Ah Valentine’s Day. That day so loathed by restaurant staff, feared by nervous husbands and dreaded by over-anxious girlfriends. Why on earth we put ourselves through the trauma of it all, I shall never know.
Turning romance on like a tap seems cynical and needless and never more so than when it comes to that Valentine’s Day meal. So here are my tips as an ex-restaurateur as to what dishes you should avoid if you are wining and dining your sweetheart this weekend.
But why?! I hear you cry. What could be more romantic and sexy than ordering oysters? Well, apart from the fact that slurping up something which looks like the leftovers of a heavily-used tissue can be quite off-putting… I only have two words for you: Red Tide. Yep, there’s algae on that thar coast and oysters are affected.
You can buy imported ones or frozen ones if you want to risk it but right now, with all oysters, the risks of food poisoning are high. And, as someone who hurled up in front of my future husband on our first date, trust me when I tell you it takes a LONG time to get rid of that bad impression.
Hmmm – a huge, juicy tenderloin to prove that you really are all man and are happy to share that manly meatiness with the one you love (fnarr fnarr). But what if your partner is a vegetarian? What if they like their steak well done and you prefer it rare (I’d say ditch them now if that’s the case – it’s only going to get worse from now on). What if a huge amount of red meat makes them soporific and snoozy (which, after all, is NOT the mood you intended)? Too macho, too meaty, too much.
3. Seafood Platter
Actually, I think you should avoid these all year round. There are too many things on there for chefs to be able to get them all cooked perfectly, all at the same time and what you end up with is an anonymous pile of deep-fried, bread-crumbed balls which all taste and look the same with a sad, bisected, dried-up crayfish balanced precariously on top. And what’s with the one sauce for 6 different types of fish? Over-cooked, over-priced, so over seafood platters.
4. Set menus
They look exciting, they seem to be a good price, you know what it’s going to cost so you can splash out on wine – surely set menus are a good idea if you’re dining out? No, no, no.
It’s not so much that fact that you may want to eat different things, which makes me condemn set menus, it’s the restaurant ramifications lurking behind their existence. Because what a restaurant is really saying when they offer a set menu on Valentine’s Day is ‘We think we’re going to get slammed by a huge number of diners and we’re worried we won’t be able to cope, so we’re going to pump out a lot of bought-in, pre-made dishes, heat them up, bang on some rocket and send them out as quick as we can regardless of whether the customer is hoping for a break between courses or not.’ Not romantic. Almost certainly not tasty either.
5. The dessert for two
Where shall I start? The problem of wanting different dishes – as mentioned above. The problem of bought-in specials disappointing with their blandness (cos ain’t no-one got time to pipe little strawberry hearts inside your slice of parfait except a machine) – as mentioned above.
No, for my money the real crime with the sharing, loved-up dessert for two is the mess it makes. Plates are meant to sit below your lips so that there is only a short distance to convey your spoon and thus do not have to drip chocolate sauce all over the tablecloth. As soon as that dish goes in the middle – something is going to get dropped and the chances of it getting dropped all over your lovely white shirt? Well, you know the answer to that.
So there you go – top tips on how not to order badly this Valentine’s Day. And if you simply can’t resist the above dishes and still feel compelled to go out – then go out on Monday when all the restaurateurs are frantically trying to offload all their unused, bought-in specials at half price.
You can thank me later!
Follow Cathy Marston on Twitter @CathyMarston.
- Cathy Marston