grain of salt.
grain of salt.
Five things Sydney restaurants need to stop doing

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Ah, Sydney. You’re a beautiful place and I am proud to live in you. But your restaurants have got a few bad habits that you need to tell them to stop immediately. To help you out, I’ve listed them below. Don’t thank me now, just make it sunny next weekend.

1. Acting like they’re doing you a favour

Welcome to Sydney in the year 2014. A run down semi underneath a flight path will set you back close to a million dollars, and it can take up to an hour to travel five kilometres on a bus. It’s a strange time. Most strange of all, however, is a bizarre trend emerging in the food scene in which the customer is a major inconvenience to a restaurant. Forget the days of old where the customer was always right and the restaurant would do anything to please them, now we have to beg for a table and feel like competition winners when we receive moderately decent service. This is pretty much how I feel every time I rock up to a restaurant:

“Hello.”
“Hi… (realising they aren’t going to ask me how I can be helped)… I was hoping for a table for two. For dinner.”
“Have you booked?”
“Your website says you don’t take reservations.”
“No but we do recommend calling ahead.”
“Umm ok well I’ll remember that for next time. So do you have a table for two?”
“Well you’ve left it very late.”
“It’s 5:30pm. It’s not even dark yet.”
“Hmmm well there’s an 85 minute wait for a seat at the bar and a three hour wait for a table with four legs.”
“Oh, are you sure there’s no other option?”
(Sigh) “Look I could put a table in the outdoor toilet, or you can sit at separate tables with other diners. But that’s all we can do at this time.”
“Ok. We’ll take the toilet option. Thank you so much for your help and sorry to put you out.”
“That’s fine just don’t do it again.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“Hi, thank you so much for coming over to take our order. Could I please have the ravioli, but is there anyway you could not put the porcini crumb on top? I’m deathly allergic to mushrooms and my throat will close up if I eat them.”
“SIGH. Look I’ll have to check with the kitchen on that.”
“Ok but it’s not a central ingredient, couldn’t they just leave it off?”
“As a rule we don’t allow changes to the menu.”
“Could you just ask?”
“Fine.”
“Thank you so much, I really appreciate the effort. I don’t want to cause any problems for the kitchen, but I’d just prefer not to go to hospital on my 25th wedding anniversary…”

Ok, I admit some of this has been exaggerated for dramatic effect, but you get the point. When did the balance of power shift from the customer to the restaurant? We have the money, why do we put up with feeling like we’re causing major hassles? Are we so starved of decent places to eat that we just take what we can get? I have no answers for these questions, but I best wrap this up now as I’m going out for dinner and I need to get the maître d’ a box of chocolates in case he acknowledges me.

2. H2Oh no you di-in’t!

As far as groundbreaking moments in restaurant business history go, discovering they could make a profit on water comes in a close second to the invention of the “cakeage” fee. These days the question “would you like some water for the table?” has been almost entirely replaced by “still, sparkling or tap?” And there is a palpable emphasis on that word “tap” as if to say “would you like some heavenly filtered aqua minerale from the Swiss alps, or that disgusting free shit we bathe in?” Here’s the thing, bottled water is probably the most accessible food and beverage product on the market. Only a total moron wouldn’t know that they could purchase bottled water at a restaurant should they feel like it. Rest assure, if we want it, we will ask. Furthermore, this is not Kosovo or Uzbekistan. We are incredibly lucky in Sydney to be able to have beautiful tap water. We should feel privileged to order it, not feel ashamed to say “just tap water will be fine thanks,” with the same tinge of embarrassment you feel when ordering the cheapest wine on the menu. Bottled water is expensive. If I had a dollar for every time I said “just tap water thanks” I would almost have enough money to pay for a bottle of “still”. So stop asking the question, Sydney restaurants. Give me the stuff from the tap judgment-free and let me save my $10 for an extra serving of fries.

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"They ordered tap water guys, go ahead and overcook that meat because they clearly don’t have enough money for a tip!"

