When it comes to eating out, most people can be divided into two distinct groups.Those who’ll willingly pay out their eyeballs for an artfully arranged plate of offal and spring vegetables. And those who’d consider paying good money to leave a restaurant hungry - akin to a nightmare.

Who needs Nasturiums, when you've got hand cut chips? Photo: James Croucher

OK, so maybe the gastronomic lines are not quite so tightly divided, but you get the picture. One man’s langoustine and veal in daisy gravy is another’s steak and chips with sauce on the side.

That’s because when it comes to food our preferences are as individual as we are, marked as much by mood and what we feel like drinking that day as the people we’re eating with.

As it turns out, these patterns of distinction have also begun to emerge amongst Aussie chefs. Sydney’s Sean Connolly has swapped Star City’s glitzy $1000 menu “Astral” for an oyster bar and brasserie (that also serves hamburgers). And Melbourne chef Paul Wilson, previously awarded three chefs hats at the Park Hyatt, has just opened a gastropub.

As Connolly told The Australian yesterday, “It’s much more fulfilling cooking for 500 people a night than 80 people a night. It’s a nurturing thing, I guess. I’m loving the switch.”

Even homecooks, people who coined the terms nurturing and comforting food, are jumping on the “real casual and shareable food bandwagon.”

That’s according to Syrie Wongkaew, the editor of taste.com.au, who said the past two years have seen a real return to a back to basics trend. Basic scones, basic pancakes, pizza dough, lasagne and Carbonara sauce among the websites’ top five most clicked recipes.

“While people are more budget-conscious, this doesn’t mean that they won’t spend money, but they need to feel as if they are getting good value – so they may spend a bit more on a special cheese or some good quality dark chocolate as a treat, “Wongkaew said.

You can’t ignore the place of economics in these emerging food trends, but they don’t explain everything. Simple stuff just tastes better.

Think about how many people you know rearing chickens and growing veggies in the backyard these days. Even the most determined of inner city dwellers will admit to having a pot of parsley growing on the balcony. Real, good, satisfying food is hard to beat.

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    • SAm says:

      05:29am | 10/10/12

      about bloody time. How is it so hard to find a normal damn meat pie these days without having to sift through dozens of ‘gourmet cafes’ that think adding a few peas = $9 pie and coke?
      Simple filling cheap food FTW

    • TChong says:

      06:45am | 10/10/12

      “pies and peas"has to be one of the most over rated slop, ever dreamt up, and dished out.
      Its still a “novelty dish “, for very good reason.  wink

    • iansand says:

      07:21am | 10/10/12

      TChong - Unless you are from Adelaide.

    • Tator says:

      10:44am | 10/10/12

      iansand,
      I believe SAm is talking about putting the peas/veggies in the pie itself, not covering it in pea soup which is the pie floater dish.

    • petery says:

      06:15am | 10/10/12

      I tend to be rather casual about what I eat and for a number of reasons only go to a restuarant occasionally. A shortage of money has a lot to do with it. I tend not to leave food on my plate, except for the rabbit food like rocket,that the chef apparently uses to make a half empty plate look full.

      I remember a lunch I had several years at a pasta resturant when two youngish female office workers nearby abandoned $30 dollars a plate meals, when one of them yawned and said after one bite,  she was not hungry any more,and they both packed up and left.I was starving and having trouble paying for the $10 special and I thought long and hard over the ethics of reaching over and helping myself to the leftovers.I did not do it,but marvelled about the amount of money some people wasted on food.

      If it is true you are what you eat, consider for yourself what people’s actual eating habits might imply their characters.  Paying excessive amounts of money for food you dont intend to eat is pretentious and stupid, particularly if the woman you are trying to impress ends up refusing your proposal or does not want to sleep with you anyway.

      In the end why pay a lot of money for something which might not taste all that good,  and for something   that after you put it in your mouth comes out the other end looking very unpalatable and all the same.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      09:55am | 10/10/12

      sounds like all you want is a plate of shelled mussels wink

    • petery says:

      12:28pm | 10/10/12

      mussels . hate raw sea food

    • Tyr says:

      01:08pm | 10/10/12

      Someone obviously missed the biggest piece of news in the past 24 hours…..

