They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (aka gelatine is not vegetarian)

“Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of cattle, horses, pigs, and fish.”

I love afternoon tea.  To sit and watch the world drift by, whilst sipping from a delicate bone china cup, containing fragrant tea, is akin to heaven.  If this is concurrent with munching happily on flavoursome scones, lavished with clotted cream and smeared with raspberry jam, and other dainty morsels, then it is akin to whatever is beyond heaven.

Imagine the scene, and then imagine a noise like a needle scratching over an old-fashioned vinyl record.

GELATINE!  The bane of dining out for vegetarians.  Whilst most chefs in the UK now understand that “vegetarian” means no meat stock in the sauces or soups, there is still some way to go when it comes to gelatine.  Gelatine is a sneaky, slippery little thing – it turns up in the most unexpected of places.

My delightful “vegetarian” afternoon tea had a bowl of marshmallows (for dipping into a chocolate fondue which never materialised, but that’s another story).  It also had a small shot glass containing trifle, made with jelly, and no assurance from chef that agar had been used instead of animal gelatine.  It meant I was paying for a lot of things I couldn’t eat.  I can only presume that the chef had no idea how marshmallows are made.

This has happened even in such fine dining establishments as Gidleigh Park, where the petit fours contained gelatine.  They were swiftly replaced (and my husband ate the “spares”) but these days, is it too much to expect that a vegetarian meal is vegetarian?  Serving staff should know the ingredients of the dishes being served.  Surprisingly, the most “on the ball” venue was in Paris (Le Cinq – restaurant of my dreams).

The constant vigilance can be tiresome.  When I am paying good money to be absolutely spoiled in the finest of dining establishments, the experience is the only thing being spoiled by this need to question so many dishes.  I look forward to the day when the waiting staff can reply with confidence when I ask “Does that contain gelatine?” and say “No, it’s made with a vegetarian substitute”.

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About Me and this Blog

The idea for this blog came about over a drunken lunch at some fine dining establishment or other.  I have been vegetarian since the early 1970s, and have often heard how difficult it can be for vegetarians to find something to order when eating out.  I have never found this, so thought that sharing my experiences may be of help to others.

I am, to be specific, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, that is, I eat dairy and eggs.

I also know that I am truly blessed to have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in England and France.  However, in terms of value and enjoyment, there should not be a great deal of difference between a Michelin 3 star, and a greasy spoon cafe.  Value is a subjective description, and one can leave a meal costing hundreds feeling that one has been given great value, and a poorly served cup of tea in a greasy spoon can leave one feeling poorly valued as a customer.

I am not a gourmet, I have never learned anything but the basics about wine, but as the saying goes, I do know what I like.

La Banca – Kings Norton, Birmingham

My initial impresion was that this was a good restaurant – the decor was smart.  Unfortunately the food and service didn’t match.

Olives, how hard is it to get them wrong?  Imagine the cheapest of the cheap, served with supermarket bread.  For a starter I had some very tasteless tomatoes, mixed with a bit of mass produced pesto.

Main course was lemon and courgette linguine – a foul rancid buttery taste overran all the other ingredients.

The service was also that dreadful faux-politeness, we were asked at least 2 or 3 times per course whether everything was okay, in that tone that suggests any response other than positive would be met by confusion. There are much, much better Italian restaurants in the Birmingham area. Very, very disappointed, particularly as the bill came in at £20 per head for two courses and no wine.

Review is from September 2011

Viajante – Restaurant is Now Closed

I’ve read that Michelin award the first star for the food, and the second and third for everything else.

Nuno Mendes’ food is tasty, taste bud provoking perfection on a plate. It deserves the first Michelin star.

What lets this restaurant down is the front of house staff. The staff are emotionless and robotic. I got the feeling they really didn’t want to be there, that they were just going through the motions, repeating the list of ingredients on the plate. The wines were mostly very good wines, the somellier just read out the label, each time “This is X wine, from X vineyard, made by X”. Just give us the menu at the start instead of the end and we can work it out ourselves and save the front of house staff the inconvenience of interacting with the customers.

Not one of the service staff seemed to appreciate that great food and wine need great service. The front of house staff need lessons in how to display enthusiasm and passion for the role they are playing in taking the customers on a journey of gastronomic discovery. They have the privilege of working for one of the greatest chefs in the UK, yet display the charm and manners of a late shift burger-flipper.

The courses that were served by the sous chefs were served with pride and with a joy in sharing their skills with the customers, why can the front of house not feel the same pride? It wasn’t my turn to pay the bill, but if it had been I would have refused to pay a service charge, and I’m usually a very generous tipper. That’s how badly the front of house staff let down this venue and cast a shadow over what should have been culinary heaven.

Such a shame – food and wine at this standard deserve much better.