Best of the Blogs

Guardian Readers Are Salt of the Earth
Though the Biblical reference would probably annoy most of them, even in this celebratory month of the King James Version.  But this is about salt.  Kerstin Rogers has written about humble and not-so-humble salt in her Word of Mouth blogpost in today’s Guardian. And it’s quiiiite interesting, once you get past the old chesnut about Roman soldiers being paid in salt hence the word ‘salary’.  Ms Rogers has tried a variety of different salts in her cooking: Maldon, fleur de sel, Hawaiian black lava salt and red salt (a detoxifier, she reports), kala namak from Darjeeling, Halen Mon vanilla salt and she discusses some fascinating pink Himalayan salt that you cook on rather than putting on the food you cook.
But it’s in the comment section that the page really takes wing.  A beardy chap named ‘dickpountain’ gets earthy in his riposte to Ms Rogers’ assertion that Hawaiian red sea salt ‘reputedly’ detoxifies.  He says (the delicate should look away now), ‘My arse reputedly plays the Mozart Horn Concerto.’  So, not really in agreement with the whole detoxification thing then.  Other commenters take issue with the alleged ‘flavours’ of different salts, saying that NaCl is the same no matter where it comes from and that anyone who pays £10 for a pot of gourmet salt is a fool, or words to that effect.  Then other commenters weigh in, saying they can too tell the difference between salts because their palates are so delicate.  Then the first lot challenge the second lot to do a blind tasting.  It may come to blows before the day is over.  If you want a piece of it, click on the link above and start commenting.
The Customer is Always Right — Discuss
In a reprint from Fire & Knives food magazine, Taccuino Spuntino (the bloggy name for Russell Norman, owner of Polpo and Polpetto) writes about us, the customers, and how he deals with our complaints.  It won’t surprise you to know, especially if you deal with the public in your own line of work, that we diners can be a tricky bunch.  Sometimes we send food back that is absolutely fine or we refuse wine that’s not corked just because we don’t fancy it.  Sometimes we have legitimate complaints, but we don’t voice them at the time so the restaurant can’t do anything to fix the problem, then we write letters of indignant complaint the next day.  It’s clear from the tone of the article that it’s no mistake that Polpo and Polpetto are such raging successes as restaurants, because Mr Norman seems to welcome complaints so he has the chance to have a dialogue with the customer and dazzle them with his care for their problem.  He encourages us to complain about things both large and small.
He quotes supachef Heston Blumenthal at length about the importance of service in his restaurants.  HB believes that service is more important than the food, because while great service can rescue a mediocre food experience (possibly not at those prices, Heston), poor service can absolutely torpedo any prospect of enjoying even superb food.  That’s an idea to chew on.
Then there’s a bit of a rant from Meemalee’s Kitchen about Heston Blumenthal’s attitude about service in comparison with her experience of The Fat Duck in Bray.  She probably would like to have been able to comment on the customer service there, but never actually managed to eat in the restaurant, despite redialling desperately.  She did succeed in getting a reservation at one point that she had to relinquish because her husband might have been stuck abroad during the Icelandic volcano ash emergency and she couldn’t risk the megabuck penalty if they canceled too late.  And the attitude from the front desk was, to Meemalee’s mind, way less than helpful.  We’ve heard of mystery shoppers who shop incognito and then report on their experiences so shops can improve their services.  Are there mystery diners who tell restaurant owners what the experience of dining in their restaurants is really like?  Or even just trying to get a reservation?  If not, there should be.  We’re available.
Star Chart
The Michelin stars should be out on 18 January and right across the industry the gossip is rife about who’s rising, who’s falling, who’s arriving and who’s being kicked off the list.  Richard Vines on the Bloomberg website polled fifty eminent British chefs on their views about who should be getting what from the Michelin Man, if life were fair.  Top of the list was Pierre Koffmann with a dozen colleagues on record as recommending a Michelin star.    Koffmann, of course, had three Michelin stars once upon a time when he was the chef at La Tante Claire, so there’s every reason to believe that history will repeat itself at least partially.  Tom Kitchin of The Kitchin in Edinburgh goes so far as to say, ‘Koffmann’s not chasing stars but if he doesn’t get one, we should all stand down.’
Eight chefs were in favour of l’Anima gaining its first star, the same number that thinks that Marcus Wareing of Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley should rise to three stars.  Two chefs thought that Le Gavroche was due for a third star, though Michel Roux Jr tactfully declined to comment.  Several people thought Claude Bosi was owed a third star for Hibiscus.
There’s lots more in the piece and it all comes across like one big lovefest, especially among the chefs who favour a classically French-based cuisine, even if they filter it through their own fabulous sensibilities.  What’s interesting to us are anomalies like this: four chefs think La Petite Maison should get its first star, but toptable diners rate it an overall 7.8, not enough to put it in the Top Diner Rated category.  And three chefs, including Jamie Oliver, think Odette’s in Primrose Hill is worthy of a star, yet you diners have rated it just 7.4 overall.  It will be fascinating to see who’s closer to the Michelin Man’s thinking.
Vintage Italian
London Eater took a trip into the past and went to Zafferano in Belgravia right on the border with Knightsbridge at the absolute epicentre of a sort of ascot-tie, blonde highlights, clanky gold jewellery kind of audience for traditional Italian food.  This is the place where Giorgio Locatelli earned his first Michelin star in London and it’s still there, under the careful watch of chef Andy Needham.  The food is brilliant, says London Eater, and we know you agree.  But it is a teensy bit like stepping back into 1995.  The decor was cosier before they expanded a few years ago, and LE remarked on the blandness of the surroundings though we think that may have been a bit harsh.  The gaps between courses weren’t pleasing either, but the quality of the food made it one of the top three Italian restaurants in London in his opinion, the other two being Locanda Locatelli and The River Cafe.  The overall verdict?  ‘Zafferano remains one of the great Italian institutions in the Smoke….I can only recommend that you put Zafferano on your list.’