    • Tim says:

      06:48am | 10/10/12

      I agree, simple stuff does taste better.

      Like a Wagyu sirloin cooked medium rare with some hot English mustard and mashed potatoes with truffle butter.

    • Colin says:

      09:43am | 10/10/12

      @Tim 06:48am | 10/10/12

      Pretentious? Moi..?

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      09:46am | 10/10/12

      Try some truffle mustard on the steak, Tim!  This place sells my favourite type:  http://wineandtruffle.com.au/

    • Colin says:

      12:23pm | 10/10/12

      Better still, Tim, put some truffle aioli on your next Whopper or BigMac; it would be much more suited to your palate…

    • Jeremy says:

      12:41pm | 10/10/12

      Lovely, but I have a problem with how over-cooked your steak is!

    • Tim says:

      02:28pm | 10/10/12

      Jeremy,
      I normally go Blue or Rare with good steaks but due to the high fat content of Wagyu I wouldn’t recommend going less than medium rare with it. Otherwise the fat won’t render enough and it isn’t as good.

      Colin,
      I suggest you try some salt and pepper with your next meal from the soup kitchen that you work at, it’ll be a revelation.

    • Colin says:

      03:33pm | 10/10/12

      @Tim 02:28pm | 10/10/12

      “Colin, I suggest you try some salt and pepper with your next meal from the soup kitchen that you work at, it’ll be a revelation…”

      I don’t WORK at the soup kitchen silly; I VOLUNTEER. But, hey; how DID you know that..?

    • Tim says:

      04:18pm | 10/10/12

      Colin,
      I was just baiting but thanks for confirming.
      Must be good to have time to “volunteer” when you’re not working at your magical mystery excitment job, that you refuse to reveal even the industry of (surprise) and which pays you massive amounts of cash whilst giving you complete job satisfaction.

    • Colin says:

      04:58pm | 10/10/12

      @Tim 04:18pm | 10/10/12

      “Must be good to have time to “volunteer” when you’re not working at your magical mystery excitment job…” Yes, Tim, it is.

      “...that you refuse to reveal…”

      Now, Tim; do you really think that I would fall for that..? You and I both know full well that no matter what I do for a living would be opened up to all SORTS of jibes, asides, put-downs, “Thought so"s, “Typical"s and a myriad other avenues of ridicule, jealousy or derision (you choose)...Regardless of how much it paid, how good it is, or how much I profess to love it…

      grin

    • Tim says:

      06:17pm | 10/10/12

      Haha Colin,
      Much better to keep the magical mystery hey?

      mmm, time for some dinner and a nice glass of red.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:06am | 10/10/12

      I’m sitting here now with a Dominos pamphlet next to me on the table. It’s advertising a “Barossa Shiraz Lamb Shank” pizza. A pizza! From Dominos! WTF!

      I think things have gone too far when you put “Peking Style Duck and Blue Cheese” on a pizza as Dominos is also advertising on this pamphlet.

      I’ll stick with the Super Supreme, thanks. When I go out I prefer the chicken schnitzel in gravy with a side of chips. I don’t want a opub selling me anything fancy. Keep it simple and big and I’m happy.

    • stephen says:

      07:26am | 10/10/12

      Godfather with extra anchovies - best Dominoes yet.
      And chicken schnitzels are a good way to get rid of stale meat.

      And for pizza dough I mix the white and brown flour together.
      Quite tasty.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      12:55pm | 10/10/12

      “It’s not a pizza without anchovies.” - Science.

    • stephen says:

      05:17pm | 10/10/12

      Admiral I reckon you’ve fallen off the port bow and landed in the drink, that you like the little fishes so much.
      (Capers, garlic, olives and oregano must also come from the ocean.)

      But I don’t mind the franchise pizza outlets.
      Spent many a night on a step eating pizza out of a box after a night out at the local.
      (Must have been invented by publicans getting patrons away from the pool-table.)

