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Tasting Menus

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Tasting menus are all set to give dining experiences an innovative and interesting makeover.

It was a few summers ago when I was at Pan Asian the South East Asian specialty restaurant at ITC Grand Chola that I first had my experience of what a tasting menu was all about. When I told Chef I would like small portions, he dished out over 10 courses of all the specialty dishes that gave me a great insight into the food served at the restaurant. And if you thought 10 courses was way too high, well, think again. The Chef has dished out a whopping 25 courses to food connoisseurs, but then again, these are small portions so the number of courses hardly matters.

Combo shot_O Pedro
Combo shot_O Pedro

The Concept

So what are tasting menus all about? Well simply put a tasting menu is all about experimenting with new flavors and dishes and is a collection of several dishes in small portions, served by a restaurant as a single meal. More popularly known as a Degustation Menu globally, tasting menu is designed to be served per person, serving anywhere between 5 to over 20 courses (each dish is considered as a course), depending on the cuisine being served by the restaurant. Chef Ashish Singh, Nueva – All Day Dining and Neighbourhood Bar says, “the tasting menu is brief culinary journey of the menu, if any one wants to taste the entire menu then the testing menu is the perfect option.”

The Hong Kong Club - Tasting menus
The Hong Kong Club – Tasting menus

Tilting the Scale

Tasting Menus have found myriad uses and can help restaurants understand guest preferences too. InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram for instance had initiated a tasting menu in August 2018. “When we invited customers to sample the new tasting menu, they were a bit apprehensive. However, when we told them that their choices would help us build a new menu, the guests were quite excited and gave us valuable feedback to tweak and build a new menu,” says Anand Nair, general Manager, InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram. Likewise there is also a seasonal element that can add a zing to tasting menus. Chef Ajay Anand, Director of Culinary at Pullman Novotel New Delhi Aerocity avers, “at Pluck, we are doing degustation menu with Farm to Fork concept and menu keep on changing with incorporation of seasonal produce, healthy grains and unique ingredients. The menu is changed every season as per the seasonal availabilities.” Incidentally tasting menus are also tied to festivals like the recent Chinese New Year. The tasting menus at The Hong Kong Club celebrate Cantonese flavours. “Authentic recipes can be experienced through the chef-crafted menus that offer a complete meal including appetisers, dim sum, soup, mains and dessert with an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. A unique feature of these menus is that they can be shared between two persons, because we feel few experiences lend themselves to conversation as well as sharing a good meal does,” says Deepak Chaudhary, Director of Restaurant Operations, The Hong Kong Club, Andaz Delhi.

Chef Michael Swamy
Chef Michael Swamy

Custom Cues

Evolved diners today are looking for unique a dining experience which is fueling the trend of tasting menus. At Trèsind Mumbai dinner service is a pure Chef’s Tasting experience. “One of the ideas behind the well curated Tasting Menu at Trèsind is that it presents the signature dishes of the restaurant. Tasting menu enables guests to make a quick, no-fuss decision and let the team guide them through the dining experience thereon,” says Bhupender Nath – Founder & Managing Director, Passion F&B, Dubai who owns a flagship of Trèsind in BKC, Mumbai. The concept of a Chef’s Tasting, outside the confines of a five star hotel, is comparatively new in India and not well exposed to diners. However, with the proliferation of dining out and a number of fine dining restaurants showcasing their respective tasting menus, have exposed diners to try it out more often. “Price sure remains a deciding factor for consumers, however I believe that with smart planning and execution, more and more restaurants can implement this effectively, while allowing more guests to experience it across cuisines,” says Chef Saurabh, Masala Library & Farzi Café.

Pakhala Bhaat, Pomfret in Red Chili Gravy, Murugan Papad, Shrimp Balcha Stuffed Squid, Tea-Cheers, Bombay Sour Combo Shot_The Bombay can
Pakhala Bhaat, Pomfret in Red Chili Gravy, Murugan Papad, Shrimp Balcha Stuffed Squid, Tea-Cheers, Bombay Sour Combo Shot_The Bombay can

The Challenges

Tasting menus are usually intimidating for most guests who are not familiar with the concept. This is why at The Bombay Canteen, the interpretation of tasting menus is what they call the Canteen Experience menu, wherein guests leave it up to the chef to decide what they will eat based on their dietary restrictions and preferences. “Our Canteen Experience menu is served in the form of shared plates with the servers guiding them through the meal with interesting anecdotes about the dishes and their inspiration. There’s also a nice little surprise at the end where the guests get to take away a part of the restaurant with them as they leave,” says Thomas Zacharias, Chef Partner, The Bombay Canteen. Chef Hussain Shahzad, O Pedro adds, “we look at keeping it less intimidating and more communal which helps us create a dialogue with our guests around the meal.” Another aspect is that the extensive choice may confuse guests. Chef Michael Swamy explains, “the drawback is that if it is too extensive then people lose out on the mélange of flavours. Secondly, when doing a tasting menu it is tougher as the staff has to handle. The normal and regular diners lose out as well. At times flavours go for a toss.” However when done right, tasting menus can offer a ringside view of the food and that is certainly auguring well for tasting menus.

This story first appeared in The Hindu dated 01-Mar-2019 here:

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