So it's January 7 and Christmas gorging is over, but there's still six weeks of corporate spring dinners and festive feasts to chomp through. It always surprises me how ill-informed diners are when it comes to getting good food and service, even those paying top whack in posh Western restaurants.
So here are a few fine dining hints from a former chef. Toiling in Conran restaurants and the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington gave me some useful insights.
First, make a beeline for the prettiest waitress. Identify her tables and park there. Why? Well the head chef probably fancies her and will ensure her orders are perfect every time.
Then there's what to order. Remember fish generally cooks faster than meat, but main courses all go on at the same time. The fish, ready first, will be set aside to await the meat, then "flashed" under the overhead grill for a blast of heat, when the meat's ready.
That's why the sauce sometimes looks like it has shrunk back from the sides of the plate. If you really want the best meal possible, both, or all, order the same thing. The chef will love you and everything should be perfect. Same goes for big groups - if you want lousy food, dine in a group of 10 and all order different items. The chef will hate you and dinner will take forever. As for arriving after 9pm - chefs work long hours and are longing to pack up after the early dinner rush.
A happy chef means a good meal. Finally: when should you complain about under or overdone steak or lumpy mash? Simple answer: never. While grumpy chefs probably won't do the terrible thing to the soup of customers who send it back, they may nevertheless lob your "too rare" steak in the microwave with the cry: "Nuke the "f****r." Chefs are artistes and don't like it when you reject their food. Especially French ones. So suffer in silence. Just don't go back. Leave no tip and after you've paid and the maître d' says: "Was everything marvellous?" smile weakly and suggest maybe the chef was having an off night.
For more details on indiscriminate discretionary spending, see Anna's wealth blog at scmp.com/wealthblog