Friday, October 19, 2012

Chatter 46 A Restaurant’s Menu Tells You More Than Just What’s For Dinner

This article was contributed by Imogen Tyler. The menu pictured is from Eugenius.

Restaurant menus come in all shapes and sizes, but nowadays they offer more information than just what’s cooking in the kitchen. When you sit down to dine, your menu could speak volumes about the establishment you’re sitting in, providing details about everything from the history of the building to setting the tone of the eatery.
More than ever before, a menu represents the level of service customers can expect – so it ideally needs to reflect a brand’s inherent values in its design, tone of voice and materials. Menus can also be useful persuasive tools, which influence diners in their mealtime choices.
What makes a menu?
Tone of voice
Every restaurant has a unique character, so its personality should be reflected in the language used within the menu. For example, the menu for Buffalo Bill’s restaurant in Disneyland Resort Paris includes descriptive words to paint a picture in the theme of the Wild West. Simple re-naming of the foods to “Texan skillet”, “Cattleman’s chilli” and “Old-style potato wedges” flavours the food cowboy-style, before you’ve even picked up a fork.
This is a rather extreme example, but it is implemented throughout the restaurant industry to dictate everything from exclusivity in high-end establishments to cool, teen talk in burger joints.
At the other end of the spectrum, Gordon Ramsey’s Menu Prestige says it all in the title. The “Menu Prestige” offers a sense of high-end decorum from the amuse bouche to the mango parfait coconut dacquoise. This use of language fuels the fire that this is a high-brow establishment.
Gone are the days when a menu consisted of a single printed sheet of white paper; these days image is everything. Loud, bright colours and cartoon characters shout about a place that serves up fun with every bite. They also point towards food that is saturated fat-heavy and full of calories.
This menu shows imagery in which the main ingredient appears to be is cheese – so avoid venues with menus like these if you are trying to eat healthily. Unhealthy male and female diets are often encouraged by these types of advert, which promote binge eating with their eye-catching graphics, bright colours and descriptions like “overloaded” and “feast”. If you are dieting, it is a good idea to walk past diners like this with your eyes averted.
Many fast food outlets are trying to reinvent themselves at the moment, by promoting an image that’s less garish and offers a “healthier” option. Many McDonald’s restaurants have toned down their bright imagery, instead offering more muted pictures of wraps and salads to entice the healthy eating crowd.
Today you can create a menu out of anything – cut out an exotic shape in laminated card, print on recycled parchment, or bind your menu books in wood. Every choice a restaurant makes speaks volumes about the character of the place.
A vegan restaurant might choose to use only recycled materials, and obviously not bind their menus in leather. This furthers the notion that the restaurant is a sustainable, eco-conscious establishment, which truly believes in the idea that animal produce should not be used. If a restaurant has gone to the extent of sourcing all its food sustainably, there is no reason why it shouldn’t offer the same care and attention to all its peripheral materials. Re-usable chalk boards might be a good substitute here.
Menus with additional information
As a restaurateur, you may wish to provide extra information within your menu, which speaks of history, heritage, your business’ roots or your granny’s influence on the home-made meatloaf. The menu is the ideal location in which to do this, as it offers diners the opportunity to become invested in your brand values.
By offering these extra touches, you promote a restaurant with personality and flair – rather than a run-of-the-mill establishment – which allows people to “buy into” your idea. How many people would rather spend their money in a friendly, family run diner, as opposed to a faceless chain? But even faceless chains can stamp their own personality on the diner – Portuguese chicken chain Nandos, for example, provides lots of facts and jokes about Portugal and poultry on its menus. It can make for quite an interesting read.
So wherever you eat next, take a look at the menu – what does it say about the restaurant you’re eating in?

