Whats wrong with calling it Menu A, B, C or D!


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer

Dismay as chicken and chips turns into poulet et pommes frites


RESTAURANT diners unaware that caramelised shallot tarte tatin is good old onion pie, or that steak tartare is actually raw mince are suffering "menu anxiety", according to a new report that claims 50 per cent of customers are baffled by fancy terms.

Symptoms of the new condition are profuse sweating as the maitre d' offers a choice of gambas géante sauvage grillée a l'ail et peau de yuzu (grilled wild giant prawn with garlic and yuzu skin) or poulet landais chasseur (chicken in a mushroom sauce).

Yet rather than display their ignorance and ask the waiter for an English translation or a rough description of the ingredients, diners will simply order the dish they most easily recognise regardless of what they actually wish to eat on the night.

A survey of 1,000 people revealed that more than half were intimidated by complicated sounding menus and that many people were entirely ignorant of well-known restaurant dishes and ingredients.

A third of Britons, for example, did not know foie gras was made from goose liver, while 60 per cent had no idea that endive is a type of lettuce and less than 50 per cent of those questioned knew that chèvre cheese is made from goat's milk.

Researchers asked a panel of 1,000 people to select from two set menus that listed similar dishes, one with a sophisticated description and the other with an everyday interpretation.

The first menu listed tuna carpaccio, chateaubriand with potato dauphinoise and a dessert of hazelnut parfait. The second menu was described in simpler terms as tuna salad, steak with creamy potato bake and hazelnut ice-cream sundae.

A quarter of people admitted they did not understand the first menu and so would not be prepared to risk making the wrong choice. While one in two did not know that chateaubriand with potato dauphinoise was virtually the same as steak with creamy potato bake - and so opted for the second, more simple menu description.

Almost one in five people said they did not understand the full range of choices and would prefer a more simple approach. A third threw caution to the wind and despite not knowing exactly what they had ordered, were prepared to be experimental with their choices.

The Tickbox survey, commissioned by Lloyds TSB for the launch of a new eating-out guide, found it was not just culinary choices that put pressure on people. Fewer than a third feel confident enough to select wine in an upmarket restaurant, one in four feel under pressure to spend more on a bottle of wine than they intended and only one in five would have the confidence to send back a bottle that was not up to scratch.

Trends in cooking are also making menus more complex. Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant, the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, was voted the best in the world this year, makes a point of combining disparate ingredients to produce dishes such as snail porridge, which is fricassée of snails, with oat risotto and egg-and-bacon ice-cream. There was also a difference between the sexes, with women more comfortable with the exotic descriptions than men.

Paul Goodale, general manager of Scots restaurants Zinc and the award-winning Etain, both in Glasgow, said: "I don't think it's necessary to exclude all French words. Terms such as chèvre or hors d'oeuvre are widely understood, and have no direct English substitutes.

"It's important not to patronise people by dumbing down our vocabulary. However, at Etain, although we are a French restaurant, our menus are in English. To us it is crucial to be as accessible as possible, so every diner, not just those who are fluent in French, can come here to enjoy a special meal without feeling intimidated."

Antony Worrall Thompson, the celebrity chef and restaurateur, said the survey findings show there is a real demand for simple and fresh food and a move away from pretentious, stuffy cooking. He said: "My customers can't get enough of prawn cocktail and steak diane, together with comfort food such as Irish stew or beef goulash."
I am surprised that the porridge wogs interviewed where aware of any food other than deep fried mars bar and haggis.

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