Eating out on a budget

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I enjoy eating out whenever I get the chance.  There’s something about food having been cooked by someone else that makes it taste nicer.  Fortunately, my bachelor lifestyle means that I’m able to splash the cash, not having many other expenses.  In the early days, however, I used to be quite good at being frugal.

One of the best ways I’ve found to help minimise costs when eating out is to head out for lunch instead of dinner.  This is a really good way of saving money, especially if you’ve got a family to feed.  Quite often, restaurants will charge a good 25% more for a dish if you order it in the evening.  Alright, you aren’t going to be able to head out during a school week, but for the weekends I’ve always found this to be a good cash saver.

Also, check out the web for potential savings.  I’ve only begun doing this within the last year or so, but there are a lot of websites out there that offer vouchers to help save you cash.  From what I can see, a lot of it comes down to the recession cutting down the amount of people heading out, so restaurants offer vouchers to try and entice people back.  Definitely a good way of saving cash!

Finally, look for deals.  Almost all restaurants – especially gastro-pubs – will do a “two meals for a tenner” type offer, or “beer and a burger”.  Always have a good look at the menu and ask the waiter if there are any offers on.  I’ve always thought that if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Tasting menus

Truffle slice on meal close upIn my regular experiences of eating out I have come across what seems to me to be a new phenomenon, the tasting menu. This is the menu option that leaves you in the hands of the chef, just tell them what you do not like or are allergic to and they will choose for you. This has advantages and disadvantages, generally depending on the quality of the restaurant you are in.

A bad tasting menu is one where the chef will just give you everything that is about to go off and any dishes that are not selling well on the standard menu. You can tell if this is the case if you get lots of the same type of course, such as two fish dishes or three starters in a row; and this is just lazy service. The great tasting menus are ones that have thought put into them and you can clearly see that the courses are chosen for variety rather than to get rid of left overs.

I would always say go for a tasting menu if you have the option; you will generally get more courses of a smaller size than the standard menu so you have more variety, and the chance to taste things that you wouldn’t normally choose. Try not to be too picky when you are ruling out foods; only state ones that you are allergic to or really hate the taste of as you may be surprised by options that you think you dislike.  I’ve generally enjoyed these menus and find myself eating foods that I would never order from a standard menu, and really enjoying them – so give it a go!

Service with a sneer

I love eating out.  As I think we’ve established, this is partly due to my lack of kitchen skills, but I always feel that a good meal out is a great thing.  A recent meal I treated myself to was completely ruined, however, by a small detail.  Not the food, the wine or the décor, but the service.

It started out fine.  My friend and I were shown to a table by a smiling young lady, given menus and asked if we would like a drink.  We would.  A quick look at the wine list and I ordered a bottle of red.  “Of course”, our smiling greeter said, and away she went, never to return.

Twenty minutes later we still had no wine, nor had we ordered.  Three separate passing members of staff had been questioned about the whereabouts of the elusive wine, and they all disappeared in search of it, but it seemed they were not up to the task.  I lost patience and headed to the bar, where a youngish man was playing with his phone.  I coughed, in attempt to get his attention, and he glanced up and then continued with his texting or game playing, eventually strolling over to tend to my needs.  I explained the situation and he produced a bottle of wine, not the one I had ordered but a suitable alternative, so I accepted it, only to return to the table and find that the original bottle had appeared.

The evening continued in this style.  We managed to order and eventually got almost what we had requested after returning an overcooked steak and what was probably someone else’s side order of coleslaw.  Needless to say we didn’t leave a tip.

This is a particularly extreme example of bad service, but I often encounter staff that seem to resent your presence, which can ruin all sorts of occasions.  I’m not looking for staff to bow or curtsey, or refer to me as ‘sir’, but common courtesy would be nice.  If you do not enjoy your customer services job, please feel free to go and work elsewhere rather than ruining my evening

Eating out the South African way

Those who know me personally will also know that I am a terrible cook. That is why I regularly eat out. I would say that I am fairly adventurous when it comes to dining out. I do not shy away from the odd plate of hot curry and Chinese cooking is high on my list of favourites.

Last week, a friend told me about this great South African restaurant that opened nearby a few weeks ago. I have to admit my knowledge of South African cuisine was fairly limited. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find elephant steak and crocodile stew on the menu.

He convinced me to join him one Saturday night for a real South African experience.

The restaurant apparently belongs to a chain that is very popular in South Africa. Apart from the regular beef steaks and hamburgers, they had quite a few very interesting items on the menu.

Eventually, I settled for the ostrich steak and my friend ordered Kudu steak. Both of us were pleasantly surprised. My steak tasted nothing like I expected a huge bird to taste. It wasn’t tough at all and it was served with a delicious sauce. My friend also enjoyed his Kudu steak immensely. It was the first time he had eaten venison, and judging from the way he raved about it afterwards, he’s going to be a regular patron in future.

We shared a bottle of South African cabernet and it was much better than I expected. I never knew South Africa made such excellent wines, but apparently there is a huge wine industry in the Western Cape region of the country.

The dessert menu featured the usual ice cream and chocolate sauce and apple pie, but I opted for something truly South African: koeksisters and coffee. The word “koeksisters” literally means “cake sisters” – two strips of dough twisted together, then deep fried and finally dipped in a very sweet syrup.  As you might expect, it was decadently sweet and utterly delicious. My friend decided on apple pie and ice cream, which he found very tasty with lots of real apple.

All I can say at this stage is that we will definitely be back for more very soon!

Eating a hot curry

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am fond of a curry, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm, I will accept that.  There are some people out there who have been put off eating curries completely because of a bad experience with a hot curry.  The good news for those who are minded to give curry another chance is that there are tips for eating a hot curry.

  • A hot curry is made all the hotter while the temperature of the dish remains hot also, so when the dish is served at the table, leave it for a couple of minutes to cool down.
  • After you have eaten the curry, you may have that burning sensation in your stomach.  Help ease that by ordering something like a kulfi – an ice cream with pistachios and almonds included.  Alternatively, you can order something that is called a lassi, a yoghurt drink.  Something like a yoghurt drink is a good way of offsetting the spices in a curry because those same spices are oil borne.
  • I like my beer as much as anyone, even when I go to a curry house, but I will accept that a swill of lager is not going to offset the effects of a hot curry.  Believe me when I say I have tried!  So, something like I suggested above – a kulfi or a lassi – after you have eaten the curry, is a better alternative.
  • If eating a hot curry is proving to be too much, just remember this, the ingredients could be life saving!  Within turmeric is curcumin, which is a natural antibiotic known for its positive effects in combating a range of conditions, including dementia and colon cancer.  Knowing that should help make you feel better.

Being a bachelor interferes with my passion for dining out

As a bachelor with extremely limited culinary skills, one of my great passions in life is eating out.  I eat out as often as I can and I usually combine my meal with a good bottle of red wine. In fact, some of the best days of my life so far have been spent over a plate of good food in the company of a great red wine.

That brings me to one of my pet peeves.  I hate people staring at me when I dine out alone. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but whenever I sit down for a great dinner in the restaurant of my choice and I order a bottle of red wine, people seem to look at me with pity in their eyes.  They seem to think that I am unable to get a girlfriend.  Who the hell are they to judge me just because I haven’t yet met the girl of my dreams?

With breakfast it’s easier.  Perhaps they think my wife is busy shopping and I’m enjoying breakfast on my own.  Even lunchtimes are not so bad, because there are often other business people who are dining on their own.  But even then I sometimes feel I’m being stared at because I’m not at least in the company of friends.

So I must admit that my bachelorhood is sometimes making me reticent to indulge in my passion for eating out.  I often go out with girls as well, of course, but as any bachelor out there will know, there simply isn’t an unlimited supply of single girls out there, at least not of the kind that one would like to spend a quiet evening with, over a bottle of red wine.