With food now being served on slates, wooden boards and even flat caps, the humble plate has been sidelined. Sarah Freeman reports on one man’s mission to restore order
It was another steak on yet another oversized wooden board which caused Ross McGinnes to see red.
As final straws go it might seem fairly inoucous, but having spotted the offending item on a friend’s Facebook page, the Hebden Bridge photographer could take no more.
Reckoning that there must be somewhere online to vent his spleen about the fashion for serving food on anything but a plain white plate he turned to Twitter. However, when he found there was no dedicated platform for such culinary grumbles, McGinnes launched his own.
In the last two weeks alone @WeWantPlates has attracted a couple of thousand followers and it seems wooden boards are only the tip of a very deep iceberg.
The account which says its mission is to “crusade against serving food on bits of wood and roof tiles”, adding “jam-jar drinks and chips in mugs can do one too” has been inundated with pictures.
There’s one of an apple crumble which came in a test tube, another of a cream scone squeezed into a shot glass and not forgetting the portion of chips brought to the table in one restaurant in a trainer. Yes, a trainer.
“I think we can all agree that the rot set in when gastropubs started using slates,” says Ross. “Whoever thought the sound of cutlery scraping on slate was a good idea? However, since then it has got worse. So much worse. I’m not quite sure where to start when it comes to worst offenders. The full English breakfast served on a shovel has to be right up there as is the afternoon tea which arrived on a miniature picnic table. I mean, why? Seriously, what’s wrong with a plate?”
The Twitter site has become a soap box for those similarly infuriated and yesterday Jay Rayner got involved. “Risotto,” he tweeted in response to one picture. “On a trowel. On a slate. We need a UN resolution here.”
The Observer’s restaurant critic doesn’t like gimmicks as was amply illustrated when he reviewed Andrew Pern’s York restaurant The Star Inn the City where the bread comes in a flat cap. “Did they buy new flat caps for the purpose?,” he wondered. “Or were they secondhand? I search the rim for a greasy tide mark. And once you’ve had the thought you can’t help but wonder whose head might have been in your bread basket. It was an absurd and rather unpleasant idea when the restaurant opened – as a number of people said – and it remains so now.”
Pern, who also runs the Star at Harome, which last year won back its Michelin Star, is a man, however, who knows how to stand his ground and he recently explained his decision to turn hats into tableware, saying: “We thought about something that would say Yorkshire and rather than sending the bread out on a back of a whippet we decided to go with a flat cap.”
Conscious of being wrongly cast as a Grumpy Old Man, McGinnes says his intent is not to name and shame particular restaurants - unless of course they happen to be part of a large chain - but rather to embarrass the restaurant world into bringing back commonsense crockery. To lend a little to the campaign, he also asked Dr Helen Martin, a microbiologist at Huddersfield University, to rank various dishes in terms of hygiene. The most problematic proved to be an actual log which had been turned into a toast rack.
“You can still see the bark,” said a slightly puzzled Dr Martin. “There are a lot of nooks and crannies in which bacteria could grow and I’m pretty sure you can’t put it in a dishwasher.”
Still, as even McGinnes knows it could be worse.
“There is at least one restaurant in America where the food is thrown straight onto the table. At that point, I think I’d even take a slate.”