3. Telling you what you ordered

In the diverse realm of annoying restaurant habits, this one really gets my goat curry. You know the drill.

You: “..and for dessert I’ll have the soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond praline, lavender and honey cream, blackberry sorbet caramel and shiso vinegar jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs and crystallised fennel fronds.”
Waiter: “Certainly.”

(A short time later)

Waiter: “Here we have the soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond praline with lavender and honey cream. It’s served with a blackberry sorbet caramel and shiso vinegar jellies, and there’s also green tea, licorice, and chocolate twigs. And right there on top are some lovely crystallised fennel fronds.”
You, in your mind: “I KNOW. I LITERALLY JUST SAID ALL OF THOSE WORDS TO YOU AFTER READING THEM ON THE MENU.
You, in reality: (Nodding for five minutes while you wait for them to finish explaining) “Lovely thank you so much.”

I get why this happens. There is a certain elegant flair associated with an articulate description of the dish as it appears before you, and it is certainly better than the waiter slamming it down and saying “here’s your dessert, ya loser.” But it’s not necessary to recap an often lengthy dish description given you have already read it on the menu, and said it yourself when ordering. Unless the service is so bad the diners have forgotten what they ordered by the time their meal arrives, you can probably just keep it to “and here we have the soft chocolate, enjoy.”

4. Taking your plate away before you’re finished

A few weeks ago I was at a popular inner-city restaurant with a friend. In addition to our mains we ordered a side of roast pumpkin with ricotta and toasted hazelnuts. The dish came with eight small pieces of pumpkin. My friend ate two pieces and I ate three. Now, if you’re any good at kindergarten-level mathematics, you’ll have figured out that this leaves three pieces of pumpkin. Gold star for you. In our minds, we were just getting started. But the waiter saw those three pieces of delicious caramelised pumpkin and thought “they’re finished here, those five pumpkin pieces would have been very filling. I’ll just take that plate away.” Woah there buddy, three out of eight pieces of pumpkin is 3/8 or 37.5% of the dish! (Sorry all, shifting to fifth grade mathematics now). I think you’ll agree that is a significant fraction of the dish. This has also happened to me with 22% of a rocket and parmesan salad and 34.3% of a lovely mushroom risotto. Here’s a tip, restaurants: we know you want to get us out as quickly as possible but next time either wait until 100% of the food is consumed, or kindly ask if the diner has finished before taking the plates away.

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The universal sign for “I’m finished, you can take my plate away.” Usually it’s about the placement of the knife and fork, but in Sydney you can tell someone’s finished because there’s not even a single crumb left. Those crumbs average out to $2.95 each, or $3.05 if there is a glimpse of the harbour, so you don’t want to leave any of those suckers behind.

5. The two session approach

Now, you’ll notice I haven’t put “Not taking reservations” on this list. While it’s incredibly annoying, this one is on us, diners. We screwed things up when we didn’t show for that booking of 11 people we made at that Italian place in 2007. As a result of our inconsiderate behaviour, most restaurants no longer take reservations. The ones that do, however, take out their frustrations on their customers in a different way: by offering just two dinner “sessions”. This means that you can eat your dinner either just after lunch, or right before you go to sleep.

“Oh hi there, I’d like to book a table for dinner please.”
“Sure, would you like 6pm or 9pm?”
“Umm neither. Can’t I book a table for 7:30pm. You know, dinner time?”
“No we only do 6 or 9.”
“But that leaves me with the awkward problem of either running like a maniac after work to get there on time or going all the way home, trying to resist food from the fridge as I will be starving, almost falling asleep on the couch, and then having to venture all the way back out.”
“That’s really not my problem.”
(Sigh) "Ok, I’ll go with 9 thanks. But can I wear my pajamas?”
“No we have a strict dress code.”
“Ok, thank you so much for your help and sorry to put you out.”
“That’s fine just don’t do it again.”

