Why so Pretentious? The Continuing Decline of the Restaurant Menu…

menu restaurantGrowing up in the UK I recall a big push in the late 70’s and early 80’s for the adoption of “plain English”.

The idea of this radical movement was to translate centuries of incomprehensible jargon, gobbledygook and corruption of the language into a simple understandable form that real people read, write and speak. The first major targets were national and local governments who, along with other major institutions, seemed to be the biggest culprits of the unintelligible – perish the thought that a seemingly simple form could be understood and completed without endless Latin phrases and references…

The movement has made real strides over the years and also here in Australia where similar problems were experienced due to the close relationship with the mother country.

Sadly, all of this growth and improvement seems to have bypassed the hospitality industry and most frequent offenders appear to be restaurateurs…

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a menu as “A list of dishes available in a restaurant” or “The food available or to be served in a restaurant or at a meal”.

Seems simple enough?

Well apparently not, as hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs continue to find new ways to adulterate this list of food items that should be easy to understand. The more pretentious the description, the higher the price apparently…

Now let me be clear, I do have a certainly amount of sympathy with the operators as they strive to keep ahead of the competition and present their offering in a descriptive and appetising manner.

Fashion and trends also play a part, but I blame so called “Foodies” and restaurant critics who seem to endorse and perpetuate the pompous, overblown descriptions of the “bleedin’ obvious”. This is food snobbery at its best, or worst… It often reminds me of the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen, but I digress…

A well-publicised article by UK food critic Tom Parker Bowles a couple of years ago drew attention to this issue when he took to task the menu writer of a charity function. Some of the items included “Carpaccio of Maldivian long line caught yellow fin tuna’ – 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 avocado and stuff. How about “Roasted Fillet of Australian Kobe Beef – nestling in a Kent garden of pea puree and accompanied by a succulent Spinach & Onion compote, to-die-for triple-cooked Maris Piper chips and Indonesian long pepper sauce” – read steak peas and chips… That’s not to mention the dessert where a Blackcurrant Soufflé was “snuggled up with a swirl of Kentish Apple”. I guess he was trying to justify the £10,000 a head price tag…

I am really, really over “foams”, “smears” and anything “deconstructed”. Your “market fresh” or “hand selected” “house made” anything, surely should go without saying?
Please don’t tell me the chef went out overnight to “harvest” or “forage” for the mushrooms on your dish as I don’t believe you (in very, very rare situations he actually may have picked them!).

I am equally over other meaningless words such as “artisanal” “curated” “awakened”

Similarly bad are those menus that are just a list of ingredients: – Beef – Passionfruit – Allspice – Arsenic… What?
How is it cooked or do I just guess?

Let’s stick to menu descriptions that give you some idea of what you are actually going to see on your plate, without the meaningless associated twaddle…

For some additional reading on the subject, said far more eloquently than me, see: –

Pretentious menus – enough to put you off your meal – Nigel Horne in The Week
Foams, jus and smears: modern menus are as pretentious as ever – Tony Berry in Hospitality Magazine
And for some fun have a look at The Brooklyn Bar Menu generator

About the Author

rsz_tim_johns_cc1Tim Johns is a former Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm. For more information about Tim and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net

One comment

  1. Wish this is the same for Chinese Menus. The names for some of the dishes have literally become “flowery”…such that you don’t know if you are ordering a vegan dish or chicken. Guess this is a global phenomena…


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