A coming-together of ensembles

The way people write menus evolves as fast as the way cooking evolves, perhaps even faster.

I don't mean the way people actually use handwriting on menus, although even that changes from time to time. In modern days, it has become more and more usual to employ an angular Italic script on menus, which looks ever so calligraphic but does make the deciphering of the menu that much harder, as all the tall letters tend to resemble each other, as do the small ones at a lower level, and the handwriting ends up as an LS Lowry drawing of a line of people walking into the wind. This means that when you find something on the menu masquerading as "putrid wallet", it takes a moment to interpret it as "panfried mullet", or indeed to decode "Tall soup with logarithms" as "Thai soup with lemongrass".

But the actual language of menus is changing as well as their handwriting. Not just in the introduction of words like "panfried", which is a puzzling word, because you can't fry things anywhere but in a pan, so why not just say "fried"? Nor in the gradual invasion of words like "coulis" and "sabayon", which have come from some dictionary known only to chefs and menu-writers and mean nothing to the ordinary public. No, I don't mean just those foolishnesses. I mean the way in which dishes are increasingly being given personalities of their own.

I first noticed it in the addition of the phrase "with its", as in "Roast guinea fowl with its accompanying chestnut and sage sauce". Why do they always say "with its accompanying chestnut and sage sauce"? Why not just say "Roast guinea fowl with chestnut and sage sauce"? It means the same and is shorter. Why bother to say with its accompanying sauce, as if the guinea fowl had turned up at the kitchen that night with a suitcase full of its own sauce? It sounds like one of those announcements they make at grand balls, when the footman takes a name and says loudly: "The Archbishop of Canterbury, with Mrs Carey!", as if the wife or partner was a piece of designer luggage.

Or perhaps it is like one of those notices you get outside French towns which are trying to tempt passing tourists to stay, and which list the attractions right there on the town sign. "Issy-les-Deux-Tours - ses moulins, son chateau, son marche!". Issy-les-Deux-Tours, with its accompanying mills and castle and market ... Roast guinea fowl, with its fabulous chestnut and sage sauce ...

In any case, I now realise that the menu habit is different from the French town habit, because it is definitely developing sexual overtones. No longer do people say "Roast guinea fowl with its accompanying chestnut and sage sauce". They have now started saying things like "A duo of roast guinea fowl and chestnut and sage sauce", or even "A rendezvous of roast guinea fowl and chestnut and sage sauce". You must have noticed it too. Words like "duo" and "rendezvous" are all over the menus these days, and if they don't have sexual overtones, I'll eat my hat with a duo of its scarf.

There was a time when menu-writing only had overtones of haute couture, and painting and decorating. Things had their dressing and coating, or were encased or wrapped in coatings. Indeed I have even seen things on a menu "draped" in other things, but I think "coated" was always the favourite word, perhaps because you can use coats both in haute couture and in interior decor. Whenever I read on a menu that a fillet of turbot, say, had been panfried and then "coated in yoghurt and sprinkled with sesame seeds", I always had a vision of something being given a fresh lick of paint and then pebbledashed. But now all the painting and decorating, and dressing and tailoring, is over. The steaks have been trimmed. The portions have been dressed. Let the partnerships take place. Let the banns be read. Let the duos and the rendezvouses break out all over the menu. Let mango cohabit with coriander, let tomato lie down with mint, let lime go with lemongrass ...

Do you think I am going too far? But don't forget that the language of the menu has always been partly sexual. Don't forget that things have always been served (an ambiguous word in itself) on a bed of other things. Don't forget that chefs are getting younger and younger and that this must be reflected sooner or later in the menu. The fact that people like me now start blushing as soon as they start reading modern menus will not affect progress. I shall just have to get used to it. I suppose I should be grateful that it is only duos and rendezvouses appearing on our menus, and not menages a trois or orgies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn