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I’m Over Slates, What’s Wrong with Plates?

A curious change has come over the restaurant/café/pub industry in recent years which I have been watching with interest. Many have been really good, such as the idea that anyone can open a café, restaurant, pub, take away or pop up; just as long as you have the money and the passion- more anon.

Which brings me back to plates and slates and don’t even get me going on pallettes with splinters big enough to cause permanent damage to a ladies rump, not to speak of recently purchased tights. My darling deceased mother grew up after the Second World War when restaurants only featured in the movies, and as a result was frugal to a fault. We had drawers containing string, pins, random elastic bands, jam jar lids, scraps of ‘perfectly good’ paper, the carefully retrieved Christmas present wrappings, unpared pencils, biros which had dried out circa 1971 and a million other bits and bobs which would one day come in handy for something. Woe betide you if you were ever caught throwing something useful out, because it would no sooner be gone than someone would utter the lines ‘ did anyone see that little black screw which has been in the bits and pieces drawer since 1957, well I need it now for this critical project’! I vividly remember a friend of mine visiting from school who looked wistfully into the drawer and said     ‘Oh look, it’s a bits and pieces drawer. I wish we had one of those in our house, my mother doesn’t allow it’. For some reason, it was a telling and slightly sad reflection on her family life.

Anyway, I digress. Slates and plates. Sometime, possibly within the last decade, the café industry in Ireland changed. It began in cities of course. Cities sustain the cosmopolitan mix which will not think it odd that the chairs we found numbingly hard in our cash starved schools, are now turning up in an ‘of the moment’ café. Cities seem to be places where you will get away with serving food on surfaces which recently formed part of a perfectly good roof or floor. Reflect for a moment, if you will. You are growing up in a relatively normal ( I use the word advisedly) Irish household where dinner / tea is most often eaten from a table and the family sit- again generally speaking- on timber chairs with a seat, a back to lean against and solid legs to hold it up. So, in you come through the front door, yelling ‘What’s for dinner, Mum’? and she fondly replies, ‘ your favourite honey, come and get it’. You throw your schoolbag/briefcase in the corner and head for the kitchen.

Delicious smells as usual, all ok! However, something is definitely going on. Don’t tell me, the bailiff called and took back the furniture to cover the electricity bill you meant to pay. You look to Mum for an explanation as your appetite shrivels. ‘What’s the matter dear, don’t you like it?’

As you are finding it difficult to find the words, Mum chatters on. ‘ I decided we needed a new look, it was all getting a bit old fashioned, don’t you think? Tables and chairs, honestly; it’s so noughties. Dad brought in those pallets that were thrown in the yard for ages, a lick of paint, few nails here and there and hey presto, an up to the minute upcycled table and chairs! And, wait until you see what we are having dinner on? No, it’s a surprise, I can’t wait to see your reaction.’ ‘But’ you stammer ‘What was wrong with the table and chairs?’ Oh, honestly and, aren’t your always telling me about those trendy cafés you love with their preloved this and that. Tables and chairs are so retro, it’s all upcycling now.

A creeping sense of dread is overtaking me as dinner appears on a ridged grey sharp edged slate that I definitely saw propped against the shed in the yard very recently.

 You survey the wreck of your former life. The sugar bowl has been replaced by a treacle tin, the salt and pepper are now in old medicine bottles, jam jars sit proudly where glasses once had a moment, and the milk jug is now a bottle –  on the table- this is serious.

 Mum presented dinner on the ‘pallettable’ with a flourish, gravy beginning to dribble over the edges towards the barely joined boards! I looked beseechingly to Dad who to be fair was looking slightly bewildered. ‘Well’?

So, tell me this. Why is it that we are now expected to pay for the experience of up to the minute dining on and off surfaces which wouldn’t pass an IFA inspection(Irish Farmers Assoc) not to mention an AA one? Lots of new cafes are exciting, funky, colourful, weird and wonderful serving exceptionally simple good food with a heart. Others are exciting, funky, colourful, weird and awful. Many new restaurants are breaking the boundaries of our imaginations with mind blowing food and service, many others are simply mind blowingly atrocious.

Crates, pallets, school benches, old doors, metal barrels and bits of recently felled trees can be spectacular at a concert – think Electric Picnic or Glastonbury-   or food festival –  think LItFest; but under my posterior where I seek and pay for service and hospitality. I don’t think so.   

Slates, enamel for God’s sake; we had enamel in 1970s Ireland in all its shapes and forms because it wouldn’t break easily- but it chipped like crazy- and was very inexpensive; jam jars for lemonade, old bean tins for sugar, mini milk churns instead of jugs. In a very expensive much awarded restaurant recently, our dessert was served on a piece of unloved timber, a small chipped, CHIPPED, enamel dish and a fat jug which had seen the inside of a dishwasher once too often with another chip just under the rim. I looked at it; I looked at the waiter, who was smiling knowingly at me and  seemed to think he knew what I was thinking. Did he really? This is what I was thinking. ‘If this was served on the table at home, someone would be getting a clip in the ear’

 If anyone else serves me food which I am paying for on a surface other than a plate or something closely resembling one, I will be arrested shortly afterwards for conduct unbecoming. And, as for 25- 45 contorted bits, bobs, squiggles, foams, drizzles, fizzles and curls that pass for food, that is for another day!

I’m over slates.

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