Tuesday 25 February 2014

Food hygiene certificates… when the chips are down, do they really matter?

Readers from the UK (which is exactly 25% of you) will, I’m sure, recognise the image above of a food hygiene certificate; introduced by the Food Standards Agency in the last few years. This scoring system is designed to help the public to make informed decisions about where to eat based upon hygiene and cleanliness, as well as the normal quality and service. On paper this is a good idea, forcing certain restaurants to raise their game because this information is now in the public domain and easily accessible on-line.

In my local newspaper a few weeks ago there was a list printed, detailing six take-away restaurants that had failed to score a single point out of five, all had a zero rating. This list was no great surprise, as I was already familiar with a few of these and don’t eat there (take-away or restaurant) because I have visited once and decided not to repeat the experience. This tends to be for two reasons. In the case of a take-away it is because the food has made one of the family (at best) feel ropey or (at worst) made somebody actually sick. For a restaurant the ‘tell’ that I employ is the state of the toilets… if these aren’t clean, I assume that the kitchen won’t be much better; although a restaurant can also have a double-whammy, i.e. somebody was ropey and/or sick and the toilets were disgusting. Reading the article, I was somewhat shocked… my favourite fish & chip shop was listed as a zero rating establishment.

“Well, we can’t eat there again” said Mrs. Stokes, and I instantly agreed with her. I know a few people who religiously look at the food hygiene score before every meal out or before every take-away, which I find a little pointless and have sometimes mocked. However, a zero rating sounds serious, so maybe they were right to check after all. I went on-line and started checking my other favourite places (all scored 4 or 5, incidentally) and then I stopped myself and thought about it… I decided that it doesn’t matter really, depending on what you eat. One of my favourite Chinese restaurants in London was closed down at some point due to a lack of hygiene (and an abundance of rats) but I still go there regularly, in fact I wrote about it a few months ago. And fish & chips, do I really need to worry about that? I typically order the same thing…

Cod, chips and a pickled egg on the side.

The fish and the chips are cooked in a deep fat fryer, so I really don’t think that anything dangerous could survive that intense heat… and if it does I deserve to get whatever ailment it carries. And pickled eggs are surrounded by vinegar their whole lives, another substance in which nothing is likely to survive. I'm going to give the buttered bread and HP Fruity Sauce from home a clean bill of health.

So, there might be a dirty floor (there definitely is) and the work surfaces might benefit from a more frequent clean (again, they definitely could do) but none of this affects my favourite Friday night dinner from my favourite local chippie so I’m not going to stop. I visited for the first time since the newspaper article at the weekend and ordered the usual, giving the server that knowing “I know this place is filthy but the food is great” look. I stopped short of a wink, but I think he got the message!

Monday 10 February 2014

Is it possible to get good food at Disneyland Paris?

Is it possible? No it isn’t, not at all.

My daughter, who has the same relationship with food as her dad (i.e. a glutton), couldn’t even stay awake for most of what we ate! My tip would be to drive 15 – 30 minutes out of the park every night and find a little restaurant for dinner, and whilst out visit a supermarket to buy something to make sandwiches for lunch the next day. If you absolutely have to eat in the park then the buffet restaurants offer the best option. If not quality, then at least they offer quality. The Park Side Diner in Disney’s Hotel New York is the best (least worst) of a bad bunch. Pretty much everything we ate (with very few exceptions) was deserving of a TOTAL STINKER award.

This situation is very annoying, given that (generally speaking) the food at Disney parks in the USA is pretty good. It makes no sense to me that the gastronomic French can’t improve the quality of the food here… scarily, the best meal we had all week was at the Buffalo Grill in Calais on the drive home!

Monday 3 February 2014

Manolya, Ware

I love a bit of Turkish food, but unfortunately don’t get to have it too often. In fact, I can’t remember eating out at a Turkish restaurant for the whole of 2013. Some ‘friends’ of mine (selfishly) visited this restaurant without me a few months ago, so have been really keen to visit since then.

A few weeks ago that was rectified and it didn’t disappoint at all.

Starter was a standard meze fare with some extra taramasolata and humous. The meze consisted of five elements: hellim (traditional grilled Turkish goat’s cheese), sucuk (grilled beef garlic sausage), borek (deep fried filo pastry wrapped over feta cheese and parsley), mittite kofte (char-grilled minced lamb kofte with onions, parsley and sweet red pepper) and kalamar (squid rings fried and served with tartare sauce). This was all very good but at the time it felt like it was too small a portion, as only one plate arrived (enough for two) between the four of us who were dining. In hindsight this was serendipitous, as the main course was immense.

A massive plate of meat! Chicken, pork and lamb with rice and a lovely fresh salad. Even the doner meat was good, which is always a surprise. A very big dish but I couldn’t leave a single bite of this behind, it was just too good. I finished with baklava, which is a favourite of mine.

So, live in Ware? Where? Ware. Go!