Rant: Tasting menus
They are meant to be such amazing treats – and when you’re hungry and overexcited, it’s so easy to fall for their phoney charms. But tasting menus are the masters of culinary deception, leaving you bludgeoned by conflicting flavours and resentful about paying close to £100 a head (without booze) for a dinner that you would like to have ended 90 minutes earlier.
Tasting menus make life easier for chef and crew since they are just exaggerated set menus. That’s why a waiter’s face lights up as you unwisely jettison the à la carte and go for the full, uniform works.
The first two or three courses are fun, of course. But beyond those, it all becomes a blur. By course number four, you find yourself saying to your fellow diner, ‘Gosh, I wonder what we’ve got here.’ By course six, you’re whispering, ‘Oh no, another one.’ As you are presented with a third pudding, you mutter despairingly, ‘Get me out of here, please!’
To make matters worse, most creations on a tasting menu take the waiters twice as long to describe as it does the customers to eat. And woe betide you if you dare ask for a peppermill to enliven the teeny-weeny piece of Brussels sprout garnish cradling a lonely goji berry.
Adding insult (and another wedge of cash) but, again, tempting is the ‘wine pairing’ that often accompanies a tasting menu. This is when Monsieur Sommelier has his big moment, telling you about the ‘long finish’ when you’re the ones who have long finished and can’t wait to lie down in a dark room.
Tasting menus became popular in the early 1990s and are ‘spreading like an epidemic’, says Pete Wells, the New York Times restaurant critic who rightly laments that they make him feel like a ‘victim – trapped and helpless’.