Presentation is everything, so why send out your beautifully crafted food on anything less than perfect tableware? Follow our expert's tips on choosing plates that please the eye.
The whole ‘gastropub' thing aside, it never fails to amaze me, the lack of thought people put into choosing their chinaware.
The general consensus seems to be, "It's a plate; what more do I need to think about?"
Well, quite a lot actually. Size of plate, patterned or plain, round or square, classic or modern: all are considerations that have to be met. Your choice of plate can really define your restaurant, be it fine and elegant or camp and cheesy, and you can easily spoil the aesthetics of the room by introducing a glaring crockery faux pas.
But it's not just the look of the tabletop that can be affected; the look of your food can be greatly enhanced by the design of the plate that it sits on. To highlight this we called upon the expert knowledge of Adam Byatt, Head Chef and proprietor of Origin, housed in the Hospital arts centre in Covent Garden, London. Byatt's use of bold but classic food relies heavily on the plate that it's presented on.
"I think as I've got older I've looked for simplicity in a plate. I just want to let the food run through the plate." But, as Byatt is only too aware, there are more considerations than simplicity alone. "When you first start out you need to look at how big your portion sizes are going to be, how big your tabletops are. A plate gives a big impression of your restaurant, and if the plates are massive with gold swirling edges, it might not give off the right impression."
With all this in mind, it's easy to forget that you are actually going to be presenting your food on these plates. Just one dish can look so completely different on a variety of different plates. "When I plate food I'm influenced by the design of the plate. I now look at how I want my food to go onto the plate, and it all makes perfect sense."
To prove his point, Byatt presented the same dish for us, an Assiette of Rabbit with Parsley Mash and Carrot Anise Purée, on a selection of different plates and talked us through his thoughts on each one.
WHAT'S IT MADE FROM?
China, porcelain, earthenware and bone china are terms bandied about with no real explanation.
The differences between them may be subtle, but they should have a bearing on your choice.
China is made from a combination of clays, kaolin, feldspar and quartz, making it strong and durable. However, it does tend to be exceedingly expensive and does not retain heat very well.
Porcelain is made up of similar elements with the addition of alumina, a form of aluminium, which gives it better heat retention than china. The downside is that the whiteness of the plate can be diminished somewhat. Bone china is similar to porcelain, but it contains a large amount of bone ash. The resulting material is extremely durable, resilient and ivory white in colour.
Earthenware is fired at lower temperatures than porcelain. In its natural state, it is the colour of clay, either brown or red, and is generally more porous and much less durable than porcelain or bone china.
CHOMETTE Chomette has been supplying the hotel and restaurant industry with plates for well over a century now. The plate we have here is modern in design, one of many square plates that have been heavily infl uenced by the recent trend for all things Japanese.
"I actually think this is quite a nice plate," says Byatt, "but there's a lip on the side and you have to ask yourself what's it there for? It's an unnecessary design feature."
At each end of the plate there are lips, and for some reason one lip is higher than the other, something that Byatt isn't too keen on. "The whole food world and restaurants are moving away from unnecessary design features, so why add to it? It doesn't do anything for the plate."
But, lips aside, the general feeling is positive. "It's a very nice plate, good porcelain with nice straight sides.
It's also a good size for me."
Name of range Pillivuyt Quartet Number of lines in range 16 Is bespoke service available No Material Porcelain Microwave Friendly Yes Matching glassware/cutlery/crudities No Contact details chomette.co.uk 020 8877 7000
Designed by Studio Levin and produced by European manufacturer Costa Verde, these plates, sold directly through John Artis, have an unusual offset rim design, hence the ‘Eclipse' name.
"I think it's a nice plate; the surface area is quite nice but it has that bluey grey tint that I don't like," says Byatt. This tint is partly due to the fact that the plate has been made from highly fi red porcelain, which does make it very durable. "Overall I probably rate this plate second out of the whole lot, although I probably wouldn't get a whole range of these for a restaurant.
