Monday, 17 November 2014


I, like many others, believed, in the 80s and 90s, that the british NHS was "the envy of the world".   That is, until someone took a hard look at numbers like cancer recovery rates, 5-year survival probabilities from heart attack, etc., and compared them with figures from the USA and elsewhere.

The french similarly have a firm conviction that their cuisine is the best in the world, a perception that does not stand up to my experiences in England and abroad.   During our recent trip to Boston, we ate out for most of our meals, and every one was, without exception, excellent, good value, and big.

Even the straightforward unpretentious 50s style diner (a breakfast and a lunch) served well-spiced potato fries, crisp bacon, and a cheese omelette done to perfection, with unlimited coffee.  (The french and most other nations have it over the americans for coffee.  US coffee is almost all dreadful outside of the specialist shops)

And I am convinced that no-one does steak like the americans.  You get a slab of meat of your choice, cooked to perfection according to your specification, spiced and seasoned appropriately, and tender.  Compared to this, the average french offering is, well, average.   I have never had a steak in France, in all my recent time here, as good as any of those I had in the USA.

There is some snobbery, to be sure.  I think perhaps that the perception is that quality is incompatible with quantity.  So in France you might get a couple of prawns on a plate, scattered about with some decorative garden weeds, and a bit of sauce on top or dotted artfully around the vacant areas of plate.  It all looks very fancy. In the states you get an enormous heap of prawns that taste just as good or better, with the sauce in a separate dish since there is no room for it on the plate.    This huge plate of delicious nachos in the picture was a starter....

I wonder if reality will arive at some point.  The french are wondering why their "best-in-the-world" wine is not selling well outside of their borders.  Perhaps when the tourism starts dropping off on account of the food, people will take notice.


Tim Trent said...

It was a true disappointment to eat in a Manchester hotel after a trip to the USA. The only vaguely un-wreckable material on the menu was steak, and the chef sent my order of 'blue' to the table done medium. After several more failed attempts, albeit getting marginally more rare, I offered to go into the kitchen and show him how to cook a steak.

In another hotel, why always in Manchester I have no idea, I ordered a hot meal and, when it arrived, had to ask the waiter when the hot food was to arrive.

In the USA I would never have had this problem. Nor, to be fair would I have in France.

In the USA, though, portion sizes are ludicrous. As a post war child with the 'clean your plate' ethos, boy did I gain girth during a fortnight's new hire class for Prime Computer. The food quality was as high as the quantity, though.

My experiences in France are not 100% positive. I ended up by accident with a plate of lovingly prepared calve's brains because I thought I understood the menu! It tasted delicious, but was unappealing to the eye!

As I have grown older and plumper I regret French sauces, always on the heavy side, and I see them as an attempt to disguise poor ingredients. Yet I love the TV shows that display the skills of a great French chef such as Michel Roux Jr. He seems to go for less heavy dishes nowadays, too.

Though I've slated Manchester hotels, and many would tell me it was my fault for eating in them, English chefs are excellent. I suspect my office's choice of hotel has a microwave technician instead of a chef. And one was the old Valley Lodge under a new name, which fooled me, rather.

England and France have great produce. Some French wine is even pleasant to the palate. It seems, though, that England has overtaken France in the race for turning great produce into good food.

James Higham said...

Yes, there are better wines at the price now [see Wiggia's wine guide]. England has great cheeses and ales - horses for courses.

CherryPie said...

I would choose French cuisine over American cuisine any day. I would also choose French cuisine over the enormous unhealthy pub meals that we get served in the UK.

Tim Trent said...

Ah, Cherry Pie, the pub meals of which you speak are no more than fast food culture with a beer on the side. You go to the wrong pubs!

CherryPie said...

Tim T, not all of the pubs I put in that category are fast food culture.

What pubs would you recommend?

Tim Trent said...

CP, I suspect you are well able to make up your own mind. Look at the menu and make an informed decision. A wide generalisation about UK pubs serving huge portions of unhealthy food is unwarranted and indefensible, the more so when your own blog shows how you appreciate at least one pub.

There are so many pubs where the food is such a major part of the establishment and is such a delight that your comment is much more about pubs twenty or more years ago than it about pubs today.

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