Rant: Tasting menus

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - MARK PALMER

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’.

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