Five more cooking tips

How good are sequels? Unnecessarily adding to a seemingly complete story is so hot right now. With that in mind, I present you a sequel to my previous post “Top 10 Cooking Tips.” While I can’t promise “Five more cooking tips” will be as amazing as “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” or “Speed 2: Cruise Control”, I hope it is a sequel that helps you on your journey to culinary super-stardom.

1. Use a recipe

Let’s get straight to it. Use a recipe. I left this out of the last post as it seemed too ludicrously obvious to include. However in the past few months I have had far too many conversations resembling the below:

Friend: “I made this thing for dinner last night and it wasn’t very good.”
Me: “Oh really, what were you trying to make?”
Friend: “Well I wanted a Thai style fish in coconut broth.”
Me: “Yum, that sounds great. Did you use a recipe?”
Friend: “No.”
Me: “Oh well that’s alright. As long as you had limes, fish sauce, coriander, chilli and coconut milk it would still have had a nice balance of flavours?”
Friend: “Ahh. No I didn’t have any of those things. I had coconut milk and sweet chilli sauce and parmesan cheese. But it tasted horrible.”
Me: “We can’t be friends anymore but I wish you the best with your future endeavours.”

Sure, it’s fairly heartbreaking losing friends over minor cooking mishaps, but life is too short to stand by and watch people you care about constantly eat bad food. The message is simple: use a recipe.

One of my first jobs was working with a brilliant food stylist and helping her with recipe testing. You see, a recipe that appears in a food magazine or cookbook has been tested by trained professionals at least five times. Quantities and ratios are constantly evaluated and revised until the recipe is deemed correct and easy enough for readers to understand and replicate. In refusing to use a recipe, you’re basically saying you know more than these trained professionals. That’s quite arrogant, (insert your name here).

Being able to cook is ultimately about to your ability to read, decipher and reproduce a recipe. It’s not about putting on a blindfold, spinning around your kitchen, making something with the first three ingredients you see and expecting it to taste sensational. So whether it’s a Jamie, Nigella or an old tatty piece of paper with tried and tested instructions from your grandma – follow the recipe. These people know what they’re doing.

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My recreation of a favourite burger recipe by food guru Valli Little. Find it here.

2. Cook with salt and oil

Again, this may seem obvious to some of the more experienced cooks amongst you, but it’s surprising how often this comes up. Last month I was getting my hair “did” and the hairdresser told me that she likes cooking but nothing she makes “tastes nice.” Despite wishing she would stop talking so I could concentrate on the Syrian war article I was reading (okay, it was “celebrities without make-up”) – I took the bait. When I asked a few short questions about her cooking approach, the problem was quickly revealed. “Well, I like to be healthy so I don’t add any salt, and I don’t use any butter or oil when I cook.”

Sigh. At least she knew how to do subtle highlights. You see, when food doesn’t taste good it is usually because it has been over or undercooked, or the produce itself was not fresh. The rest of the time it’s because it is under seasoned. Seasoning in cooking is not an optional addition, like upsizing your movie popcorn from a small to medium for an extra dollar (bringing the total to $11). Seasoning generously is a must.

During my time at cooking school, no matter how much salt I added to a dish, it was never enough in the eyes (or palettes) of the chefs. Furthermore, everything we made was cooked in reasonable quantities of butter and oil. This was also non-negotiable. Because, no matter what you might be trying from a nutritional perspective, this is simply how you get food to taste good. So, if you want to sauté your veggies in water as I have seen recommended on healthy food blogs, go for it. But it will taste a lot better if you use a little oil and finish it with some salt flakes.

As our chefs used to say “don’t be afraid of butter and salt – these aren’t the things that will kill you. Frozen foods, ready-meals, packaged foods and chemicals are what you should be worried about.” At the end of the day, Julia Child lived to be 91, so I tend to agree.

3. Get a signature dish

Last time I espoused the value of learning cooking methods as opposed to specific dishes. I still wholeheartedly endorse this approach. However, if you haven’t had time to master braising or roasting, I’ve got an easier option for you. Get a signature dish. Doesn’t matter what it is, just something you feel confident whipping up that will please a crowd. Perhaps you’ll become amazing at making fish tacos, master the art of fresh pasta, or learn how to make killer meatballs. There could be worse things in life than being known as “the meatball guy.” I’d definitely want to hang with him.

My go-to recipe is pasta carbonara made the traditional way – with fresh eggs and no cream. I have made it so many times that I could make it on a submarine with one hand tied behind my back. Or, just under challenging circumstances of some kind, you get the idea. Either way, it’s great to have a meal you’re confident with so you can relax and enjoy the company of your guests. Who knows? You might become famous for your baked eggs and end up winning My Kitchen Rules because you only know how to make one thing semi-well and apparently that’s all it takes. Or whatever.

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Creamless carbonara ftw. Here’s Stephen Manfredi’s recipe if you want to give it a go yourself.

4. A slower cooker is a novice’s best friend

Can’t cook? Have been putting off having your friends/family/colleagues/barber over for dinner since you moved into your “new” place five years ago? Well, never fear. The solution is easy and affordable. Get a slow cooker.

A slow cooker, for those of you playing at home, is a countertop electrical cooking appliance that is used for simmering at a low temperature. This allows for unattended cooking for many hours and most importantly, for completely inept cooks to look like professional chefs. The slow cooker is probably the only kitchen appliance that genuinely does not want your participation. In fact, like me, it prefers to be left alone in the kitchen. This means the likelihood of f*%#ing up the dinner is almost nil.

The best thing is you don’t just have to make soups and stews in your slow-cooker. Curries, casseroles, pie fillings, ragus and more will all taste restaurant-quality if you just throw a few basic ingredients into the slow cooker and leave it for the day. Think of it as being the Stephen Bradbury of the kitchen: winning gold purely by getting out of the way and making an appearance at the last minute.

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Slow-cooked beef ragu: a moderate hassle in a regular pot, a breeze in a slow cooker.

5. Know when to outsource

Mistakes happen. That’s why pencils have erasers, and why Apple needs to invent an “urgently withdraw sent SMS” function. Every chef has had at least one colossal stuff up in the kitchen. Some of my not-so-proud moments include a separated panna cotta, grainy white chocolate mousse, and a braised lamb shoulder that never fell apart. Mmm, dry grey lamb meat.

My tip here is not to never make a mistake and cook perfectly every time. Rather, what I want to impart is the reassurance that it is ok to outsource. Bridget Jones served blue soup to her guests, you shouldn’t. If in doubt, do not dish up. If dessert isn’t your forte and you’re almost certain you overbeat the egg whites into oblivion, it’s fine to go out and buy some sweet goodies from a bakery or an addictive substance from Gelato Messina. Your guests won’t be offended that you’ve phoned it in, they’ll be grateful they’re eating something delicious instead of pretending that the chocolate pot de crème you accidentally made with 90% cocoa cooking chocolate (and no sugar) is utterly delicious and not so bitter they want to cry.*


*Totally a hypothetical situation and definitely not something I actually did at an important dinner party.

Hashtag annoying: The food words I never want to hear again

Ok, here it goes. Moist. There, I said it. Sorry about that.

Until recently this was the only food-related word I found unbearable to read let alone say. As far as I was concerned, all food words were delectable. Especially “delectable”. However, all that has changed in the past few months, following the widespread overuse of five particularly annoying culinary terms. You’ve seen them. You’ve probably used them in the form of a hashtag. Worse still, perhaps you’ve used them all at the same time, tagged excessively under a single Instagram pic.

Whatever the case, I am here to put a stop to the madness. Continuing on in the somewhat negative vein of my last post (which generated my first enraged reader comment – yay!), I present to you: the food words I never want to hear again.
 
1. Food porn
(Instagram hashtag: 16,718,239 posts)*
 
Let’s kick this list off with the big kahuna as far as insanely overused food buzzwords go - “food porn.” For those playing at home, the term originated in reference to food styling and advertising, a humorous play on the titillating spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in visual media. In that context, food porn is fine by me.

