Taste the Difference
Tasting menus divide opinion but their progress is undeniable. They are here to stay and represent an opportunity for chefs to show off their skills and range. They also allow kitchens to control waste and guarantee a set income. Are we seeing the death of a la carte? Probably.
Once upon a time the guest chose. The customer was always right. How things have changed. Today the chef is right and the guests… well, the guests can either have the tasting menu or find somewhere else.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Once thing is certain: it’s good for chefs. They get to create a range of dishes, often experimental, that plays to their strengths.
Our esteemed Director Catherine Farinha and National Business Manager Alexandra Duncan had a tasting menu experience at South Place Hotel in London at The Angler restaurant run by executive chef Gary Foulkes.
“It was an incredible experience,” Catherine Farinha explained afterwards. “We were celebrating Alex’s birthday and this was a brilliant way of doing it. I never thought it would end but each course kept getting better and it was all a brilliant surprise even though we had seen the menu. I love this way of dining.” (See below for the menu Catherine & Alex enjoyed).
The emphasis here is on experience. A tasting menu takes much longer to serve but enables the diner to experience very different tastes and combinations. This level of experience simply cannot be replicated by an a la carte menu.
However, there will always be those that hanker after the a la carte.
“You don’t go to a steak restaurant for a tasting menu,” said Chefs’ Forum editor Chandos Elletson. “You go for a steak. It’s the same with pizza or fried chicken. The tasting menu works in a narrow band of restaurants where the skill of the chef is focussed on small, exquisite, courses. It originated in Japan with Kaiseki and has been expanded and refined in the UK.”
Some restaurants are now tasting menu only. Two notable examples are Restaurant Sat Bains and Gareth Ward’s Ynyshir which recently won best restaurant in the UK.
“Diners have a choice now,” Elletson continued. “They can go for tasting for a special occasion or go to a restaurant to enjoy a specific style. The days of the multi-format a la carte are numbered.”
The tasting menu at The Angler by Gary Foulkes
Aged Comté, goat’s curd, pea & black garlic gougère
Angler stout bread, caramelised yeast & malt butter
Crispy Iberian pig’s head, BBQ apple, smoked bacon & tarragon
Montgomery cheddar, caramelised onion & wild garlic tart
Foie Gras Cornetto, new season’s cherry & pistachio
Prawn & squid ink cracker, smoked cod’s roe & Espelette pepper
Sea Bass Tartare – Oyster cream, green apple, shiso
Native Lobster – Gazpacho dressing, Has avocado, lobster & oscietra caviar tart
Phil Howard’s Langoustine Dish – Parmesan gnocchi, truffle purée, potato & truffle emulsion
Cornish Monkfish – Carrots, English peas, Citrus butter sauce
Roast Newlyn Cod – Line caught squid, Scottish girolles, Alsace bacon
Raspberries – Perilla leaf, Greek yoghurt, “100’s & 1000’s”
Black Provence Fig “1000 flower” honey, mascarpone, fig leaf
Black Forest, English cherries, Amarena, Kirsch cream
Strawberry bon bon
Banana & miso caramel
Coconut and chocolate chouquette