Saturday, February 28, 2015

Where to Eat?

Selecting a restaurant.

Most people, unless they are sufficiently wealthy do not have to worry about this, but still have at times during their lives searched for good and affordable places to eat. This is particularly important during your student days or when on holidays and money is getting low. I still remember a piece of advice given to me in my youth, always follow the parish priest to find the best dining. Generally you will either keep visiting the place you know and love, or will be brave and try somewhere new. Generally you don’t do this by walking down the street and taking a chance; you may be lucky, but the odds aren’t good. The true fine-dining experience is usually booked out weeks or months in advance.

Recently, a tourist book on what to look for in French restaurants arrived at my house with what purported to offer the best advice when eating out in Paris. I must say many of eating houses reviewed were Michelin, so there was no confusion about the likely cost. The advice struck me as a little over the top so I decided to pass it on.

Naturally the first thing you notice are the table cloths, perfectly ironed without creases, napkins linen and cutlery silver. This advised removed quite a lot of my eating establishments. Further each setting should have purpose when vacant with stemmed or styled water glasses. A table should have a centre piece, anything from a piece of driftwood with the chief’s name engraved on it or a tasteful piece of sculpture. Look around and make sure the tables are spaced appropriately, no more than 10 to 20 should be satisfactory. All staff appropriately dressed and their roles identifiable, apparently at least one staff member for every two guests.

Then we come to the most important item the wine list. This should have a minimum 450 different bins/labels and should be managed by a team of fully qualified sommeliers. Make sure the appropriate glassware is available for different wine varieties including aperitifs.

My guide book assures me if all this is correct it is safe to venture further. In all top-class restaurants everything is made on the premises, no buying in as once  food is brought in it becomes generic, however puff pastry and bread is another matter, but should be a freshly baked artisan product that reflects  the personality of the restaurant and its proprietor not of some commercial baker. Naturally there should be a choice of several breads. If the chef does not want bread, then there must be something similar to start the meal and clean the pallet. Butter the highest quality served at room temperature with a choice of salted and unsalted.

Every dish should use the finest ingredients and be carefully crafted by a team of highly trained chefs, a minimum of ten would be required. All the ingredients used should not be the sort of thing found in supermarkets or food stores. Truffles, caviar, line-caught fish and organic free range meats should be the order of the day. All pastries and deserts must have the Wow factor. There should be nothing an average home cook could make as well as the restaurant it could not describe itself as a fine dining establishment.

Judgement about dishes should be made with care, as a dish may seem simple but require great effort behind the scenes, many great chefs strive to produce dishes that are served modestly but cooked to perfection. Last but not least , coffee and tea should always be served with handmade chocolates and/or petit four. When you find such an establishment let me know for there are non where I live, but perhaps there are in Paris.