The knives are out: Why do restaurants love to make dining so tricky?

 

Recently I had breakfast at a London branch of the popular Franco-Belgian bakery chain, Le Pain Quotidien. An integral element of the firm's rustic, continental brand image is its insistence on serving hot drinks not in a cup or mug, but in a bowl.

I tend to forget this when I suggest to friends that we go there because it does a great brioche – and then curse my bad memory as the dreaded bowl of warm brew is delivered to the table. This time, however, I was prepared. Might I have a cup instead of a bowl, I asked as I ordered my latté. No, said the waitress: we don't have cups. Cups are not hard to come by, I wanted to say. They're like bowls, only a little bit smaller and with a handle.

The bowl is inferior to the cup as a coffee-drinking device in at least two fundamental respects: first, it offers the drinker's fingers no protection from the heat and thus requires them to wait until the drink is tepid. Moreover, while one-handed drinking from a bowl is possible with practice, it remains a hazardous, spillage-prone technique, demanding the drinker's full concentration – and therefore discounting any chance they might have had of reading their liberal newspaper or Penguin Classic at the same time.

The waitress offered one alternative: a cardboard takeaway cup which, though it has no handle, is accompanied by a protective sleeve to prevent palm-scolding and small enough to hold comfortably in one hand – while tweeting, say.

I declined. I was enjoying my martyrdom too much. But the incident reminded me of just how easy it is to ruin an eating or drinking experience with inadequate or inappropriate tools.

On my first visit to Japan last month, for example, I was overjoyed to discover that sushi is not, in fact, intended to be eaten with chopsticks. I watched in wonder as one of my hosts dipped a piece of maguro tuna sushi in soy sauce, flipped it on its back and poked it into his mouth, fish-side down. Nobody in the restaurant was using chopsticks – so why is it that Marks and Spencer, Pret A Manger et al insist on including them in their plastic packs of flavour-deprived California rolls? Better a lemon-scented handwipe, surely? But no, they give us two-bite-size sushi and expect us to slice each piece in half with a pair of pencils.

Given that I grew up in a non-chopstick culture and am never likely to be especially skilled in their use, I'm frustrated by the notion that eating with a knife and fork in an Asian-themed restaurant would be doing the food a cultural disservice. (The Chinese invented paper, gunpowder, printing, banknotes, the compass. Can't they let Europe claim cutlery?) In the Far East, chopsticks are not just eating utensils, but symbols of good or bad luck in love and life.

There are differing rules of etiquette attached to their use in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. When in Hanoi, then, I'm content to do as the Vietnamese do. But when in Wagamama, I'd rather not have to sup my broth from a spoon the size of a salad server.

The misuse of eating paraphernalia doesn't just afflict the imported cuisines of our friends in the Far East and across the Channel: British dishes are affected, too, by trends taking precedence over practicality. Today, in gastropubs everywhere – and they are everywhere – lunches are being served not on plates, as is traditional, but in vast white bowls. This might be suitable for seafood linguine, or some sort of soupy lentil concoction with a white fish fillet on top. But not for pork belly and certainly not for Sunday roast. Trying to cut through tough crackling or carve a slab of beef, when you can only attack it from above, is near-futile.

And the tyranny of the bowl is but the thin end of the wedge. In eating establishments the length and breadth of the country, perfectly serviceable platters are being neglected in favour of wooden chopping boards and pieces of black slate. Chopping boards are for chopping, slates are for roofing, plates are for eating. And that, I'm afraid, takes me back to Le Pain Quotidien, which serves tartines – one of its signature dishes – on porcelain cheeseboards.

Next time, I'll try asking for a plate.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence