Chocolate Nemesis - revered recipe from the River Cafe
Claire interviews the Notting Hill diner, Sanjeev Bhaskar, who upset Julia Roberts
The gradual decline of the dress code
Fine dining isn’t what it used to be. For the most part it is better – the quality of produce, ingenuity of tastes and flavours, modern methods producing different textures and techniques, wine lists getting broader and varied. Service has stepped up a gear, and decor tends to be simple, understated and welcoming. All to the benefit of discerning modern diners, who won’t compromise on quality in any area.
But an increasing number of diners are now complaining about the slipping standards of dress from other diners within fine dining restaurants. Long term customers (dare we say, the older generation) often consider fine dining requires fine dress codes, an occasion to dress up, wear your finest jewels, and don a jacket and tie, at the very least. A sparkling occasion to match the sparkling food and wine on offer. But increasingly jeans and trainers are common place, ties hardly mentioned, blazers rarely. Both sides of guests look disparagingly at the other. Which side is the right one?
Times have moved on, and restaurants seek new audiences with a more relaxed and welcoming attitude. Cash rich consumers under the age of 35 are put off by restaurants which require a jacket and tie, expecting a starchy service and stuffy atmosphere, where you may be sneered if you don’t understand the wine list or the etiquette. Today’s young consumer doesn’t aspire to stiff formality and social etiquette, but to the highest standards of quality and excellence in their food and service – the more accessible and relaxed, the better.
But where does this leave fine dining restaurants, trying to satisfy both sets of customers? On the one hand, they don’t want to upset their valued older customers, who appreciate the service and grandeur of the occasion. On the other, they need to satisfy social trends and the new generation.
The trick is in the service. A good maître’d and waiting staff will make everyone relax and enjoy themselves, measure up expectations and glide customers through a seamless service. Some will remember the occasion, others the experience, but the weight of satisfying all customers rests on their shoulders.