Sunday, 14 November 2010

And Another Thing...

There are times when real life intrudes the blogosphere and if you're reading this, it means that I've been too busy to write-up a 'normal' post. That means I'm probably in a crappy mood so it's only appropriate that my 'stand-by' post (do other bloggers have these?) is one where I turn into Mr Grumpy and have a good old-fashioned moan.

Pan-Asian Restaurants
There's a group of bright young things out on the town looking for somewhere to eat. One of them wants Thai, one Chinese, whilst the cool kids are torn between Malaysian and Vietnamese. That's where the Pan-Asian eatery comes in, not all of them are shit but plenty are. You know the ones; they'll have banana leaf, mango, or lemongrass in their name. Otherwise, they'll be called something in an indeterminate Asian language that when translated means 'ha-ha, thanks for your hard-earnt'.

The menu will claim to represent the cuisine of a third of the world's population but there will be dishes that bear no resemblance to any Asian cuisine. Much of the food will be pre-prepared, inauthentic ingredients will be used, spicy dishes will be watered down and everything will be too bloody sweet.

Punters that regularly frequent these places should be disappointed but they won't be. That's because most of them don't really care (or realise) what they're eating is a piss poor rendition of some of the world's greatest cuisines.

Service Charge Inflation
I always try and tip at least 10% and don't mind putting more in for exceptional service. So when a restaurant has a 10% service charge, I don't mind too much as long as the service has been OK. I'm not sure when 12.5% service charge became de rigueur but if you're somewhere nice and the service is good then it's no big deal.

But a 15% service charge is just taking the piss. I mean that's nearly as much as the VAT. For that I expect complimentary shoeshine and suit pressing. American readers might think I'm a tight-arse but we don't have that tip equals double-the-tax bollocks in Britain. And whilst we're at it, what is it with Americans calling the main course, an entrée? Do the French call it that? No and it's their bloody language.

What really pisses me off about the 15% service charge is that the places that charge it tend to be posh and expensive anyway. They also know most diners won't kick up a fuss and in fairness, I've never been anywhere with 15% service charge where I've had cause to ask for it to be removed. That said I prefer the decision to leave a generous tip to be mine and not theirs.

I can't believe I've had a good rant and not mentioned how utterly shit some restaurant critics are when they're out of their 'white man food' comfort zone. Well I have now and yes I do mean you, Matthew Norman.

What gets on your nerves in the world of food? Leave a comment and we can all have a therapeutic bitch about it.


  1. One thing that's been bothering me since I've been back stateside is when food comes too quickly. You barely place your order, and boom there's your "entree." (Sorry dude, couldn't resist.) That tells me the kitchen is more an assembly line than a kitchen.

  2. I know what exactly what you mean about the "pan-Asian" tendency. Banana Tree and Sri-Nam are cases in point. However, they similar cases back in Singapore as well. We have stalls peddling fish and chips, pork chop, chicken chop (yes, you read that right), lamb chops and labelled everything under "Western food". Throw in spaghetti, french fries, garlic bread, burgers and you have your pan-European (or American) food.

    I guess by the end of the day, businesses are catering to the local populace. The fact that many of the pan-Asian restaurants are still thriving means that there is a certain customer pool. :)

    That said, just been to Royal China for dimsum this afternoon. The service charge is 13% and the service is hardly worth 10%. Again, that's pretty much subjective, isn't it?

  3. We were talking about "white man food" just the other night...sadly that will continue until business owners are confident about serving authentic food.

  4. Yeah the phrase 'pan asian' or 'asian fusion' strikes fear into my heart...

    And food that is watered down in terms of taste/spicyness from the proper stuff is so irritating, can't seem to get proper Mexican food in London for instance.

  5. I'm with you on the service charge thing. I'd much prefer it if we stuck to 10% — if nothing else, it's easy to calculate!

    Re "entrée", here is a passage from the Oxford Companion to Food which I found amusing:

    "entrée, entremets a couple of French terms which no doubt retain interest for persons attending hotel and restaurant courses conducted under the shadow of French classical traditions, but have ceased to have any real use, partly because most people cannot remember what they mean and partly because their meanings have changed over time and vary from one part of the world to another. Forget them."

  6. Krista - I wonder if the alacrity in which your food was served is related to another bugbear of mine, the 2-hour dining window. BTW - hope the Windy City is treating you well.

    LChow - is the western food in Singapore as bad as the pan-Asian food in the UK? Whilst it may not be great, I somehow doubt it. And yes, we must remember that these places only exist because there are punters out there that keep them in business.

    3HT - spot on my friend. Although what gets on my goat more is the fact that the food is largely crap, not whether it's authentic or not.

