I really enjoy the restaurant reviews in The Australian. The critics unanimously refuse to mince words when it comes to pretentious restauranteurs who seek to put hype and spin over service and substance to pass off overpriced and substandard food on the unsuspecting consumer. I was inspired by this article regarding the food trends of 2014 that will (hopefully) die an unceremonious death now we're in a fresh, sparkling new year.
Brisbane has, I am sad to say, been permeated by hipsters. It had to happen. Affordable housing, great climate/lifestyle and a thriving local economy meant it naturally became an alternative to people looking for east coast liveability without the Sydney price tag/population woes. As aspirational living was imported from down south and from overseas, the new arrivals observed our (formerly) woeful dining options. They needed somewhere to sip organic chai lattes and nibble delicately on ethically-sourced kale/quinoa muffins. The food scene in Brisbane subsequently exploded with venues.
Some of it has been truly great. But a lot of it has simply been ok and then there have been those new restaurants that have been flat out awful. You can't pin the cause of restaurant/cafe failure on any one factor. Experienced chefs can get the mix wrong (River Bar cough, cough) while plenty of inexperienced business owners can get the food wonderfully right but the finances wrong. In the ever changing face of Brisbane's food scene, unfortunately there have been plenty of trend-based offerings that seem to captivate inexperienced eaters who simply can't tell when they're being ripped off or, worse, flipped off by alleged 'hospitality' staff.
On that note, as an enthusiastic but amateur cook and a professional, multiply-qualified economist who won't lay down coin unless it's absolutely worth it, these are the food trends I'll be happy to say goodbye to from 2014:
1. Rude/incompetent wait staff
I get it. You're bored, your job is uninteresting to you and you're just so hard-done-by. Get over yourself and learn the great lesson: everyone has, or has at some time had, a job they didn't love, that they didn't enjoy, that simply paid the bills. I'll say that last bit again: it paid the bills. Specifically, it paid the bills because other people, known in some circles as 'paying customers', thought it was worthwhile to pay some of the money they earned by doing their job to another person to perform a fairly low-level service. One that isn't essential to daily living, but that it's nice to have someone else do for you occasionally.
Be grateful. People find themselves out of jobs in loads of industries because consumers decide it's more economical to do the job themselves. That's why there are fewer people staffing grocery checkout lines these days - we're all putting our groceries through ourselves. Don't make us remember we all have functioning kitchens in our homes and that we don't in fact need to pay for a snooty 21 year old to fling plates on a table in front of us. And get the orders right. It's just one of the important aspects of your job. You'd be pretty unimpressed if the pilot on your next flight stuffed up the landing 'just this once' because they had, you know, other stuff on their minds. Whoops!
2. Shared food
This trend popped up in the article in The Australian and all I have to say is - hear hear! It's a twee trend imported from Spain and designed to make us all feel terribly cosmopolitan and well-travelled. In reality, it's an excuse to spread a serving of food for two across a table of four. Add a couple of $12+ 'tapas' plates (three slices of eggplant smeared with humus - groundbreaking culinary skills right there) and you have the 'new' nouveau cuisine.
3. Bad food
Opening a restaurant is actually not the hard part that requires years of training, although it certainly will help. The hard part, the part you need to get right more than anything else, is the food. Over the festive period, I had the privilege to enjoy meals at several pricy formal restaurants in Brisbane and I have to ask, is anyone on staff paying attention to the food coming out of these places? The following did not speak highly of the local food industry:
- garlic mash that contained no trace of garlic ($9)
- roasted 'heirloom' carrots with balsamic that had spent, at most, 10 minutes in an oven ($8)
- vanilla creme brûlée that was hot on top, cold at the bottom and had separated almost to the point of scrambled eggs in the middle ($15)
See point 1: you have a couple of things that are really important to get right as a food-preneur. Are you ok if your surgeon misses some of your cancer? I mean, they got most of it right? And they were really nice and they got great write-ups in all the medical journals.
4. Food served on bread boards (and other naff decor)
We've spent several millennia perfecting the engineering of the plate. Pardon the pun, but get on board, food hipsters.
Speaking of which, let's not forget all other naff, twee and kitschy-kitschy-koo furnishings, crockery/food eating and serving utensils. Stop it with the drinks in jars already - in case you haven't noticed, I'm not a three-year-old. The most obvious sign that I am not a three-year-old is that I'm here, on my own on a Saturday morning paying for stuff. I know very few toddlers who can splurge on brunch and when I'm served a brightly coloured drink in a neat jar, sitting on a rustic mish-mash of tiny child-sized chairs, I feel we're but a step away from waiters playing food aeroplanes with us. It goes hand in hand with naff eatery names. Nanny-noos' Paleo Nosh Spot - it hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure it's coming. Not to mention, the cheek of asking paying customers to sit on crates or, worst of all, the steps of the cafe - yes, there is a cafe in Brisbane that actually does this and the lemmings perch there every day, bless them.