Unfortunately its use has extended far beyond this milieu, as a quick internet search reveals. Among the millions of results are; a Starbucks cup, a bowl of cereal, a Kit Kat in its packet, and sloppily arranged dinner plates. Are you feeling aroused yet?  No, I didn’t think so. In short: not all food is food porn. Ceviche? I mean, capisce?

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Sorry Nazakarr but your half consumed beverage and desk fruit are not food porn

Beyond this, the word itself is a little immature, almost like the culinary equivalent of phallic paraphernalia at a hen’s party. “Ohmigod it’s a penis/delicious cake! How outrageous! Teeheheehehe.” As far as I am concerned the only thing that can truly be considered food porn is this video. Enjoy it in private. Unlike all other food porn examples, this one is actually NSFW. 
 
2. Om nom nom nom
(Instagram hashtag: approx 1,500,000 posts)
 
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the “talking in a baby voice” of food words. Om nom nom nom – a phrase so obnoxious I can barely type it let alone say it out loud – is just the worst. For those of you who may not have heard it before (in which case, lucky you and apologies for bringing it to your attention), the actual definition of this strange collection of letters is:
 
“An onomatopoeical adjective based on the sound emitted when something is “oh so tasty” (either through hunger or flavorological value) that one gnaws through it without regard to cleanliness or etiquette. This sort of ravenous eating will often result in an “om nom nom nom” noise being emitted from the eater.”
 
Ok, two things. One: how excellent is the term “flavorological value”? There’s a phrase I can get behind. Secondly: yuck. Have we become so lazy that we can’t describe the taste, flavor or texture of food using actual words anymore? Instead, all we can muster up is a series of grunts and moans like the Cookie Monster (who, strangely, I will reference twice in this article). And I might add, “without regard to cleanliness or etiquette.” Are we animals?!

Finally, whatever happened to “yum”? Yum is a fantastic, succinct, Oxford-dictionary recognized term to describe pleasure at eating. Try it sometime, it takes up less characters in a Tweet and won’t make you sound like a five year old.

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                               No I most certainly will not!

3. Foodie
(Instagram hashtag: 5,093, 982 posts)
 
Chances are if you’re reading this, you probably consider yourself a foodie. Given I studied at Le Cordon Bleu, write a food blog and regard Jamie Oliver as a religious figure, I too would consider myself a foodie. But guess what? So does everyone else. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with this word itself, it has become so overused that it has lost all meaning,  like “totes” or “YOLO”.

Nowadays if you eat at restaurants frequently and own a couple of cookbooks, you’re a “foodie”. But, if everyone is a foodie, then no one is a foodie. I don’t mean to continually pick on them, but it was all over once the crew behind Four Ingredients identified themselves as “foodies.” Spinach leaves + strawberries + a tin of tuna + pepper does not a salad make!

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 Simon here is a self proclaimed #foodie. #ifsimonisafoodieeveryoneisafoodie
 
4. Clean eating
(Instagram hashtag: 4,892,720 posts)
 
Until very recently I operated under the naïve assumption that all food was perfectly acceptable if consumed in moderation. Then along came “clean eating,” a term so irritating it cooks my quinoa. In this strange era when the Cookie Monster describes cookies as a “sometimes food” (he’s a Cookie Monster for chrissake), and every second person you meet has coeliac disease, “clean eating” is all the rage.
 
For the record, I have no problem with cooking and eating healthily. It is a noble and life-enhancing pursuit. What bothers me here is the term itself. It’s ever-so preachy, and the associated movement has worrisome cult-like tendencies. The tagline for Clean Eating Magazine is “improving your life one meal at a time,” for example. I’m pretty sure I read that on a Scientology brochure once. 

