And while I’m on the subject, I’d like to expand on my defence of tasting menus, another target of the obloquy of our guardians of contemporary eating.
For the life of me I can’t see, what on earth is wrong with them? Ok, the digestive systems and aesthetic sensibilities of those few jaded folk who eat for a living may be bored with them, but most of us go out to restaurants for pleasure, and among those pleasures maybe the dreaded tasting menu.
Think of their attractions. They do away with the agony of having to make a choice. Oh, is it to be fish and fish or meat and mea? I really fancy fancy the scallops and the crab. Will they mind if I ask for two first courses? Oh, decisions, decisions. Under certain circumstances, choice is the enemy, bringing about emotional instability or causing us to revert to our comfort foods because we can’t make up out minds.
Tasting menus also neatly circumvent the possibilities of menu envy. How many times have you thought ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I was having that’ as you peer at the food on someone else’s plate? Or resented when someone else at your table says ‘Do you mind if I try your (whatever it is)?’ Yes, I bloody well do!
Nor do you get those embittered thoughts when it comes to paying the bill, You know the kind of thing – ‘ I know we agreed to go halves, but that was before you decided to have the lobster and I had the quinoa salad.’
There are none of those kinds of discordant notes with tasting menus. They provide absolute certainty that you know what you’re going to be eating, how much you’re going to be eating and how much it’s going to cost you.
Chef’s don’t come up with tasting menus because they want to show off their dazzling skills. They don’t need nine or ten courses to do that. No, they do them because that’s what many people ask for. It’s an economic decision, not a culinary one.
I once took Heston Blumenthal to task for doing away with the à la carte menu at The Fat Duck. He said that when they’d analysed what people actually asked for, 90% of them went for the tasting menu. It didn’t make financial sense, he said, to keep an a la carte menu, with its associated implications for quality control, kitchen management and wastage, for the remaining 10%. Small wonder that not-insignificant restaurants as El Bulli, Noma, Mugartiz opted for only serving tasting menus. They’d’ve been bust otherwise.
If you don’t want to work your way through a tasting menu, you din’t have to. In truth, most restaurants off alternatives, and there are plenty of restaurants that don’t offer them at all. It’s your choice.
But to object to them on a matter of principle seems peevish, petty minded and restrictive.