Food The Set,Tasting or Fixed Menu (dumbing down?)

I spotted an article by Nick Lander in which he details that of the 11 newly appointed Michelin 1 star restaurants 8 offer fixed price menus only.
The rest of the piece seems to lead one to conclude that choice is set as well as the price
ie set/tasting menu.
Whilst I understand the benefit for the establishment is this an indication of ‘dumbing down’ in the fine dining sector and is curtailing choice making it acceptable to concentrate on doing just a few dishes well?
An interesting question, Ray. I very much like to choose what to eat, and particularly how much I'd like to eat. Given a choice I'd rarely eat pudding, for example, which tends to figure extensively on tasting menus. I suppose one could ask for savoury substitutes though I don't enjoy making a fuss.
I think there are two reasons for the phenomenon-the ability hugely to reduce food waste, which we must all applaud, with a concomitant considerable saving in cost the benefit of which we must hope that we enjoy in the final reckoning, and the desire of the restaurant of large reputation and forbidding tariff to demonstrate to every diner on every occasion the full range of its ability, on the grounds that for most customers the visit will be a once in a lifetime experience. Fair enough, of course, but there is also a place for being able to order a satisfying meal that isn't performative, particularly for customers who visit more than once.
As a keen cook I am acutely aware of the great difficulty there now is in finding really good ingredients and their very high cost and I am probably too conscious of the lengths to which even excellent restaurants must now go to keep their margins up, which a flurry of a dozen courses will do very effectively. Nick Lander's list reminds us just how very expensive even quite modest dining out has become in the last few years, and that certainly isn't the fault of the restaurant trade.
It is an interesting question. The tasting menu is all that's on offer in a few Michelin places I know - literally all, with no a la carte and no substitutions. That and the restricted menu of 4 or 5 choices at each course are the de facto standard. But I guess that's the antithesis of those pan-global menus with dozens of choices trying to cover all the bases from burger to pizza to curry, and all done badly.

At least it does let the kitchen construct a menu with a logical flow (hopefully) and concentrate on cooking it well, but it can feel awfully formulaic when you realise there's basically a posh assembly line feeding you, rather than a really good cook.
Rarely have a tasting menu as I don’t eat desserts and nowadays eat two courses at most and, more often than not, just one . I also like to choose my own food so do not frequent any restaurant where there is no or little choice . Unfortunately, it’s becoming a trend out here with some so called “posh” restaurants to offer only a three course fixed menu with no choice.
Last edited:
This is a trend that has gradually grown/spread over the last few years. I completely get all the benefits for the restaurant, and am (generally) happy to accept it if that's what it takes to make these restaurants viable businesses.

Personally I think a tasting menu only really works when the food is quite modern, the dishes have been specifically designed to be in a tasting menu, and contrast with each other. I want to see genuine creativity. What I really dislike is a tasting menu constructed from stripped back versions of alc dishes (a curse of more 'classic' style restaurants offering tasting menus), or even worse, one where every dish follows the formula: piece of protein, 1 vegetable garnish, splat of sauce/puree. To me this is lazy cooking.

One of the reasons I love Chez Bruce, La T, Hind's Head and St John is that they are all regularly changing alc menus, so I can can choose not only what, but how much, I order.
Last edited:
I really don't like tasting menues and have been put off visiting a number of restaurants due the tasting menu only approach.

I want to eat food in a restaurant not taste it. Three courses (plus amuse and petit four if offered) of reasonable sized plates without the waiter being at the table every five minutes interrupting the conversation will do for me. A restaurant with three courses and maybe three, frequently changing, choices for each course is perfect.

I am prepared to believe the chef capable of cooking a range of dishes without them needing to demonstrate this at every visit.

Makes wine pairing easier as well.
Last edited:
Away from the business side of it I must say my most memorable experiences have come from tasting menus.

If A la carte I'll refer to type and order something I know I'll like but present me with something I would never choose and blow me away...that's special and part of the reason I go to the top places

Also I think if it's someone I may only go to once I get to sample a wider repitoire of dishes from the team with a tasting menu
Last edited:
Even in restaurants which offer both such as the Ritz I find the ALC preferable. Like Richard I am looking for a meal not a performance of mini courses. Richard’s wine comment is true too.
The thing about tasting menus is that there's as much variation from poor to excellent as any other format. Like many here, I mostly choose a la carte for the reasons of choosing exactly what I fancy, and wine matching. But as well as a few 'meh' experiences, some of my most brilliant and memorable meals have been tasting menus: the Ritz, Gordon Ramsay, Petite Colombe in Franschooek, A Ver Tavira and Ocean restaurants in the Algarve, Laura atPtLeo in Victoria, the French Laundry, and on and on. When it is done really, *really* well it is mind-bogglingly good and transcends three excellent courses.
It's blatantly obvious due to covid and brexit, restaurants have had to due to financial and logistical considerations change their approach to doing business. The 2 main changes being the 4 day week with lunches predominantly Friday and Saturday, and the tasting menu.

