• Service charge and other pet annoyances.

    Eating out in London it is customary to encounter a 12.5% or higher Service Charge at the end of your meal. There is no law to command you to pay. It is voluntary but often than not it is a fait accompli.

    This charge at a busy, expensive restaurant can amount to a large sum every month. Management has discretion over its distribution or non-distribution. If the former, staff are required to report it as income; the latter, VAT and corporate tax kick in.    

    Whilst service charge is almost mandatory in the US (often it's the waiting staff's only income) there is no such non-sense in France. Since our root is there (Edwin's first started in Lyon in 2007) we adhere to the French way.

    Running a bar or restaurant, service rendered to clients is part and partial of the job. We take pride in what we do. Service is part of this pride. We do not wish to put a price to it. Therefore we do not charge Service Charge.  

    While we're at it, there are a few other things that we do not do either.

    You'd notice in our small Menu there are no Side Orders. Our Main plates are garnished with vegetables and roast potatoes. Go to a great place and order a £70 'Cote de Boeuf' for two. Your main order would not come with anything. Three or four Side Orders additional would cost another £15.

    Another pet annoyance of ours is when we visit other wine bars we'd have to pay for bread and butter when we order a cheese plate - another £3.5 please, thank you very much.

    And finally, a table booked at a great restaurant has a life-span of 1 hour 30 minutes, regardless how much you spend! At Edwin's a table occupied is for the duration of the evening.

    These 4 things that we do not do are generally accepted elsewhere in London. Why are we acting against our interest? 

    We believe clients are smart. They go with the flow now. This flow comes to a stop at Edwin's. Who knows where this counter-current takes us? 



  • What does a wine bar such as Edwin's know about coffee?

    You might ask this question if you had read our last post about milked-filled coffee.

    In fact we do know enough. Our staff have training on how to make a decent cup. During our training we were shown a coffee chart which shows over 100 distinguishable aroma (a wine chart would be hard-pushed to list more than 20).

    Call it marketing or not, coffee is perhaps the most profitable drink in the world in terms of margin to cost. 

    We serve Italian style coffees at Edwin's. We have a state-of-the-art Rancilio Group 2 espresso machine and we use Kimbo beans from Naples. 

    The espresso machine does the brewing (we'd never claim 'hand-crafted'). The better the machine the better the cup. The variable is how high a grade of coffee beans one uses. 

    Coffee is grown in the Tropics of America, Africa and Asia. The origin is supposedly from Ethiopia and spreaded to the other continents. There are two main species of coffee plants. The better variety is called 'Arabica'. The other is 'Robusta'. Your cup is determined by the blend - the higher the percentage of Arabica the better.

    Most Central and South American growers as well as Ethiopia cultivate Arabica. Asian growers in Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia plant Robusta. The rest grow a mix of both.

    Coffee bean is a commodity. Its price is determined on nature and climate, in turn manipulated by commodity trader in futures, etc. There is a trend of promoting 'organic beans' in order to fetch higher prices. However the most influential is the 'Fair-trade' movement with an stated aim to 'protect coffee bean growers from exploitation by monopolistic buyers'.  

    Next time you go in a big chain for your daily fill ask the 'barista': what blend of beans is being used; where the beans are from; whether they are 'organic'; better still ask how fair-traded the beans have been. It would be an interesting exercise.


  • The cult of milk-filled coffee. Is Starbucks to blame?

    There was a time when coffee was thick, black and bitter - your Italian espresso, Turkic and Greek as well as your French cafe' noir. There was never a question of milk. Even in the US the filtered coffee in Diners was always black (albeit re-heated and diluted).

    Then Starbucks came along and changed the game. They took the Italian cappuccino, latte and turned them into a cornucopia of endless concoctions. The World worships this phenomenon. Starbucks becomes a household name and a multi-billion-dollar business.

    Copies galore sprang - all the high street chains that are as common as Starbucks. Equally successful though. No one could tell any product difference. The battle ground is on securing that convenient corner location. Does it matter? Not a bit when it comes to a £2 drink in the morning on your way to work, between work and after work.

    The game gets keener when smaller, independent-claimed operators cut in, most with a show-piece bean roaster on premise. The competitive posture invariably turns to 'better beans, freshly roasted from beans to cup".

    The cult cumulates - hand-crafted coffee by highly-trained baristas. The price goes up to £3 for these fellows. The coffee drinkers think they are buying a better cup.

    Better beans? Perhaps. Fresher from roaster to cup? Sure thing. Hand-crafted? All coffee preparations need some human intervention at some point. Trained baristas? Barista is Italian meaning a bar-tender of coffee or drinks, no specific qualification intended.

    Would you not suspect a huge hype?

    Importantly this cornucopia of varieties of coffee is incumbent on a manipulation of milk over the coffee. The coffee plays a second fiddle. The 'hand-crafted artistry' is upon the milk, not the coffee. More precisely, the artistic presentation of hot foamed milk (in the form of a heart, a Christmas tree, etc.).

    You are drinking a milked, sugared coffee drink. Could you really discern the quality of the beans of the coffee? Or do you think you could? Starbucks and the copiers make a mint. You are not necessarily drinking a better cup. Is it not time to revert to plain old espresso? 

  • Organic wine. Is there such a thing?

    In the richest parts of the world, the recognition of organic wine is gaining pace. Demand is strong in countries like Germany and Switzerland. More wine producers are scrambling to certify as 'bio', even in France. By law it requires 7 years to qualify as it takes supposedly this long for the soil to rid of years of chemical fertilising. Yet there are no lack of wine makers aiming to get a certification, whether mercenary or altruistic.     

    Wines labelled as 'organic' command higher prices. As with Fair-trade produce rich consumers are willing to pay more for a good cause. It is true that organically grown fruits and vegetables have smaller yield and better taste. The question is, is organic wine the same as organic fruits and vegetables?  

    For starter, the description 'organic wine' is incorrect and could be termed as mis-leading labelling. The correct description should and must be 'wine made from organically grown grapes'. The wine made from these grapes has to go through the normal wine-making process which requires at certain stages additive or chemical. Could the wine maintain its 'organically grown grapes' property is debatable.

    Interestingly, grapes have been grown in France for more than a thousand years to make wine - possibly more than a thousand years before the advent of chemical fertilisers. The traditional viticulture had been 'organic' in the sense that only horse manure were used.

    If one cares to check the better chateaux and domaines in France that still keep to this tradition today, and there are plenty of them, one would be surprised that being 'organic' is never mentioned because they have always been organic, then and now!     

    So is there such a thing as Organic Wine? And are they worth paying more? I explain, you decide.



  • Would foie gras be banned eventually?

    The trend started in Chicago. A top chef there decided to stop serving foie gras at his Michelin-starred restaurant.

    The reason is of course the alleged cruel treatment of ducks and geese. It then spread to New York and California. In the most affluent parts of the States now foie gras is out-lawed. Never mind that the livers are farmed in American not in France.

    Signs of self-regulation began to show in London. The lease of a butcher in the Food Hall of Selfridges' was terminated because he sold foie gras under the counter against the stated policy. The trend has also spread to Australia.

    Meanwhile in the UK where foie gras is not banned we'd continue to serve it. We dread the day that it would only be available in France.     

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