food & drink

Hot plates

There's a surefire way of knowing if the people at the next restaurant table are foreigners or Spaniards. In the exact instant that the waiter brings the serving plates to the table and places them in front of each diner, they will timidly and surreptitiously caress the plate to check its temperature. It's not rocket science. Non-nationals prefer their food to be served on hot plates, obviously providing the product is hot. (No-one wants to be served a salad on a hot plate). If they are in a restaurant that really knows how to treat foreigners, there will often be the advance warning. "Careful please, the plates are very hot." Bliss!

A restaurant owner in any of Spain's tourist areas, and the big cities, is aware that serving a hot steak or fish on a cold plate is the way to lose a customer. The practice ranks in the same category as making sure there are soap and fresh towels in the toilets. Otherwise our dear visitor, or maybe resident, will start to mutter to his or her table companions, "There's no soap or towels in the toilets, and the plates are cold."

No-one needs telling, except some moronic kitchen worker, that to do justice to cooked food straight from the frying pan, saucepan or oven, it must be served on hot tableware. But, be careful. Any labour lawyer will tell you that if it is too hot, the waiter can sue the restaurant if he burns himself.

There are several methods of making sure the customer and the staff are all happy. Generally speaking dishes that come out of the industrial dishwasher are at a perfect temperature, and do not need to be warmed up any more. There are also industrial plate-warming machines, and, though not to everyone's liking, those overhead infrared lights, which may also continue to cook food, are a blessing for big events.

Having cleared that up, we should recognise that the warm plate business can be carried too far. I remember a lady guest at a barbecue deep in the Argentinian pampas, who was heard to remark to another guest, "Seems like someone has forgotten to warm the plates."