    • Paul says:

      07:19am | 10/10/12

      I’ve got a few different groups of friends, all who love going out for a meal. I much prefer to go out with the friends who like going to a pub or a normal restaurant than going with the others for an overpriced tasty, yet unsatisfying meal. Give me steak and chips any day.

    • ibast says:

      07:38am | 10/10/12

      “And those who’d consider paying good money to leave a restaurant hungry”

      I hate this myth.  Just because a meal is expensive or fancy doesn’t mean you go hungry.  I eat at some of Sydney’s top restaurants occasionally and I’m yet to go away hungry (and I’m a big eater).  Sure some dishes look small on the plate, but when they are, you are usually looking at 7+ courses.

      Even if you are only ordering a la carte the meal sizes are usually designed to not be uncomfortable eating your third course.  This is unlike the local where you are trying to satisfy someone who has a physical job and trying to do it with a single main course.

      And as for the either/or argument, why does it have to be?  I like my T-bone and veggies, but equally (as a good cook myself) I appreciate the skill, taste and texture in a top end meal.

    • Kika says:

      09:16am | 10/10/12

      I went to a ‘fancy’ pub for lunch once. Ordered the gnocchi. What did I get? 7 pieces of the fried gnocchi and some rocket sprinkled over the top. That was it. I asked the waitress whether this was the main or entree size. She said main. I had to get steal the others chips just to fill up. Lucky I didn’t pay for it. It was a joke! I would never recommend this pub to anyone.

    • patsy says:

      10:08am | 10/10/12

      Recommend any pubs with accommodaion? I hope I’m not too late to get in on this converstaion. We’re doing a pub crawl after christmas. From Sydney along the New England Highway, stopping with my son at Manilla and then on to Goondawindi.
      Pubs I’d reccommend to all are the Settlers Arms at St Albans, Greta pub and the one on the corner at Moree.
      Recently stayed at the Royal at Singleton and I’d give that one a miss. Over priced food and surly staff.

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:57am | 10/10/12

      patsy
      I think the Branxton pub is better than Greta pub. However, Grand Junction Hotel in Maitland does the best chicken schnitzel I’ve ever had. They have good pizzas, too. May have accommodation as well but I’m not sure. They also have live music nearly every night.

    • patsy says:

      12:07pm | 10/10/12

      @Tubesteak-We were going to stay at Branxton but couldn’t find it. We must’ve taken a different road back. Greta was cheap an friendly and the beer battered fish was great. We stayed at Shenanigan’s at Maitland but I wouldn’t again so thanks, I’ll keep the Grand Junction in mind. We don’t plan much. We just drive until it’s beer’o'clock. I might have to ask for more tips again closer to the time we go.

    • Tubesteak says:

      04:50pm | 10/10/12

      patsy
      If you found Greta then you drove through Branxton as they are both on the NE Hwy. Shenanigans has some good food as does the Belmore next to it.

      Maneeya Thai across the road is also really good.

    • patsy says:

      06:28pm | 10/10/12

      @Tubesteak-Yes, we saw the Branxton last time driving home so, I don’t know. The reason we didn’t like Shenanigan’s was that they don’t allow you to drink in your room. But we did anyway.
      I gooogled the Grand Junction and liked that it has bands most nights. I’ll just have to see which way the wind blows.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:48am | 10/10/12

      Modern consumerism has done a really good job of convincing the peasants that they should be living like nobles.

      It’s why we have credit card debt, Jersey Shore and MasterChef.

      I think we’re wising up (finally).  I went out for a counter meal last night; $10 bar meal at the Shamrock.  I had a Hamburger with chips.

      The hamburger had bloody everything on it, and was held together with a skewer, it was so tall.  Egg, bacon, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, and a 200g patty if it was an ounce.  The chips were crispy outside and soft inside.  I shouted my fiance and my dad who was in town; 3 meals and 3 drinks, $41. 

      Week before, I went to Jack Greene’s in Salamanca and paid $18 for a “Greek Lamb” burger of lamb mince, tzatziki, gruyere and salad.  Lunch for my fiance and I with a drink each ran to $47.

