Imagine you’ve just ordered dinner at your favourite restaurant, or perhaps somewhere you’ve been saving for a special occasion. The dishes sound amazing on the menu and it looks superb when it arrives, golden-brown, succulent meat. Thick, rich sauce and plenty of it! Then you notice the veg.
I don’t think there’s many things in a restaurant more disappointing than being delivered a fantastic looking plate of food, then noticing that it’s accompanied by a dismal collection of generic steamed/microwaved vegetables. It never adds anything to the plate of food and often is completely unnecessary as the main dish itself, or the sauce it was served with, contains ample vegetation to contribute to your five a day.
They’re always the same. You can probably reel off the list with me if you want: baby sweetcorn, mangetout, cauliflower, sliced carrots, broccoli and green beans. The usual suspects that appear beside your steak, fish, stew and roast with soul destroying regularity. Often described on the menu as “seasonal veg” yet they’re ubiquitous all year round.
We know why the restaurants do it. Time’s precious in a small kitchen under pressure to get the food out. Why should they be faffing around with different veg that actually goes with each dish on the menu? Much easier to just have a big bag of mixed veg seperated out into individual portions ready to go in the microwave a few minutes before the dish is ready. It’s easy and it takes a little bit of that pressure off the kitchen on a busy night. But that doesn’t make it right.
Of course another reason could be that everything in the kitchen is microwaved but then the whole dish is probably going to be as bland as the vegetables so at least they’re a match for each other.
The Observer’s food critic, Jay Rayner, said in a recent review that the side dish of vegetables shouted provincialism. You will encounter this in the less cosmopolitan pubs and restaurants, that’s true. It’s not just provincialism that’s the cause, I think it’s just laziness. The restaurant has spent hours deciding on it’s main courses, starters and what meats to use. It excites the chefs to imagine what they’re going to do to the venison they’re buying in or the fish they’ve sourced, but once they start thinking about the veg to go with it they just lose interest. They don’t care. “Let them eat steamed carrots!” they shout in defiance.
It’s not just the hot courses that suffer. If this boring flavour vacuum appears beside your main then chances are the similar curse of the undressed salad appeared with your starter. A few lettuce leaves, perhaps some rocket thrown in for variety and maybe even some chopped, raw peppers. But no dressing. No attempt to liven up the dry leaves or make them in some way tempting or exciting. Most of the time this goes back to the kitchen uneaten, only serving as decoration to make your pate look pretty rather than enhancing the dish itself.
Am I alone in my frustration at this chronic lack of imagination? Perhaps I’m just eating in too low a level of establishment and I’m paying the price for economy. Let me know in the comments if you’re heart sinks at the sight of steamed sweetcorn as well or if you have any more restaurant pet hates you’d like to share.