The wife and I have a long-standing argument about food. Particularly the kind served at restaurants around the city. My contention is that there really isn’t much difference in the taste and/or quality of food delivered by our local “free home delivery” joint and what is brought in meticulously arranged piles on weirdly-shaped slabs of china at those that regularly rate mentions in newspaper supplements. Any perception of superior taste is really nothing but a fallout of the fact that the former usually are named after the proprieter’s wife or assorted dieties (Priya/Sadguru) and the latter have cryptic call signs for names (San-Qi/KOH) and better interior designers. (ducks instinctively from the flying book/cushion that invariably follows such a statement)
Now, there is no doubt that she knows food better than I do. My expertise at distinguishing what’s on my plate is limited to being able to tell thai red curry from green (scratch that), being able to tell red curry from green. I can even go as far as to announce that a ‘mutton balti’ had been placed in front of us as long as it was actually served in one of those miniature copper buckets with “mutton” printed in bold on the side. She, on the other hand, can rattle off statements like “i’d prefer this with fussili and not the rigatoni” and “there’s not enough hollandaise in this”. Aside from politely pointing out that the restaurant didn’t make any claims to serving dutch food I usually refrain from commenting.
I say, take away the nebulous concept of ‘ambience’ and they’re all the same. I mean, come on! Are we already not subconsciously assigning a premium to the cryptic call-sign restaurant (refer 1st para) when we walk in to be told that “the kitchen here is run by chef so-and-so”. And as we walk by the fountain and sit at the pinewood table with the tulip centrepiece, have we not already given the place a hard-to-beat lead? note to wife: tulips, now those are dutch <chuckle>.
The Four Seasons in Mumbai, (i’m told) has made it fashionable to have a lobby that looks crowded with more than 1 person in it and to report “parking charges” as their most profitable service offering. I’ve heard statements like “You know they charge 90 bucks for parking?! Ridiculous! Shall we do lunch there this friday?” But I digress. Its when we come back to the staples of British dining; paneer tikka masala, chicken biryani, butter naan that I think, the playing field is level. In a blind taste test, would the fare from at the call-sign restaurant beat that from the local joint? It’s really hard to say. Packaged in unmarked creaky plastic boxes would the INR 650/- biryani with a string of adjectives be able to differentiate itself from the “raita Rs 10 extra” variety? That’s the question.
Not a simple answer. Think about it. If you go to a joint having seen a reference to the place in Vir Sanghvi’s article in HT marvelling at the lusciousness of the frou-de-pomage-a-la-bleh (not actual dish), then read a couple of more reviews (which might or might not be PR pieces), read a bunch of tweets from a bunch of people with handles like @foodgoddess or @youreanidiotifyoudoubtmyopinion, then does the restaurant have to do more than provide a passable frou-de-pomage-a-la-bleh for you to be doing Meg Ryan impersonations (you know the restaurant scene I’m talking about)?
The argumentative amongst you might insist it’ll actually work the other way and they’d go in with high expectations which the food might not be able to live up to. To those, I refer you to @youreanidiotifyoudoubtmyopinion