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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links