Maxy's (Elsternwick) 10/2012

This place has been an icon of Melbourne dining, they tell you so on their web page, since 1995.  They also tell you that they are well known for their Middle Eastern salads and dips and are famous for their "ribs and schnitzels, cooked to perfection in tasty marinades and sauces. Without pretension or attitude, our signature is quality and quantity.
It's half true in our view, the quantity bit is, that's for sure. They do have a wide ranging menu and they are cheap for what you get.
 Family friendly it's great for kids too but not if you're a foodie . It's a big venue, simply furnished with an attractive bar.
They have bare tables, paper napkins and indifferent cutlery. The walls are decorated with pic's of famous pic's of film stars, mostly dead now, who have never been here. There is a large TV with captions and volume turned down for the bored or the lonely. 
Food is served on big metal platters, suitable for sharing, with side plates. Knowing the size of the serves we skipped entrees and started with a chicken schnitzel, two actually, each of which covered a normal size plate. They were thick, heavily crumbed and rather dull. This was presented with a mass of coleslaw, red cabbage and a tomato and capsicum salad all extremely coarsely chopped, a bit of lemon and a choice of sauces.  
The fish, a New Zealand flounder would not fit on a plate and came with the same salads. It was surprisingly coarse and free of taste.
 Desserts were also distinguished by size. An apple strudel with cream and ice cream  
and an old fashioned Sunday finished off our meal and just about finished me off too. I could eat nothing for the next 24 hours.
Elias and his staff seemed very happy and well satisfied with everything.
 Fast all day, take the kids but don't expect a culinary experience. Score: 12.75/20

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Drunken Admiral (Hobart) 0/2012

The walls and ceiling of this restaurant are intended to create a nautical atmosphere. They are crowded with paraphernalia reminiscent of the back shed of a retired sailor or a small town maritime museum.

Waiters are almost hyper-kinetic and the chefs keep up with them so a meal can be over before you could get a main course at many other places, not that they aren't pleasant enough and very obliging. Tables are small and close together with little space for the volume of crockery that they have to accommodate. There is a free, simple, cold salad bar with main courses and the serves are handsome. I'm not sure when a soup becomes so thick that it is no longer meets the definition. The seafood bisque could have been eaten with a knife and fork but it had plenty of very good flavour which was not diminished when we added half a glass of wine and a dash of  water.
Bread, with garlic butter, was an extra few $'s as is the custom in Hobart.  
My mussels in a spicy tomato sauce came under a canopy of pita bread. 
Despite the size of their shells the mussels were quite small, perhaps thoroughly over cooked
 and the sauce mundane. There was plenty of both. 
Spaghetti marinara was also a large serve with a coarse pasta. Texturally unsatisfying it nothing special to recommend it.
Fish and chips was really good. The battered trevalla delicate and the chips irresistible.  We ate some of this before I got to taking this picture.      
Finally a killer chocolate dessert left us stuffed with enough calories for a week.
Score: 13/20 

Ball and Chain (Hobart) 10/2010

This no frills restaurant has an air of American efficiency about it.
A member of staff with a clip board takes your name and puts you on his list to await a table. There are no reservations for small parties. It not for want of tables, there are stacks of them on two levels and up stairs as well. It’s that the chefs can not cope! Décor is simple and unobtrusive. One painting was particularly appropriate.
Jarrah, who happened to be my nephews son, provided us with exceptional service and took this snap of us.
 The main feature of the menu is the grill. They offer porterhouse, scotch fillet rump and eye fillet in three sizes 180, 300 or 500 gm which translates as large, very large and gigantic. These are cooked as you wish from genuinely warm blue, rare, medium rare and so on and come with roast potato, a range of sauces e.g. pepper, garlic, Hollandaise and more and a free salad bar.
There are plenty of other choices on the menu including whole ocean trout, trevalla, chicken and other meats.
We started with the Ball and Chain tasting plate for an entrée. This handsome serve contained a good variety of Tasmanian produce including prosciutto, liver paté, a beetroot and nut paté, marinated octopus tentacles, marinated fish, sun dried tomato, olives, capers, a very good choice.
It would be unfair to go to a grill bar that specializes in steak and eat fish or fowl so we had no hesitation in ordering a couple of medium steaks. My fillet was excellent, cooked as requested, with roast potato
while Sandra had a porterhouse blue and it really was, with a Hollandaise sauce and chips as a special request.
We ended the meal with an extremely rich chocolate pudding.

