In praise of (not liking) pretentious menus

“In the Mail on Sunday, food critic Tom Parker Bowles takes to task the menu writer behind the £10,000-a-head Ark charity dinner attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace last week.

And with good reason.

The starter was ‘Carpaccio of Maldivian long line caught yellow fin tuna’… wait for it… ‘fanning an island of Rio Grande Valley avocado creme fraiche, topped with young coconut, with a splash of Goan lime, coriander and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds’. In other words, raw tuna with lime-flavoured mush.

For the main course, there was a choice of cod or beef and chips.

Not just any old cod, of course, but a ‘Pacific Ocean black cod fillet’
which as well as being ‘hand-glazed’ sat ‘hand in hand’ with ‘a delightful English courgette flower beignet’. (As Parker Bowles pointed out, “that’s deep-fried in batter to you and me”.)

The beef, naturally, was a roasted fillet of Australian Kobe, ‘nestling in a Kent garden of pea puree’ and accompanied by – among other things – ‘to-die-for triple-cooked Maris Piper chips’.

We won’t go into the dessert, it’s too upsetting. Suffice to say, it involved a ‘snuggling souffle’ and a ‘swirl of sorbet’.

Of course, if you’re going to charge £10,000-a-head for dinner, the food’s got to be a cut above the average. But as Parker Bowles – who as the son of you-know-who is now presumably related to the guests of honour at that dinner – concludes his article: “If the prose is purple, the food is bound to bore.”

In the current New Yorker magazine, film critic Anthony Lane finds himself in similar territory. Only it’s not the language of the menu he’s questioning, it’s the look of the dishes.

Lane is reviewing Michael Winterbottom’s just-opened big-screen version of the recent British television series The Trip (above), in which the comics Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan tour the north of England sampling restaurant menus for a newspaper article.

“What TV chefs fail to realise, and what Winterbottom observes at once,” says Lane, “is that food loses half its savour and allure in the instant of being filmed.

“When our heroes are presented with baby queen scallops and parsnip coulis, you don’t think, Yum, gimme me some of that. You think, Yech, crime scene.”

Lane, who gives The Trip a surprisingly good review (it didn’t look on telly as though it would make much of a film), concludes:

“No other movie is quite so alert to the lukewarm rictus of interest and anticipation which you are forced to adopt, as a fine diner, while a hovering maitre d’ – not unlike a herald in one of Shakespeare’s history plays, announcing a bevy of dukes – recites the ingredients of your latest dish”.

Hear, hear.

By Nigel Horne in The First Post.

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