Friday, March 24, 2017

A man, a van and a pasty

A couple of years ago I considered the question "What makes a restaurant"; specifically, when is an eating establishment a restaurant rather than a cafe or a snack bar? I did not extend my research sufficiently far. For, whilst idly browsing on Tripadvisor for places on a forthcoming trip to Cornwall, the following caught my eye (and now it has caught yours, and it is fascinating, is it not?).

What grips the imagination is not just that a mobile van, selling only pasties and related products in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere, can be ranked as a restaurant (or indeed that people have bothered to write reviews about it) but that it is 8th out of 20! There are twelve more eating places in this small town on the eastern fringes of Cornwall that are ranked below it. Is your mind boggling yet?

This establishment, which I admit does have some admiring reviews from local pasty-lovers, has the usual rankings

Since the only food offered appears to be pasties and similar filled snacks, they are presumably being rated compared to other pasty stalls, rather than, say, the 2 AA rosette establishment in town that is number 1 in the rankings. Fair enough. I wonder how you rate the service of a self-service snack bar?  Something like this, perhaps?

  • We walked up to the van and the man served us. Rating - 100%
  • We had to queue for a minute but then the man served us - Rating 100%
  • We asked for a hot pasty and he took one from the heated cabinet and gave it to us - Rating 100%
  • We had a choice of hot or cold pasty. Our server was very helpful in explaining that one would be hotter than the other and he recommended the local speciality, a half and half (one of each). This is the sort of attention to detail that you only get in top-end restaurants - Rating 100%
 Value presumably extends to comparing the prices against other pasties. But what do we make of atmosphere? Rated very highly by those in the know, so it must be on these lines:

  • The cigarette ends blowing around our feet as we stood in a puddle added a delightful touch of impertinence - Rating 100%
  • I enjoyed being sprayed with mud as one of the local youth hurtled by on a motorbike - Rating 100%
  • The fragrance of diesel emissions from passing tractors, far from clashing with the gravy oozing from the base of my pasty, reminded us of central Paris - Rating 100%
  • My companion was entranced to find a spray of flaky pastry from her sausage roll sticking playfully to her clothing - Rating 100%
  • Such fun for our kids to be able to run back and forth across the road whilst waiting for their food. We have no such facilities in Leeds - Rating 100%

To keep the boggling process going, here is a little snippet on the TA site for reviewers to consider
Typical questions asked:
  • Do you have gluten-free options?
  • Is there a dress code?
  • Do you allow dogs on the outdoor patio
I can imagine the inspector from TA (if there were such a person) brushing away a few last crumbs and striding confidently up to the man behind the counter.
"Good morning"
"Morning to you sir"
"May I enquire if your pasties, made as they are with the finest flour, are gluten free?"
"Aaar...mebbe. Mebbe not. There's them as knows and there's them as don'ts know"
"I see. Am I in breach of the dress code?"
"You're an outsider and we don't normally have truck with strangers and their strange ways. You're not a Revenue Man are ye? They don't last long round these parts"
"Umm,  might I let my dogs out on your patio?"
"Dunno. Are they from Devon? If so, they stays put"

Good luck with that report then.

** Update April 20th
Mrs C and I had a very pleasant week in Cornwall and, almost by chance, drove past the very site where Helluva Pasties does its trade. It is not really in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere but located in a deserted car park adjacent to the main road between Callington and Saltash, and it was closed on the couple of times that we passed by. So I can make no further comment on the subject.

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