Like most, not a fan of the tasting menu. Because of that I search out those that offer ALC. One thing that sticks in my mind over the last few years is that there's no problem finding ALC in France. They're focus is still on offering the customer choice.
I find that unless everything in a tasting menu is brilliant and it would be a shame to miss anything produced by the restaurant (the restaurants where that is the case are small in number) I tend to prefer ordering a la carte. Far better 3 or 4 courses, each in a quantity that can be enjoyed over the course of more than a few seconds. I think there’s a rhythm to eating the best dishes - working through all the components in different combinations, dipping in and out of the accompanying wine (or wines). This is the sort of scenario where I get most pleasure from food. You just can’t do that with a dish that lasts for a couple of bites, and often I feel with tasting menus you spend more time staring at an empty table waiting for the next “experience” than actually eating the food.
I am entirely happy not having a choice. If a more classic style of cooking then two or three courses. I used to go to Clarke's a lot in the earlier days when there was no choice at all, but if you liked Sally's style of cooking you would definitely enjoy the meal. If a destination restaurant that I really want to go to, then by all means a tasting menu. No problem at all with those that only do a tasting menu - if you really want to go there, that is perfect, but if I don't think I will be sufficiently excited then I don't choose that restaurant.

Just about to book Le Coquillage ** in Cancale. A truly exceptional meal there last year, tasting menu the only option.
My wife is vegetarian, I am not and I find tasting menus (often but not always) dont really cover both bases well. Particularly in France. So, basically we avoid anything with tasting menus for that reason.

It just seems like a bit of a ball ache sometimes.
By a very considerable margin, my best dining experiences have been ALC, followed by fixed price lunch with a choice of two items (a rather different concept to tasting menu) and then tasting menus are some distance behind.

Equally, my most disappointing dining experiences have been tasting menus every time - often a combination of anticipation because of how they are “sold”/presented on menu and then inconsistency in delivery.

To some extent I wonder whether the ability to offer ALC at a good standard is analogous to actual talent in running a kitchen/restaurant, although I appreciate this is a gross generalisation and probably insults some very good tasting menu only establishments. It at least seems a minimum bar of capability to me and the way tasting menus are used to run restaurants today kind of defy the point in why I would want to have one.
One thing why I would argue that tasting menus are not always best is that one can’t enjoy, say, a plate of grouse or woodcock at The Ledbury any more, served with a good amount of fine Burgundy (a bottle for two or a magnum for four).

If the food is good enough, you don’t need excess variety but just want to enjoy the splendor in depth. After all would you rather drink a bottle of Romanee Conti 1971 or have 5 random Burgundies served from Coravin with dinner?

I would give another example as L’Ambroisie which has never done a tasting menu.
I am entirely happy not having a choice.
In many ways so am I-the keen gastronome should eat everything unless medically unfeasible-but that isn't at all the same as surrendering choice to the tasting menu. I liked the Clarke's format very much indeed and was mildly surprised that it was never emulated.
It's fun, but many ways this discussion is about as pointless as discussing what is best: red wine or white wine? Not all tasting menus are equal, and not all exist for the same reasons.

When I first ate Tom Keller's 14-course menu at the French Laundry it was mind-blowing; very much the in-vogue 'journey', mostly two or three bite-sized courses apart from a couple, and as well as exceptional flavours, lots of witty, amusing dishes playfully referencing his childhood and experiences. This was a tasting menu designed in the style of a prog-rock concept album rather than greatest hits, where the whole was as important as the parts.

It's clear that for all the reasons listed in this thread a lot of mid-market restaurants have jumped on the tasting menu bandwagon, with neither the intellectual concept or sometimes skill needed to make it a rounded, satisfying experience. But I do think fundamentally saying "I do/don't" like tasting menus is flawed when so much variation exists.
In defence of tasting menus - the courses don't have to be 1/2 bites - to come up with 3 examples, Bosi at Bibendum, La Petite Colombe and the Fat Duck (many, many years ago - don't know what it's like now). And I love finding surprises in flavours I would not choose myself - for example, I don't like almond, but the almond soup on the tasting menu at Elystan St blew me away.

And I don't mind a bit of theatre with my food either.

So not everyday maybe, but there's a place for these in my life.
Just received an invite to a Helen Darroze tasting dinner on 4 March with wines from Haut Brion. All in price is £2,500 per head so better hurry in case you miss out.

Yes, had a press release about this the other day. I'm sure it will be fabulous and if anyone wants to buy me a ticket I'll be there, but I did think the headline was slightly misleading: "Hélène Darroze at The Connaught will host a Château Haut-Brion tasting and dinner." They then list the wines, which is impressive, but as far as I can make out only one vintage of Haut-Brion Blanc and one of Haut-Brion red, the rest appear to be La Mission? I've put bold on the ones that I think are actually H-B and not La Mission....

2009 Billecart Salmon Cuvee Louis champagne, followed by the 2010 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc & 2010 Château Haut-Brion Blanc, one of the younger wines in the selection. This is the perfect introduction to the older and more mature wines, which come later in the evening. Guests will have the chance to enjoy a range of vintages, including the 2009, 2006, 2005, 2003, 2000 and the 1995 Château La Mission Haut Brion as well as 1995 Château Haut-Brion.

So surely a La Mission Haut-Brion dinner in essence - 7 of those