"I quite like the ecliptic lip. If you plate from the back and downwards towards the customer then I think it's all right, I think you can make it work for you."
Name of range Eclipse Number of lines in range 20 Is bespoke service available No Material Porcelain Microwave Friendly Yes Matching glassware/cutlery/crudities No, but alternatives available Contact details johnartis.co.uk 020 8391 5544
Produced in Germany by Schönwald, this ‘bowl' is actually described as a "deep gourmet plate", but to us it's simply a bowl, which doesn't go down to well with Byatt.
"This I don't like at all. If you are going to do a bowl then a bowl should be a bowl. This square bit at the bottom does give you the chance to plate in a square formation, but I just think it's a waste of time really. It would be nice for a big Caesar salad in a Brasserie."
This, however, doesn't mean that Byatt is anti-bowls, in fact he feels quite the opposite.
"I think mains in bowls are great. The way I cook it works pretty well, lots of ragoûts and stuff, but with this bowl I think there is too much emphasis on the design over the food."
Name of range Signature
Number of lines in range 12 Is bespoke service available Yes Material Porcelain Microwave Friendly No Matching glassware/cutlery/crudities No, but alternatives are available Contact details laporcellana.co.uk 020 8671 5959
Recently launched at Claridge's, the Royal Doulton Gordon Ramsay signature range offers a variety of white bone-china plates for those with a slightly more generous budget. Putting this one in the pile causes us a bit of a quandary: should we really put a chef's plate – and especially a chef who tends to polarise opinion like Gordon – in the hands of another chef?
"I'm afraid to say this was my favourite, unfortunately,"
says a grudging Byatt. "It looks like fi ne bone china and feels like it too. I like the detail around the edges; it's simple and gives the right impression."
The plate features a concentric ripple effect on the rim, which is designed to lead the eye to the centre of the plate. "This is exactly what we were talking about: simple, plain, doesn't say too much but has an air of sophistication."
Name of range Gordon Ramsay White Number of lines in range 15 Is bespoke service available No Material Bone china Microwave Friendly Yes Matching glassware/cutlery/crudities Glassware available, cutlery due in October Contact details royaldoulton.com 01782 404040
All the plates to this point have been white, with the odd ripple effect or lip thrown in. What we need is a pattern, and boy have we got one.
"This is probably the most expensive plate here, being fi ne bone china. Unfortunately, I wouldn't give it to my Gran. I wouldn't do anything with it. This has probably got a home in a café in Nottingham, with a cream cake on it or something."
One of the most common problems with patterned plates is chipping, and Byatt quickly picks up on this.
"I've only used this once and already the pattern is coming off slightly; imagine that through a dishwasher 20 times a day, it's going to be a mess within a week."
Try as he may, Byatt can't fi nd anything positive to say about Elia's offering. "I just think all of the pattern is just unnecessary and detracts from the food. This would, however, make a nice mosaic in my shower."
Name of range Virtu Number of lines in range 18 Is bespoke service available No Material Fine Bone China Microwave Friendly No Matching glassware/cutlery/crudities No glassware but cutlery and crudities available Contact details elia.co.uk 020 8998 2100
"These plates were designed for Thyme but we now use them for Origin. They are all made by Bodo Sperlein. He's a designer based in the Oxo tower and he is fantastic," Byatt enthusiastically informs us about his own choice of plates at Origin. "But I also use bits and pieces from all sorts of places. When I get the time I like to go out and spend a day seeking out little pieces to serve on."
This goes a long way to explaining Byatt's feelings on the subject of tableware.
"I use fine bone china as it is more durable than porcelain and gives a better white, as opposed to that bluey grey of porcelain. I try to look for as few features on a plate as possible: rings around the outside, maybe, or the dots that I have on my plates that work with my food really well, but other than that I try to keep the features to a minimum."
All Bespoke Designs Contact details Bodo Sperlein 105 Oxo Tower Wharf South Bank London, SE1 9PH 020 7633 9413 bodosperlein.com