The great plate debate

“What happened to the good old-fashioned plate that’s been doing the job just fine?”

Bored of boards? Sick of slates? SAM TRIBE sticks his two penneth into the discussion about what our food should really be served on 

Ever had your steak served on a shovel? How about soup in a shoe? Perhaps not, but we all have had a burger on a wooden board or a salad on a slate tile. It has become the norm for restaurants to try unusual ways to present their food as they strive to add that little bit of je ne sais quoi to their diners’ experience. But is it all necessary? What happened to the good old-fashioned plate that’s been doing the job just fine?

That’s the question being posed by @wewantplates; the Twitter account that’s growing its number of followers at a considerable rate, as well as gaining coverage in the national press. The aim is simple: to encourage diners to upload images of the strange of food-carrying vessels they encounter, in the hope of highlighting the ridiculousness and plead for a return to the old faithful plate.

I must admit: I do have sympathy for the offending restaurants. After all, they’re just doing what they can to succeed in an industry that has grown and transformed significantly over the past couple of decades; what used to be a rare treat for some has now become the norm for many, and the number of visitors to restaurants has grown substantially. However, this multi-billion-pound industry is still notoriously difficult to be successful in – competition is fierce and margins are tight. So no wonder restaurants look to do something out of the norm to stand out in a (very) crowded room.

When looking at how this odd trend began, an accusing finger can arguably be pointed at some of our own most celebrated chefs. Jamie Oliver’s 15- or 30-minute meal recipes always feature beautifully styled food on chopping boards, trays and the like, while the king of unconventional cooking methods and kooky presentation Heston Blumenthal, also plays around with his food’s appearance. His attempts to push the gastronomical boundaries and mess with his diners’ perceptions are infamous.

As trends like this have grown, dining out has slowly become an experience for all the senses – a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures to enjoy – meaning the humble restaurant is a restaurant no more: it’s a theatre. The staging of dishes, then, has naturally been rethought by many. 

And people just love to share these theatrical foodie experiences – the quirkier the better. Social media is up to its eyeballs in mealtime snaps – think about it. #Tweetwhatyoueat. #Foodporn. #Steakselfie. We’re all guilty of (I know it’s not just me). And marketing departments have more than cottoned on, meaning the way food is displayed and presented has never been more scrutinised. It’s an art form, really, and to get it right takes a bit of imagination.

However, a starter in a shoe and crab mousse in a plant pot is, I have to agree, a bit far. And it is annoying trying to eat a burger on a plank of wood when the juices are dripping over the side and there’s nowhere to tip your chips out or dollop your sauce. Which, perhaps, is why, with 50,000 followers and rising, and an appearance on the BBC’s The One Show, @wewantplates has such a speedily growing audience.

Personally, I like a bit of a theatrics at mealtimes when I eat out, and am all for imaginative presentation, but there’s a lot of you out there who clearly have other ideas…