Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tripadvisor - The restaurant's best friend

Boo! Hiss! Everybody stand up and denounce the villain of the restaurant industry: Tripadvisor. It’s shit, right? All those pompous gits, whining and complaining, with their made-up reviews sabotaging the competition, what a bunch of wankers. Ban it! 
I’m the first to admit, Tripadvisor is a pain in the arse at the best of times. An unregulated, unelected free-for-all, lawless pit of self-important judgement, like the wall of graffiti in the school toilets, but written by people who read The Daily Express.
Sure, It has its fair share of idiots and bullshitters. There’s also the clichéd vision of the typical Tripdavisor reviewer, very similar to mine, which is a cross between Nigel Farage and Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles. The idea that anyone the least bit informed or cool would use Tripadvisor is a bit of a joke, or that’s how we all like to imagine. It’s also the root of all restaurant marketers’ problems, with the dreaded ‘one star review’ morning notification welcome less than a tequila hangover. 
But has anyone taken the time to look beyond the criticism, and analysed the real impact and influence of such a behemoth on this industry? 
My personal enthusiasm for the dreaded TA is well-known. Quite often I’ve stood up in restaurant marketing discussions and been the sole lonely voice making the case for everyone’s favourite pain in the arse. So I’m going to stick my head on the block and make the case: 
If you’re a restaurant, Tripadvisor has to be your friend.
One of the most interesting things is how quickly we’ve all adopted the online review as part of life, like they’ve always been there. TripAdvisor began its life in 2000. To get an idea of how early this was, Google only moved out of their garage the year before, and Facebook and twitter wouldn’t happen for 5 years. It was never intended to be about users’ opinions. 
Originally it was to focus on a mix of official words from guidebooks or critics reviews in newspapers and magazines. A helpful digital combination of all. So far so good, everything works fine, just like many other guides.
Then one day, someone added a little button for visitors to add their own reviews, famously the feature Amazon pioneered only a couple of years previously for books. 
Take-up went crazy. Website visits and registered users skyrocketed. Do you know what happened? People were more interested in the user opinion than the ‘professional’ opinion.
Basically: welcome to the world, the user-review.
As a restaurant marketer I’ve been trying to make sense of guest influence in restaurants for 20 years, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing the user review has been the single biggest game changer in restaurant marketing in that time.
What’s clear to me is this: People trust other people.
People trust people like themselves. It’s part of the opinion consensus, the internet or specifically Tripadvsor has simply provided a platform for this.
The old media has obviously been disparaging: you don’t have to look far to find journalists sneering at ‘hoi polloi’ and their basicness. See how they guffaw at Mr Smith and his good lady wife from Tunbridge Wells, the ‘opted for’/‘melt-in-the-mouth’ brigade. It’s the same snooty attitude which is heaped on ‘comment warriors’, the same ‘comment warriors’ who have driven arguably the biggest revolution in how media effectively earns money since the battle of Wapping in 1986.
But this self-satisfied sneering needs to be watched. AA Gill seems almost Luddite now when heard quoting ‘Citizen Journalism’ back in 2010.’ (00.23)
‘Would you trust a citizen dentist?’ he cries, chuckling smugly to himself (I love how he proudly puts journalists in the same bracket as the medical profession). His ‘leave it to the professionals’ point is a good one, and granted not simply taking about critics, but sadly this attitude all sounds a bit twentieth century now. 
Let’s start with the addressing the usual complaints about TA. To begin, we hear a lot about the ‘no control’ angle. Nothing we can do, no reasoning etc etc. What’s funny to me is how nobody has a problem when they get a nice review. Only when they get a bad one. So instead of thinking about the reason someone posted it, they moan about TA like it’s got something in for them. Like having a suggestions box, not liking the suggestions, so you shout at the box. And don’t start the ‘but that’s not public information’ argument. This is 2016. Transparency is King. 
Another argument frequently trotted out is, ‘if you have a complaint, you should make it at the time’. 
Well, call me British, but I’m not one of those people who likes to treat every commercial or hospitality experience as a live confrontation session for raising problems with service. I go out to enjoy myself. Nobody likes the complainer, not your friends, guests, colleagues or anyone else. The only people who complain in restaurants are frankly arrogant, self-entitled tossers who relish this pathetic bit of power they manage to uncomfortably ejaculate over some poor young server. No, normal people keep these things to themselves. 
Now that the restaurant industry has begun to realise the user review cannot be ignored, its time to think cleverly about the positives. TA is quite possible one of the industry’s best sources of feedback one could ever wish for. 
It was Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ who famously said ’the most valuable commodity I know of is information’. Well, feedback is your information. We all know it’s crucial, which is why every serious consumer business in the world invests so heavily in it. Tripadvisor gives people the best chance to let you know what you are doing right or wrong, and that information should be relished. Ignore it at your peril.
Lastly, there is customer loyalty. Think about the process of leaving that review. The guest has paid their bill, then left, gone home, and then taken the quite boring and tedious process of entering their review. They really wanted to do this. Why? Quite honestly I don’t know myself. But they do. Good or bad (but usually good, it has to be said) the urge to share is there. If it is a bad point they want to share, we have to consider why they want to do this. Spite? Pure vengeance? I’m not sure. I like to think it’s mostly a cry for help. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve contacted guests after they’ve left bad reviews, reasoned with them, killed problems with kindness, and they’ve become our best ambassadors and most loyal regulars to this day. People feel let down, unloved perhaps. TA gives you the chance to love them again.
I believe what we have to accept is Tripadvisor and the user review is here to stay. The way I see it is its all part of an evolving situation. Tripadvisor is not perfect, but if you are looking for pure unbiased guidance then neither is the highly corrupt PR/Journalist self-preserving model that has existed in old-world press and reviews for years. People are not stupid, they don’t go to Tripdavisor for the last word, it just provides another opinion. 
And maybe they just love reading the hilarious home-made reviews about Nazi Maitre d’s and dirty loos in hotels.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Big Dipper comes to Soho

