The Reliance, Leeds: ‘If there’s no photo, did it even happen?’

Do you take photos of your food at restaurants? I do. It’s so embarrassing, isn’t it? Frankly, it’s no wonder that Michel Roux recently declared his decision to ban diners from taking photos of their food at his three Michelin starred restaurant, The Waterside Inn in Berkshire. When I visit a restaurant where the food justifies a ‘pic for the gram’, I suddenly feel the need to apologise non-stop, as I set up my photo: “Sorry, I hope you don’t mind, it’s just…I need to take a picture of this, sorry, I’ll be quick, sorry, yeah I just need to move the salt and pepper shaker out the way and er, can you just, would you mind, um, just moving your hand out the way. Sorry”. Yet I’m not sorry. Unashamedly, not sorry at all. At that point in time, my main priority is what my Instagram self is up to and it’s my duty to capture that and tell the world. I even feel a sense of regret whenever I realise that I forgot to take a photo of a specific meal – if there’s no photo of my avocado and poached egg on toast on my Instagram feed, did it even happen?

‘If there’s no photo of my avocado and poached egg on toast on my Instagram feed, did it even happen?’

I wasn’t always like this – but thanks to the accessibility of smart phones with 16 megapixel cameras, it’s too easy to whip your phone out and take a cheeky snap. In fact, certain foods have become dependent on being documented and shared on social media; it’s no lie that the likes of freakshakes, charcoal lattes and rainbow bagels wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the visual platform that is Instagram. Yet, even though I am that person that will delay the rest of the table from eating whilst I quickly stand on my chair and take a photo of a dish adorned with edible flowers, I have my limits. Once in a blue moon, there are moments when the occasion of eating out is quite special and all of a sudden, the online world is meaningless and living in the moment, there and then, is exactly what you want to do.

As soon as I walked into The Reliance I was already scanning my surroundings for Instagram-worthy opportunities. The tall ceilings and mismatched wooden tables; the wine-red lick of paint on the walls; chalkboard menus; the only thing preventing me from seeing the familiarity in this old classroom look, were rows of wine. We were taken to a table at the back of the restaurant which was low-lit (note: not great conditions for taking photos) and cosy. Our dainty wooden table was neatly laid, with tiny tealights, a thin elegant vase holding up delicate pale pink flowers, a carafe of water and sliced bread in a silver basket that looked like it had been found in an antique shop. My eyes instantly lit up. It was beautiful – perfect for Instagram. Yet the pressure of recording and editing this moment on an app was immediately overwhelmed by my desire to just sit down and relax, nibble on the bread and order a glass of red wine.

‘My eyes instantly lit up. It was beautiful – perfect for Instagram’.

I found comfort in The Reliance; the ding of the bell when plates of food were brought to the pass; the glasses on the table which were the same ones found in my school dining room. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be more aspects of the décor and interior that were bringing back fleeting memories; and in turn, I wanted to put my phone down and make this an evening to remember.

We were enticed by one of the small plates from the specials board; soft and delicate cod cheeks with an added punch of spice and flavour from spreadable nduja, that left a tingle on your tongue moments after. We then tucked into a hearty plate of tender and flavoursome lamb shoulder that melted in the mouth, with salsa verde (that added a moreish garlicky note to the juiciness of the meat) and a generous helping of soft, plump borlotti beans. This was comfort food at its best – and with a glass of tank red to accompany it (which you can buy a bottle of, to take home if you fancy) I felt warmed up from the inside and all ready to snuggle up under a woolly blanket next to a crackling wood-burner and have a nap.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at The Reliance and I didn’t need to take a photo to justify this. Feelings of comfort, warmth and familiarity cannot easily be captured with the instant click of a smart phone and Michel Roux pointed out that neither can ‘flavour’. What does Instagram really capture? Does it portray what you want to remember or what you want other people to see? These are the questions to consider. My dilemma is this: what’s the point? Social media will always be there but enjoyable evenings out having dinner with good company won’t – so embrace those times. Live in the moment and then relish the memories; not the square-sized photos on Instagram.

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