'British' asparagus in Jamie's Italian restaurant is apparently from Peru...
by Andrew Webb | 06 September 2012 | 2 commentsTweet
... which raises the whole question of does what's described on the menu actually reflect what's on your plate?
When the food writer Xanthe Clay saw Markham Farm asparagus on the menu (pic here) in a branch of Jamie’s Italian her suspicions were aroused. Why? Well September isn’t really asparagus season. That runs, roughly from late April to late June. (Though there is some autumnal asparagus being produced)
As her tweets above describe, she asked the waitress who – very politely – informed her it was actually from Peru.
So what’s happened here? Is Jamie’s Italian simply guilty of an error and should have updated the menu? Or are they deliberately try to deceive customers? Or does it really not matter?
As Xanthe tweeted to Jamie, she’s a big fan of him and what he does. Indeed as are we here at Lovefood.com. He's personally done a lot to improve the quality of food in the UK. But if he’s letting his name be used, and the people franchising that name are debasing it, that is a problem. Especially for someone who we know prides himself on good food and buying British. After all, this isn’t some little neighbourhood restaurant cutting a corner, this is a chain with 30 branches around the UK and was valued in 2011 at £100m.
Erm, can I see the menu again?
This little story raises the whole issue of does what’s described on the menu actually reflect what’s on your plate? Occasionally I’ve ordered a dish in a restaurant that features a specific ingredient to then find scant trace of it on the plate. "Where’s the X?" I’ve asked. "Sorry we ran out" comes the reply.
There’s been times when I’ve ordered cod, and have been convinced I got haddock. And a friend once ordered native lobster in a restaurant, yet was sure it was the (cheaper) North American variety, but couldn’t prove it. (The difference apparently is in the slant of the shell above the eyes, but that’s hard to see in a candlelit restaurant.)
When you stop to think about it it’s amazing the trust we put in restaurants and eateries. There are many opportunities to pull a fast one. Is that chicken really free-range or local or has it come frozen from Thailand? Of course it’s not just Jamie, remember the fuss when Gordon Ramsay was accused of serving ‘ready meals’ in his pubs?
The legal angle
There is of course potentially a legal dimension to all this. The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 entry on Wikipedia states: "Each product sold must be as described, of satisfactory quality, and fit for purpose. 'As described' refers to any advert or verbal description made by the trader." Our Peruvian interloper would clearly fail that first hurdle as it’s described as something else on the menu.
And according to this article on Hotel and Caterer, "Trading Standards officers have the power to enter business premises and inspect goods, documents and procedures…They can also enter premises to make test purchases and to check food or accommodation is correctly described and priced." Then of course there’s the whole ‘how to complain in restaurants’, but that’s perhaps a topic for another day…
Have you ever suspected a restaurant of not serving you what was on the menu? Have you ever sent a dish back or stormed out? Let us know in the Comments below.
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