From Monday 6th June until 10th June 2016, Gauthier Soho will be supporting Soho Create festival with a special food offering designed just for Soho Create.

The BIG DIPPER is a classic French dip sandwich of pastrami and caramelised onions served with a pot of deliciously rich Gauthier Soho beef jus for dipping and soaking, evoking the 1950s spirit of Soho - indulgent, ephemeral and fun.
The price will be £7.

As a goodwill gesture to our neighbours in Soho, on Wednesday we're giving 
Big Dippers to all Soho workers & residents a 25% discount!

Big Dipper + Pint of Sambrook's Pale Ale or Glass of Soho Red £10

Simply turn up at the stand and give us proof of work, address, business card etc, quoting this offer.

See you there!

Our stand will be serving our Gauthier Soho house red wine, the 

2012 Blauburger Soho Red at £5 by the glass, 

as well as local craft beer in the form of the fabulous Battersea brewers 

Sambrooks Pale Ale on draught £5 Pint / £3 half.


Monday June 6th until Friday June 10th. 11am-8.30pm every day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Funniest Tripadvisor review ?

The funniest review of my favourite restaurant.
The reviewer is clearly gifted- hilarious recollection of an attempting meal at La Petite Maison in Nice.
It reminded me so many good memories there....

“A once in a lifetime experience...”
1 of 5 starsReviewed 27 August 2015
One immediately knows that something special awaits when, a couple of days before the big day, one calls the restaurant to confirm a reservation which has been made several weeks in advance. A sort of conversational quick-step begins when I confirm that I have a reservation, but want to double check whether it is for 8pm or 8:30pm. “What time would you like” comes the reply; “What time is the reservation for?” I respond; “Well what time would you like?” again they ask… After 2 minutes of this back and forth I confirm that our party of 5 will be there at 8pm and hang up with a growing sense of anticipation (or was it trepidation…). The day itself arrives and in our best glad-rags we made our way over to the restaurant; the follow up to the telephone tango did not disappoint. Upon arrival at the restaurant we walked through the front terrace up to the main reception whereupon I was reassured to see that, given recent terrorist activity around the world, they obviously took clients’ safety very seriously – we were greeted by a row of stony faced security personnel, cunningly disguised as waiters, who scrutinized us up and down before parting to reveal the manager, the formidable “Nicole”, described by the French press as a “personality”… With her diminutive head of security by her side, she glanced over at us and, as Emperor Titus, waived her thumb in the direction of a table delightfully situated just off the main entrance, at the foot of a large staircase, laid for 4 people. While I was particularly enchanted by the proximity to the stairwell, the view of the service hatch, and the close physical contact this location afforded us of people entering and leaving the restaurant as well as the comings and goings in the stairwell, what sold me was the fact that this was a multi-functional table featuring a large bread hamper at one end, which the waiters frequently flocked to whilst replenishing clients’ bread baskets. My party, however, were less impressed and stated that not only was the table not set up for 5, but that it was terribly located and that we would prefer another one in the room which at this stage still stood half empty (8pm). It was at this stage that we could fully appreciate the French sense of humour, so often misunderstood. Our request raised a reaction tinged with hilarity and horror. The Lady herself, followed by her diminutive minion, walked among the empty tables, pointing randomly and audibly muttering how this one was booked for “Mr Le Juge”, and the other for “Mr le Prefet”. Whilst we truly appreciated the guided tour of “who’s who” of the restaurant seating plan, this did little to help our case and, still standing in the middle of the restaurant waiting to be seated, my party were growing impatient. After a few more minutes Nicole muttered that there were no other available tables, which the minion repeated as the words had not been spoken to us directly, to which he added that this was a very good table. I am sure that Mr Le Prefet, when he finally arrived at the restaurant, asked to be moved given that our table was so much better than the one that had been earmarked for him! I do hope that Nicole did not feel slighted by our decision to turn down their kind offer of such a delightful table, I myself am rather partial to an animated dining experience and enjoy the feeling of people jostling my chair throughout a meal, watching the activity around the service hatch, and having fresh bread so readily available. I particularly appreciated the manner with which, as we were leaving the restaurant, one of the waiters uttered “see you soon” with a charming smirk on his face. As for the food, I unfortunately cannot comment on this, which is a shame given that La Petite Maison in London is one of our favourite restaurants, however if the food is on par with the service at this Nice establishment, I would go as far as saying that this is an experience which cannot be equaled...
  • Visited August 2015

