I was driving along listening to Radio 4, You and Yours (Vine Avoidance). Anyway, they were talking about how in the recession some restaurants have gone over to ‘small plates’ as a sort of recession-friendly way of tempting dinners out. How this is supposed to work, I’ve no idea,* though it was made clear that it would be highly unlikely to get off the ground outside the Metropolitan area because in the provinces and the sticks they want a proper massive plateful, as much as you can eat for £4.95 type-deal. ‘The restaurant as social occasion,‘ I learned, ‘Had never really taken off outside a few Metropolitan centres.’
As the piece went on it was made clear that though we weren’t talking tapas, the ‘small plates’ syndrome was sort of related to this Spanish style of eating which was ‘a way of eating that the British had come understand.’ (Perhaps through the activities of the Tapas Nine?)
The distinction was made as follows: Tapas = bits and pieces to eat while drinking (and leaving the kids to their own devices); Small plates = a proper meal consisting of lots of small courses. You and Yours being a Consumer Programme (blog makes sign of the cross as if warding off Dracula), they totted it all up and found that, on average, ‘small plates’ end up costing more than ‘average plates’ of ‘regular food.’
‘Well, yes, maybe,’ said the food critic, Jay Rayner (or perhaps it was another voice, there were several male voices, of which one was his), ‘But the great thing about small plates is that you can order a couple, then if you are still hungry you can order a couple more, and then if you are still hungry you can order a couple more. You don’t have to commit to a whole menu: starter, mains, dessert.’
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find the idea of ordering two courses at a time (puddings is always a second round of ordering, is it not) all that much of a commitment. To me it’s more of a selection of a couple of things I’m about to eat, and as long as there’s no eels in any of it I feel pretty certain that the episode of eating will soon be over and it’ll probably be quite a few hours before I have go through the ordeal of commitment, or of choosing between cheese on toast or an omelette, again.
* I’ve read up on it – it’s the illusion that small dishes save money. This is an illusion I can understand. The blog currently has 22p in its savings account.