My top ten restaurant dislikes

Ok, so I’m going to sound snobby when I list all these, but well, I’m going to do it anyway. On the strength of the popularity of my post about the top ten baked goods I just don’t understand, here’s the top ten things restaurants and cafes do which drive me crazy!

1. Fake or overly ambitious menu descriptions. For example, when ‘a medley of seasonal vegetables’ is peas, corn and carrot clearly ‘freshly picked’ from a frozen bag. Or, as happened recently at The Lab Nitrogen Gelato, ice-cream claimed to be topped with brownie pieces (note the plural) and what I received was ice-cream with one single brownie piece approximately one centimetre by one centimetre in size. Fake or dubious location descriptions also annoy me – for instance Po River Calamari? I’m pretty sure that’s a freshwater river in Europe, meaning any calamari in it are very very lost!

2. Risotto arriving in under 10 minutes. You can’t make a risotto that quickly unless it’s precooked and you’re just heating it up. In which case it’s going to be claggy and/or full of cream and I could make something better at home, for half the cost.

3. When the dessert menu is separate from the main menu so you can’t strategise. I’ve written on this one before – see last week’s post on this very issue.

4. Staff who discriminate because you look young and/or casually dressed. I like to eat at some fancy places. I’m willing to spend a fair bit of money on a special meal. And my money is exactly as good as anyone else’s, however, there’s been a few posh places I’ve walked into with other young(ish) people and gotten cold or neglectful service because we look young and like we don’t know any better. There’s also been cases where waiters have reacted with surprise and/or changed their attitude very quickly when we’ve ordered a bottle or two of nice (expensive) wine.

A like rather than a dislike: tomato, asparagus and ricotta brioche at Dolcetti, with super friendly service as well.

A like rather than a dislike: tomato, asparagus and ricotta brioche at Dolcetti, with super friendly service as well.

5. Staff not telling you when items on the menu are unavailable until after you go to order them. It’s just disappointing and it requires you to make a snap decision about what you’ll have instead.

6. A lack of signals on the menu indicating what’s vegetarian (or gf for the glutards out there). Yes, I can just check with the staff, but it feels a little annoying on my part. I’d much rather just know what my options are. In this same category is putting a ‘V’ next to things that are clearly not vegetarian. What does this mean? Is there a veggie version available? Or do they just think anchovies are vegetarian?

7. Beautiful restaurant fit outs with dingy/dirty/outside/cold bathrooms. There’s a lot of culprits here. Twenty&Six Espresso is light and bright and hip, but they have a shed-like outdoor toilet. Similarly The Estelle in Northcote is great, but their toilets are below par. Ditto several places on Lygon Street with great pasta and poor plumbing.

8. Being told you have to be off the table by a certain time, but then getting slow service so that you don’t have time for dessert. By contrast, if there’s no time limit and not a whole lot of people waiting for tables, I hate being rushed off my table. Sometimes I just want to sit, digest and talk for half an hour after the meal, thank you very much.

Very mainstream muesli cleverly disguised by (admittedly delicious) fruit on Hastings Street, Noosa

Very mainstream muesli cleverly disguised by (admittedly delicious) fruit on Hastings Street, Noosa

9. No split bills and/or cash only places. Group dining is hard enough to organise sometimes, splitting the bill and/or allowing people to pay on cards doesn’t take that much extra effort on the restaurant’s part. Unless they are an absolutely tiny operation with a clearly signed policy on cash, they should have card facilities.

10. Places avoiding providing tap water and then upselling/charging for bottled water. The water in Melbourne is perfectly drinkable. I don’t even like mineral water. I know there’s no mark-up on free tap water, but restaurants should just suck it up and provide it automatically.

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Eating dessert first

First, important news on the North Melbourne café front: Di Bella has a new summer menu. This is partly the reason for my delay in blogging, I’ve been too busy enjoying the intermittent sunshine and eating my way through the new menu. Favourite newbies include the omelette with beetroot, goat’s chees, heirloom tomatoes and awesome super thin crouton-crips. Another standout is the peach toast. It’s basically like eating an elaborate peach cake for breakfast. And it’s very very pretty on the plate. It looks and tastes like the essence of summer.

Di Bella's peach toast

Di Bella’s peach toast

Eating dessert-like substances for breakfast brings me to the subject of today’s blog, which is ‘eating dessert first’. It’s one of those slogans you see printed on tea-towels and fridge magnets, you know, ‘Life is short: eat dessert first’ and then a silly cartoon of a glamorous woman from the fifties holding a huge cake. There’s many blogs and foodie newsletters based around this phrase, even T-shirts and other cutesy-giftware. But do people actually do it? On a regular basis I mean, like, as a way of life?

Being a massive sweet tooth, this concept does have some appeal for me. But being a cautious ex-lawyer type, I in fact normally eat my veggies first, safe in the knowledge that my second ‘dessert’ stomach (because there is such a thing I assure you) will find room for that chocolate éclair or blackberry crumble with vanilla bean ice-cream.

There’s even some nutritionists who’ve argued it’s not a bad idea to eat (a small amount of) dessert first, before your veggies. Apparently the fat in the dessert will help you absorb more nutrients out of the veggies and also help you feel fuller for longer. Not sure about that theory (wishful thinking?) but it’s an interesting thought…

So I don’t eat dessert first, but I do read dessert first. When I look at a menu, my eyes can’t help but to just slide across and down, towards the dessert section. If I know/think it’s likely that we’re having dessert, I’ll usually spend those first few minutes perusing the dessert list and making a selection, before going over to the savoury section. Once I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m having the cheesecake for dessert, I can exclude the four cheese pizza from my potential list of main meals (too much creaminess). If I’m going for the lemon tart, then I won’t have the lemon and asparagus angel hair pasta, because that would just be a bit samey, wouldn’t it? You get the idea. I prioritise the dessert choice. My partner and I also play a little game where, when looking at a menu in a new restaurant we haven’t been to before, we try to guess which dessert the other person is going to go for. It’s normally pretty easy though – since we’ve shared rather a lot of meals and we both have a kind of dessert kryptonite which gets us every time (me: anything chocolate, him: salted caramel or lemon tart).

Things get trickier for my selecting dessert first method when the dessert menu is separate to the rest of the menu. Quite a few places do this. I love The European on Spring Street, but they are an offender in this category. Some places use it like a ‘reveal’ at the end, hoping you’ll be so excited by the blood orange trifle on the suddenly proffered menu that you’ll overcome the food coma you’re slowly sinking into. Others keep them separate because their dessert menu is more like a specials list, with a small number of desserts that change regularly. I guess they are the experts and know their business. But for a dessert strategist like myself, it’s rather offputting to have no idea if it will be a brulee or baklava at the end of the meal. First world problem, I know!

We’re programmed to like the sweet stuff because it contains a whole lot of energy. Back when we were cave people, running around all day with a honey-filled bees nest or handful of ripe berries a rare occurrence, it made sense to eat dessert first. Now it’s customary to eat dessert last and sit down for most of the day. If we eat dessert first, are we undoing evolution? Or just giving into our natural tendencies?

Perhaps, with Christmas feasting coming up, it’s possible I might just start eating dessert first and last…

Omelette at Di Bella

Omelette at Di Bella

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