HUCK'S RANT: The 'mare of menus

Fed up with visiting venue after venue with waitstaff needlessly reciting the menu, Anthony Huckstep unpacks this ceremony of convention and offers some suggestions for improvement.

“Have you dined with us before?”

It’s a fairly common question to hear these days. In some sense it’s justifiable, but it causes my eyes to roll so hard into the back of my head I nearly fall backwards off my chair.

Essentially we’re about to be lectured on what a menu is and how to read one.

The sentiment is invariably followed by “Let me just talk you through the menu” – as if they’ve created something miraculously different, or that the rabble at the table couldn’t possibly have eaten in a restaurant before.

“The dishes under the heading ‘small’ are like entrees, and those under ‘large’ are like mains.”

Anarchists!

Even if the traditional entree-main-dessert structure has been challenged by a shared plate swagger, the running order and price should be enough for most of the hoi polloi to work this out without needing a PhD.

But of course, the loophole in the whole caper is when the chef doesn’t stick to the plan. In many shared plate establishments you could have five dishes all costing $20, one could sate a grizzly bear, another barely an hors d’oeuvre to an aardvark.

Then we require waitstaff to hold our hands in choosing the right amount of dishes – as if we all possess the same appetite.

Anyway, there are also menus you need a GPS to find. Written on a wall nowhere near your table, by the time you return to your seat you can’t remember if the pork comes with ice cream or if your crumble has caramelised fennel. Wait, did they even offer pork?

Then we have the specials. I don’t mind if they’re delivered verbally, but beyond three dishes we not only forget what’s served with what, but what in fact the original what was.

“What came with the John Dory?” inevitably receives the reply – “Wait, I thought it was snapper?”

Print the specials, and hand it over with the menu. None of this portable chalkboard carry on either. I’ve watched many waitstaff awkwardly carry this cumbersome melange of mains du jour from table to table and prop it up against a chair blocking the walkway for others. It’s not original. It’s a pain in the butt.

And what’s with giant menus? Some waitstaff have openly apologised for the inconvenience as they hand me the equivalent of a novelty-oversized winners cheque, only with menus this size there are no winners.

Bigger is not better, especially if you’re talking amount of dishes on a menu too.

I don’t care how good the chef is, the more dishes the less chance there is of nailing each one. Keep the menu tight and hit every dish for six.

Plus, I don’t have three days to read the menu. I want to peruse it, choose something then get on with the joy of catching up with my dining companion.

Menus should be a simple affair. The easier to peruse and the less time spent doing such the better. Menus are, after all, a marketing tool for the chef’s food and restaurant. Keep it simple – let the food do the talking.