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Service Charge Debate: A view From the Inside

As a time of year when one of the most important questions in our generation is being considered and debated- remaining or leaving Europe- something rather trivial for all of us is getting some interest in the media:
Shall we force restaurants to include service charge in their pricing?

I have been thinking about this for a while and having ran a restaurant in a country where service is included (France) I am getting quite worried about the impact on employees rather than employers those changes will ultimately have; unless we look in depth about how it might affect peoples lives, things should not be rushed just because a spoilt food pundit is having an existential tantrum. 

At the moment, “his” annoyance of having an extra line on a restaurant bill adding 12.5% service charge is the main problem. One could wonder why this has not been factorized already in the price of the meal but I think a lot more thinking has to be put into this to decide ultimately if this arrangement needs to be changed.

So this what currently happens in a British restaurant: 
An employer usually pays his employees minimum wages per hour and then allows a Tronc master to distribute usually between 90 to 100% of the total discretionary service charge collected via credit card, cheque or cash payments (which is 12.5% of a total restaurant bill ex VAT). 
A tronc scheme is something serious and follows strict guidance from HMRC. 
A tronc master who is usually elected by employees (who have probably left long time ago) decides who earns what (as point or percentage of the amount collected) and distribute the money accordingly. 

Because HMRC accepts that service charge is not a safe income, there is no NI contribution on the amount paid from the Tronc and a fixed % on income regardless of the amount. It is a great benefit for an employee who can receive a share of income tax discounted. But again, for small earners who only collect a tiny portion of service charge, one way or the other does not make much difference. From the employer side, the saving from using this method is quite small.
However, for those who collect a big chunk of the Tronc, this is like earning your salary in Panama.

In fact, there is no maximum as to how much you can pay yourself from the tronc.
Say, if a restaurant collects £20,000 of Tronc money per month and the Tronc master decides to keep half of that for himself; there is nothing stopping him from doing so. Imagine earning more than £120,000 per year (on top of your minimum wage) only taxed at around 20%. Not bad.

There is no arguing that this arrangement is a massive carrot for top people in a restaurant and has helped to retain and motivate many of them and ultimately helped to make this country one of the most hospitable in Europe.

On the other hand, France who abolished “payment á la piece” many years ago, things are very different there.
Based on 35 hours a week, a minimum wage for a French waiter is equivalent to a British one (just over €9 euros per hours x35 against £7.20 x40); cost of National Insurance plus many other things pushes the price of employment to almost €18 an hour.
This makes an impossible mission for an employer to entice staff by offering them the opportunity to earn more by selling more; to earn more by being kinder to guests; to earn more by being flexible with guests…etc
Some might say that all of this should be standard- but sadly it is not the case.
Go and grab a lunch in a Paris brasserie and you’ll quickly understand that when there are no carrots, service suffers.
Employees are locked in their “service inclus” and quickly come to the conclusion that an ok service will pay them as much as an outstanding service.

The system currently in place here in UK is intelligent and works for both employers and employees. So as long as a Tronc system is not abused by greed - things should stay exactly as they are. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Disappearing items of the classic English dining table

Personally I was a little confused when asked to write a little article about disappearing tablewares, as all of the items listed below of course feature as standard on my domestic dining table. But alas, apparently it is true, in some parts of the modern world, progressive people have begun to forget the delicacies and details of elegant tablewares. Alarmingly even the toast rack, that essential part of breakfast equipage is now under threat. 

