It can be sobering to see how others see us. Last year in Japan everyone was asking about the riots. They could understand why the Greeks or the Spanish would protest in the streets against their government’s austerity measures but they were non-plussed by news footage of the British going on the rampage just for the fun of it. This year the Japanese are equally puzzled by the news reports that it can take 3 hours to get through immigration control at Heathrow.
We may try to persuade the Japanese that British streets aren’t really unruly and that our civil servants aren’t bolshie and inept, but one image which it’s almost impossible to throw off is our reputation for bad food. You’d have thought that now that our top chefs have international reputations our image would be improving but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A clue as to why this might be can be found at Gordon Ramsay’s Cerise restaurant at the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo. The restaurant is part fine dining and part bistro and I ate in the informal part, where it’s mainly soup, sandwiches and pasta. There’s nothing more British than a sandwich, although my choice of a Chivito on ciabatta with filet mignon (£25) was a curious mix of Uruguayan, Italian and French, with “fried slab-cut potatoes” on the side, which may have been British and were authentically hard and drenched in salt. The meal was dire, not worthy of British pub-grub, although come to think of it, it was very much on a par with Ramsay’s Foxtrot Oscar pub in Chelsea. None of the staff when I ate there were Japanese- they seemed to be from the Indian sub-continent and Africa, but perhaps that was an attempt to give the place an authentic British flavour. They were as inept, but not quite as unwelcoming, as a Heathrow border control officer.
Perhaps I should have chosen the fine dining part of Cerise, although a glance at the reviews on Tripadvisor would suggest otherwise. I’m afraid that there’s no hope for the reputation of British food in Tokyo if this anything to go by.