John Walsh: Forget the pigs' trotters and focus on the basics

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The Independent Online

It's sad when a restaurant that opened to general delight in the spring is forced to hang up its oven gloves for good in the autumn. It's less sad when the posh brasserie that cost £100 for dinner for two last year now boasts a sign saying, "Two courses, £9.95".

When restaurants close – and they're now closing in numbers unseen for 25 years – it's usually because their pricing structure is wrong. They charge over the odds before they've established the right balance of raw ingredients, staff and cooking costs, against the estimated number of diners they can expect to attract regularly. Many restaurants open under pressure from their investors to make a profit from day one. Eating-houses that keep their prices low give punters less to complain about.

It's a sad fact that some restaurateurs simply don't pay enough attention to their customers' stomachs. Fired by the example of TV chefs, they offer diners unfamiliar or experimental new "signature" dishes they think they ought to like – like crubeens (an Irish dish of pigs' trotters), which have become inexplicably popular, along with other items of offal. Put four accountants together at lunchtime, and they'll go straight for the steak or the sea bream.

No restaurateur should offer punters only tried-and-tested dishes. But he should consider what will appeal to hungry eaters, rather than strive to impress fellow chefs, and should flavour his menu accordingly. More wild-wood foraging, and the use of hitherto-ignored ingredients (hats off to whomever discovered monkfish cheeks and chicken oysters) are sensible initiatives in a recession. And keeping prices low enough to ensure your diners return week after week is just common sense. Restaurants that fail probably deserve to because they don't follow the rules. Which aren't difficult. They're not rocket salad.

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