First Impression – Ruma Singh
There’s a much-needed intervention/movement happening in culinary circles these days. In case you haven’t heard about it, it is called #WeWantPlates by fed-up diner, Ross McGinnes – he’s started a website by the same name and it’s wildly popular on Twitter and Facebook too. The movement is simply a crusade by folk who are tired of being served their meals in restaurants in dog bowls, test tubes, weighing scales and slabs of rock. They insist they want their food served to them old-fashioned style: on plates.
I must admit, at first when the whole quirky serving dish thing started, it was fun and giggle-inducing. And Bengaluru restaurants embraced it whole-heartedly. I’ll never forget my first ice-cream sundae served in a plastic mini bathtub in a popular eatery in the city… who could? But then, once the charm wore off, restaurants seemed to compete at new levels of ridiculousness to grab eyeballs.
What would you consider the most ridiculous dish you’ve been served? On wewantplates.com, diners vented about onion rings served on a bathroom pipe, another ranted about pork belly served in a urinal-style dish (I kid you not!). I myself have been served food arrayed in mini pressure cookers and test tubes. So let’s hear it for the plain ol’ plate.
Why do restaurants persist with plastic trees adorned with grilled shrimp and frying pans that impale you with their handles? Monkey Bar’s executive chef, Varun Pereira, offered me his perspective. His restaurant was one of the first to serve drinks in jam jars, which now seem to have become de rigueur around town. The idea of fun serving aids, once popular internationally, began as a way to entice diners to try out new dishes and give them something to talk about, he says. “Customers these days want dining to be an ‘experience’ and the average customer is looking to be impressed. So started the use of props to serve food, this added a ‘wow factor’ to the whole dining experience.” With the proliferation of casual dining eateries, it became about attention-grabbing too. The problem began when the food looked cool but tasted mediocre – even cocktails went through this.” The props should also serve a purpose, not be there only as a talking point.
Moreover, shepherd’s pie served in a beer or martini glass means the restaurateur gets to save on important ingredients – the meat – by distracting the customer with attempted cuteness, points out WeWantPlates’ Grace Dent. It also saves on the cost of good crockery, adds Chef Varun. “A dented enamel bowl costs less!” He prefers his own food on plates. “The important thing is to strike a balance between the fun element and the food. The food is most important, after all.”