The struggle to get a good holiday meal is real. Plan ahead | Jay Rayner

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The Guardian

Looking forward to your holidays? Of course you are: lazy days by the beach with a good book. A glass of chilled rosé at day’s end, followed by a gentle saunter down to a local restaurant to request a table. Well, enjoy your dreams, my darlings, for this is where they become nightmares. On holiday we crave spontaneity; to be freed from the straitjacket of dreary workaday planning. But the dark truth is that on holiday spontaneity can murder a nice time out. Too often all the restaurants are full. Or if you do bag a table the place is rammed and dinner takes so long arriving you end up gnawing the over-varnished orange pine table out of hunger. And when the food does arrive, it’s a bunch of ingredients that haven’t so much been cooked as tortured.

This isn’t a new problem. Restaurants thrive through constant repetition; through doing the same thing, day after day, year-round. And yet for obvious reasons many holiday destination restaurants are dependent on seasonal trade. They only trade in the summer months. As a result, they simply aren’t match fit. Their staff can also be as seasonal as the punters. The dining room is run by nice young, bright-eyed people who are hugely versed in the works of, say, Sylvia Plath or Margaret Atwood, but hate some of the demeaning things that they have to do for money, while the understaffed kitchen is powered by an intoxicating brew of panic, resentment and Red Bull.

No, of course this isn’t true of all of them. Many are fabulous. If you’re outraged by what I’ve just said, assume you run one of the fabulous ones. But right now, even those that are usually up to the job are facing their own bitter challenges. The double whammy of Brexit and Covid has made good, experienced staff a rare commodity. That means wages are rising at the same time as energy and food price inflation is going through the roof. The struggle for dinner is real, people.

All of this means you have to plan. You don’t necessarily need to have timetabled every night, but you should at least put a couple of tent pole moments in place; bookings that are worth looking forward to. Do this now.In the latest issue of Observer Food Monthly (out on Sunday 17 July) I have attempted to help those holidaying in Britain, with recommendations for 10 good-value places around the coast. I know. I spoil you. Admittedly, some aren’t bookable. You can’t book for one of the finest takeaway toasties in the land at the Cheesy Toast Shack in St Andrews. I specifically warn of the queue for the terrific takeaway fish and chips from the Watch House in Cornwall’s St Mawes. But you can book at others.

And if I haven’t been kind enough to recommend somewhere located where you happen to be going? Do as I do: research. Ask friends for tips. Google food blogs in the local area. If you’re reduced to using a dismal crowd-sourced online review site that shall not be named a) God help you and b) cross-reference with its competitors. Ignore those that read like axes being ground. Look for reviews dated to the summer months. And if you’re still struggling to find places, if nothing is immediately promising, if it all seems a mess of wipe-down menus and “will this do?” here’s my advice: give up. Leave it. Ready yourself for a lot of self-catering. At least that way if the food ends up being rubbish, you know it’s your own cooking that’s to blame. Happy holidays.

July 14, 2022 at 05:40PM Jay Rayner

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