In the last couple of months or so I have been served a brownie on a board, baked beans in a bowl, chips in a bucket, mushy peas in a jam jar and a burger on a piece of wood. I haven't had anything served on a tile or a slate recently, but there's every chance that'll happen soon. We have all become used to awaiting not just new tastes in a restaurant, but ever more inventive ways and places upon which our food will be served. We play peek-a-boo with bijou cloche and hide and seek with food that is hidden in all manner of miniature jars, ramekins, bowls, bottles and boxes. I sometimes feel I am my six year old self setting up a play dinner date with my Tiny Tears and Cabbage Patch Kids. I half expect a Pound Puppy to snap at my heels for imaginary leftovers from the imaginary food that I would've presented to my dolls in miniature dishes and vessels and upon make-shift tableware. I even had fish and chips served on a small version of a scoop that a chip shop would use to shovel my takeaway into paper. I was sat at a table, in a restaurant, with no option or prospect of sneaking into the kitchen and using said scoop to help myself to more chunky, triple-cooked 'Yukon Gold'. I was baffled by its purpose.
You may begin to detect some terse to my tone and indeed, your harrumph radar would be spot on. My question to you is this, why can't a restaurant or cafe serve the entire dish that I order on one plate? I can accept a plate that has the star of the dish and side dishes in separate serving bowls from which I can help myself. I get irritated if the table is not big enough to accommodate a variety of receptacles, however as long as it is, I am happy to serve myself if I have a proper plate on which to deposit my accompaniments.
I fail to understand why the plate has plummeted in the popularity stakes. It is a supremely practical, well thought out piece of equipment. It is designed perfectly for its purpose. It usually has a slight upturned rim to ensure gravy, sauces, custard and jus doesn't splash all over the table; it is relatively easy to carry and clear thus providing help to the waiter(ess); it can be stacked readily in a dishwasher and crucially, I can eat my food together. The baked beans in a bowl were a particular irritation. I was in a cafe having brunch with a friend. My full Welsh was served around a central well of baked-bean bowl. I wanted my bean juice to soak into my toast, cosy up to my hash brown, make friends with my sausages - not sit smug, superior and separate in its little central spot. In my world, no food is an island, or at least, it shouldn't be.
If we take it that the elements on a plate are intended to complement one another, which I am assuming is the reason they have been served together, why separate out, introduce barriers and make it harder to do just that? I've seen Greg and John on 'Masterchef' as they taste the competitors entries, they work their fork around the plate adding a little of everything so that they can assess how the whole tastes. If it is all to be separate it may as well be a buffet and you may as well serve twice baked lemon soufflé with a meaty jus or carrots with a key lime pie, such would be the sense it would make. If the ultimate aim is not culinary cohesion on the tongue why bother about what goes with what?
I don't understand why the plate has fallen out of favour? I have kept quiet for a long time, believing a while ago when I first encountered a slice of tart on a tile that is was a daft passing phase, like when I used to wear mismatched neon socks that I'd buy from 'C & A', but no, it endures. It is my understanding that porcelain was developed in China thousands of years ago and Wedgewood, Spode, Royal Worcester and Villeroy and Boch were all busily making porcelain plates from the 1700's. Denby and Royal Doulton started up in the 1800's and the 1900's saw the rise of Portmeirion and Emma Bridgewater. Pottery is popular, practical and perfect for its purpose, why not use it?
There was a time when a thick wedge of bread was used as a plate, but there was also a time when we used to believe the world was flat, but we don't anymore. We have developed, moved on, seen the light and it isn't a light peeking out from a mini kilner jar in the centre of a slab of slate. I don't want anything served in a tea cup that isn't a cup of tea and I don't want anything layered in a martini glass that isn't a martini or served in a wine glass that isn't wine. Indeed that is what I could drink now, a nice glass of wine. With my wine, I would eat a chunk of something smooth and blue like a Claxton and crackers and maybe some olives. I would serve this on a plate, because they go together and when elements are perfectly complementary, when quality ingredients sing in harmony with one another, they have no need to over-complicate, run, hide or disguise.