Why I DON'T want plates
Do you want plates? Do you want control and order over your food? Do you want to end the stupid presentation of chips? Well, fascism might be for you.
I was at a restaurant in South Kensington recently and my party decided to order some calamari. It arrived as a huge heap laden in spring onions and thinly sliced papers. It looked gorgeous, the only problem is that it was served on a piece of rectangular slate.
At first, we ate the calamari while trying particularly hard not to explode it all over the table. However, like a sort of food Jenga, as the accessible pieces began to disappear and our grip on the chopsticks became about as useful as an arcade claw, food was soon everywhere.
When the waiter eventually came to clear it away, we apologised for the mess. But things got worse - he couldn’t pick up the slate, it was too heavy and flat against the table. Despite much scratching around the sides, when he eventually did get his middle finger to it, all he managed to succeed in doing was to pour the leftovers onto the ever-increasing messy table.
This is just one example amongst millions where problems wouldn’t have existed if a plate was used.
However, despite the thousands which rally the cries of ‘WE WANT PLATES’ with photos of horrific examples of dish-ageddon, I actually don’t care for plates. And to be honest, I’m a bit exhausted with the people who have become their crusaders.
Yes, I do find it funny when a restaurant serves food in shoes. It's true, I don't understand why chips arrive in cages. And yes, I especially enjoy images of people forced to pour gravy over a roast dinner, served on a wooden plank. But there’s an important defence which I believe makes the stupidity worth it: experimentation.
Experimenting is a vital part of being a restaurant owner. Trying new approaches, ingredients, menus, changing the experience people have — it’s a business at the end of the day and it needs to maximise money. You can’t just expect people will always want what they’ve always had. And you shouldn’t have to bend to the vocal minority of those that do.
Of course, experimentation has its pitfalls. I have no doubt many of the people who have had their dishes shamed on the WE WANT PLATES hit list are very aware of that. But I don’t think we should want them to stop trying. As the founder of the Plates Templar, Ross McGinnes, himself admitted, “If I went to a Heston Blumenthal restaurant I’d be disappointed if my food wasn’t served in a left-field, inventive manner.”
Likewise, it’s important to remember that 100% plate pure restaurants are still often incredibly pretentious themselves. Nowadays, it seems that every top Michelin gig serves up food with an array of poncy swivels of sauce, delicately laid root veg, rationed amounts of meat and often with a maitre d’ to read instructions (I know how to eat a bloody slice of beef, Karl!).
As with any market, when pushing boundaries, many restaurants aren’t going to put in the same amount of innovative effort as others, and I fully understand why it annoys people. I genuinely believe anyone caught buying a wooden slab to serve a main course on should be exiled and lose their hands, but at least they are having a go.
Ultimately, like all the umpteen thousands of plate defence league members, I’m just a consumer. And I prefer a restaurant which ponders how it could grow its business and tries things out - even when they seem obviously utterly stupid - as one day it might click with the mainstream. You will always remember those restaurants too and be more interesting as a result. Whereas those who go out and demand their way to eat or else be shamed online, they will continue to be dull crypto-fascists.