Where is the originality?
Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic has given Gordon Ramsay at The London two-stars. In NY Times review lingo, that equates to Very Good. When you read the review, it is clear that very good is not that good. The meal was well cooked, with good ingredients but was uninspiring, the room was too clinical and there were some serious duff points in the meal.
However, what really interested me was Bruni's take on the homogeneity of restaurants across the globe:
...while looking forward to the seemingly inevitable day when your top-tier restaurant choices in a major destination on one continent are much the same as those in a major destination on another.
Ramsay? Ducasse? Vongerichten? Perhaps you just go with the restaurant of your countryman, supporting the home team. That’s the route suggested by the makeup of the dining room at the new Ramsay, where British visitors were abundant. It’s comforting to know that Americans aren’t the only tourists who travel far from home and then stay and sup in reminders of it.
The world's best chefs are keen to spread their brand as far as possible. Alain Ducasse is a fine example. He is a fantastic chef, but where is he chef of? He has two restaurants that in theory he cooks in, Plaza Athénée in Paris and Louis XV in Monaco. However, in his group there are a further twenty restaurants crisscrossing the globe: Tokyo, Las Vegas, the Basque region and various places in between.
Despite spreading himself so thin, he has not come in for any criticism. True, no-one suggests he cooks at any of these places other than Plaza Athénée and Louis XV, but he is developing a global footprint.
There is a strange disconnect with this trend and the growing popularity of eating locally sourced and inspired food. This tends to be a home cooking phenomenon, but there are a lot of chefs who have taken the concept to heart and make a virtue about the local nature of their restaurant. The flip side, and rarely voiced side of fine-dining, is that most restaurant's could not survive without having large quantities of their food flown in from around the globe. In complete contrast to the local evangelists, restaurants like Kuruma Zushi make a virtue that some of their fish is flown in from Japan on a daily basis.
So while at home we want to eat food grown within sight of our front door, when we eat out we seem to be pursuing an internationalists dream. When Joël Robuchon opened his Atelier in London there was a lot of excitement, as there has been around Ducasse coming to The Dorchester. Which is odd because in this age of cheap travel, lots of people have access to their cooking in Paris or New York, or even Tokyo. And given the dining habits of most Londoners, they are as likely to hop on easyJet to Paris, as they are to pop into The Dorchester for a morsel of Ducasse.
So why do we care so much and see it so positively that these new restaurants will be on our doorstep? I can only conclude it comes down to us buying into the chefs brand. I do not mean to denigrate the quality of food or service at these restaurants, but the brand is all important. Which means it is a very commercial enterprise. Again, no problem with that, chefs have to make a living. Nonetheless I feel a certain unease, expressed by Bruni above, that there is a growing homogeneity of fine-dining restaurants. Is there any difference knowing I can get the same fantastic mashed potatoes at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London and Paris, as knowing I can get the same McDonald's chips in both those location? Aren't they just as regimented as each other?
Maybe this is the future of fine-dining restaurants, if it is I find it a bit depressing. I like the idea that when I go overseas I am going to have new experiences not the same mash/chips I can have at home.