      Was the Jack Greene burger better?  In terms of overall ambiance, food presentation and service levels, absolutely it was.

      But here’s the thing:  In terms of taste?  No.  I preferred the more “honest” burger at the Shammie last night.  The tastes were different.  While the Greene Burger was very, very nice, it wasn’t $8 better.  Not by a long shot.

      I’m a peasant and proud of it.  I love the push for healthy eating and I should be more a part of that.  I think Jamie Oliver and those like him are on a winner, and I’m interested in new food styles that have great flavours while remaining healthy (which is why I enjoy a lot more asian food than I used to).

      Restaurants don’t generally serve healthy food though.  That’s part of the thing; they’re a treat.  MasterChef are known for making spectacularly unhealthy food.

      If I’m going to treat myself, I want to TREAT MYSELF.  That means lashings of everything I don’t eat at home because I keep getting fat.  Sometimes that means fancy meals, but not often, because I want to leave there feeling full and satisfied with what I’ve eaten.  When I’ve paid half again as much for a food that really doesn’t taste much better?  That’s not satisfying.

    • stephen says:

      06:26pm | 10/10/12

      You’re the bloke who is 130 kg ?

      Keep eating, but exercize more, then when you are really hungry, food tastes better.

      (Low kilojoule intake is imperative for weight loss only at a young age.)

    • Sam says:

      07:52am | 10/10/12

      I am happy as Larry to goto a pub with a traditional menu for the majority of the time, but it always good to find places where they do go a bit out there. Often you wouldnt try a lot of things when you have to buy a lot of more exotic ingredients, especially when you suspect junior is going to take one look and declare “I dont like it”.

    • Yak says:

      08:44am | 10/10/12

      Here I am, 240km’s north of Kalgoorlie, middle of bloody no-where. The local has a chef/cook that plates up the best Rib-eye I have ever had. It must be 40mm thick and I can cut it with a fork. I don’t even have a sauce with it any more. It’s $15 cheaper than one half the size in the city. The funny thing is, there is not a cow within coo-ee, yet whence in Moura, Qld, the local is the Coal & Cow, or some-such, and I couldn’t find a decent steak for love more money. Cows could wander down the street, but I couldn’t find a tasty dead one.

    • ibast says:

      09:21am | 10/10/12

      ” It’s $15 cheaper than one half the size in the city. “

      Really?  When I travel for work and go anywhere near a mining town it seems I pay twice what I would for a similar meal in city.  It’s got to the point my works Living away allowance doesn’t even cover meals, let alone the other stuff it’s meant too.

      Getting vegetables, other than chips, is not easy either.  I quite like chips, but when you’re away from home for a few weeks . . . .

    • Yak says:

      10:38am | 10/10/12

      @iblast.

      I shout myself a meal once or twice a swing as it beats the sh*t out of the Mess food. $30 for the rib-eye with chips or salad. The salad is a buffet style with the usual coleslaw, some macaroni mix thingy and beetroot; you know the difference between an egg and beetroot? You can beat an egg…..

      The Royal Mail in Meekathara, 15 odd year ago, had some of the best chilli mussels ever. (cringes as he types mussels). Go figure.

    • Colin says:

      09:04am | 10/10/12

      Simple, cheap, filling “food”; the cry of the working man, the true-blue, Orshtrayan bloke…And you wonder why so many people are gross, overweight, unhealthy pigs in this country…

    • Warren says:

      10:05am | 10/10/12

      Simple, cheap, filling “food” basically means sugar fat and salt. Otherwise known as as a Big Mac.

      The irony is that healthier, tastier food is cheaper if you shop smart and learn basic cooking techniques.

    • Colin says:

      10:53am | 10/10/12

      @Warren 10:05am | 10/10/12

      Absolutely right, Warren; but getting these facts through to people seems to be largely impossible. Problem is, if it’s easier to eat garbage than to learn how to cook, then the Lazy Slobs out there will just eat garbage…

    • Tubesteak says:

      11:06am | 10/10/12

      I just tried to find the exact quote but failed but an Australian chef said a few years ago that restaurant food tastes so good because it is full of butter and salt. Doesn’t matter if it’s a top end restaurant or lower end.

