One of the most complex jobs in a restaurant is designing the menu. A well-designed menu has to balance seasonality, localness, flavours, colours and lots more. Probably the most difficult balancing act is that between on trend vs classical.
hat do I mean by on trend? These are the food fashions and fads that come and go, usually starting at either the very highest-end of fine dining (think 2 or 3 Michelin stars) or at the very opposite end of the spectrum, with unconventional pop-up style restaurants trying to break the mould and stand out from the crowd. Over time, sometimes weeks rather than months or years, a trend might disappear (remember breast milk ice cream?) or it might become embedded in the food scene (such as red velvet cake). The trick is deciding what to follow, why to follow it (increased revenues or simply a great food idea), how to implement it and so on.
We’re a middle of the road restaurant. We don’t want to come across as tired and overdone, but neither do we want to put people off through too-challenging flavour combinations and off the wall styles of presentation. So we need to strike a balance where we can offer classic dishes and flavours, but perhaps freshen them up with an interesting ingredient or find a lesser-known preparation of a classic. Case in point, our Tiramisu is loved by almost all - those who have struggled with it tend to be those who believe a Tiramisu has to be cake-like in its form, whereas ours is less spongy and more creamy. A popular form in parts of Italy to be sure, but less like the most common recipes and ubiquitous pre-made supermarket versions across the UK.
Another way of picking a righteous path between being hipsterish and worn-out is to switch out dishes, add new specials and change an ingredient or two in a popular dish. This way, we get to try out new things whilst keeping many of the favourites. Sometimes it means taking a risk by changing a popular dish, but always with the intention of improving it.
I’d be interested in your comments - do you go out seeking the comforting duvet of classic dishes well made, or do you prefer to be dining on the precipice of culinary art?