Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The tasting menu - marathon or removal of responsibility?

The first of my tasting options -minted pea panna cotta 
and gazpacho andaluz with Indian flavours
A high-end anomaly a few years ago, three or four-hour menus now look like the future of fine dining.Restaurants are dropping their à la carte menus in favour of all-or-nothing tastings. Before Pret a Manger and Marks and Spencers begin stuffing sandwiches into 18-course boxed office lunch tastings, it’s worth asking if this is the future we want?
salt cured beef fillet
Restaurant tasting menus offer small portions of several dishes as a complete meal. Some restaurants and chefs specialize solely in these tasting menus, while others just make it a further menu option.Tasting menus may be offered to provide a sample of a particular type of cuisine, or house specialties.Some restaurants and chefs use it as an opportunity to showcase a particuar cooking technique - dry-aging, curing, fermenting,salt stone cooking, smoking or grilling over fire.
 When I face a marathon of dishes chosen by a restaurant, I often feel a trapped, helpless sensation. I am in the hands of a chef who grasps the challenges and possibilities of  a tasting menu which can yield for him a succession of delights that a shorter meal could never contain. It is a chance for him to show off. Why should I fork out over the odds oodles of dosh for his three or four hour marathon, and along the way have to suffer some horrors that I would never in a normal visit to a restaurant dream of ordering? Everybody knows how much a plate of chicken should cost in a fancy  restaurant, but what is the value of 30 courses you haven’t even seen? You’re not buying 30 courses, of course. You’re buying a ticket to a show that is probably going to sell out, which leaves the restaurant free to charge whatever it likes.Making each course as different as possible from the last is not just a chance for chef to show off, it’s necessary to keep the diner’s attention. And if a meal goes on for hours even radical costume changes from course to course may not be enough.
Octopus salad
These menus are a hot topic these days.But why? You can’t eat a meal like this with a passing acquaintance or blind date since you’ll be together for hours, and you certainly can’t go with somebody you really want to talk to, either, since there’s little time between courses for sustained conversation.
The consumer of such a meal may feel as much like a victim as a guest. The reservation is hard won, the night is exhausting, the food is cold and the interruptions are frequent.Some of the courses can be  repetitive in ingredients or preparation, and others can feel like padding.The palate flags and the bill stings.Degustation evenings don´t come cheap but in these hard times,surprise surprise, they are spreading like an epidemic.  
Tuna on the salt stone

Perhaps part of the joy of a tasting or set menu is the removal of responsibility. Maybe the recent trend for tapas-style sharing plates has become so popular because it relieves the decision-making pressure.
Turning the table back from customer to chef these degustations are a missed opportunity for research.A restaurant that sells appetizers, main courses and entrees quickly learns which ones customers like. But surely one-bite dishes rarely come back to the kitchen untouched, so the chef has little chance to learn what customers think. Asking “How was everything?” of somebody who has just consumed 26 items isn’t likely to produce constructive criticism.Unless the whole reason for the degustation was a food led focus group as is the case twice yearly when we are invited to our favourite local restaurant Cha com Agua Salgada, where the sole purpose of the evening is to get creative crit, feedback and observations from us as customers.I think this is a great idea,the chef gets to see how his new proposed menu is going to be recieved by his customers and at the same time the customers are having a great networking evening.
So having recently sampled the latest Degustation menu at Cha com Agua Salgada with provision on each menu to comment on each dish accordingly,it was time for me to abandon my cynicism.Perhaps I have misunderstood the concept behind tasting menus and there is an enjoyment and a purpose to a tasting menu.It is not just a poncey chef showcasing his talents.I started to feel that perhaps it was the time to become a dedicated follower of foodista fashion and introduce a degustation menu into the Casa Rosada repertoire.Our most recent guests from England who have stayed with us before, mentioned their penchant for tasting menus.They had expressed their intention to dine in one night during their stay here and I decided that the time was right and the people were right to try out my first tasting menu.It also provided a chance to demonstrate the salt stone technique for cooking (above).So I have now launched the 8 course Casa Rosada Degustation






















the two dessert items

The Casa Rosada Degustation

8 courses- 6 savoury / 2 sweet
Minted pea panna cotta and Gazpacho andaluz with Indian flavours
Salt cured beef fillet
Beetroot pudding and Tunisian carrot dip with pipas
Octopus salad with Thai flavours
Tuna on the salt stone with a cucumber coriander and mint salad
5 spiced quail with jewelled Ras al hanout cous cous
Chocolate truffle torte with strawberry and limoncello ice cream
Pear and moscatel sorbet in a serpa cheese shortbread cup


Why walk out dazed when you could have been dazzled.





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