    • SAm says:

      11:45am | 10/10/12

      The funny thing is, all these ‘healthy’ wraps, and gourmet salads smothered in salad dressing that people seem to think is good for them, is in all likelyhood actually WORSE than a good, honest Big Mac, or any other regular old fashioned takeaway. Is it not weird to you that we eat less and less of the traditional ‘bad’ foods yet obesity is rising?
      Do yourself a favour and grab a double whopper STAT!
      PS im not being sarcastic, these are my genuine observations and correllate to my own experiences

    • Colin says:

      12:10pm | 10/10/12

      @SAm 11:45am | 10/10/12

      “...a good, honest Big Mac…”

      Now THAT is an oxymoron if ever I’ve seen one..!

    • Warren says:

      12:19pm | 10/10/12

      @SAm. Are you seriously suggesting my Caesar salad with bacon, cheese, and extra creamy dressing is unhealthy?

      An old fashioned burger made from fresh mince, decent bread, fresh salad is just fine. But the Big M’s are injected with extra salt and sugar, including the baps. Fine as an occasional one off but not good as a staple food which it is for some people.

    • marley says:

      04:41pm | 10/10/12

      Anyone who lives on a steady diet of Big Macs, fries and soft drinks, is going to have problems.  But anyone who lives on a steady diet of French or Thai or, god help us, German restaurant food is going to have problems at least as great.

      Restaurant food is seldom healthy - if the transfats in the fast food fries don’t get you, the sat fats in that delightful Indian curry or that wonderful steak with pepper sauce or the pork belly with stir fried veggies will. 

      Moderation in everything, and make sure you eat (mostly) healthy when at home. 

      I enjoy most kinds of cuisines, and I enjoy good restaurants and good pubs.  There’s a right time and place and mood for all of them.  Just don’t rely on any of them to give you a healthy, balanced diet.

    • Alfie says:

      09:18am | 10/10/12

      Visiting the USA recenty, it was clear to me that ‘size matters’. None of the nancy-boy, artisy fartsy gourmet palatters - everything was BIG or BIGGER.

      If they could see the plate under the food, they would complain.

    • Kika says:

      11:29am | 10/10/12

      And that’s a problem? They have the world’s biggest obesity problem and if you watch shows like man vs food it becomes so obvious why… far out. The food they eat is disgusting.

    • SAm says:

      11:49am | 10/10/12

      Dunno Kika, I do like that show, and yeah a lot of the food is disgusting, true, but some of it I could badly go for. Like those subs with bacon, mac and cheese, and, i dont know, other stuff. Point is theres no way that stuff is healthy, but its fun to eat. And the show revolves around ‘eating challenges’, as opposed to ‘this is what a regular American eats for lunch’.
      Spent a lot of time in the mid west, and frankly I miss the food and the friendly service atmosphere

    • Markus says:

      11:58am | 10/10/12

      @Kika, the food itself on that show is often fantastic, in particular the seafood and Texas/Carolina barbecue houses.

      Admittedly, it would be nice for them to occasionally offer human-sized portions.

    • Kika says:

      09:20am | 10/10/12

      So a burger and chips is more satisfying… Perhaps. I have no idea. My taste buds have done a backflip since getting pregnant. The foods I used to eat no longer do it for me anymore. Instead of cooking curries and stir fries all I want is Savoury mine and chops and vegies. Lunch? I’m gone. I can’t have sushi anymore. I have no idea anymore. Plus all this thing wants is junk food so when the craving comes for hot chips and a burger I have to resist as much as I can… Steamed rice and vegies please :-(

    • iansand says:

      09:54am | 10/10/12

      It has been quite a while since I have had a really bad meal in Australia.  I think the general standard, whatever the price, is remarkably high.

      There are times when a burger and chips hits the spot.  There are times when something a little more exotic is exactly the thing.

