IS FINE DIN­ING DEAD?

IPHONE-FRIENDLY DISHES AND LOW-BUD­GET MEALS ARE PUTTING A NAIL IN THE COF­FIN OF DE­GUS­TA­TION, FOR­MAL DIN­ING, AND WHITE-GLOVE SER­VICE

F&B World - - SPECIAL FEATURE - Text by PETER PYSK Il­lus­tra­tion by MARK MAGNAYE

What is fine din­ing? Tra­di­tion­ally it would be de­fined as a res­tau­rant that has a for­mal at­mos­phere, is al­most al­ways a sit-down res­tau­rant with a well-trained ser­vice staff, crisp white table­cloths, and a menu that fo­cuses on tech­nique us­ing the best pro­duce one can find. You will find crys­tal glasses and five sets of im­pec­ca­bly pol­ished cut­lery on the ta­ble. These are restau­rants that keep cu­rated wine lists— and some­times, even som­me­liers. They have a strict dress code and typ­i­cally have words such as es­car­got, carpac­cio, foie gras, truf­fles, and lob­ster on the menu.

If we use this tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tion, then we will find that Manila has been lim­ited in its of­fer­ings. We have not re­ally had many in­de­pen­dent fine-din­ing es­tab­lish­ments in this coun­try. I have been trav­el­ing to Manila for the past 16 years, and find­ing a “fine­din­ing” es­tab­lish­ment has been very dif­fi­cult and lim­ited to five-star in­ter­na­tional ho­tels. Even then, many of those es­tab­lish­ments have been well be­low par when it comes to the rest of the world.

Why? Well, one of the big prob­lems is that they fo­cus on in­gre­di­ents that are not avail­able lo­cally, like Dover sole, sea bass, truf­fle, fine de claire oys­ters, and king crab—food items that are de­liv­ered frozen or flown in at crazy prices and av­er­age qual­ity.

So, can we say that fine din­ing in the metro is dead? Not re­ally, be­cause we never re­ally had a taste of the real thing. But is there still space in to­day’s food scene for it? Yes, but it comes with many risks.

For one, the tar­get mar­ket is lim­ited to top busi­ness per­son­al­i­ties and busi­ness meet­ings, politi­cians, high­end cel­e­bra­tions, and one-off, need-to-im­press ro­man­tic dates. The dy­nam­ics of the res­tau­rant in­dus­try make it very dif­fi­cult for any fine-din­ing es­tab­lish­ment to sur­vive. And that’s the rea­son why fine din­ing around the world is rev­o­lu­tion­ized, rein­vented, and rein­ter­preted. The same is al­ready hap­pen­ing in Manila.

The new con­sumer is al­ler­gic to stuffy en­vi­ron­ments, over­priced meals, and, hon­estly, any­thing tra­di­tional. Con­se­quently, many Miche­lin res­tau­rant chefs have now opened bistros and brasseries. Why? Be­cause their top-end restau­rants just do not make enough money. Their sig­na­ture es­tab­lish­ments may put them on the map, but it is their ca­sual-din­ing restau­rants that fi­nance and run them.

Tak­ing no­tice of this, the ho­tels are ad­just­ing. Take Shangri-La at the Fort’s case, for in­stance. They have evolved with the times by bring­ing in a more re­laxed fine-din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—a new wave of what is hap­pen­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally—which has been ex­tremely well re­ceived by Manila’s din­ers. To com­ple­ment their of­fer­ings, they have also opened bistros, a fast-ca­sual style of spin-offs for their sig­na­ture es­tab­lish­ments. This is very well rep­re­sented by their Rag­ing Bull Chop­house and Bar and Rag­ing Bull Burg­ers.

The new con­sumer is al­ler­gic to stuffy en­vi­ron­ments, over­priced meals, and, hon­estly, any­thing tra­di­tional.

The strength of ho­tels is that they have the fi­nances of a big chain back­ing them up, whereas in­de­pen­dent es­tab­lish­ments need to sur­vive on their own. How do they do it? Sala has Sala Bistro, Gallery VASK has VASK Tapas Room, An­to­nio’s has Break­fast at An­to­nio’s, and Mecha Uma has Ooma. Do you see a trend? The fine­din­ing mar­ket is lim­ited, there­fore these restau­rants have uti­lized their brand strength to cre­ate other es­tab­lish­ments that are more ca­sual and that ap­peal to the av­er­age diner.

So let’s go back to our ques­tion: Is fine din­ing dead? No, the term is chang­ing and it is chang­ing for the bet­ter, as the death of de­gus­ta­tion has spurred ex­cit­ing and more ap­proach­able con­cepts. Give it an­other 10 years and the old def­i­ni­tion will be back with a vengeance. If you have any ques­tions or would like to com­ment on any of the views ex­pressed in this col­umn, e-mail 2pathsinc@ gmail.com. We would like to help you and also use your ex­pe­ri­ences as ex­am­ples to help oth­ers so feel free to en­gage with us to build a stronger F&B com­mu­nity in the Philip­pines.

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