 Score: 13.75/20

Potsticker (Caulfield) 10/2012

Congratulations to Potsticker on reaching there first anniversary at tyhis site which has proved the undoing of many previous restaurants. They have maintained a decent menu of good food and the venue remains as attractive as ever. Neat white clothed tables, 
the elevated indoor decorative pool and good space have not changed. I drank an fairly ordinary hot saki which was set on the tasble in a caraffe which sat in a bowl of water over a candle to keep it hot. A won ton soup was disappointing as the dumplings were hard. We enjoyed a seafood san chao bau which was delicately flavoured with just a dash of sweet sauce 

followed by a sweet and sour plate of prawns in batter. The sauce was well balanced without being either too sweet nor too acidic and was of a good consistency. The prawns were fresh and firm fleshed.
An attractively presented Cantonese beef was pleasing without special distinction. The meat was quite tender and very tasty.
A mango mousse with an apricot tortellini was delicious. 
Score: 13.75/20/20

Monday, October 08, 2012

Maldini (Hobart) 09/2010

One of a row of bars and restaurants on Salamanca place, named after an Italian soccer player this simply furnished split level room reverberates with noise reflected off every surface. It has wood floors, stone walls, bare wood tables and nothing to absorb sound. In case you forget where you are the restaurant name appears above the bar in large letters and is also stenciled out on a divider between two sections of the restaurant.            
It is quieter outside but even with their gas heaters it would have been to cold for us. Lighting is from crystal chandeliers which seem out of place here.
Some small lights directed at playful cut outs placed on top of each other to display both an abstract pattern and a series of animals.
At least two of the wait staff were students or under employed graduates the service they provided was exceptionally friendly and pleasing. A couple of black boards hang above the tables with daily specials and a wine of the day.
As in other Tasmanian restaurants if you want bread you have to pay for it unless it comes as an integral part of a dish.
A mixed cured Italian meat dish, affetato misto, was served with a couple of slices of bread and a few green leaves. A couple of slices of prosciutto, a pepper prosciutto and a small dish of very spicy cacciatore was all quite agreeable but it was pretty skimpy for the $16.50 price tag.  
Similarly expensive was an entrée of spaghetti marinara ($25.5) in a garlic butter sauce although this was reasonable at $29.5 as a main course. This was a particularly good marinara, far superior to the marinara we tried the previous night at The Drunken Admiral.  
Veal saltimbocca on a bed of sweet potato $36.5 was a pleasant tender and appealing main, especially if you like sweet potato.
A salt and sweet semi freddo with chocolate sauce was exceptional. A great blend of flavours and an unusually good semi freddo it was elegant, not too rich and ticked all the right boxes.
Still smiling. 

Astor Grill (Hobart) 09/2011

** Click on the pics to enlarge them
Housed in a building dated from 1821
 this venue has the atmosphere of an English club. Dark wood panels cover half the walls, carpeted floors,and pressed steel white ceilings, white linen clothed tables and dim light all contribute.
 Huon pine representations of fish and animals decorate the walls.

It's very comfortable.
Added to this is very friendly service.  We started with two entrees from a small but attractive menu. A lobster pate with heaps of well toasted bread was dull with little taste mainly provided by the cream cheese base for the pate.
Honey glazed pork belly with leeks could have had crisper crackling but did have good taste 
and wonderful texture for the thick slab of belly.

Bread is not part of the meal and has to be purchased separately if desired. 
Lamb rump was certainly not to die for here. It was tough and stringy The beets served with it were under cooked and quite hard but the Brussel sprouts in a cream sauce and the parsnip puree were both excellent.

Scotch fillet, normally served with roast potato, at  our request, was presented on a bed of massive potato chips. A very nicely prepared most beautiful piece of meat. 
A chocolate pudding was a nice end to the meal. We could not have asked for better.
Here's the menu.