A Menu By Any Other Name
The Menu is your gateway to culinary discovery and an amazing dining experience.
Beyond providing choice and a selection of dishes, a good menu reads like beautiful prose. In today’s culinary world where chefs take centerstage, the menu also gives you an insight into their culinary philosophy, thinking and a prelude to the experience that awaits.
Traditionally, the a-la-carte menu was the most popular way of ordering. We like having more choice, and ordering a-la-carte sounds like a good idea in theory. In reality, sometimes having too much choice may be overwhelming and stressful, especially in more formal situations when you are hosting a group.
When entertaining a group of clients, the priority is to impress and wow your guests, making them feel comfortable enough to do business with you. However, the calculations and decisions like how many courses and what to order becomes a delicate and potentially awkward dance which may end up disrupting the flow of a great experience.
Choosing a prix fixe or set menu in advance allows your guests to know “I’ve got this taken care of, just sit back and let’s enjoy the meal”. Beyond the traditional three or four course sets, chefs have created menus and experiences that showcase the best produce of the season, their culinary style presented in unique and creative ways. From omakase to chef’s tables, these options are elevating the dining experience.
Here, we highlight the seven popular menus and dining experiences that restaurants are now serving up for groups and guests:
The most common menu offered by a restaurant, a-la-carte means offering a selection of dishes for your pickings, more traditionally sorted by course from appetizers, mains, sides and desserts.
Why choose it?When you don’t have any budget constraints, know your guests’ preferences well and would rather let them decide. Be the gracious host and request for a “Guest Menu” (The identical menu without prices) to be presented so your guests won’t be left calculating prices.
2. Set (Prix Fixe) Menu
Traditional three or four course sets that begin with an appetizer, a main and dessert at a fixed price per person. Typically enjoyed by the entire group on the table, portions are served full-sized and guests are sometimes provided a choice of mains.
Why choose it? A great way to keep budgets in check while still enjoying a full meal and looking like you’ve not cut any corners. If you’re on a time crunch, many restaurants also offer “express options” that allow you to complete the meal within a shorter time. With everyone enjoying the same number of courses, the pace of the meal will flow smoothly.
The Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose your order, the translation means “I will leave it up to you”. Originating from the sushi tradition, omakase essentially allows the chef to choose the freshest ingredients and what is in season. The dishes change daily and each creation is a new discovery. This form of dining has now been popularised beyond Japanese cuisine and you will find it as a choice in many fine dining restaurants. Priced per person, the menus are typically offered by the number of courses (6, 8 or 10 courses).
Why choose it? A great way to experience the best produce of the season and showcase the talents of the chef. An effortless experience where you sit back, relax and let the chef decide the course and pace of the meal. If your guest is a foodie , they will be treated to a memorable experience with unexpected surprises. This is definitely a menu option that will fuel many topics for dinner conversation.
4. Tasting Menu
Just like the French Degustation Menu, Tasting Menus are decided by the chef and an opportunity for him or her to get creative and show off their skill. Dishes are served on small plates in tasting portions that are usually one and a half bites. This allows guests a small taste of what’s being offered. Diners enjoy a greater variety of dishes. Different from Omakase (which can change daily), Tasting Menus often feature the “greatest hits” of the chef or showcase seasonal creations that change every few months.
Why choose it? Tasting menus can be extravagant but remember, you are paying for an experience. Usually seen as the domain of wealthy patrons, choosing this menu sends a clear signal to your guests of your standing and generosity.
5. Chef’s Table
Traditionally, the height of exclusivity and the most expensive table in the house, chef’s tables were shrouded behind the kitchen doors putting you in the thick of action. Entertained by the chef himself, you are treated to the theatrics of a bustling kitchen as the team plates and serves up special off-the menu dishes. Nowadays, chefs are taking the kitchen to the mainstage of the restaurant, allowing them to interact and connect with their diners. Unlike private dining, this is a communal experience that allows diners to interact with each other and the kitchen team. Dishes are served in tasting portions and are usually finished off at the table, making for a truly engaging experience.
Why choose it? A truly memorable experience that allows you to get up close and personal with the chef in his kitchen. Hosting your group to such an exclusive experience is one that will leave a lasting impression in the minds of your guests and be an ideal talking point for future engagements.
6. Wine Dinners
Refined and elegant in style, Wine Dinners are usually held in conjunction with a wine maker at a restaurant. The special tailored menu features a selection of carefully chosen dishes paired specifically to showcase the best attributes of each wine. Each course is served with a different wine and typically the winemaker or distributor is present to share about the history and wine making process of the wine.
Why choose this? For the Oenophile, wine dinners, just like wine pairing allows your guests to discover the great nuances in how food and wine interact. Ideal for those who wish to pick up a little education and history along the way.
7. Feed me
Melbourne’s Chin Chin sparked a “feed me” frenzy, where plates are shared and the waiter takes care of choosing the dishes. Tell the waiter how hungry you are and let the kitchen take you on a journey. This unique concept has been popularised at restaurants around Australia and has even made its way to Singapore. Paying a fixed price per person, the kitchen sends out the greatest hits of the restaurant in sharing portions for the table until you tell them you’ve been filled !
Why choose it? A fun and more unusual group dining experience. It allows you to do away with spending time coming to a group consensus on what to order and share. Leave it to the kitchen to decide what is best for the day. Typically offered at more relaxed restaurants, choose this option if you are on good terms with your clients or guests.
What are the unique dining experiences you’ve had before? Leave us a comment in the section below.