OK, so here’s the thing.
I’m tired of New Yorkers, Londoners, and just about everybody else telling me that New York has better food, better service and cheaper prices than London. Because that is just nonsense. London has much better quality food, produce, service and prices than New York does. Hands down.
Some time in the last couple of years, Londoners suddenly became very particular about their food being lovingly prepared and about their produce being locally or at least regionally sourced.
Celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have a lot to account for that. Ultra-cheap prices for ultra-fresh produce offered by up-market supermarket chains like Waitrose have also forced other more down-market chains to up the quality of their offerings, making good produce affordable for just about anyone.
Now let’s consider New York: an average meal in Manhattan… say, my dinner two days ago at a rather well-reviewed bar-restaurant in Greenwich Village. Here’s what I had:
(The thinnest slivers of) Cured Arctic Char (arranged so artistically in a huge bowl I could hardly find them let alone taste anything)
$13 (or $17 after tax and tip)
Seared Scallops and Bacon on Polenta with Tomato Salsa (tasting, surprisingly, of nothing more than seared scallops and bacon on polenta with tomato salsa)
$26 (or $32 after tax and tip)
Glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State (Lovely!)
$14 (or $18 after tax and tip)
Total Bill after tax and tip for me and my companion: $150. The tip alone was $25 (20% of the bill and enough money for another main course).
It didn’t help that the restaurant was packed to the rafters and we had to be seated at the bar, where I observed the bartender (to whom the tips went) accomplishing not much more than topping up our water, smiling occasionally, and asking how we were doing with our (obviously horrible) food. Regardless of that, I was advised that to leave anything less than 20% was a no-no. It was just expected.
I was torn between laughing because it was all so absurd, and losing my temper because it was all so infuriating.
In London, the same glass of wine would’ve cost 6 – 7 quid after tax (about $10) at a similar establishment. At those prices for an entrée and a main, there would be ingredients of immensely better quality, or at least a je ne sais quoi in the overall taste and presentation. Prices would have included tax. Oh, and the service would have been of equal standard or better without need of a 20% tipping policy, thank you very much.
I am usually pleasantly surprised when I randomly step into any restaurant – however lowly – in London, whereas I shake in my boots when I think about doing the same in New York. The rule, to me, seems to be: the more expensive, popular and see-and-be-seen the place, the more horrible the food is guaranteed to be. Why do New Yorkers tolerate poor food, poor service and ridiculous prices? Shudder.
Sorry for being such a scrooge but I am Singaporean (read: food-lover and all about things being value-for-money). I don’t mind paying. It’s just got to be worth my dollar.