Every day I hear that we are in a recession, that salaries are frozen and that jobs are being lost.
There has been a wave of redundancies in the City of London and staff at many firms are being placed on a four-day week and forced to take a period of unpaid leave.
Jobless, depressed and braaing rats?
The press would have us believe that all South Africans in London are walking around jobless and depressed, braaing rats and busking in Tube stations with their pennywhistles to raise the cash just to go home and escape the economic meltdown.
But every time I set foot in a shop or a restaurant, it seems that people are still spending money as if their lives depend on it, with no qualms about the recession.
In fact, there seems to be little or no evidence of financial belt-tightening in the fine dining scene, if the following recent press reports are to be believed:
In 2008 one of the City’s favourite restaurants, Vivat Bacchus (owned by Gerrie Knoetze of Browns of Rivonia fame), made headlines for introducing a £1,000 (R13,028) tasting menu despite the onset of the credit crunch. The menu included sevruga caviar, lobster linguini flavoured with 40-year-old Armagnac, grilled Wagyu fillet steak with seared foie gras and 15 varieties of cheese, washed down with Billecart Salmon rosé Champagne, Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine, and 1963 Taylors Port.
And although the menu was discontinued a few months ago, the restaurant has over the past month been inundated with requests to bring it back. What recession??
Last week, 6 ladies arrived at the Palm Court restaurant in the Langham Hotel, no doubt exhausted by a bout of retail therapy on nearby Bond Street. They all had the Bijoux afternoon tea including Cornish crab and avocado, foie gras and passionfruit, and cream cheese and truffle sandwiches for £40 (R521) per head. They washed this down with two bottles of £600 (R7,860) Cristal 2002 vintage Champagne, bringing the bill for afternoon tea to a cool £1,320 (R17,197) … without tip.
Nine City boys recently lunched at London’s Mint Leaf Lounge. The food bill was as long as my arm, but only constituted a fraction of the cost after they added two bottles of Dom Perignon rosé Champagne and four of Château Cantenac Brown before paying their £2,000 (R26,056) bill and heading back to the office.
Do you flash the cash?
I hasten to add that, even before the credit crunch, I have never moved in these sort of circles, nor even laid eyes on a four-figure restaurant bill. And I do wonder if the people paying these prices care about anything but flashing as much cash as possible.
That aside, I am not unwilling to spend a large sum of money on a restaurant meal if, for me personally (and I say that because I know this is entirely subjective), it represents good value for money in terms of the food, the service, the ambience and the overall experience.
I know that I can get a steak cheaper in the supermarket and prepare it at home, but I like having beautifully presented food served to me, being surprised at new taste sensations, and feeling a little pampered. Oh yes, and not having to wash up afterwards!
The most I have ever paid for a meal (pre-recession!) was £150 (R1,954) for my birthday lunch at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in 2007.
What’s the most expensive meal you’ve ever had – and was it worth it?
Jeanne Horak-Druiff is the face behind the multi-award winning blog www.cooksister.com. This ex-lawyer based in London now spends all her free-time cooking, photographing and eating good food.