I don’t ask this question flippantly. We are in the midst of something approximating a lifestyle revolution.
And it’s one that affects Canterbury in more ways than one.
It should be clear to anyone who observes the ebb and flow of retail in the city that the times they are a-changin’, to nick Bob Dylan’s words.
- Rosie Duffield will talk “New Year, New Canterbury” later this month
- How a row about salt ruined a meal – and nearly ended a friendship
Two things are happening. Big restaurants are closing. Chimichanga and Deeson’s have gone, the letter to be replaced by Pork & Co also run by Sam Deeson.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not eating restaurant food. We are. Masses of it. Just look at how Canterbury’s streets are filled morning, noon and night with lycra-clad cyclists from Deliveroo and Uber Eats delivering grub to hungry customers.
But what this tells us is that people are not ditching restaurant food – just the restaurant.
And why not? I’ve eaten Byron Burger’s food – just never at the restaurant.
They’re good burgers, delivered to me by bike. But if I’m eating a burger, I’m going to have a beer with it. The trouble is that Byron’s beers are very pricey.
A 660ml bottle of Peroni Italian lager sells for £6.75 while 500ml of Byron lager is £5.95. Two of those and you’ve doubled the cost of the meal.
Contrast that with the fact that I canbuy four cans of Stella or Grolsh of Kronenbourgh for just over a fiver from the Canterbury Express convenience store in St Peter’s Street.
If I go to a supermarket like Morrison’s or Tesco, I can usually get an eight-pack of Foster’s or Carling for about eight quid.
And where restaurants do not sell enough alcohol, they take a huge hit. It leaves them wondering why they have these cavernous dining areas they rent out in expensive places like Canterbury which end up being largely empty save for the to-ing and fro-ing of delivery bods.
I would hope Canterbury’s independents would do a decent enough job of attracting customers since they are unique and personal. The evidence is that places like Pinocchio’s in Castle Street, Kashmir Tandoori in Palace Street and Cafe des Amis down by the Westgate achieve this.
But restaurants everywhere find themselves against another big competitor: ourselves.
This nation of shopkeepers has has turned into a nation of chefs. Whenever I go a friend’s house in Canterbury, I am seemingly confronted by the sight of kitchen bookshelves laden with tomes by this or that tv cook.
Most of my friends have also turned into inveterate food snobs. They’re the sort of people I would actually not want to go to a restaurant with because they’re always critical and never satisfied.
They sit there frowning at their food, simpering “oh, that’s how I would have done it”. Or: “This has got three grains of salt too many in it.”
When I go to the restaurant, I’m just happy I’m with company and eating the sort of food I can’t cook.
The modern food snob has, however, declared himself Heston Pierre Oliver – and he wants you to know it.
We can see that Canterbury is filled with restaurants, some excellent, some good and some mediocre. But anyone thinking of opening one should be aware that it’s tough out there.
And it’s made tougher by the fact that so many of us will either peacock around about or own culinary capabilities or just pick up a phone and dial in.
My friend ordered a fried breakfast to be delivered to his door the other day for Christ’s sake…