The latest trend in high-end restaurants is to have a set tasting menu. This consists of around six or seven smaller plates of food that focus on using just a few quality ingredients and presenting them in a beautiful way. Although this is now fashionable, I have to say that I am not a fan.
The first reason is the way the menus are presented. They describe a dish as lamb * lentils* carrots, or lobster* fennel* tomatoes. Is this not simply a list of ingredients? I always want to ask what cut of lamb is it? How is it cooked? Is there a sauce? In what way are the vegetables served? These are the pieces of information I need to know before I order. I would much prefer to see a dish described as ‘Slow-cooked lamb shank on a bed of puy lentils served with julienne carrots and a red wine reduction’. Without having to ask further questions, I know exactly what to expect from my meal.
The second issue I have is the set menu situation. A tasting menu is a list of dishes and you are given all of them in the order in which they are presented on a menu. There is not a choice of three appetizers or a selection of main dishes from which you can choose. You are simply given exactly what is listed on the menu. Part of the joy of eating out for me is perusing the menu and deciding what I fancy to eat that day. A tasting menu takes away that element of pleasure from me.
Another issue is the cost. It costs a small fortune for two people to try the tasting menu at a top restaurant. When I was looking into eating at one of the establishments that serve this type of menu recently, I calculated that for my partner and I to go out for the meal, it would cost a week and a half’s salary. Diners can also opt to have wines specially selected to accompany each course. To do this, you can expect to double the cost again. I would much rather choose one bottle of wine I liked and drink that.
My final issue is more about the type of establishment that serves tasting menus rather than the tasting menus themselves. I find them a little pretentious and I feel uncomfortable. I would rather dine in a restaurant that is a little more relaxed and where I can feel free to be myself; talking and laughing with my dining companions.
Of course, tasting menus are not all bad and I can see why they have become so popular. It is an opportunity to sample some of the finest dishes made by top chefs that are created using the highest quality ingredients and presented in a beautiful way. When you put it like that, a tasting menu is a very tempting dining option. However, this style of dining simply isn’t for me.