Also of concern is the implied judgment that food is either “good” or “bad” – “clean” or “dirty”. Surely it’s not as dichotomous as that. Labels like these only serve to stigmatize certain foods, which (from what I can tell based on an advanced understanding of human psychology), only makes you want them more. I love the thought of hardcore clean-eating proponents secretly bingeing on white bread or, I don’t know, non-activated almonds, late at night. How uncouth!

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5. Paleo
(Instagram hashtag: 1,163,380 posts)

Paleo, definition one: A modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era.

Paleo, definition two: A highly popular food buzzword that makes me want to eat poisoned berries. Luckily, these would be accepted under the paleo diet.

My problem with paleo is that, like the other words on the list, it has been excessively overused, mostly in reference to food that a monkey could identify as being “paleo.” I actually found a picture of a whole lemon fruit on Instagram that had (among many, many others) the hashtag #paleo under it. Seriously? A lemon in its raw state is paleo? Phew! I’d been worried I was ruining my strict diet by sucking down on some afternoon lemons! Likewise, a kale salad is so obviously paleo there is no need to hashtag it as such. It’s like when packets of plain rice say “gluten free” – was there any doubt that it wouldn’t be? Rice does not contain gluten!

There’s hope for this one though. I could really see myself liking the word if its adopters truly committed to the paleo lifestyle. In addition to eating raw fruit and vegetables, they could abandon all modern amenities, move into caves and use primitive stone tools. That hashtag will have so much more resonance if you don an animal skin and scrawl it onto a rock wall.

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Seriously?! New rule: a word becomes even more irritating once it has been turned into one of these

*all stats as of 12 Nov, 2013.

Five things that aren’t as gourmet as you think they are

It’s Saturday night. You’ve decided to be a responsible, sophisticated adult and host a dinner party instead of going out, boozing and waking up next to a kebab/undesirable stranger.

So what are you going to make? You really want to impress your friends with your advanced culinary skills but don’t have anything refined or elegant in your typical dinner roster of toasted sandwiches and jacket potatoes. So you resort to something you’ve seen on dinner/in a magazine/at a restaurant. But before you lock in your menu and send out invitations, please consult the following list. You see, there are a few things that aren’t quite as gourmet as you might think they are. Sure, they are perfectly acceptable, just not as fancy as you may be hoping for. Prepare for snarky food snobbery in three…. two… one.

1. Balsamic macerated strawberries

This dish is so “done” if it was a steak it would be grey. Look, I understand the rationale - “Ooh wow! Strawberries are sweet but these ones have been soaked in acidic vinegar, how shocking/new/interesting!”  But I’ve got news for you – it’s not. You see, I have a rule of thumb when it comes to dishes; if the Four Ingredients ladies have a version of the recipe, it’s no longer fancy. No disrespect, but these are people that list oil, salt and pepper as “optional” ingredients. They’re brilliant entrepreneurs, not chefs. Balsamic strawberries are to dessert what bushranger beards are to the hipster movement: common and nowhere near as ground-breaking as you think they are.

Try instead: strawberries with lime and pepper, chocolate covered strawberries with interesting toppings (crushed pistachios, coconut, almonds), roasted rhubarb with marscapone, mandarin lychee and mint salad.

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Strawberries with lime & long pepper syrup via BBC GoodFood. Recipe here

2. Stacks

If you are:
      a) a vegetarian,
      b) someone who has been to a large function, or
      c) a vegetarian who has been to a large function,

you will almost certainly have consumed a “stack” of some kind. You know what I’m talking about – a collection of disconnected ingredients, usually including eggplant and/or polenta, piled on top of each other with a drizzle of pesto or balsamic glaze zig-zagged on the plate. It’s a bigger cop out than that terrible film Cop Out.

Typically it is billed as an ultra-fancy dish: “Mediterranean vegetable stack with chargrilled polenta and pomegranate reduction” for example. However, what you’re really getting is a lukewarm pile of afterthought ingredients so uninspiring it can only be referred to as a “stack.”

