Before I even start, I wish to apologize in advance for the numerous French references that I may or may not mention in this article, but what can I say? It just doesn’t sound as cool in english…sorry!
What is a “Menu degustation “(tasting menu)?
According to Wikipedia, a “menu degustation” is a « collection of small portions of several dishes served by a restaurant as a single meal. The French name for a tasting menu is menu dégustation. Some restaurants and chefs specialize in tasting menus, while in other cases, it is a special or a menu option. Tasting menus may be offered to provide a sample of a type of cuisine, or house specialties, or to take advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients.
For me this definition is half right because based on my experiences, tasting menus are not served in one plate. The portions are indeed smaller than a normal “a la carte” dish, however they are calculated to make sure you feel full at the end. I would define a “menu degustation” as a list of dishes carefully selected by the chef. His goal is to make the consumer discover his gastronomic inspirations through his meals or to explore the different ways he cooks a specific ingredient. It usually starts from 4 dishes and can go all the way to 8 or even 10! Sometimes they describe what the dishes are and other times they don’t at all. It’s also the opportunity for them to be more creative in the presentation of the dishes. It’s almost as though you were in a real theatre. I call it a “mise en scene culinaire”. But they also often come at a higher price (I mean 10 dishes from a restaurant, of course it would cost more!).
How did I come across this type of menu?
It was a couple of years ago in Accra. Yes, I said Accra, as in capital of Ghana in West Africa, don’t act so surprised. A new restaurant called Santoku (http://santoku-restaurant.com/) had just opened. As I was always eager to try out new restaurants with my friends, I was even more excited when I discovered they specialized in Japanese fusion food. The first thing that caught my eyes as I was opening the menu of this beautiful restaurant (décor done by Givenchy Paris! So, I heard ooooo…) was the discovery menu (another name given to tasting menu). I was blown away by the selection they had, it looked so diverse and so appealing. I cannot say I understood all the ingredients as they were Japanese, but I recognised the usual like wasabi, wakame or wagyu. I even remember the price :120$, which is higher than what a normal ghanaian could afford at that time. As you can imagine, I was unfortunately not prepared fir this, as I mentioned earlier, it was my first time coming across this type of menu. I left the restaurant thinking to myself this menu is a good idea when you are not sure of what to pick and if you want to see what the Chef is all about!
Why do I like tasting menus?
When I came back to Europe, I realised Tasting menus had become very popular, especially for restaurant that had a famous chef. I had the opportunity to try them out and did not regret it at all!. I enjoy them because of course I love surprises but mostly because I have no expectations so my senses are opened and are ready to explore. The thing about knowing exactly what you are going to eat is that you already recall the memory of that specific flavour you have already tried, or you imagine something in particular based on the description made. Basically, it becomes the reference and it’s always “better than” or “not as good as “, so you forget to just appreciate the moment. Sometimes there is a description of the dish, but I prefer when it’s a full surprise (in case the waiter doesn’t ask, even though he should, remember to tell him how you like your red meat to be cooked, if you don’t like raw eggs like me, or if you have allergies, just to avoid being disappointed). Plus, restaurants should allow you to have a real special experience and not just eat something that you can cook at home yourself, otherwise why bother?
Which ones would you recommend?
Now gentlemen (Or ladies, why do we always assume men are the ones supposed to set up romantic surprises on Val’s day?) as we are in the month of love, let me give you my personal top 5 restaurants with an impressive Tasting Menu I came across so far.
5. Dubravkin put – Zagreb Croatia (http://www.dubravkin-put.com/restaurant/)Okay I must admit I did not go for the tasting menu, but my partner and I picked most of the items from it , I must say their squid ink risotto is propably one of the best I’ve ever had, not to mention the white chocolate and red fruits desert that was so tasty and light at the same time it felt like heaven !
4. Vermeer – Amsterdam Netherlands (https://www.restaurantvermeer.nl/en/) One Michellin star, perfect balance of ingredients and great service, check out my article about this restaurant (click here).
3. Le Charlemagne – Pernand-Vergelesse France (https://www.lecharlemagne.fr/) One Michellin star, with a japanese twist, technically on point, who would have thought I would enjoy a “ris de veau”?(calf sweetbread? Translation found online https://www.linguee.fr/francais-anglais/traduction/ris+de+veau.html)
2. Dolder Grand – Zurich Switzerland https://www.thedoldergrand.com/en/indulge/the-restaurant/) https://www.thedoldergrand.com/en/indulge/the-restaurant/)Two Michellins stars, Luxurious food to the bone! Can you imagine a foamy potatoe purée? Almost like you are flying, simply voluptuous! They served 10 dishes!
1. La Fourchette des Ducs – Obernai France (http://www.lafourchettedesducs.com/fr/)Two Michellins stars, la crème de la crème! I would never forget the lobster bisque and the perfectly cooked pigeon, simply divine!
Now one thing i need to specify: tasting menus are not only available in Michellin star rated restaurants. But, it’s not out of a coincidence that my favorites are highly rated: most of the time a good chef is well rewarded. However, i am sure they are still some hidden gems with very tempting menus that i am yet to discover. It only means the chef is more discreet or doesn’t want to be exposed. If you ever try any of the restaurants listed above, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Don’t hesitate to let me know if you also came across other amazing tasting menus that you advise me to try out!