Screw you, or do you want to get pulled?


Do I still prefer pulling a cork rather than unscrewing a cap? Logic has gone out the window here. No other business in the world would tolerate a (conservative) 5% failure rate, which is the figure given for 'corked' wines. That's one in twenty. We have hissy fits when one in in ten thousand IPads just blink. Can you imagine if one in twenty cars were faulty?   And yet....   That seductive pop bursts so many pent up emotions. The sound rivals the soothing tones of a $500 an hour shrink. That pop can just as easily equate to the escape of bottled up sexual tension on a first date, to the release of frustration after the week from hell (I suspect David and Sam Cameron may well have yanked a few corks after Brexit). Then there is the whole wonderful bullshit theatre of the sommelier. Firstly he thrusts the bottle under my nose, ignoring if I was in mid-sentence or even mid- joke, demanding my undivided attention in his far more important world. I can barely remember the name of what I have picked out, let alone the year but I gamely play along with the charade, putting on my specs to carefully inspect the bottle. Then, deftly using one of those tiny contraptions I can never get to work, the wine waiter swiftly extracts the cork. If he is a sommelier par excellence he might even sniff what he has removed, and with a look of supreme indifference, pocket it as he pours me a thimble full of wine to taste. Of course if he really knew what he was doing he should know instantly if a bottle is bad and simply apologize and produce another. But he has his reasons and waits as I take a sip. The moment of truth. Occasionally when the bottle is so badly corked that my tongue dials the fire brigade, I am brave enough to challenge the wine waiter and suggest the bottle of botulism he has presented me with ain't quite up to standard. However I am ashamed to admit most times I am too intimidated if I think the wine is punching me in the throat rather than caressing my taste buds.  Usually my party have drunk half the bottle before someone has the courage to say that "rather than suggesting a bouquet of raspberry with a hint of chocolate and whisper of tannins, this tastes like a bus driver's sock.” We then haul over the wine waiter. Depending on if we look like we might know what we are talking about he will inspect the glass and mutter an apology, or simply whisk the offending bottle away. I have never seen a sommelier actually taste a corked bottle. A good one that is not corked, yes. But a bottle of rancid wine juice? Never. As I said, they know from the get go, but hope your too sloshed to notice. The reason they say nothing is the staff will of course chalk up the bottle as rancid, add it to the claim of dud bottles they present each month to the supplier and open (hopefully) a decent bottle of the same vintage to enjoy once the bloody patrons have left.

...and another thing

Food theatre is nearly always reserved for the ludicrously expensive. On the odd occasion in life where the money tree has sprouted and I have ordered caviar, that is all I want. But too often and to great fanfare I am presented with a Lilliputian sand castle of black sturgeon’s roe surrounded by hard boiled chopped egg yolk and a separate pile of albumen, onions, sour cream and assortment of flavored breads whose only role is to rob me of the subtle flavor of those fish eggs.

It’s the same with truffles. A set of scales are produced and the little fungus is carefully weighed like it’s a rock of cocaine (actually coke is far cheaper). Next someone furiously grates the truffle staring at me, daring me not to tell him to stop. Even a few seconds of extra grating can be the difference between eating or not affording to eat at all for the rest of the week. The reduced nugget is again weighed and you realize ground up over your plate is the cost of a dinner for the entire cast from Oliver Twist.

...and another thing

I do remember many years ago at a Cannes TV Festival I was entertaining an overseas client from Africa who was unused to the excessive theatre of over fancy French restaurants. When the Maître D’ suggested ludicrously expensive crepes Suzettes for desert my guest nodded (though clearly he had no idea what he was ordering).

When the waiter started to prepare them at a copper stove at the table my guest leaned over and asked if there was a problem in the kitchen as he could not understand why staff were cooking in front of him. Before I could answer the waiter dramatically lit the Suzettes only to be drenched in water by my now furious guest who told him to redo his dessert in the kitchen and make sure they did not burst into flames again or he would have him flogged!

Go Back

Add a comment:


  1. Peter says:

    Wonderful blog. Thanks

  2. Jeff says:

    Great stuff Mark but must admit I’ yet to order caviar in a restaurant. Jeff

  3. Peter says:

    If there is anything I truly loathe its pretentiousness over food. My beloved wife’s ex is one of those and I recall his young daughter referring to something called a “jus” when in fact it was a gravy. Give me a screw top every time !!

Add a comment: