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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam