Less means more as diners acquire a taste for the smaller dish

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Slap-up meal? This used to be restricted to the traditional three courses but more and more diners are opting for several smaller dishes, with some tucking in to up to 20 courses.

Slap-up meal? This used to be restricted to the traditional three courses but more and more diners are opting for several smaller dishes, with some tucking in to up to 20 courses.

Peter Birnie, from the AA Restaurant Guide, said yesterday that he had noticed a trend towards outlets serving several smaller dishes, shown by the rising popularity of dim sum and tapas restaurants.

According to Mr Birnie, more restaurants are offering "grazing menus" and "tasting menus", allowing diners to choose several small dishes to create their own menu.

Heston Blumenthal, owner of the award-winning restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, regularly serves 20-course meals. He said: "We have been doing tasting menus for five to six years. There are about 20 courses - it's a good three-and-a-half hour eating experience. We have 45 people in the restaurant max and we could send 700 plates out of the kitchen. It's like air traffic control - you have to organise slots for sending out each plate."

Mr Blumenthal said that the restaurant decided against offering traditional three-course meals after carrying out research into food psychology.

He said: "We've been doing a lot of work on perception when it comes to eating and the psychology of food. There is a correlation between feeling full and the loss of interest in flavour. Because people like desserts, they could be full on savoury foods but if you ask them if they would like ice cream they find some room. With small courses you can have small hits of flavour which are more concentrated and you can keep the interest of the diner for longer. They may eat more than a high quantity three-course meal, but people are also eating over a longer period of time so they are full but not stuffed. It allows you to become more creative as well."

Other restaurants, including Club Gascon and its newer sister restaurant, Le Cercle, in London also offer small portions to encourage diners to sample several dishes.

Mr Birnie said visits by his team of inspectors left them feeling positive about the UK restaurant scene. "There has never been a better time to eat out," he said.

"Out on the road we talk to restaurant and hotel owners, suppliers and customers to gauge how the industry is feeling and faring, and what might be hot this year."

Commenting on the year ahead, he said: "I see the key trends to be: more variety in the cuisine offered, increased value for money, and finally more emphasis on healthy eating."

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