine-ripened tomatoes and hay-fed pork sausages from Bangalow. And it must be overpriced.

Then – cue stroke of genius – the business doesn’t take bookings, giving the impression that they are really popular, cool, hip and in demand. And sit back let em queue, let ’em queue and sit back and walk to the bank. Hold on, it’s already a new cafe, La Banque. Heard it’s good.

American diner food is a real cheek

It’s ironic that for years we have pilloried American food and now in Sydney, American diner food is the new hip food at any half-trendy restaurant.

It’s hard to swivel sideways in a Sydney nosherie without seeing corn gritts, pulled pork collar butt (I am not making this up), waffles, wings, sliders, ham slow-roasted in Coca Cola, Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Whooppee Pie.

If you go to the site www.thisiswhyyourefat.com compare it with Sydney’s haute, hip cuisine, you’ll see it’s basically the same thing. KFC Deep Fried Soup featured on This Is Why You’re Fat will be Sydney’s next go-to dish – you heard it first here!

I could care less (as the Americans would say) but it’s just so weird. Since when did hot dogs become hip? What was wrong with the foam of 2009? Or the tonka bean of 2010? Why did we have to go to the pulled pork butt cheek? I know most chefs are whackjobs, but they are on way too many drugs this time.

Some might say it is a nostalgic return to the Yankee comfort food of the 1950s. I reckon it’s junk food for grown ups and a nice little earner for restauranteurs – how expensive can corn with a side of mayo, Mac ‘n’ Cheese and miniature burgers be?

All I can say is, please stop! And next time I see a piece of meat infused in Coca Cola with a $45 price tag, I’ll pull my own pork cheek.

Small bars; big price

If you are looking for a butcher, post office, garage or corner shop, chances are it has been converted into a too-cool-for-my-pinot wine bar.

Of course, Melbourne has had small bars for a while, but Sydney has embraced it like it was all its idea the whole time. Small bars are liberally sprinkled in the city and inner west and now they are sweeping the north shore, like an out-of-control bushfire. Or herpes.

Small bars always have a bit of a theme (even Granny’s boudoir would do), a bizarre wine list, miniature food portions and hipster waitstaff from the inner west on temporary protection visas.

Then there’s the price. A quiet drink at a small bar is likely to cost the same as a big night out. These small bars don’t get out of bed for less than $10 a glass of wine, with some bars charging as much as $18 a glass.

Food is around $12 a plate for a few morsels, so let’s do the maths. For two drinks and two tasting plates and we are up to $40. At least. And if you want dessert, you may need to sell a kidney or two.

I’ve got nothing against small bars, they are cute, safe and don’t televise sport (hooray). But it’s an expensive way to eat and drink – and that’s no small matter.

Beachside burgers take back seat

Recently I went to Terrigal, a somewhat swish beachside burb, just north of Sydney. At the Surf Life Saving Club is a beachside cafe. It’s an outdoor cafe, with plastic seating and a menu that averages the $15 mark for lunch. In other words, it’s a proper cafe! And there’s not a single junk food item to be seen.

That’s right. No burgers, fries, paddle pops or anything with fake banana flavouring in it. I mean’s it’s just not the beach without the smell of deep-fried gunk and food not resembling actual food. It goes so well with the salt air and desperate feeling of squeezing into your cozzie.

You could say it’s part of Terrigal becoming gentrified, but Terrigal has always been pretty genteel and in the past it always dished up hamburgers at the beachside cafe. I like a little non-junk food from time to time, as much as the next person, but the thing is a corn fritter with semi air-dried tomatoes and grass-fed asparagus, just isn’t smelling like the beach.

Nigelissima and her faux friends

I like Nigella really I do. I like her food, she’s got a schick that no one else can emulate and there’s nothing else on the tube anyway.

But I don’t like the crowd she’s hanging with. Who are these false friends, this rent-a-crowd gang? I don’t like them pretending to eat and making posho conversation and slow burn shots of their lip enhancement and I’m-too-sexy-for-my-hair, hair.

It makes the whole program look, kind of like a bad soapie, where everyone stands around with a bad script, grateful to have a tiny shot at the bigtime.

And while we’re at it, I don’t like it when Nigella pretends she’s just got home at midnight and is whipping up some scrambled eggs. In her evening gown. I like it as a comedy skit. I just don’t like it in a foodie program.

Nigellissima. Really, you are enough as it is. Ditch the rent-a-crowd and get back in the kitchen.