Food and Drink: I'll have the rosbif without the verbiage
Saturday 23 July 1994
But you have to be systematic for that; and you have to know, even as a pre-adolescent, that one day you are going to need all that stuff because, like everything that is good, it is going to disappear.
Unfortunately, however, food is in the mouth of the partaker. No two palates are alike, much less so two memories. And a menu, after all, is but a suggestion: it tells you hardly anything about what you have eaten, unless you have the right kind of recall.
My quibble today is that it also tells you very little about what you are going to eat. I have before me a scattering of menus (some of them elephant-folio size, which I never find reassuring), and I am trying to recall what I ate, what it was like and whether, if I encountered it again, I would choose to reorder it. Was the Magret de canard aux deux poires notable because it had two pears, or because the two pears were distinguishably different?
I know what an Agneau de lait is - something you're likely to be offered often - but what the devil is, or was, its Mounjetade de haricots? Green beans, of course - but mounjetade? Don't bother looking it up: Harraps lists not a single French word beginning with moun-, so you can safely assume that this was a local Pyrenean word.
Just as local, Civet de ris et rognons de veau Commingeois sounds a whole lot better than veal kidney and sweetbreads; but Comminges was the neighbouring town, so the name merely tells you that the meat is home produced.
The more upmarket the restaurant the more horrors its menus perpetrate. What I mean by 'horrors' are simply mystifications: those items, written in fine italic, that are there not to suggest what to eat but to place you in the position of an inferior, a paying guest lucky enough to have been admitted to such a splendid place - so chic, so expensive, so frequented by people of real quality.
Who first suggested (it is a recent phenomenon) that the diner wants to know everything that goes into a dish - every dish from soup to Les meringues d'oeufs de perdrix flambes dans leur coulis de myrtilles d'Agen avec son bouquet de menthes aromatiques Vizcayines? Sounds good, eh? 'I'll 'ave two of them, Miss.'
This is just the pretentious form of the American mania for explaining everything. A menu should contain no more than basic information: this kind of meat, cooked that way. After all, having dined with friends, the most you're likely to murmur to the chef is: 'That was delicious, what was in it?' You don't expect your host to stand up and announce: 'Le rosbif Anglais avec son jus, son pudding de York et sa garniture de petits rotis.'
The point about straight descriptions is that they retain some marvellous mystery. A breast is breast: an ovoid mammary is something I'm not interested in. When I was younger, but already employed, I ate my way through a dozen or more forms of sole at Wheeler's. Despite my classy upbringing, I was as unsure as any young gentleman of my age of the difference between a Colbert and a Veronique.
I learnt. Those are dishes forever, and part of their charm lies in their origins. They were, and I'm sure remain, a part of a repertory. Today much of what a cook does is calculated only to give him a name, and distinguish him from another cook. And menus are part of this flim- flam and hucksterism.
Like a modern score in which the strings are divided into 24, all playing to a different tempo and thus ensuring that neither musicians nor audience hear much more than a hum, an overlong and self-indulgent menu is simply a lot of buzz in the culinary ether.
Come to think of it, I know what I ate at the Ritz in 1936: Noix de veau. And I'd swear they had a flavour of foie gras. In Laon it was a leg of lamb braised, with white beans. And in Italy I ate my first sun-ripened tomato. One need know no more. This column is not a ramassis de pensees fines au gout d'amertume. It is slightly bitter thoughts.
World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas
Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new
TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow
Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'
Life & Style blogs
Soylent: Could a slug of nutritionally engineered sludge ever replace the leisurely meal?
Jeremy Hunt tells nurses 'path to lower cost is the same as the path to safer care'
Cara Delevingne photographed naked by Mario Testino for Allure magazine
Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a 'man' are a load of rubbish
What lies beneath La Perla's 60 years of luxury lingerie
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientists who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 3 Star Wars memorabilia dubbed 'bit of plastic' by Antiques Roadshow's Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 4 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
- 5 Michael McIntyre walks off stage after woman in the front row uses her phone
iJobs Food & Drink
£30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...
£13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...
£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...