But does it comply with the Four Ingredients un-gourmet theory? Of course! Their stack recipe is called the “Entertainer’s Timbale” and features deli sliced chicken, avocado, pine nuts and grapes – aka the remnants of a child’s lunch box. Simply pile them into a ring mould and hey presto, you’ve got an incredibly un-fancy entrée! In fact, I believe this was the appetiser course at Kath and Kim’s last Christmas party.

Try instead: gnocchi ala romana (uses semolina), baked polenta with ratatouille, individual eggplant melanzane, yemista.

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In this article I have tried to feature images of the more gourmet food alternatives, however this timbale simply had to be included. Image via 4ingredients.com.au. 

3. Square plates/desserts in stemmed glassware

Ok I realise I am getting into potentially controversial territory here but I detest square plates. If you have ever watched an episode of Come Dine With Me you’ll know that when amateur cooks are trying to be fancy they will almost certainly serve dinner on a large, white square plate. Picture it: a big piece of poorly cooked meat in one corner, an ice cream scoop of mashed potato in another corner and some miscellaneous veg scattered around. Square plates are almost standard issue at café’s, restaurants and function venues now, with one events website I consulted even referring to them as “trendy” and “stylish”. Sure, ten years ago they were. Now, they are quite conventional. Not to mention a pointy inconvenience when it comes to washing up.

I have similar issues with desserts served in stemmed glassware. Chocolate mousse in a martini glass? Panacotta with berries in a big red wine glass? It’s officially as gourmet as a schnitty at an RSL club. The approach can also create logistical problems, such as when your glasses are too tall to fit on a shelf in the fridge; or hypothetically when your lovely boyfriend concocts a dessert called “Cream with raspberries and bits of Cadbury Flake in it,” which after scooped into eight wine glasses leaves you short of glassware to serve actual wine in.

I’m not saying these aren’t perfectly acceptable vessels for your food, I’m just saying they’re not as fancy as you think they are.

Try instead: for plates opt for round or unusually shaped plates in either white or shades of grey, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous – patterns. For desserts try tumblers, latte glasses or even jars.

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Peter Gilmore shows us how it’s done with his famous Snow Egg which is housed in a beautiful rounded tumbler. Image via Quay.

4. Rocket pear and parmesan salad

Ah, rocket, pear and parmesan. They’re a perfectly matched flavour trio and make for great salad ingredients. There’s no denying that. However if you’re trying to dazzle your guests with your ultra-gourmet menu, it’s best to leave this one out. The RPP salad is now as overexposed and ever-present as Miley Cyrus’ tongue. 

Try instead: witlof, gorgonzola, pear and walnut; fennel and blood orange, slow roasted tomatoes and baby spinach leaves; watercress and pomegranate; radicchio with aged balsamic vinegar.

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A beautiful Vogue Entertaining radicchio, watercress and witlof salad from taste.com.au, recipe here

5. Salmon

This may be last on the list but it is perhaps the most incendiary suggestion of all. Here it is: salmon is not as gourmet as you think it is. There, I said it. Of course it’s full of omega-3 and often expensive but it’s also fairly commonplace. Recently my fellow foodie Alana dubbed salmon “the caged hen of the sea,” and I had to agree. In fact, she was right in more ways than one – a huge proportion of the salmon currently sold at fish shops and supermarkets is now unsustainably farmed and pumped full of antibiotics and colour dyes.  Mmm delish. Aside from ethical concerns, I am getting a little tired of seeing a well-cooked hunk of pink fish sitting atop a non-descript pile of steamed veg and/or mashed potato. Don’t believe me? Click here for several thousand examples. 

Try instead: literally any other type of fish. Choose wild fish from somewhere reasonably close to where you are buying it. And cook it it an unusual way - en papillote, baked in a salt crust, roasted whole, or with a delicious crust of some kind. If in doubt, go for fresh Asian flavours. And whatever you do, don’t serve it on a square plate!

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The ultimate alternative to salmon - Tetsuya’s confit ocean trout. If you’re feeling brave, why not try making it yourself? The recipe can be found here