Restaurant Without Food
Intellectual corruption in the society has generated Frankenstein’s monsters in all structures: from laundries to the Ministry of Culture. Restaurants have been also affected.
That's why we are surrounded by shameless and kitchenless representatives of once-delicious business: restaurant-concepts, restaurant-interiors, restaurant-panoramas, restaurant-attractions, restaurant-assignation houses. The restaurants, which are actually about food, are simply lost in this multifunctional variety. Since they are very rare, their addresses are passed on by word of mouth to good friends, and sometimes it's a challenge to find a free table there.
How can we find a food-oriented restaurant in this multi-party polyphony?
Of course, it is recommended to start from the places with some history, preferably those, which have survived several decades at the market. If a restaurant is more than a hundred years old and has become favourite of three generations of Lyon residents, it can be easily assumed that this is not because they have been selling hookahs all these years. Menu of such restaurants are always concise and clear (but only for residents of Lyon). A quick glance is not enough to identify iconic dishes, however, these are the dishes to order first. Genetic gastronomic code is encrypted even in simple omelettes, which are the best ones in the area, as a waiter will, perhaps, inform you. Omelette with local goat cheese and truffles will be the best you have ever tasted. There are only several hundreds of such restaurants in the world, and they are so rare that it is high time to add them to the Red List instead of a guide to healthy eating. We strive for something more down-to-earth, something without pastries invented by a French king and monograms on every toothpick. Luckily, a constellation of gastronomic stars of new generation has emerged among legendary restaurants.
These places are supposed to offer real food.
They seem to be exactly, what we need, because chefs can hardly get Michelin star for doing nothing, can't they? But if we put aside epistolary orgasms of restaurant critics and take an honest look at a plate with a dish for €80, we will notice only a few inconspicuous slices or pieces. Sure thing, they form an intricate pattern on a porcelain 'canvas' with three drops of colourful sauces, extracted from a prostate of a male deep-water prawn, and are covered with foam that settles before one manages to say 'Bon appétit!'. The name of such dish is usually expressively complex, and only Google can help understand its meaning.
During my trips to Europe, I drop by such 'starred' restaurants. What else will they come up with to sell a twenty-gram dice of crayfish for a price of the whole lobster and, what is more, to make critics, journalists and restaurateurs be thrilled about this? I always notice that over half of customers of such legendary restaurants are not interested in meals and wines as such. They take pictures of precious dishes to post immediately on social media; they discuss menus and take notes of names. This is how self-display consumption looks like nowadays. People seem to visit such restaurants to demonstrate their social status, 'refined taste', awareness of current trends, and, indirectly, their ability to pay. Indeed, you can't discuss Bosch or Masaccio with your friends, because they won't understand you. Besides, how can one eat a piece of Bosch? Only a few customers really come to dine on juice of deep-water molluscs, but just because they can't visit restaurants of lower rank (noblesse oblige, so to say).
As for the meals, offered by the majority of 'starred' restaurants, these gastronomic tricks have the same relation to food as election campaigns to real actions of politicians. They look alike and excite, but the result has little to do with the promises. I would like to offer a principle: a customer is unable to adequately perceive food valued more than $1 for a gram. If a single dish combines all major delicacies and specialities brought to unusual condition by culinary alchemy, then this is not food in its traditional meaning, but rather a vanity fair of a local chef.
Let's come back to Ukraine. There are so many restaurants in the Ukrainian capital! There are places opened by local marketing specialists and political consults, show-biz starlets and light versions of oligarchs. There are restaurants to visit with mistresses and to show new fancy outfits off; restaurants, where you are sure to meet friends and have your portion of fresh gossip; restaurants with astonishing views and the sweetest gay waiters... Yet one can hardly find a food-focused restaurant in Kiev. Strange as it may seem, tasty food and cost effectiveness have little in common. Kiev residents and guests are ready to pay for the location, signature interior, bizarre bag holders, super-speed Internet connection and a phone number of a blonde hostess. The above-mentioned facts actually put food on the back burner. This is particularly true for the world of omnipresent haste and blind following of trends, where preference is given to that, which is closer and more eccentric. Sorry for professional deformation, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Kiev restaurants, where I really enjoy meals. The coefficient is not very encouraging, since I have definitely only five fingers on my hand, while there is around a thousand of restaurants in Kiev. However, I won't claim to be a connoisseur of Kiev restaurants, although I eat in many of them (quite often not without a damage to my mood and belly).
What about other Ukrainian cities? Do restaurateurs offer honest food there in attempt to find a balance between restaurant and business? Let's be impartial and focus on geography. What Ukrainian cities, apart from Kiev, can boast their own authentic restaurant culture? Lvov and Odessa, perhaps. However, in both cities you are more likely to pay not for food as such, but for local charm, represented by numerous bows on a dress of waitresses in Lvov or mentioning of favourite forshmak of a famous Odessa gangster Mishka Yaponchik in a menu of an Odessa restaurant. There are many fake places in these cities. For example, in Odessa there are three primitive copies of iconic London restaurants of chef and restaurateur Rainer Becker. However, both Lvov and Odessa can boast food-focused restaurants. I know at least a dozen of them.
How can we tell a food-focused restaurant from a restaurant focused on everything but food? A food-focused restaurant is sure to offer neither hookahs, nor TV. A food-focused restaurant is not likely to emphasize its foodcentricity by displaying, for example, a cured trotter. However, there is a lot of evidence, both apparent and inconspicuous, proving you are in the right place. It is not necessarily trendy and fashionable or festive and decorated, but it always offers professionally cooked food with minimum distracting factors. Actually, it is not that difficult to distinguish between food-focused restaurants and all the others. An unmistakable sign is that such restaurants lack all those things, which are abundant in other places. No omnipresent marketing, no posh interior, nor piles of handouts on tables, no tea menus with dozens of pages, no business lunches and never-ending 'Buy one, get one free' promotions. They have only professionally cooked food, and this is more than enough! Customers of food-focused restaurants are mainly over 35 years old. Menus usually contain nothing but food there. Big menus can't but raise suspicions. If names of dishes contain some pseudohistorical or inappropriate romantic allegories, do not hesitate to leave for another place. If a menu offers only foreign dishes, this is a sign that you get neither fresh products, nor freshly cooked food. If a menu offers several national cuisines at once, I would recommend having only tea in such place.
Only pekoe tea.
Published in the November issue of Forbes.
In the picture — food-focused restaurant in Italy.