Leisure: Food police swamp the flavours of the future

Restaurateurs are going on the offensive against what they see as excessive regulation. They fear that if the food police have their way, the restaurant of the future will be a dull and sterile place. Louise Jury gets a taste.
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The Independent Online
An overweight man orders a steak sandwich and the waiter orders him to step on to scales. A woman asks for soft cheese and the waiter produces a portion from a freezer box. "It's inedible," she says. "But it's safe," he explains.

Posters warn of the hazards of drinking when pregnant. Other signs show how to help someone who is choking. The staff are in sterile uniforms more akin to a hospital.

The scene being painted by restaurateurs, caterers and brewers is unappetising. They have devised a script of what such an evening out might be like and it will be presented in a mock restaurant set - Cafe La Futura - to MPs at the Labour party conference next week.

The sketch plays for laughs, but the industry is very serious. Its leaders say warning signs to pregnant women, for instance, are obligatory in some parts of the United States. The no-smoking laws introduced in New York restaurants saw a slump in attendance. And over-regulation is already a problem in Britain, they claim.

Michael Gottlieb, who runs Smollensky's restaurant in London and chairs the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, said: "It's already very hard to get a good piece of ripe cheese, for example, because they're supposed to chill them at a certain temperature that takes the enjoyment away.

"And restaurants have to use pasteurised eggs and if you want to make mayonnaise they're not as good. It's taking a lot of the pleasure out of going out to eat."

In a pre-emptive strike, the association has formed the Forum for Reasonable Regulation with other groups in the catering and brewing industries. It will be taking the Cafe La Futura around Britain to highlight the tightening of the law.

Roger Davis, chairman of the European Catering Association, said the hygiene regulations concerning foodhad become "extremely onerous". "The amount of regulation requires full-time senior managers who are just making sure everybody keeps the right records," he said. Most felt safe where they ate, otherwise they voted with their feet. "Yet very few people feel safe with the actual growers of the food - with poultry or what pesticides are sprayed on our fruit and veg."