Board of fayre

Jen and I went for an excellent Chinese meal when we were in Anglesey. Although I should have known better, not wishing to let the gwailo side down, I insisted on persevering with the chopsticks provided. As a consequence, a significant proportion of my meal ended up in places other than my mouth. China—the country, that is—is pretty inept when it comes to tableware. As inept as I am with chopsticks. For a people clever enough to have invented gunpowder, printing, and crispy duck pancakes, you'd have thought the concepts of forks, sensibly shaped soup spoons, and tea cups with actual handles would be an absolute breeze to the Chinese, but apparently not. But who are we Brits to criticise?

The following evening, we dined at a tasteful harbour-front bistro. I ordered their fancy burger with chips. When the nice, Welsh waitress returned with my order, I was somewhat mortified to see that it was being served to me on what can only be described as a scabby old bread board.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if I'd wanted to eat food off a plank of wood, I'd have been born in the Middle Ages. The same Middle Ages that believed diseases to be caused by the Devil, rather than by inadequate table hygiene. The same Middle Ages that officially ended, as far as I'm concerned, with the arrival of cheap, mass-produced china plates.

To add insult to injury, whoever had planked-up my meal had, in an ill-judged attempt at artistic flourish, impaled my burger on to the bread board with a knife. I'm not kidding: there was a sodding great steak knife sticking vertically out the top of my burger. I looked at the knife, then looked at the waitress: “If I can pull that out, do I become King of Britain?” I asked. The waitress laughed politely and left. Somewhat surprisingly, given the fact that she had just served me my meal on a plank of wood, I don't think she had understood my early medieval reference.

They must have used a hammer. It took me two big tugs to remove the steak knife from my burger, its tip having been driven with considerable force into the underlying plank. I could sense the other diners watching me. “Have you seen how that fat man's trying to cut his burger?” I could almost hear them whispering. “Why's he holding the knife in both hands?”

I don't like steak knives at the best of times. They're my fourth least favourite tableware after chopsticks, fish knives, and nasty planks of wood. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I've yet to encounter a steak that wouldn't have been a whole lot easier to cut with a perfectly ordinary knife, than with a pointlessly serrated steak knife with a stupid, unhygienic wooden handle. I wouldn't have minded—well, actually I would—but I hadn't even ordered a steak, I'd ordered a burger—and you definitely don't need a steak knife to cut a sodding beef burger in a bun!

I blame the telly. The people who prepare pub meals have got it into their heads that it's all about presentation. Presentation is definitely important when it comes to food, but there's presentation and there's presentation.

Serving meals impaled on planks of wood is most definitely the wrong kind of presentation.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. Fish knives are only necessary if your tableware is real silver. If it's not then you're just being pretentious.

    As for steak knives, you should be ashamed of serving me any steak that I cannot cut with a normal table knife. If I wanted boot-leather I would go to Timpson's.

    You are right about the Chinese and eating utensils incidentally, although bearing in mind some of the things available to eat in China a simple knife-and-fork is not always enough! There is a stand in Beijing that sells scorpions impaled on a bamboo skewer. I'm afraid I would take a burger impaled on a suspicious plank of wood any day over those.

    1. Jen and I went for dim sum with Mrs Hitchin in Hong Kong once. The venue was recommended by his Hong Kongese secretary. It turned out it was absolutely the best place in Hong Kong to go to for dim sum if you happened to speak Cantonese. There were (I'm not kidding) about 1,000 customers in the restaurant, only three of whom didn't speak Cantonese. As the waitresses wheeled around their trolleys, laden with food labelled only in Cantonese, we helped ourselves to dishes at random. Some were delightful; some were very, very nasty. We hadn't a clue what it was we were actually eating.

      We've also eaten in Beijing. I don't remember much about that, but we survived.

  2. Planking was a big fad in the US last year. It's interesting that it's arrived in Wales, but obviously something was lost in translation - the waitress should have been lying across the top of the burger while pretending to be a plank of wood. Mind you, pubs in Britain generally are full of plankers.

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