I grew up in a (relatively) small place where a fancy restaurant was The Olive Garden. Now that I live in a big town (London) there have been a few times where I went to a fancy restaurant and had no idea how to behave myself. This blog is to help you, dear reader, learn from (or live vicariously through) my mistakes.
A sommelier is someone who picks out wine for you, not a derogatory term for someone from Somalia. They usually come with a pin on their lapel that kind of looks like a grape. This little tidbit was learned when dining at Chez Bruce (Michelin starred, I’ll explain that later) and my date offered to summon the ‘sommelier’ because I was having trouble with picking my starter, never mind the wine. I accused him of being racist. And then a random old French guy showed up and they started talking about dirt. Lesson learned.
When I first heard someone bragging that they’d gone to a three Michelin star restaurant as if Jimmy Choo had personally designed a shoe for them, I laughed audibly. 3 stars? I knew of hot dog vendors in Piccadilly Circus that had a better rating than that. But then it was made clear to me that it was something extra, like a gold star. Which, by the way, would be a much more accurate description to denote excellence. Naming it after a tire company? Not so much. Anyway, 3 stars is as fancy as you get and there are only a handful in major cities. 1 star is much more common but still super fancy. And, funny enough, you wont see the Michelin man on any menu in a Michelin starred restaurant. There probably won’t even be prices on the menu for that matter. Just a bunch of things described as ‘pan seared’ (where else would you do it) and ‘corn fed’ (TMI).
Which brings me to my next point. This meal will probably cost more than your rent or mortgage (if you’re a grown up). Most of the fancy restaurants I’ve been in have separate menus for women that don’t have the prices on them. It’s probably sexist or something, but lets be honest, if I knew I was scarfing down an appetizer that was more expensive than the shoes I was wearing, I would probably so nervous I’d pee myself.
Whatever you do, don’t order the Foie Gras, its obese bird liver and tastes like raw bacon. Everything else will come looking funny. I once had a meal come in the same plastic as a flower arrangement and then when they opened it the room was filled with smoke. My boyfriend reassured me this was on purpose. In my next blog I will be sharing my experience at a 3-starred restaurant in San Sebastian. I got something that looked like a beach. Be wary of prawn/shrimp etc. It will come as t did out of the ocean, and in real life prawns aren’t just those cute pink things you dip in cocktail sauce, they are the cockroaches of the sea and have, like, a million legs, antennae and beady eyes. Consider yourself warned.
There is a lot of it and it will seem dented and chewed up, but that’s because it’s real silver and the way they look at it, the older the better. You don’t need to save any cutlery for the next course; they bring you a new set every time. But, cutlery is the best way to signal in a restaurant. The way to tell them you are done with your meal is to put your cutlery together across the left side of the plate. The only thing you really need to know is that the thing that looks like a spatula is for fish.
Don’t worry about the amount of food, no matter what, you will have too much. I had a dinner in the middle of nowhere, France at a 3 starred restaurant and literally ate for 4 hours. Like, actually put stuff in my mouth and chewed for 240 minutes. I was STUFFED. Then we had a one-hour break and went to a 1 starred restaurant and ate for a further 4 hours. But it’s not that you order lots. Usually they have the option of a ‘tasting menu’ which means the chef decides. There is usually lots of courses. But even when you do a la carte (fancy French for picking what you want) you will still get these little surprises in between what you actually ordered. Don’t worry, they’re free.
Most people in there will be wearing obscure and expensive designers you’ve never heard of. I just try to go in wearing clean clothes and come out in generally the same condition. And if you have it, bring a nice bag.