Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I recently discovered the Fuck Yeah Condiments blog which celebrates the various bottled, canned, tubed and jarred accoutrements which can enhance and add spark on the side of a meal. I love it. All manner of freaky and wonderful sauces and potions are here, some bordering on the disturbing such as the pictured 'Marvin Mustard Spread Head'. Yikes.

But even this rather unappetising image won't temper my love affair with condiments. I'll always be the one in the cafe or pub stock-piling millions of sachets of ketchup, mayonnaise, salad cream and brown sauce to go with my burger and chips. I'll be the reason that waiter looks tired out running to and from the kitchen bearing various requested ramekins of mayonnaise, mustard, tartare or cranberry sauce.

The eternal problem with being a condiment fan is that a little goes a long way - eg. you may only need a small spoonful of a particular condiment once a week, meaning your fridge is perpetually packed with monolithic jars and tubs which just refuse to empty. This is compounded by the fact that the sheer VARIETY of condiments is pretty much endless - think of all the varieties of chutneys that are possible, and the infinite combinations, let alone moving onto relishes, jams, jellies, mustards or sauces. The other problem is that the sheer variety of condiments makes them even more tempting and addictive, leading to an often unwitting accumulation building up in your cupboards, fridges and tables.

Still, I can't stand it when you go to someone's house for dinner and there's nothing provided to enchant and enhance the meal on the side, whether it's chutney with curries, or ketchup with pies, or horseradish or garlic mayonnaise or redcurrant jelly or mint sauce (you get the idea)...with roast meat or sausages. People too often don't appreciate quite how much a condiment can help lubricate the tastebuds and tickle the senses in many combinations both classic and unique: lamb and mint, hot dogs and mustard, fish with lemon, prawns with sweet chilli sauce, goats cheese and onion marmalade, or more strange favourites of mine like horseradish with parsnips and apple sauce dollopped on cabbage. And as for those who aren't scrupulously efficient about making sure they serve gravy or sauce with any meal involving a pie, sausages or roast meat well, don't get me started...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Greed is Good

Sometimes your prayers are (kind of) answered. My friend Jane was down from London to visit and we were thinking of somewhere to eat. We felt like a buffet (my love affair with the buffet restaurant has already been well documented) but couldn't decide which one to go for as most are narrowed down to one type of cuisine. What we were hungry for was the Las Vegas-style buffet where you can eat a little bit of every type of food - from pizzas to prawns to pastries. And then suddenly we came upon this sign, pointing us in the direction of the very thing: a new buffet called 'Gekko' which has replaced the rather awful Wokmania (large oriental buffet with lots of choice but tasting very over-processed). The sign promised 'Fresh Pizzas, Pastas, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Sushi, Mexican, Crepes and Desserts' for the recession-friendly £6.99. However, the despondency of the guy holding the sign was perhaps a portent of our experience, which ended up being fairly average.

We were greeted by a rather cavernous, uncosy dining hall with huge counters of various vats of dishes which all looked pretty impressive. Also A LOT of fat people in there, whom we were about to join! Pretty much exactly the same as Wokmania in design, probably run by the same people just under a different name. As such, while the sheer amount looks exciting - there are areas where fresh pasta, crepes and pizzas are prepared to order as well as all the other stuff - the eating of the food was a rather more patchy experience in terms of taste sensations.

The sushi consisted of a couple of different 'california roll'-style items which were alright but a little warm. Disappointingly the Mexican selection consisted of chilli (quite nice) and items for making nachos (I like nachos but wanted enchiladas, burritos, etc!), the Chinese, Malaysian and Indian sections, despite having loads and loads of different dishes all had a suspiciously similar taste in many cases. However, chilli squid in the Chinese section was pretty good, as were some of the vegetarian dishes - the meat, especially chicken, was fairly crappy in quality and had that pumped up with water taste. My greediness meant that even though the food was pretty average, I still ate quite a lot of the bits that were quite good, and I thought I'd give the fresh pasta a go and ordered ham and cheese. Already prepared for it to taste not exactly authentic Italian, I really didn't expect it to be just as plain weird as it was. I thought it would be simply cheesy in a macaroni cheese kind of way, but having been lovingly prepared for 5-10 minutes my dish arrived looking impressive and steaming, but with a creamy sauce which when tasted was overwhelmingly and strangely sweet. Didn't try the pizzas but saw a few girls at another table excitedly ordering quite a few, so maybe they were acceptable.

Speaking of sweet, the dessert cases which looked extensive, actually contained rather strange choices of desserts that probably came from Iceland - strawberry cheesecake was nice, shame it was still frozen in the middle but the various cakes on offer kind of looked a bit like they'd just come out of a Mr Kipling box. The 'Mr Whippy'-style ice cream machine was appreciated, but could have done with some more sundae decorations like sprinkles, flakes, cherries etc!

So our excitement that Gekko provoked was somewhat disappointed by the experience of the eating. For £6.99 it was pretty good value for a lunch - the prices go up to £13.99 for dinner, although this might include even more dishes and also a grill which presumably cooks fresh steaks and other meats. Still, from the worrying quality of the meat on offer at the buffet I wouldn't say you'd be getting much that would be worth the extra. Overall I guess it was wishful thinking that when it comes to eateries you can't always have quality as well as quantity.