Tom Aikens, an extraordinarily talented chef with a gift for creating surprising dishes, was less surprising in a recent observation.
Fine dining, he said, was declining, with people preferring to eat in more laid-back places.
Forgive me for quibbling, but hasn’t that long been the case?
When was the last time you walked into even an expensive restaurant bristling with snooty staff almost as stiffly-starched as the table linen?
The last night you endured the pathetic pantomime of silver service?
And what the heck is fine dining anyway?
I’ve dined finely on dirty burgers as well as caviar and lobster.
Truth is, restaurants have moved with the times and even the dearest and most revered places are casual rather than formal.
I’ve eaten the brilliant Glynn Purnell’s food whilst wearing open-toed sandals and faded jeans.
I’ve sat unshaven for lunch in Noma in a woolly jumper that might have been a cast-off from a trawler man who’d fallen on hard times.
I’ve visited the wonderful Clove Club in Shoreditch with a son scruffy from a week at a music festival and lugging a small campsite on his back.
In none of these places did I feel in the least overwhelmed or out of place.
Perhaps that’s because I’m over-confident, stupid or instinctively untidy, but I think, rather, it’s simply that I recognise that the most important concern of good restaurants is that their customers have a fabulous experience.
That they savour the food and wine. That they are served efficiently by staff who are knowledgable, polite and friendly. They they leave feeling that glow induced by a wonderful meal.
So long as customers are clean and inoffensively clad then no restaurant worth its salt will make them feel out of place.
The idea that it is otherwise shows an outdated view of restaurants and a lack of confidence that we visit on our own terms
Let’s not pretend that we still live in the 1950s.