So here is a little round-up of my favourite essential tablewares, apparently in decline, that make dining a more effortless and elegant experience. 

My advice: If when restoring yourself at any of London's more fashionable establishments, any of these items do not by default appear at your table, politely ask to speak to the manager and with a perturbed expression, demand an immediate explanation as to what on earth is going on.

Sifter spoon
For sifting rough sugar lumps, which wasn’t as refined as we know it today, so in quite large crystals. 

Grape scissors - A small pair of scissors to elegantly detach a branch from a large bunch without any vulgar pulling and tearing and risk of dropping grapes. Also occasionally comes with matching grape dish.

Berry spoon - a tiny ornately decorated spoon for the enjoyment of specific berries.

Marrow spoon - long like an apple corer for scraping out hot marrow from roasted bones.

Chocolate cup - an elegant, delicate cup often with a lid (my own theory is to prevent skin forming). Chocolate was a serious luxury and taken on very special occasions, hand prepared from precious cocoa powder or even raw beans, and served as a dessert.

Grapefruit knife
A small knife with a serrated edge, specifically for tackling grapefruit. For years I thought this was a miniature bread knife and used it for rolls.

Toast rack
Designed to present warm toast elegantly. But by all means, chuck it on a plate, loose and messy. Be my guest.

Cutlet holder  
Like a knife handle with an open clasp and thumbscrew clamp for holding chops and cutlets, saving fingers from unsightly stains. I cannot be alone in thinking 'Tayyabs'.

Usually shaped as a cow, with removable back plate, tail handle and spout in its mouth. One of my favourites, and still on the the tables in Le Gavroche if I’m not wrong.

Napkin ring
This is an interesting one - napkin rings were originally used to identify the napkins of a household between weekly wash days, very typical for a house member to re-use their napkin each day, and store them in their specific rings marked with their initial.

(from the French for ‘bell’) a large silver dome used to cover dishes to keep them warm on the way from kitchens often large distances away from dining rooms. Now one of the most recognised and theatrically remembered items of functional tableware. Can happily say silver cloches are in use every service at Gauthier Soho.

Sauce spoon - similar to a dessert spoon, but flatter, with indent for draining oil & fat. Often placed alongside a fish knife.

Presentation plates - An ornately decorated plate of the highest quality, typically porcelain but often in silver, gilt metal or even gold plated, remaining on the table beneath functional plates throughout the meal as a kind of placemat. Still in use today at some very grand restaurants. 

Pastry Fork
A small fork/knife combination, designed to make the navigation of delicate pastries such as millefeuille that much simpler.
(Forks - this is where it can get a little ridiculous. There were specific forks for Asparagus, Lettuce, Lemon, pickle, cheese, cold meat, beef, and sardine to name a few.)

Silent Butler
A miniature dustpan & brush used by a butler to sweep a table between courses. 

Wine coaster
Silver, with mahogany or walnut bases and felt underneath. Used to prevent unsightly stains from red wine drips.

Presse de la Canard

I’ve saved the best til last. A large device for extracting the juices from an entire cooked duck. The dish ‘canard a la presse’  is prepared tableside with various parts of the bird used for different courses. In service to this day with panache at the lovely Otto’s.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Being in Europe is a bit like going down the pub.

When you go to the pub, you join a club.

Lots of different people are members of this club.

There might be a managing director of a successful company. There might be someone unemployed.

There will probably be lots of people from all walks of life, Some of them rich, some of them poor.
All offering different levels of input.

Some offering advice, some offering generosity. 

Some offering practical or physical help. 

Some offering a shoulder to cry on. 

Some offering the most interesting conversation. 

Some offering jokes. 

Some offering music or songs. 

Some offering gossip. 

Some you might even have special little arrangements with.

One person does a bit of plumbing for you. Another you helped clear out their garage recently. Another gives piano lessons to your children.

Members lucky enough to have succeeded in their chosen paths will from time-to-time find themselves buying drinks for the others perhaps less fortunate than themselves. 

This can be expensive. 

Those members accept that, and do so gladly, because what the less fortunate can offer is not always financial.

The club will also have a few rules. 

No glasses outside after 9pm. No pets. No ordering from certain sections of the bar.

You might not agree with them all, in fact some you might find annoying.

Stifling. ludicrous even.

But being a member of this club means you have your say and be able to voice your opinions, maybe get the rules changed to suit you better.

What you get from this club is community. companionship. Strength in numbers. Solidarity. Support.

Now, if you suddenly start to feel that you buy too many drinks for people, or you don’t like the rules, then you can leave the pub.

