Menu degustation or tasting menus have been around since the 1970s when they had more association with the French version meaning to offer small portions of several dishes as a single meal.
At the beginning in the 1990s, tasting menus evolved into elaborate showcases highlighting the culinary artistry of the chef. The trend can be traced back to two highly acclaimed restaurants, Chef Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli and Chef Thomas Keller‘s French Laundry.
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. Some restaurants and chefs specialise in tasting menus, which in my view makes economic sense because a ‘no choice’ menu significantly cuts wastage and saves money – something Mr Underhill’s in Ludlow did exquisitely!
As chefs started to reach celebrity status, so did the rise in tasting menus. Diners started to trust in their choices, and to pay handsomely for their experiments. Around 2005, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen were among the first to offer a tasting menu, each coming in around £100 with a different half-glass of wine for each course. Today these prices have doubled and the number of restaurants serving tasting menus has reached epidemic proportions!
The number of tastings can vary significantly, from a civilised 5 or 7 tastings at Midsummer House, Cambridge (with amuse bouche and an extra dessert thrown in for good measure) to a full-blown 20 plus morsels at L’Enclume. Delicious as Simon Rogan’s food is, I personally prefer Daniel Clifford’s menu, because each tasting was more than one mouthful and you got to really experience its deliciousness.