Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How Much is Too Much

It appears that we live in a world whereby those that have it are happy to flaunt it and those who don’t are left out in the cold.  We are obsessed by celebrity culture, billionaires going to space and, more recently, restaurants that seem to charge exorbitant amounts for fairly ordinary food.

There will be very few people who have not heard of Gordon Ramsay, the foul-mouthed, celebrity, Michelin starred, TV chef.  Undoubtedly a fabulous chef and personality he has used that talent to create a brand that you could call reassuringly expensive.  But would you pay 80 British Pounds for a burger, or £13,50 for a portion of fries? Even in Harrods? 

How Much is Too Much
Darkardem, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gordon is also under fire for his new fish and chip restaurant at the Savoy Hotel in London which is charging £31.50 for a portion of fish and chips.  If I tell you that fish and chips, that staple of British cuisine, normally costs from £6 in your local “chippy” to around £14 in a relatively high-end restaurant, such as the Ivy, would you pay to go to Ramsay’s or would you feel it a little pretentious?

The second British chef on the recent hit list of overcharging is Michelin starred Tom Kerridge.  Tom made his way with his pub in Marlow cooking some British classics and now has two Michelin stars for the Hand and Flowers making it the only two star pub in Britain.  But Kerridge has recently been criticised for charging £87 for a sirloin steak with chips and £26.50 for Creme Brulée.  You can search pictures of the steak and chips on Instagram and I have to say, in my opinion, it looks unappetising and bland! 

The tagline for his pub is that it is an “unpretentious and proper pub…..accessible to everyone”  Kerridge has defended the criticism stating that the price includes everything, VAT and service and that there are no other hidden charges.  He also states that he pays his staff properly and treats their job as a real career and that “perhaps the real cost of dining should be addressed” That statement leads to a whole other conversation about pay and conditions within the hospitality industry.

Whatever you may think of the above two chefs and their pricing there is no arguing their talent and commitment to the hospitality industry.  They may be considered as giving hope and encouragement to some young people starting out in our industry.  But there is another phenomenon sweeping the London dining scene that is so outrageous you will want to verify what I am about to tell you.

Thirty Seven Thousand British Pounds for dinner for four!!! Yes, that is correct – you can find a copy of the receipt online.  Salt Bae, as he has become known, created an internet sensation back in 2017 when he was filmed seasoning a diner’s food by tipping salt down his forearm onto the plate.  Originally a Turkish butcher Salt, real name Nusret Gokce, has opened the most extortionate steak house in London. 

Salt Bae
Terron F.Beckham, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Steaks at £630, onion flower at £18 and a gold covered burger at £100 are making Ramsay and Kerridge look cheap!.  The reviews of the food quality are harsh with one critic describing the burger as possibly the worst in London but the rich and famous are loving it and seem happy to spend thousands on dinner and, quite possibly, a show.  Diners wait in anticipation for Salt to appear and season their steak in his own inimitable fashion and even skewer a piece of meat and feed it to them. 

Is it really possible to justify such extravagant pricing?  Surely it is more about saying that you have been there rather than what you actually had to eat.  One thing for certain is that the internet will continue to be lit up by copies of people’s receipts and opinions divided about the obscenity of it all, but as they say “no publicity is bad publicity”. Going back to that bill for 37 grand – it was not all food, there were a couple of bottles of vintage Petrus and champagne.

All this excess and showmanship has started a trend in places trying to outdo each other.  We have seen fries served with expensive grated truffle but what about gold leaf on everything? Putting gold leaf on food or in drinks is not a new fad but since Salt Bae’s restaurant Nusr-et has been selling a gold wrapped burger, the trend has come back with force. 

Indian restaurants selling naan bread with gold or even a gold topped pizza it seems that the list of gold food is endless in an attempt to make the diner feel special or help them part with their hard earned cash.  As I said at the beginning, how much is too much?

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Dave Winteridge
I am a restaurateur in the South of France but originally from Great Britain. I have spent around 30 years in the hospitality industry and over the past 12 years I have opened restaurants in Spain and France. I am a keen skier, living in the Pyrenees, and ideally for the future I would like to spend less time at the stove and more time at the keyboard.

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