You may be of the opinion that the rather pleasant-sounding topic of food and drinks menus is an innocuous one… You would be incorrect. If you don’t believe me, please do read on…
It has come to my attention recently that menus in certain less salubrious establishments have begun to provide the not-so-discerning diner with far more information than they actually require; I have no desire whatsoever to be informed that the dip accompanying my platter of fried fare contains triple-figure calories – I’m feeling grubby enough just being on the premises, thank you very much!
On the contrary, some of the far more exclusive (read: trendy) eateries have gone in the opposite direction and are competing to adorn their menus with the fewest food-related facts possible. ‘Beef, potato, jus. 18.’ is by no means adequate info on which to make an exceedingly important dining decision… I need to know which precise part of the animal is on offer, how it’s likely to be cooked, what form the potato will take (this is of the utmost importance and many a culinary choice of mine is based upon this essential intelligence), and don’t get me started on the word ‘jus’! As for the number at the end, what does that even mean? Is it a handy guide as to the portion size? Is there a key at the back of the menu with a diagram detailing bovine anatomy so that you can work out the exact origin of your offal? Is it a clue as to how many under-chefs were involved in the complicated arrangement of micro herbs garnishing the irregularly-shaped plate? No, apparently it is merely the price, in pounds, without actually using the plebeian pound sign. How very modern.
If I am planning to dine out of an evening, much of my day is given over to perusing the menu online and fantasising about the gastronomic delights awaiting me. I actively encourage dining companions to do likewise; nothing more painful than hearing your fellow diner mutter those immortal words “just a few more minutes, please” as your stomach growls in protest. You’ve had all goddamned day to make your mind up! In an establishment such as this one, I know that I shall be occupying many a minute of my server’s time as I ask extensive questions concerning the scant menu – plenty of time for The Companion to make a decision! I find the whole thing rather stressful: in much the manner that I never seem to be able to recall directions after stopping someone to question them, the minute the waiter walks away, I can’t for the life of me remember whether those potatoes were pickled or pureed. It doesn’t help that as soon as I start interrogating the unlucky staff member, everyone within earshot leans back in their chairs in an attempt to listen in. Heaven forfend they themselves would ever ask such uncool questions but that doesn’t mean they don’t desire to know the salient details of the abbreviated menu. I’m rendered too concerned with the possibility of someone toppling off the side of their chair to give the server the full and undivided attention s/he deserves. This, alas, may lead to me making rash and incorrect menu choices and being stricken with that terrible affliction known as Food Envy. Is there anything worse than watching your fellow diner tuck into a meal you wish you’d had the foresight to have ordered? I blame the bad menus.
There is another variant of the bad menu, this one often found in the type of place where you make a small spillage – a drop of jus to the tablecloth, perhaps – and a special cloth is immediately whipped out, swiftly folded, and theatrically placed over the offending mark, lest it affect your ability to enjoy the remainder of your meal (somewhat amusing after a couple of glasses of vino, when it is your friend who is the messy pup…).
So, after walking round the building a couple of times, debating whether the door with a bell on it is for deliveries or clientele, you’ve worked up a pretty good appetite, and are eventually seated by the same member of staff who discreetly ventured outside to rescue you. (It would appear that there is a direct correlation between the exclusiveness of a restaurant and the willingness of the staff to pretend you’re not making a holy show of yourselves…) So, you await with eager anticipation the arrival of the menu (no tasteless online menu for this classy gaff), only to be handed a large hardback novel each.
This menu goes into ridiculous detail, waxing lyrical about each and every seasonal, local, unusual, micro, deconstructed, peculiar ingredient. I personally do not need to know that this exclusive dish evokes the essence of lazy summer afternoons, or, indeed, that it contains a rare variety of seaweed found only on the shore of one remote beach in the Outer Hebrides. I could not give a flying feck the name of the farm where the hunk of meat soon to be adorning my plate spent its formative years. Nope, this particular philistine only needs to know if those tatties are roasted or mashed! How frustrating when the food arrives and The Companion smugly digs into his dauphinois… “I didn’t see that on the menu!” I cry.
“No, it was there, right at the bottom of paragraph two, page 4, under the hand-reared baby llama fillets embalmed with truffle oil, you know just after that word we had to look up?”
“Oh yeah, that third one we Googled that just meant ‘sauce’?”
I haven’t even touched upon those menus that contain spellings mistakes, grammatical errors, or worst of all INCONSISTENT errors (‘served with tomato’s, potatos and eggs’). I will veto a restaurant on this basis alone. The Boy refuses to eat anywhere that displays photos of food on the menu, or indeed anywhere with one he considers to be badly designed… You can imagine how we have to lower our expectations whenever partaking in a package holiday…
Basically, what I am trying to get across here is that I love dining out: it is one of my all-time best, most favouritest pastimes. This is why I wish from the bottom of my fussy, moaning, difficult-to-please heart that the menus were more user-friendly, and less bloody irritating!