Have you noticed how absurdly pretentious menu descriptions have become lately?
Chef is a straightforward kind of a guy,hence his menus reflect that.
In his own words he wants: 'no floated, boated,moated,kissed,caressed or pillowed'(and yes we have seen each of these words incorporated into menus to describe dishes).
The current craze is to name the provenance of every ingredient on your menu.With our menus we've always simply stated what each particular dish is, then another blackboard denotes which farms the days various meats have originated.All quite low key,like us....
We began doing this with our previous business(a small restaurant) and in those days it hadn't really been seen very much.
It even gained us a mention on the local radio station.
Since those days, its become very trendy and (dare I say it) in many cases more of a marketing tool,than a commitment to support the local economy or any desire to reduce one's carbon footprint..
Whilst its important to let your customers know that you are supporting local suppliers and buying quality seasonal ingredients,in some instances I think things have become a bit silly.
For any would be restaurateur wishing to adopt this nature of menu here is the blueprint for a typical menu item:
(You can substitute your own particular geographic references as necessary)
(Insert: Farmers /Farm name)(insert: breed of pork)sausages,with(insert: Variety)mash,(insert: village name)onion and(insert:village name)sage gravy.
Thus,'Sausage and mash with onion gravy' becomes:
Farmer Bells Mill Vale Farm Gloucester Old Spot Sausages,Heritage Pentland Dell mash,Buttsfield onion and Buttsfield sage gravy.
Its all a bit daft isn't it?
Similarly I've noticed a growing popularity for the phrase 'Salad of'
The following example observed in a nearby eaterie:
'Salad of Country ham with Sunny Hill Farm soft boiled free range hen egg'.
I suppose 'country' as opposed to 'city'? and 'Hen egg' WTF??
What a bloody pompous description for a simple Ham and Egg salad.
I predict the next development will be to name the breed of hen.
Now for pudding(and the one which annoys me the most):
'Northumbria Burnt cream'
I mean visit any pub/restaurant ANYWHERE in Northumberland and its highly unlikely that their milk/cream will be coming from outside the county whether they care about provenance or not.
Lets just call a Crème Brûlée a Crème Brûlée and be done with it.
I'm also a bit suspicious of the motives of a menu written in this manner,I'm not convinced of its sincerity.It smacks of keeping to the marketing plan at all costs.I can just imagine the token packs of local produce displayed in the fridge whilst the catering butcher pulls up at the back door..
An acquaintance of chefs(also a chef)dropped by a few weeks ago and noted that we had raspberries on the pudding menu.Noting that there was a pick your own farm nearby Acquaintance chef enquired why didn't we have 'Insert:Pick your own farm name raspberries' on the menu.
Because they're Scottish, advised Chef.
Acquaintance chuckled..well all you do is keep one punnet of pick your own rasps in the fridge and Bobs your uncle.Jobs a good 'un.
Chef shook his head in despair.
Lately though, I'm afraid some of the naming stuff has crept onto our own menu.What were once simply Lamb chops have now become 'Picton Farm lamb chops'.Just in case we sell ourselves short don't you know,people are regrettably impressed with spiel.Its caused a little friction in paradise due to Chefs less than enthusiastic support,but the important point is to keep the balance right without appearing to be a raving lunatic.We've agreed that the main item only can be referenced, if appropriate.I think its a good compromise.
We also refrain from listing every single component of each dish.
So now Coley becomes 'North Sea Coley'
Rib of Beef -'Northumbria rib of beef'
Let consider chips.Chef's pet hate is the phrase 'hand cut chips' These items are invariably evil,perfectly oblong shaped abominations which are piled up into a cube like fence,reminiscent of a sheep fold.Usually dark brown, soggy and raw in the middle,the fact that they are hand cut is of no consolation.Personally the idea that some individual has handled every chip and painstakingly built the cube is enough to put me off.Whenever we see this phrase we usually request frites.
On our own menu wherever chips are included(be they a humble bowl or a steak accompaniment)they are all randomly hand cut and properly cooked.There's no special price or mention on the menu.
Recently though, I overheard a diner commenting to her companion:these are real chips!
I mentioned this to Chef and suggested that we might want to list them as 'real chips' on the menu.
Chef:What???What other sort is there ?? Fake chips???There is no way that is going on the menu.
He was right of course.Better to let the punters order and be pleasantly surprised that they were actually made from potatoes.
Keeping the menu as simple as possible also helps avoid confusion.Diners are easily confused.
I wish I had a pound for every time a diner points out the blackboard and asks: Is that the menu.....?
Last week a diner asked: Is the North Sea Coley a fish...? Well pigs might fly but I sure ain't seen one that can swim yet..
Similarly, from another diner: What are the scallops?
Diner:Yes but scallops of what?
Diner:But what of?
Waitress:Scallops-little shellfish things(breast stroke arm movements-Fawlty style) that swim in the water...
What is the Coley?
Waitress:Its a white fish
Diner:Yes but is it white or is it grey....?
Last week we had a diner refuse to pay for the kipper because there were BONES IN IT.
I could go on.
Perhaps just one more then.
Our butcher asked us to take a surplus of Chicken Livers which we made into pâté.Chef knocked up some onion marmalade to serve with it,not hugely exciting but ideal as a starter or light lunch and always a good seller.Obviously served with toast.
Yesterday a party of six ladies(county set sorts) arrived for lunch.Orders were taken and the meals prepared.
When the food was sent the waitress returned with one pâté portion:This wasn't ordered.
Chef:Yes it was,there it is on the order
Waitress:Well there's only one lady with no food and she's adamant she hasn't ordered the pâté.
Chef:Well go back and ask her what she did order then.
A couple of minutes later waitress returned bent over double with hands over her face.
Waitress:She says she ordered the ONION MARMALADE AND TOAST..
Waitress:Yes that's what she said
Chef:Well go and take her the bloody pâté out and tell her it comes free with the onion marmalade and toast
Waitress:Nooooo..I can't...it'll be so embarrassing for her....I'm embarrassed for her..
Chef:JUST DO IT...Bloody hell if Id known I could get five bleeping quid for bleeping bloody toast and bleeping jam...
Now I guess you're wondering how this toe-curling incident could have happened,well actually its all my fault.
This is how I transcribed the item on the blackboard:
Chicken Liver and Cognac pâté,
onion marmalade and toast £5
whereas this would have been much less confusing:
Chicken Liver and Cognac pâté,onion marmalade and toast £5
In a weirdly synchronistic case of mistaken identity,yesterday a letter arrived in the post containing a sample of speciality tea bags.
This is how it was addressed:
Sadly, Biff Wellington isn't actually my name,but it does rhyme with my name (it has a certain 'Je ne sais quoi' doesn't it?),so we presumed this was just a case of someone geting confused.
However, today this arrived in the post,fortunately this is not my name(neither is it an invitation..):
Might get Chef to test them out later.
I wait with bated breath to see what the treats the postman brings tomorrow!
PS. A while back we had a mention in The Week.Last night a regular brought us in a copy.Shall we frame it and hang it on the wall in a prominent position,then leave it there until it fades to an attractive sepia tone(provincial pub style)?
Lets just put it out with the daily papers,hopefully a couple of customers will have the chance to notice it before someone lifts it.....