Janet Street-Porter: 'I decided not to eat the sad, rubbery food I was given'

A piece bemoaning poor food and service in some British restaurants brought an impassioned response from our readers
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Well, I certainly got a strong reaction to my piece last week. Dozens of readers agree with me that too many places serve up over-priced meals and shoddy service.

I'm obviously not alone in the things I expect when I dine out – an honest menu, no nasty surprises, no hidden extras, a friendly atmosphere, being welcomed on arrival, made to feel special.

Judging by the emails, restaurants all around the country have forgotten these basics, instead charging £50 a head for fussy, sometimes disgusting meals with patronising service.

Even a few famous restaurateurs have joined the call for higher standards. Sir Terence Conran, the doyen of gourmets who helped to create stylish dining in the capital, wrote to me: "I enjoyed your article about restaurants – you are right!"

Jeremy King, who owns the Wolseley, said: "Sadly, I can only concur ... that however much we trumpet our culinary advances in England, the truth is that we still don't have an understanding and love of food imbued in our culture and until we do you and many others will suffer more of those experiences you wrote about."

Not everyone agreed, though. The Observer's food critic Jay Rayner, stung by my accusation that many food journalists concentrate on places that are too expensive for their readers, was quick to retaliate on his blog. "The notion that what we want now is meals costing between £12 and £25 a head is equally ludicrous," he wrote.

"It all comes from a deep-seated British refusal to pay proper money for food; a puritanical suspicion that it is in some way indecent to do so. Us critics will continue to review places that cost a bit more than Street-Porter thinks decent."

Sadly for Jay though, some of his readers agreed with me. Among several comments questioning his views, one reader concluded: "The debt-fuelled habit of trophy dining – which is what Jay is often referring to (and reviewing) – is another of those many Vanities that are shortly going on the Bonfire."

Your views Some of the comments from www.independent.co.uk

Athensnic

I totally agree that restaurants (and now even pubs) in the UK are ridiculously priced and also often the food isn't up to scratch. However, what really offends me is the trend among waiting staff of arguing with you when you dare to complain about the rubbish you've been served. When will UK restaurants learn that if they want the business then the customer IS always right!

Pithywriter

Great Janet, let's hear your view on pubs. Here's mine. Crap food warmed in a microwave! I recently was served a vile Sunday lunch in a "done up" gastropub. Recently, I ordered a coffee in a pub for a French friend. We were told to "go down the road to Starbucks if you want coffee".

Anon

I currently live in Spain, on the east coast in a small town. For lunch, there are a number of places that serve a "menu" – a starter, main course, dessert, beer or wine, bread and, last but not least, a coffee. In the UK one would be expected to pay at least around 40 to 50 quid for this, here you would pay a set price between 9 to 12 euros ... for everything. Superb surroundings, brilliant atmosphere and a homely welcome. Beat that!

Fineoldwine

Only yesterday I went for a lunchtime meal which promised "home made toad in the hole with vegetables". Within two minutes of receiving this "treat" I chose not to eat the sad, dried-out and almost rubbery Yorkshire pudding with thingy! When the waitress cleared some other tables she looked at my nearly full plate and I told her I had never ever had such a disgusting meal presented to me. Her only word to me was "Really?" and she retreated.

Lizzy

I am in the restaurant business. I am ashamed of fellow chefs and restaurateurs who make no attempt to cook in a healthy, nutritious and affordable way. Sometimes I think diners despise themselves for some reason and are willing to be treated shabbily. Let your money do the talking and I look forward to the big restaurant "shake-out". It has already begun! Dining revolution now!

Broadwood

Thank heavens Janet Street-Porter has the guts to name and shame the ghastly restaurants she has eaten in. Keep it up and expose them all for the rubbish food and service they impose upon us. Now with the credit crisis, hopefully the worst of them will shut their doors for good.

Nos235

I have to laugh at you English people and the meals you're willing to pay for. In Australia, a prime steak served with roast vegetables, your choice of sauce/gravy with a pint of beer will set you back less than 10 quid.

Ajhse1

I went to the late Notting Grill in January, which is part of the diminished Antony Worrall Thompson empire. It stated that I would get the "best steak you will ever eat" ... well, I can tell you that I could have cooked the piece of meat I got far better.

Julian Franklin

I work in the restaurant industry and have been a partner in a restaurant. The majority of restaurants (and pubs that serve food) seem to have lost the plot. There are so many aspects that make a good venue that seem to have been forgotten at the expense of cheap labour, second-rate ingredients and lack of passion for delivering something special. The market is being swallowed up by big operators who are only interested in profit and brand. The personal touch is being buried firmly underground. It's not rocket science. When people eat out they have a few simple desires. To eat good food, drink nice wine, have decent service, be in nice surroundings, perhaps be paid a little attention, made to feel special and, not be ripped off. The whole idea of giving good customer service and delivering the goods has disappeared from all parts of our society, hence part of the reason why we are in such a mess at the moment. The restaurant business is no different. The owner or host should treat his restaurant like his front room; it should be welcoming and warm. These days it seems most restaurants are like show-houses that have no personality.

Twguk

The last decade of abundant choice and food may have been heralded as a gastronomic revolution, but this recession is proving it to be nothing of the sort, as those hit hardest revert to type and find ways to make their money stretch further. Fast-food outlets are profitable because they offer more for your buck, a plate piled high with food is value for money; a pretentiously arranged mouthful is not. Any restaurant boom was solely the result of a perceived strong economy ... Britain never experienced a cultural shift towards a real appreciation of food.

Nichiren

Well done for your article. The same is happening in Bristol. I have been to restaurants soon after they have opened and had a reasonable experience. But very quickly they go downhill.

Lesley

I couldn't agree more – I cook to a decent standard but am not a trained chef, there is nothing worse than going out for lunch, dinner or even breakfast to have it cooked by a professional and it is something that could have been done far better yourself. The problem is in the UK most customers are quite happy to be served substandard food / receive bad service etc – so they carry on regardless. It is not hard to prepare good food.

Peter Jenkins, USA

Spot on. I have given up eating out in the UK except to go to Indian restaurants where I have never been disappointed. Here in the USA we have splendid restaurants in the mid-price range, Americans would never put up with the service and food you find in the UK.

Nabas

I have made a promise to myself never to visit restaurants owned by celebrity chefs ... waste of time ... food too expensive ... nice decoration and if you're not well known you get treated like a tramp. In this recession I only go to Lebanese restaurants; they have reasonable prices, plenty of delicious (fresh food) ... and treat people nicely.

To have your say on the state of the British restaurants go to http://tinyurl.com/bttm8p

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