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Critical Thinking

Respected food journalist Matthew Fort hosts a star-studded lunch in Mayfair and dishes up some indispensable advice to help restaurateurs please critics and customers alike.

Last month saw influential food journalist and Great British Menu judge Matthew Fort host an informal lunch at Mayfair’s Brasserie Chavot in partnership with Italian coffee maestro Lavazza. Around the table were some of the UK restaurant industry’s most influential players including renowned Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei, Brasserie Chavot chef-patron Éric Chavot, Umu executive chef Yoshinori Ishii, Simon Rogan Restaurants managing director David Simms and high-profile restaurant consultant Silvano Giraldin, who worked at two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche for 37 years.

The Lavazza BLUE System In Action

Fort – who was food editor at The Guardian for 10 years where he won the respect of chefs and restaurateurs across the UK for the quality and fairness of his restaurant reviews – is one of Lavazza’s key brand ambassadors in the UK and was recently signed for another year.

“I’m delighted to be continuing the official partnership with Lavazza. It’s been a great journey so far. I’ve always been a keen coffee man, at breakfast, for a mid-morning snap, at the end of lunch or dinner, and now I see that it’s a key ingredient in some of the finest restaurants in the UK including Ormer by Shaun Rankin, Bohemia, Restaurant Nathan
Outlaw, Outlaw s at The Capital, Texture, and Seven Park Place.” says Fort, who last month led an LAB talk titled The Place of Coffee in My Life at the London Coffee Festival on behalf of Lavazza.

“Working with Matthew has been essential to achieving our growth ambitions within the haute cuisine sector in the UK,” says Lavazza UK managing director David Rogers. “He is a great asset with a wealth of experience and influence. Most importantly, he is passionate about our coffee, our Italian heritage and our restaurant solution. He is a great friend of the company and it has been a very successful partnership to date.”

Fort will be hosting a number of chefs’ lunches highlighting Lavazza’s position in the world of haute cuisine and the importance coffee plays in Michelin-starred and other top-end restaurants. over a stunning meal

cooked by Chavot and his talented team that included red prawns with harissa and chickpeas and grilled new-season lamb with Jersey Royal potatoes, he led an informal discussion on what restaurants and chefs can do to avoid riling the critics and, perhaps more importantly, their customers.

  • Serving poor coffee
    “In nearly all cases, coffee is the last thing you consume before leaving the premises. It’s very silly to put effort into creating a wonderful restaurant experience and then to ruin it witha sub-par cup of espresso. I’ve been served watery coffee, overly bitter coffee and coffee full of grouts in some very expensive and famous restaurants. It indicates a lack of attention to detail, and that’s what being a good restaurateur is all about – getting lots of little details right.“If you’re making it manually, somebody needs to really care about it and take ownership otherwise it will be inconsistent. But with today’s coffee making technology there’s no excuse. the brewing process is fully automated in Lavazza’s BLUE system, for example. When I order coffee I’m looking for a clean kick, a balance between bitterness and acidity and roundness. I’m not a huge fan of this trend for very fruity sour coffees, either. I’m old fashioned and crave that wonderful chocolate note.“Another thing that often disappoints me is the type of sugar restaurants serve with coffee. If you’re going to add sugar to coffee it must be caster sugar because it dissolves quickly enough to sweeten the drink before it goes cold. Those rock hard lumps many restaurants offer are completely useless. I’ve persuaded a lot of restaurants to ditch them, in fact.”
  • Intrusive service
    “The finest service is invisible. It’s become pretty much universal, but I can’t bear being told by my waitress or waiter to enjoy my food. I’ve visited the establishment because I enjoy eating and I don’t need to be reminded of that. It lmost makes me want to refuse to enjoy my meal. I don’t mind one check back [the practice of asking the customer if everything is OK with the meal] but if it happens more than once it gets intrusive.”
  • Try-hard bread baskets
    “I’m often offered eight varieties of indifferent house-made breads rather than one of good quality. I don’t understand why chefs feel compelled to make onion breads, foccacia, potato bread… just do one and get it right. It’s almost impossible to make eight varieties of bread equally well. Choice is the enemy in restaurants sometimes.”
  • Unclear bills
    “There is an almost universal confusion about what is a service charge and what is a tip. When a bill arrives everything you are expected to pay should be within that bill. When I’ve been for a two bottle-lunch the last thing I want to do is to work out 12.5% of a £123.86 bill. I’m oK with service charges as long as restaurants understand that customers aren’t obliged to pay it if they feel the service is lacking.”
  • Thoughtless adoption of fashionable ingredients
    “I call it burnt hispi cabbage syndrome at the moment, but historically it’s been things such as rocket, balsamic vinegar and chorizo. The inclusion of such ingredients often signals that a dish’s components haven’t been thought through. That’s not to say hispi cabbage is bad, it just doesn’t belong on every menu in the country. Micro leaves and cresses are also used carelessly and rarely add anything to the dish.”
  • Poor salads
    “Many chefs get salads wrong. A good salad is a wonderful thing but they can be ruined by the addition of horrid leaves. I have a particular hatred of lollo rosso, it’s like eating a tutu. Chefs need to understand the composition of a salad and also consider whether the point of the dressing is to show off its own flavour or to complement the flavour of the leaves.”
  • Sauces and jus
    “I can’t bear the current fashion for tiny dots of sauce all over the plate. Sauce needs critical mass on the plate. It’s an integral part of the dish, not a garnish.”
  • Turning tables
    “this is a London thing in the main. One goes out to eat to have fun, and a major part of that pleasure is the sense of freedom from time constraints. to be told you need to leave at a certain time is – in my view, at least – a restriction on your civil liberties. I understand the financial pressures, but I still believe it is an intolerable practice.”

Article republished by kind permission of | restaurant | June 2015