Bon Appétit-These two words epitomize a major cultural difference. In France Britain the way people approach food could not be any more dissimilar. The simple fact that there is no direct equivalent to this French phrase tells you all you need to know about the Britons’ view of eating.
In England good food, food that does not come readily prepared nor filled with additives, is quite a rare thing. One has but to look around to see how little people care about what they eat in this country. Pasta comes pre-cooked with whatever sauce you might imagine, hot dogs in tins, chicken or potatoes take on very singular shapes before being fried and frozen. You get the tenor of this, food can be quite disgusting here.
In addition to this, the attitude of the general public towards spending money on what they ingurgitate is not quite the same as where I come from (Europe). Someone who spends more than 10£ on a meal is seen as either a snob -which doesn’t pose a problem for me- or a lunatic.
Hold on, some will say, doesn’t the “second best restaurant in the world” stand on this little island? Didn’t many great chefs come from here: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal?
Well, what can you say. There are a few distinct features about British restaurants that are also apparent in the everyday products you might find at Tesco’s. The most striking one is the importance of design, the appearance of the whole thing. People seem to go to restaurants not primarily to eat, but to see how they look like, how the food looks like, how the other diners are dressed. Haven’t a few British critics written thousands of words about designs of restaurants, when they were supposed to review the food? The very flashy packed range of Tesco’s Finest also plays on this role of appearance, on the wrapping of a cheese you will see a cheesemaker romantically holding his cheese, on a pizza you are likely to see all that makes Italy a great place to eat in. Once you open the things and taste them, you hardly believe this to be the “Finest” there is.
Ironically the restaurants which are the most boring in design are the best food-wise: The Sqaure or Foliage hardly feature unique flashy dining rooms but serve serious, honest and most importantly well executed food. Go to Ramsay’s flagship, which he claims to be the culinary equivalent of a Chanel handbag, and find out how incredibly boring and annoying 3* food can be. If Chanel were to produce such soulless, unimaginative fashion they certainly would have been out of business a long time ago, but that is another story.
Maybe it are just the ingredients that aren’t on the same level as on the continent (with some exceptions). Maybe it is the majority the chefs who don’t push themselves hard enough to be creative? Maybe the Michelin sets his standards for the UK too low, giving the chefs no incentive to work harder? Just think of Ramsay’s 3* or Robuchon’s 2*. Or are it the customers who are not as well educated food-wise and therefore do not have such high expectations when visiting a restaurant? It might even be the low prices they charge here that don’t allow the chefs to use the best produce.
Whatever it might be, British food and British restaurants (on all levels) are worlds away from what you can find in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium or anywhere else on the continent.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed a meal in a European 3* will know what I’m talking about. You are likely to find products of extraordinary quality, an individual cuisine, perfect technique, plates which aren’t full of useless little things and a general experience that is a memorable one.
All these are things that you miss when spending a few months eating in England. You might have nice meals here and there, but apart from a few dishes and possibly the Square, I have not had a single meal which I remember for it’s excellence.