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Restaurant menu desriptions

Sir Tokyo Sexwale

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Very true and I like the posts at the bottom



A few years ago, on a trip to Bangalore, I ordered a biryani in a restaurant close to my hotel. The pungent combination of slow-cooked rice and mutton came served on a banana leaf with a small bowl of spicy sauce placed on one side. The Hyderabadi style biryani was terrific, but it was the fabulous sauce which really caught my attention.


I questioned the waiter as to its contents. He looked slightly perplexed, concerned that I was not enjoying my food, and replied, "It is a gravy, sir."


It wasn't quite the detailed response I'd been hoping for and, ever the culinary Magellan, I persisted, asking him if he would go to the kitchen and find out more. He wandered off only to return five minutes later with a beaming smile and, with a low bow, announced, "Sir, it is a RED gravy." Job done, he turned away to get on with his proper duties. (For the record, it was a Mirchi Ka Salan and you can find the recipe here.)


I couldn't help thinking at the time that, had I been back in Britain or in the USA, the response would have been quite different. My conversation with the waiter would have lasted a good deal longer and been filled with stories of the chef's labours to make the perfect sauce. Very probably, there would have been tears involved.


We do like to go on a bit about our food in the UK and, now I am in the process of moving to Los Angeles, I'm discovering that Americans are even more prone to ladling on the descriptive language, and nowhere is this more obvious than in overwrought menu prose. So much so that I am now supplementing my collection of middle class food woes with an assembly of the most egregious menu descriptions I find on my travels.


These are not the bizarre translations you might find on your holidays abroad, although heaven knows they deserve a category all of their very own. I'm searching for the most overstated, overused or just plain dreadful menu language I can catalogue, and I need your help.


Chain restaurants are an obvious starting place. Their marketing departments seem keen to compensate for the usually lousy food by adding as many adjectives and verbs to the menu as possible. The Harvester chain in the UK may seem like an easy target, but is a leader in the game. A quick glimpse at their menu reveals that breaded mushrooms are "crispy", desserts are "indulgent" and few items on the menu remain without a drizzle or something or other. Particular admiration must go to the staff member who came up with the phrase "unforgettable Harvester masterpiece" for their "Combine Harvester" combo platter.


Hyperbole is not unknown in the US, of course. I recently returned from a road trip through 12 states of the midwest and deep south. On the way I encountered more "world famous" restaurants than I ever thought possible. These were often in towns with a population less than the average Rotherham United home attendance (about 3,000 miserable souls, for the record) and in the same towns it was almost universally easier to find dishes "smothered in our famous sauce" than it was to purchase a piece of fresh fruit.


The chains are at it stateside as well. Despite the very kind offer from the good folks of Applebee's to "saddle up and head for the sweet heat flavors of the Southwest" I doubt I shall be trying their Southwest Jalapeno Burger any time soon. It is almost impossible to find a salad or salsa in America that is not "zesty" or a soup that is not "hearty" and, whatever the dictionary tells me, I remain to be convinced that the word "flavourful" should ever be used by anyone, ever.


There are obviously those who go to the other extreme, and for that we have Fergus Henderson to thank. His menus have become more economical every time I look at them. One day, I fully expect to find the waiters at St. John handing out pieces of white paper simply bearing the single word FOOD, stamped with a John Bull printing kit. However, for every Fergus, there are dozens of menu copywriters eager to show their chops or at least to lovingly describe them, and my collection is growing apace.

Katsuya menu The menu at Katsuya. Photograph: Simon Majumdar


At the top of the pile so far is the description of baked crab hand rolls at Japanese restaurant, Katsuya, in Los Angeles. According to the menu, the rolls have been "lightly kissed with Chef's signature sauce" a description which, at best conjures up images of the sushi chef snogging seafood and, at worst, well I shall leave that to your active imaginations. Suffice to say I couldn't be persuaded to try them, not least due of the terrifying prediction that "one taste will leave you wanting more".


I would love to add to my collection. So, what are the best and worst menu descriptions you have encountered, and which are the cliched adjectives that really drive you nuts?

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