    • ibast says:

      10:08am | 10/10/12

      I would mostly agree, but I still get country towns where I can’t find a decent meal.  Quite often I find myself eating overcooked snitzel and sloppy veg at the local Rissole, all washed down with generic Australian beer.

    • James In Footscray says:

      09:57am | 10/10/12

      I think the $1000 Astral menu vs pie and chips - nothing in between - is a Sydney problem.

      We Melburnites have always had the cheap and cheery BYO! We don’t have to spend much for great food.

      Sydneysiders, jump on a Tiger flight, go out for Vietnamese/Sichuan/South Indian in Melbourne, fly back - rather than going to one of those dodgy big-name Sydney places with forty-dollar entrees. You’ll have a much better time and come out way ahead financially.

    • iansand says:

      10:47am | 10/10/12

      You have never been to Sydney, have you?

    • HC says:

      10:50am | 10/10/12

      Hurricane’s (either in Darling Harbour or Bondi) would like a word with you smile

      Steaks the size of houses, half kilo burgers that don’t hide a pitiful slice of overcooked mince in all that vegetable material, ribs, oh my lord the glorious ribs… chicken caesar salads piled high with half a chicken stripped on top (entree only, I swear the main version uses a whole chicken), for $50 person plus drinks you get a real meal!  There are a number of other places in Sydney that are quite reasonable in prices that still serve quality food, your pretentiousness and ignorance is showing a little.

      Melbourne’s got lots of good places (though I’m yet to find a decent steakhouse), a few great and several rubbish.  Sydney’s much the same these days though.  The only difference is we don’t share them with Melburnians as readily, especially the arrogant ones who think Melbourne is the centre of the food universe tongue laugh

    • simonfromlakemba says:

      01:08pm | 10/10/12

      Why would we need to go there for Vietnamese. We have Cabramatta, Canley Vale, Fairfield, Bankstown, Marrickville, Homebush.

      Way better than Melbourne.

      And our Chinatown is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, think only 2nd behind San Francisco?

    • ibast says:

      02:33pm | 10/10/12

      Actually I don’t disagree that Sydney doesn’t do the middle ground as well as Melbourne.  I think the middle ground is Sydney is well overpriced.  There’s lots of chefs out there that seem to think their main meals are worth $35 whereas in Melbourne a similar quality of meal could be picked up for $25.

    • Peter says:

      02:41pm | 10/10/12

      Could have sworn Sydney and San Francisco were in separate hemispheres.
      Anyway SF’s Chinatown leaves anything in Orstrayalia for dead. Amazing selection of restaurants. Sadly the instution that was Sam Wo has now shut. Rudest waitress I ever encountered. One walked through the kitchen past the old man chopping roast duck on a wooden block to get to go up the stairs to the two dining levels. The side said “Only Pepsi. Never order Coke.” $9 for two people. Ah memories. Oh - in the USA remember that entree is main course and appetiser is entree.
      I don’t bother with Sydney’s Chinatown. Dirty and a rip off. What’s with the touts outside the doors now? SInce when did we become a Eurotrash resort?
      Better Asian food with better service in my local high street.

    • James In Footscray says:

      12:48pm | 10/10/12

      $50 plus drinks ($10 for a glass of wine - no BYO obviously) is a good price for simple food? I guess salaries must be high in Sydney or something. smile

    • HC says:

      02:51pm | 10/10/12

      You haven’t seen the portion sizes, $50 for a kilo of meat dumped on a plate (still mooing) is very reasonable no matter where you go smile  but yes salaries are a lot higher here than Melbourne (from my own experience), why do you think we live here still?  It certainly isn’t for the wonderful public transport, affordable rent and house prices and excellent runs in to the city across our state of the art road network run by efficient and honest public servants tongue laugh

    • Steve says:

      02:51pm | 10/10/12

      I reckon the rise of MasterChef and other similar food-related programs has given top chefs way more profile than they would ordinarily have had - and with that profile has come exorbitant food prices in many restaurants. What we pay for what we get is ridiculous yet the demand is higher than ever.
      Makes no sense, just cents…

 

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