Tuesday, 3 May 2011

This was supposed to be a restaurant review.....

In my neck of the woods, that being Hornchurch and home of the Mighty Urchins (no relation), I have to say that we're pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. For starters there is the local Prezzo which offers an exquisite range of pizza, pasta and grills. Continuing much in the same vein is a vibrant little place called Zizzi which offers a not too dissimilar line of Italian fare such as pizza, pasta and grills. Then there is the spectacularly cladded Wildwood and I can tell you that a wild night of pizza, pasta and grills always ensues whenever we go there. And of course, lest we forget the fantastic Ask, a restaurant that proffers a slightly more subtle approach, still supplying pizza and pasta but with a greater emphasis on insalatas rather than grills. Not all roads lead to Rome in Hornchurch mind. Oh no, for an utterly authentic Mexican experience then one can do no better than to go to Chimichanga, where one can wear a sombrero whilst chowing down on a big, fat, bulbous burrito. But best of all we have a Nandos, that symposium of bottomless soft, sugary drinks and endless varieties of PERi-PERi chicken. You can feel your head positively spin every time you pick up the menu and glance at the plethora of buzz words on the page. Hot, breast, cool, wings, medium, wrap, chicken, breast, hot, chips, coke, burp, chicken, diabetes etc etc etc. Authenticity and variety comes at a price though and there are times when the choice just gets too much. It's not unusual to find myself in the hubub of a Saturday night simply standing there in the middle of a zebra crossing, not knowing where to go and with tears in my eyes. Willing, just willing for a car to mow me down and put me out of my misery. Yes, it's that tough a call to make.

Of course I am being incredibly sar-car-stic here and perhaps a bit of a food snob but whenever I reflect upon what is available on my local high street, my heart does sink a tad at the creeping diaspora of corporate beige that is starting to envelop Hornchurch. Whilst I don't expect the suburban town I live in to be a mecca of fine dining, I can't help but get narked at the fact that the main eateries in the area are the same ubiquitous chains that run up and down the land. Having peeked under the bonnet today, I am particularly narked to discover that there are just a handful of people who run the show but who don't make it plainly obvious on their company websites. You see, all of the aforementioned restaurants are linked* in some way or another via affiliations or partnerships or under the umbrella of private equity. To be honest I feel quite daft and naive at this realisation because in essence they are all the same type of restaurant, peddling the same generic menus and using the same ingredients, they are just operating behind a different frontage or brand. But what is the deal behind this vague approach I wonder? What are these companies trying to hide? Furthermore I wonder how many of us know that we've been monopolised or do we even care as we're herded into these places clutching coupons and voucher codes? The argument or discussion I've got running through my head is half baked but the more I think about it, the more I think that it's a crying shame, this proliferation of plastic restaurants in the neighbourhood. Especially when there are smaller, local, family run establishments that offer so much more in terms of food, atmosphere and service. Places like the Turkish Mangal in Hornchurch which is a simple, sparce yet friendly and warm restaurant that serves up wonderful and reasonably priced Turkish food from a impressive looking barbecue grill. Great stuff. I went there on Saturday night and tried their iskender for the first time. Tender pieces of lamb covered with a spicy tomato sauce and served on a bed of torn bread mixed with yoghurt, it was delicious. I was also stuffed, full up to the brim but sadly the same could not be said of the restaurant. However, all around Prezzo, Zizzi, Ask, Wildwood and especially Nandos, well they were packed.

And now I am confused.

This was supposed to be a restaurant review.....

(*I should add that Josh from Cooking The Books pointed this out to me)















15 comments:

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

There's not much to be said that youve not already said about the state of the world my friend. It's the same in fashion and other consumer brands. The whole world is quite literally a high street. All I can advise is that, like me, you run away to a small village with a couple of local pubs and a strong sense of community. A Subway, of all things, attempted to open in our local town recently and the local militia came out against it in such force that it has had to close down. Do not accept the inevitable. Great post.

The Ample Cook said...

You've probably described most high streets in the country. It's a disgrace. There's this homogenisation of our town centres. The character, individuality and heart is being ripped out.

Even more sad is that people accept that these places serve good food and do not seek alternatives.

Eva said...

