IF you visit a British city centre and ask a local for a restaurant recommendation then chances are even the most knowledgeable will struggle to name more than just a handful of independently owned establishments.
The rise of the chains continues unabated.
Despite the demise of the likes of Jamie’s Italian, Giraffe, Can and the closure of dozens of outlets by Carluccio’s, Byron and Prezzo, restaurant chains continue to open and private equity firms continue to show an appetite to invest in them.
They call it the rise in “casual dining”.
I think that is an awful phrase.
While it actually refers to a restaurant that serves moderately-priced food in a casual atmosphere, if you look at the customers in many of these chains then you’d probably be entitled to call it “scruffy dining”.
Those running independent restaurants find it harder and harder to compete as many diners flock to the familiar.
I take my hat off to the imagination and entrepreneurialism of those who start up their own restaurant.
So it was nice to be invited for lunch to the newest independent eating establishment in Leeds, The Whitehall Restaurant & Bar.
I dressed up for the occasion, wearing my second best cardigan.
Or Cardi B as I like to call it.
That’s one for the younger readers.
My hosts were George and Diane McKerracher, who live in Leeds city centre and are astute judges of the best places to eat and drink.
Diane is a vastly experienced executive in the healthcare sector with the likes of Ultralase, Optical Express and Freedom Clinics while George is the former logistics director of supermarket chain Asda.
They are big fans of The Whitehall, which was opened just a few weeks ago by Fatjon Muca and Lauren Moullali, formerly familiar front of house faces at Restaurant Bar & Grill in Leeds.
Their new establishment, on Whitehall Road opposite the Novotel and next to the excellent Mans Market Chinese restaurant, is a lively, bright welcoming place.
It offers an extensive menu of modern British dishes cooked in a simple but imaginative way and served by staff with personality who actually care about what they are doing.
Fatjon, Lauren and her sister Amber are warm and welcoming hosts who have created something special with The Whitehall.
Compare that to the vanilla approach of the chain restaurants with their disinterested, preening waiting staff.
Some are so self-obsessed and ignorant that I’m sure they are auditioning for the next series of Love Island – or front of house at an Ivy Brasserie.
None of that nonsense at The Whitehall.
As well as a restaurant, the venue offers a good sized bar area and a terrace for alfresco summer dining and live music every Saturday.
When I lunched there with George and Diane last week I noticed several influential members of the Leeds business community at the venue which is just a few steps from the thriving business hub that Wellington Place has become.
What is perhaps most impressive is that Fatjon and Lauren have set up their new venture while also planning their wedding.
They married this week – whether they can afford the time for a honeymoon, I don’t know, but they have a very exciting future ahead of them.
And Leeds has another starry independent newcomer to add to its dining firmament.
I’M starting to wonder whether I’m operating in a parallel universe to many other people.
You might suggest I’ve always been in my own world.
But increasingly I’m hearing a different language being spoken.
When I sat down in a restaurant the other day the waiter proclaimed, “awesome, amazing”, every time I ordered something.
And why can’t you just be excited or proud any more, rather than “super excited” or “super proud”.
Is that excitement and pride taken to another level? Is it not good enough to simply be proud or excited?
It is the equivalent of giving 110% – it is meaningless.
And what is this new habit of saying: “I’m excited for…”.
I increasingly hear it and more often than not see it written in the media – including the BBC.
I’m sure you’ve heard it – people saying they are excited for a new TV programme or excited for the start of the football season or excited for Donald Trump’s next speech (ok I’ve never heard anybody say that).
In English, if you are “excited for” something then that means that you are excited on someone’s behalf.
To be “excited about” something means that you are looking forward to it.
You might suggest that much of this changing language comes from American influences but I’m not so sure.
It probably has more to do with the dominance of social media in many people’s lives.
These days social media demands that we put ourselves in the centre of everything.
You can’t just look forward to a new television series, you have to tell everyone else how excited you are.
And heaven help you if you miss the opportunity to bask in the glory of some minor achievement in your personal or working life.
Linkedin is now clogged up with updates from people who are “delighted” or “super proud” to announce that they’ve bought a new pen or been shortlisted for some meaningless award (along with dozens of others on the shortlist as it will ensure plenty of ticket sales for the awards ceremony).
Can we all please just get a grip?
If this cri de coeur makes at least one person think about what they are saying and writing then that’s something I for one will be super excited for.
AS Oliver Hardy used to say: “A lot of weather we’ve been having lately.”
Extreme weather conditions are nothing new, but evidence suggests that climate change is a very real issue.
Now I’m not about to throw out my toiletries and join the waifs and strays of Extinction Rebellion but the weather extremes of the last few days have been staggering.
The UK recorded its hottest day last Thursday when the temperature hit 38.7C at Cambridge Botanic Garden.
Two days later we were shivering in temperatures of less than half that as rain bounced down for most of the weekend.
And then this week the deluge has continued with a month’s worth of rain in four hours bringing flash floods to parts of the UK.
In Ripon in North Yorkshire there was a hail storm on Tuesday where the hailstones were said to be the size of pickled onions.
For readers south of Birmingham, think kumquats.
Have a great weekend.