Why You Should Never, Ever Stop Going Out for Dinner

Sometimes dinner is best left to the professionals

by Michael Booth
Nov 7 2015, 1:00pm

Photo: Maxime Ballesteros

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t losing sight of what a restaurant was, is and should be. A restaurant is a place where we go to be fed, yes, but it is also a place of entertainment, relaxation, comfort – a haven. The clue is in the name: it is ‘restorative’.

I don’t know about you, but I still get a tiny tingle of excitement in my belly when I am heading out to eat, whether it is to an old favourite, or someplace new that everyone is raving about. Here are 13 reasons why I’m yet to tire of going out for dinner:

Do Forni, Venice. Photo: Maxime Ballesteros

The unbridled joy of opening a menu

Those exquisite few seconds of anticipation are so freighted with expectation. Everything is possible at this moment, the world awaits, this is hope in excelsis. No matter that 99 times out of 100 some or other aspect of the meal will likely disappoint, there is always the chance this could be The One.

That crisp, white, starched linen

I don’t have this at home because I have a life, so I appreciate it all the more when I dine out. It looks lovely, at least before I start dribbling all over it, and it feels lovely, too. It is a mark of respect and generosity from the restaurateur to their guest: You are worthy of a clean tablecloth. And it soaks up the bloody noise.

A world of choice is at your fingertips

Usually, at home, halfway through preparing the evening meal, there comes a moment when I realise I’d much rather have had fish, or something vegetarian, or a hearty stew, or something Japanese, but I am now too far down the weary road to macaroni and cheese. “Tomorrow,” I sigh to myself, “tomorrow I will make that cassoulet.” Tonight it’s too late. I have committed to the carbs.

Grill Royal, Berlin. Photo: Maxime Ballesteros

You can leave the fiddly stuff to the professionals

I am never going to de-bone a pig’s trotter or place individual almond ‘scales’ on a filet of trout. I am never going to reduce a litre of stock down to a tablespoon, or embark on the complex procedure that renders veal bones to consommé. I will never stink up my kitchen with Lièvre à la Royale or hot tempura oil. But I know there are people who will.

Eat things you would never have thought of making yourself

I’m a fair cook. I can do most things, but I have the imagination of a chair leg. I would never have thought to freeze then grate foie gras, or to match miso with cod, or that olive oil would work in ice cream. Good job restaurants!

Every decent chef has done their 10,000 hours

In the good kitchens, everyone has done their 10,000 hours. Visit a proper, top class kitchen, and all is quiet precision. I once read it described as being like when the bad guys take over the nuclear submarine. The result of this sociopathic intensity is consistency. That is what you are paying for.

You can stock up on starters

Choose three, a dessert and no main. You have beaten the restaurant. You win.

That heavenly bread basket

If there is a bread basket from any Alain Ducasse restaurant in proximity, I will raise up on my toes, beat my chest and roar if anyone dares approach. Give me some really salty butter and leave us alone for an hour, and there’s a chance I might let you may mate with me afterwards.

When the waiters make your night

They make you feel that choosing the second most expensive bottle on the list is a choice worthy of Solomon.

Palace Hotel, Gstaad. Photo: Maxime Ballesteros

Pretending you’re going to expense your extremely elaborate dinner

Yes, it might be high, but this was a ‘business meeting’, remember? Ensure you at least ask for the VAT receipt and pretend that you’re going to add this to the Excel spreadsheet you don’t ever actually update for the taxman.

It’s an excuse for daytime drinking

It’d be rude not to. Plus they don’t just have Jacob’s Creek. They have other stuff. Good stuff. The kind of stuff you’re happy to write an afternoon off for.

The washing up (or lack thereof)

In a restaurant, you don’t even have to hear someone else moaning about it.

La Belle Epoque, Paris. Photo: Maxime Ballesteros

The waiters and chefs are not the only ones with a job to do in the restaurant. You, dear diner, play a part too. You have a responsibility and, should you fulfill it, you will have the satisfaction of having contributed to the experience of your fellow diners. So, put your fucking phone away, put on a happy face, keep the noise level reasonable, and, please above all, remember this: if your meal requires cutlery, it is completely unacceptable to wear shorts while eating it.

I realise, having written this, that I’ve forgotten the 14th reason: Paris. The Parisians invented the European concept of the restaurant, and they still know more than most, what makes a good one. While we have Paris, we still have a reason to let our fridges fill with the sad bags of salad we knew we’d never really get round to using.