Entertainment

Pu pu hot pot? Now there's a mouthful

From Pita Pan to Phat Phuc, Patrick Witton enters the world of witty, oddball and tasteless eatery names.

SO, YOU WANT TO OPEN A restaurant? Can't be too hard. Cook food, maintain hygiene, be nice, take cash … and repeat. But how to entice people to your establishment and remember the experience so they might return and/or tell others? If multiplatform marketing is beyond your budget and word-of-mouth has yet to take effect, there's always your eatery's name. There are thousands of books out there to guide parents on how to name their progeny, but the restaurant-naming game is another science altogether.

In his book Pu Pu Hot Pot, Ben Brusey (who begins his bio by stating he has a secondary-school certificate in food technology) claims, with tongue placed in kebab-filled cheek, that creativity in a restaurant's name is far more important than that on its plates. "For too long, restaurants have been judged on the quality of their food. In some parts of the world, chefs have been known to waste literally hours of their lives carefully preparing and cooking stuff, only for other people to eat it and, later, part ways with it. This insanity must stop."

A Salt & Battery in New York.
A Salt & Battery in New York. 

Brusey's book, comprising substandard photographs and superfluous commentary, survives on the strength of one joke. But it is a joke that can be sustained for 200 pages, as it takes as many forms as there are places to eat.

There are the good (Marquis de Salade in Budapest), the bad (the Jason Donervan cart selling kebabs to ''neighbours'' across Britain), the lost in translation (Little Drooling Bear Food in Shanghai) and the just plain wrong (Booty's House of Crabs in Ocean City in the US).

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Most entries are of the play-on-words variety, whether intentional (New Cod on the Block in Sheffield, Britain) or not so much (Phat Phuc Noodle Bar in London). It translates as Happy Buddha, but still …

Australian establishments get a guernsey in Pu Pu Hot Pot's pages, with the focus on a certain pun-prone cuisine prevalent in Sydney: Thai The Knot (Maroubra), N'Thai Sing (Terrigal) and Thairanosaurus (Riverwood). The only non-Thai entry from Australia is Melbourne's Lord of the Fries (various locations).

Because it doesn't fit into Pu Pu Hot Pot's cheery, cheeky or bodily function focus, there are no examples in the book of the latest naming trend hitting Australian eateries. More and more establishments have drawn from the poetic, the personal and the abstract to stand out. Witness establishments in Melbourne with names such as Moon Under Water (named after George Orwell's ideal, fictitious pub), My Legendary Girlfriend (a song by Pulp), Annoying Brother (the self-deprecating proprietor, who is the youngest of six), Bread & Jam for Frances (a children's book; appropriate as it is housed in Readings bookstore) and Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird (after a folkloric tale of the origin of coffee - visit the cafe to learn more). Some names sound like a secret club where members wear fez (The League of Honest Coffee), while others are so stripped back they have all the charm of a tax-form entry (PM24).

The Sydney-based director of RT Hospitality Solutions, Toni Clarke, says that in the past an establishment's name conveyed something about its style, cuisine, location or owner's name. ''Many Australian restaurateurs looked to the USA and dining guides such as Zagat to find a name. Now, in Sydney, it seems, anything goes."

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The current trends in Sydney are to use street numbers (10 William Street, Bar100), the owner's name (Kitchen by Mike), or something off the wall ( Ching-a-Lings). Few Sydney restaurateurs share the American and British passion for puns, she says.

Australia's predilection for in-jokes, obscure references and personal pitches didn't make it into the pages of Pu Pu Hot Pot. But there is some crossover between the restaurants that feature in the book and the latest local names. Melbourne cafe Arthur Radley is named for a character created by Harper Lee, whose novel also provides the inspiration for a US establishment that appears in Pu Pu Hot Pot, Tequila Mockingbird.

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Despite Brusey's claim, whether an eatery's name is memorable matters far less than the food on the plate. This is evinced by a

Budapest business in Brusey's book that continues to trade: Fatal Restaurant.

For too long, restaurants have been judged on the quality of their food.

Pu Pu Hot Pot: The World's Best Restaurant Names, by Ben Brusey, Penguin, RRP $19.99.