Well said!It is equally frustrating from the position of a someone with a small family owned neighbourhood restaurant!We know there are lots of potential customers in our area but we are in a side street and the High Street chains are seen first

Nick Baines said...

Where I live in Westbourne, Bournemouth it is a similar story. Though things have started to look up a bit. Pizza Express opened up a couple years ago as did Starbucks and Costa. Many an evening you would walk past them to see them brimming with activity, but see the local greek, family owned and run for years, have only 4 diners. It's so disheartening sometimes. To be honest, I think blog posts on these small independent places are far more interesting and valuable than say, a food blogger visiting Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental or whatever new restaurant has just opened and been attacked by the worlds food media. I know some of my non-food obsessed friends perk up much more and appear far more interested when you tell them of the local eatery they never paid any attention too. I don't know. Might have to visit Hornchurch now. Nice one mate.

WalshyMK said...

I quite agree and completely understand your frustration. However, I would add that I do not think there is any "conspiracy" behind the bland restaurants; these are businesses there to make money - they do so through economy of scale and (most importantly!) because the general public like what they eat there.

We can't all have superior taste in food...

Food Urchin said...

Dom - you don't live near Bristol do you Dom? ie Tescos protest

The Ample Cook - it really is a sad state of affairs.

Eva - thank you, although I am not entirely sure that I made the point clear enough, more debate needed on this.

Nick - partly this post was born out of a convo I had with Sliverbrow as we were talking about corporate backing for restaurants and that a lot of places seem to hide this fact. Food is big business, finance and marketing are needed to succeed but the crippling shame is that the small guy gets squashed and our choice on the high st get's swept under by this tidal wave of uniformity and blandness. Sad.

WalshyMK - One thing I was worried about was projecting some kind of superiority in the post. That really isn't the case. Like you say it is frustrating and worrying because sooner or later, we will only have the same, monotone, bland restaurants to choose from. It used to be quite nice going for a walk to the High St for a bite to eat.....

Anthony Silverbrow said...

Perhaps the answer is some sort of fund to support small restaurants? Give them some sort of leg-up to help in particular with marketing. Something along the lines of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, but more focused on their balance sheet than the food they serve.

chumbles said...

Excellent post and the photos are mouth-wateringly good. Thing is that the bland chains score because some people like safe, bland food. Others like us, want interesting flavours and decent eats and don't mind trying something different, but don't want to mortgage the house to eat there.

Eva has hit the nail on the head - it is particularly difficult for any new or non-chain restaurant at the reasonably priced end to get publicity; perhaps a website for each area devoted to local non-chain restos with reviews and comments??? The travel site style ones tend to be too mainstream for my liking.

WalshyMK said...

Oh I don't think you came across as a snob at all, apologies for inferring that! I meant superior tongue-in-cheek - as in, I quite believe I have superior taste too! ;)

[actually I do have a guilty love for Nando's. There, I've said it...]

Pavel said...

I've not found a restaurant with Mangal is its name that hasn't been good! It looks proper bo that.

meemalee said...

I don't really mind Zizzi and the like. but what bugs me is that they're pretty expensive for what they deliver.

I've never been to a Nandos out of sheer bloody-mindedness :)

Chloe said...

I live in Beckenham and it's exactly the same. It's always annoyed me that Zizzi's & Ask have almost exactly the same menu but don't make it clear they're from the same group. And yes all the chains are always fully attended every night of the week. Sickening.
Your turkish grub looks great!

gastrogeek said...

Excellent post Danny. And I agree with Mimi, some of these high street places seem to be taking the proverbial when it comes to pricing. We're moving to Dalston next week and cannot wait to be in closer proximity to bargainous Turkish delights like Mangal and Testi.

Goodshoeday said...

As I was driving to local shops I noticed a Turkish Mangal in south woodford with um exactly the same logo. In it a sort of east London mini chain? Odd.

paul said...

What this proves is that a restaurant is a retail outlet and just like the High Street it is dominated by large companies under one or numerous brands. Then there are the luxury brands - Michelin starred restaurants are equal to the Hermes or Gucci of the retail world - good for a one off but not for every day consumption.
Then thankfully are the good local independents which across the retail sector (restaurants included) live by regular trade and word of mouth recommendation. There's is the most perilous fro a business perspective but from the consumer's point of view the most interesting and valuable.