You can go outside, buy your own drinks, sit on your own, and drink by yourself. 

With no support, no conversation, no-one to talk to. 

No friends to sort out that bit of plumbing.

No friends to help with the piano lessons.

No help, no jokes, no friends.

A loner. 

The current E.U. Brexit campaign seems entirely based on a quite selfish, xenophobic and often racist argument. 

How much we get out of Europe financially? How many immigrants we have to put up with? It’s frightened and stupid.

We should think of the EU like going down the pub. 

Not everyone is as successful as others, some of the rules are frustrating and sometimes you find yourself buying a few more rounds than some. 

I’d rather be part of the community, with all its faults, than the selfish lonely bloke, outside, drinking on his own.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

British Liver Trust Fundraising Dinner

We welcomed the British Liver Trust to Gauthier Soho in order to raise awareness of liver disease and to fundraise for the charity, for which Alexis is a patron.

Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the United Kingdom and the only disease where the number of deaths is increasing rather than decreasing each year so we were more than happy to host the dinner for such a worthwhile cause.

Thank you to Audrey & Melissa for organising the event and for drawing attention to an important cause.

To find out more about the disease please click here to visit The British Liver Trust website.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Winter Menu 2016

It’s one of the mildest winters I can remember, with produce appearing to have a life of its own! I wrote a blog post about this here.

I’ve been really inspired by the fresh mild weather this January, and my new winter à la carte menu is hopefully reflecting this.
There are wonderful wild yellow chanterelle and trumpet mushrooms, the best I’ve seen for a while, paired with port wine. This season’s excellent black truffle is balanced within a light tortellini with pancetta and a not-too-reduced pork jus, and superb halibut - some of the most spectacular fish I’ve ever come across - is baked simply with Meyer lemon and olive oil.

I do hope you will come and see us to try some of these super dishes before spring is upon us.

Please view the menu here. 

Book here or telephone 0207 494 3111.

Best wishes,


Duck - Apicius Rubbed Breast & Leg Feuilleté, Braised Long Kentish Carrots, Glazed Young Turnips in Duck Jus, Apicius Scented Duck Jus.
Fruits & Vegetables Pot au Feu - Lightly Spiced Apple & Quince, Port Reduction. 
Golden Louis XV - Dark Chocolate Mousse, Crunchy Praline.

Tableware: ‘Arris’ by Wedgwood UK

Friday, January 08, 2016

Something weird is happening on menus

Something weird is happening on menus - how can we keep to seasonal classics when the seasons themselves have changed?

It’s already January, and here I am introducing my new winter menu. I have been creating winter menus for more than 10 years now and I have never struggled finding inspiration in the abundant varieties of local ingredients at this time of year.
Delicious fondant salsify cooked in heavily buttered chicken stock; braised celeriac in honey and spice to compliment a fat grain-fed pigeon or cooking quince in rum caramel to enhance their deep flavour.

Yes winter, and especially in January, is the kind of time where chefs across the country can fall back on dyed-in-the-wool classic combinations and flavour pairings, digging deep into their tried and tested toolkits to excite menus which could otherwise be quite boring when you remain loyal to sourcing ingredients as nature’s flow dictates. 

But wait. Something is happening. Things are changing -  dramatically.

Yesterday, the first Welsh asparagus were on the market - usually this would not happen naturally until late April. And last week wild garlic was appearing everywhere in woods around Britain - also something more suited to early spring. Morels mushrooms are in abundance and am told that wild Carros strawberries (from the Nice region of France) are sweet enough to be eaten! 

Abnormal? Well yes it is, at least for me.

There was a time, I thought, where things would be coming out of the ground in season to be paired with something which also was in season: new season lamb and wild garlic; asparagus and morel, green peas and purple artichokes
This year, do I need to start thinking introducing asparagus in my winter menu?  Perhaps peach in my spring menu? Blood orange in Summer?

I’m no climate scientist, but I can tell you that there is nothing familiar about seasonal cooking in 2016. All the classic pairings wild garlic & new season spring lamb; red cabbage & grouse; Williams Pear & Venison are becoming harder and harder to sync.

Maybe this is just the way things are to be now? Maybe it is the job of the chef to constantly find new pairings, new combinations and flavours. To be inventive. Maybe old combinations like asparagus and morels in April are a thing of the past. Maybe we have to trust that nature will find a way to produce its offerings with new harmonies to match the "weird new" seasons.

All I know for sure is, nature is rewriting menus.

Veganisteria 111

Deep Problem If there was one thing that has seriously amazed me since becoming a vegan chef is the fact that I am still not connected ...