    Oliver - welcome! I think poor Mexican in London is due to a lack of Mexican people in London. It's the places that are FUBU (For Us By Us) that maintain standards in ethnic food imho.

    Kake - perhaps we should expunge French from restaurants that aren't French! This has got me thinking about another thing that gets on my nerves - the unnecessary use of a foreign language in a menu.

  7. One other point that really makes my blood boil is certain unscrupulous restaurants' mark ups on their wines - I have been googling some of the wines on various wine lists half way through my meals to find out what a restaurant's mark up policy is - it varies from twice the price (normally good restaurant selling good quality wines) to 5 times! Interestingly, the restaurants serving the most expensive or "marked up" wines are the ones serving also the worst food!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  8. *dons tin hat and heads out Over The Top*

    Sittings - you know, where you have to be out by a certain time, i hate that. Makes me feel that restaurants value profit over food. Grr. Mind you, with London rents, I can understand why some try to do it - ruins the experience for me though.

    But you know what I REALLY hate? Waiting staff that tell you how much you should, or should not, be ordering. It's happened in a number of places. It's like they think we don't know what we want. And, more often than not, they get it wrong. It's like being at school again. Unless I ask for an opinion, if waiting staff do this, I often won't go back no matter how good the food is.

    Wow. I feel better now.

  9. Tipping - hell yes. I am furious whenever I go to the US. 10% is the minimum for BAD service and 20% (!!) for good service. How about we all live in Japan where there is no service, if you leave any they run down the street after you and they will gift wrap a chopstick in gold before they give it to you.

    *breathe slowly*

    Oh and easily spotted big name restaurant reviews (Rayner, Gill, Coren, Maschler) reviewing entirely different meals than anyone anonymous. Why can't our restaurant reviewers have some class and do it as the NYT or Time Out - anonymously.

  10. PS the Mr Men will probably sue you now for copyright infringement.

  11. Ohh I so agree (on both issues).
    Pan Asian is AWFUL! Who is to blame though, the restaurants or the people who go there?
    and service charge, if 10%, 12.5% or 15% should be OPTIONAL, this means NOT included in the bill.
    Mr Noodles, write posts like this more often, sometimes it's just good to be angry together!

  12. Luiz - absolutely. The mark-up on wine can be one of the greatest piss-takes perpetuated by restaurants. Which brings me to another grumble and that's why aren't there more BYO places in London.

    Gworm - I also hate sittings. It's the mentality of the control freak, as let's face it most parties are usually done around the 2 hour mark anyway. On portion control, I'm with you but it also depends on how the servers broach the subject. If done sensitively, I don't find it that much of an issue.

    TomEats - yes and yes! I also hate it sometimes in the States when they drop very unsubtle hints about tipping. On 'sleb reviews, it's obvious that they are fawned on a bit more although some unknowing restaurants may not realise they're critics.

    Ute - it's to rant every now and then but I prefer to write about the positives of food. That said if something does get on my nerves, I will write about it!

  13. In "defense" of the 15-20% tip in US restos, my understanding is that American servers don't get paid a living wage and so rely on tips. (I realize there is a chicken-or-the-egg issue with this first sentence). In any case, I can't remember the last time the tip was automatically added to a bill in the US.

    On the "plus" side, one could argue that the reliance on tips means you get more attentive service, generally, in the US.

    Agree with all the above pet peeves.

  14. I don't mind paying the service tips when I am in the US as I now they get paid really low wages and have to rely on tips. What I find is that the waiter serving me always tend to be smiling and eager to make sure I have a good time.

    What I don't like here is when they automatically include it regardless of whether I actually did receive any service or not. It should be up to the diner if they want to pay. And so sneaky when they have already included and when you use a card to pay, the terminal asks if you want to include a tip!!!

  15. A-in-L/Saryn - for clarification, my grumbles about tips are UK-focussed, as I am fully aware of the crap pay situation stateside. Although I would add that some servers in the US can seem insincere. And Saryn, the 'open' credit card slip is something that really gets my goat too.

  16. Tick and tick. Both awful.

    Want to complain about something else but it may come across as an odd complaint so will complain to you in person when I see you next. :P

  17. Great post. To add to the list of woes, I also HATE it when a waiter takes away my plate when my companion is still eating (or vice versa). The "optional" service charge really annoys me here given service is generally so crap compared to many other countries (where it's not automatically added to your bill).

  18. Su-Lin - I look forward to hearing about your gripe!

    GDiva - Oh yes, clumsy plate clearing gets on my goat too. Although that's as much to do with my former boss insisting that plates be cleared as soon as people have finished. Even when it wasn't his own plate.