3 March 2013

How can you tell if people are enjoying a meal? By the click of an iPhone of course!

You used to be able to tell the quality of a good restaurant by the volume of the conversation or the scraping of empty plates. These days, there’s a technological indication- people taking photos of their plates using their iPhones (other smart phone devices are available).

The other week, for example, I had supper with some colleagues at a restaurant near Swindon called The Pear Tree at Purton. I’d been to the restaurant before and knew it was good so I’d recommended going there.

The food, as always, was exquisite. To start, I had Marinated, Smoked Beef Fillet, Sweet Potato and Coriander Salad followed by Steamed Paupiettes of Lemon Sole, Salmon and Lemon Grass Mousseline, Vegetable Spaghetti. It was absolutely delicious and looked pretty as a picture too.

My delicious meal at the Pear Tree at Purton

My meal was so pretty in fact that I decided to take a photo and to my surprise, my colleagues followed suit! All three of the ladies at the table took snaps of their food (the only man present refrained!)

Now, I quite often capture shots of my food as it helps me to remember what I have eaten so I can write about my dining experiences on my blog. I also frequently photograph really nice wine so that I have a record of the label enabling me to buy it again in the future. But I'm fairly sure not all my colleagues have blogs, or are as obsessed with wine as me.

So why do people do it? Simple. Because they want to share their positive dining experiences with their friends and family through social media. It’s not really a surprise since people share photos of their holidays and parties, so it makes sense that they should share photos of other things they have enjoyed such as really nice meals. It acts as a sort of rating of restaurants – see how great the food looks, you should definitely eat here.

I think more restaurants should take advantage of this. If people take photos at their tables, they are more than likely to end up on Facebook, probably with the venue name tagged, acting as a recommendation to friends.

Some of the bottles of wine I've photographed in restaurants over the years.

Some backward restaurants are missing a trick though by not allowing diners to take photos at all. I was in The Ivy in London recently and the table next to me were enjoying a special 50th birthday meal. They wanted to take photos to document the special occasion and you could tell they were excited to be eating in the famous Ivy. However, the waiter soon put a stop to their fun, stating that house policy is there should be no photographs taken in the restaurant.

Presumably this is to protect their celebrity diners and stop them from getting bothered by cameras during their meals. It’s just a shame for the other customers, as their enjoyment is outweighed by a desire to protect celebrity. And, I think they are missing an opportunity for people to talk about the venue on social networks.

I personally love it when my friends post pictures of food they have eaten or even cooked themselves on Facebook. Frankly, it makes a change from the sea of baby photos that seem to populate my timeline. I’d much rather drool over a plate of delicious looking cuisine or a cherry red glass of the strong stuff.

2 March 2013

Wine is back in fashion!

A few decades ago, you couldn't move for fancy wine bars and there were Threshers and Oddbins on virtually every corner. However, nice wine seems to have fallen out of favour in our town centres of late. 

Take my home city of Salisbury as an example. Our last off-licence closed a few years ago and most of the bars serve house red or pinot grigio and not really a great deal more. Every type of vodka under the sun, yes. A selection of wines from the Stellenbosch, no.

If you want a bottle of decent wine, you invariably have to go to a supermarket or restaurant and suffer something slightly substandard everywhere else.

I'm pleased to say that the trend seems to have started to buck, in Salisbury at least. 

Last year, a specialist wine retailer finally opened in Salisbury, as part of the Cambridge Wine Merchants chain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to buy wine in a supermarket and I am a massive fan of the selection at Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. However, nothing can replace walking into a shop, and being able to ask what wine they would recommend to go with the duck or fish dish you are cooking that night. And having the personal service of expert wine advice based on your tastes and preferences.

Cambridge Wine Merchants, Salisbury

And, you don’t just get some store attendant who has done a three week course in beverages as part of their store induction. These guys know their stuff.  The manager, Gareth, has long recommended and slurped wine and used to manage the last of the wine shops in Salisbury, Oddbins and Nicolas. Last time we went in there, we explained we were going to my parent’s for coq au vin and Gareth recommended a delicious drop of Italian red. A far better experience than interpreting the pretensions of a marketing label on a wine bottle.

Then, in the New Year, joy of joys we got a wine bar! A real wine bar! Well a wine café by the name of Crane Street Wine Café. OK, they do serve food and I did go there for an evening meal, however, you can just pop in for a glass of wine and you don’t have to serve food. And, they have a really good selection and the food is pretty good too. 

Crane Street Wine Cafe in Salisbury. Finally the wine bar is back!

Run by the gregarious Andy Griggs, the place has a really classy ambience and décor too and I can see myself whiling away many an afternoon with a glass of Pinot, watching the people go by. We enjoyed a delicious bottle of Australian Shiraz. And then we enjoyed a second delicious bottle! If you do decide to eat, I would heartily recommend the tuna steak and my Dad wolfed down his spare ribs, so I assume they were pretty tasty! 

I’d be interested to know if this trend is being replicated in other towns across the UK. For me, this is a great departure from shots and red bull and a decidedly more sophisticated way to enjoy a drop.

PS I couldn't write an article about wine in Salisbury without mentioning the Majestic wine store in Salisbury. For me, it’s off this list because it isn't in the town centre and requires a car journey to get there. Plus, you have to buy a six bottle case and you can’t just pop in for a bottle. However, their service is impeccable, there’s nearly always a Pinot Noir on the tasting bar and they do social well. So plus points from me.