Are we really seeing a decline in the Tasting Menu? Really?
My first ever tasting menu at a Michelin Star restaurant was at Rossellinis at the gorgeous Palazzo Avino in Ravello, Italy. This was a few years ago now, but I still remember it as the first time that I exclaimed ‘wow!’ at the start of every course. The setting was stunning of course, the company fantastic, the service brilliant, but the food taste and presentation was out of this world. It was stunning, and for each mouthful that I took I wanted to savour all the flavours. There was lots of oohs, and lots of excitement at what was coming next. I do not recall the actual menu now, but I do recall the feeling it gave me. I would go back based on the feeling it gave me. Ever since then, as a diner, I have been a fan of the tasting menu.
But apparently not everyone is. In The Telegraph last month, they wrote about the end of the tasting menu as diners no longer want to be ‘preached’ to. This got us chatting in the office, most of us are ‘for’ tasting menus, but some not. We also did a Twitter Poll just to get your general view of how you are thinking. Look at the results below.
It’s a mixed bag for sure, but dining A La Carte for a first time visit is definitely out there on top. There are lots of reasons for and against. I am sure you have your own thoughts. Here are my top three possible pros and cons of tasting menus.
- Gives chefs a real chance to show off their skills – you only have to look at the amount of proud moments on Instagram from chefs to see that chefs are keen to show off their tasting menu skills, talent and indeed to showcase a revered ingredient!
- Diners get the opportunity to try things that maybe they would not choose off an a la carte menu - Does a tasting menu encourage them to push the boundaries? Does it make them more exploratory where food and tastes are concerned?
- Gives diners a real opportunity to show off and talk about the restaurant to their friends! Love it or hate it, Insta-sharing is good business and word of mouth through image is happening.
- It can feel like a marathon for the diner. Some tasting menus have apparently been 30 courses long – I’m inclined to think this is an urban myth, as I have not actually seen one this long - but the point stands, we don’t want to finish a meal in a food coma!
- To counter one of the pros, it seems that in some cases chefs can become bored doing the same taster menu for a month at a time. You will have seen Chef Daniel Clifford saying that chefs can become robots doing the same taster menu, so they expand their range by not doing a taster menu.
- Whilst the restaurant tasting menus can be a great way of managing food costs, for diners they can sometimes be eye wateringly expensive. This can put off a lot of diners and many do think they are frequently overpriced. Have a look at some of the-worlds-most-expensive-tasting-menus and make up your own mind! The argument continues when you have a look at these, as they are not your average (if there is such a thing) tasting menu.
I checked out the Sublimotion Ibiza website to see their current price – it is EU1,500 per person. Before you judge, I urge you to go visit their website, their concept is something else, still a tasting menu, but something else!
Two things have always crossed my mind during a taster menu too. One is how, as a chef, do you know which courses are a success? When you have a whole plate of something, and do not like it, you leave it, and it goes back to the kitchen. A good indication! Cameras in the dining room, ala Sat Bains? For a taster menu, the portions are small, and so the taster itself is actually nearly always eaten (regardless of whether it was enjoyed) and so no plate indication – or is that just me!
Secondly, I often find that if I want to have a proper conversation, and a good old chat, I cannot do that with a tasting menu. I am too distracted by the menu, and the oohs and wows. I guess that is why coffee then takes 2 hours…
Well, clearly there are arguments on lots of sides. Have one, don’t have one, have with an a la carte, have without, reduce the number of courses (never 30!), lighten the menu, relax the atmosphere, there are a hundred and one things to consider in the menu planning, and how to present your food. Personally I think we will continue to see Tasting Menus for quite some time yet, but I am thankful that above all we have choice.
What do you think? What are your top 3 pros and cons of Tasting Menus?