Sam Clark, Menu tricks and the creative chef

Sam Clark, Chef Owner of Moro, on jealous diners and why plant-based dishes can be the most impressive

I went home after the chefs’ dinner organised by Forum for the Future and the Sustainable Restaurant Association at Fifteen to discuss how we can make people think about eating more vegetables, and realised I wanted to take immediate action. There had been lots of very interesting discussions trying to address this subtle but complex challenge, and I really wanted to do something constructive.

So the next morning I went into the restaurant and thought I’d try an experiment. I put our Mixed Vegetable Mezze at the top of our mains list. We’ve done this dish for years and it’s always been popular but I just wondered after that dinner about where things sit on the menu, and whether it really would make a difference, as some chefs had attested to.

We change the menu every three weeks but the mezze always has eight dishes and comes with cruditees and bread. At the moment we’ve got a fabulous selection, including a Tunisian ratatouille with harissa, a fattoush, deep fried cucumber chips with dill yoghurt and beetroot, orange blossom and mint salad. It is absolutely jam-packed with exciting flavours and textures as well as vibrant colours, so they look wonderful too.

Anyway, the effect was instant. Ever since we did that, nearly three months ago, we’ve seen it sell as much as 30% more. On average it’s probably been up 25%, which is incredible.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, psychologically, people see it sitting proud at the top of the menu, rather than at the bottom as some sort of afterthought. The other big thing, is that once a few people start ordering it, others seeing it coming out of the kitchen and think ‘wow’ that looks amazing. They ask the waiter and then order it themselves. It makes me quite happy when I see someone who has ordered one of the protein based dishes see their companion with the mezze and look really jealous.

People who have the mezze are spoilt to be honest. It is a real experience and takes a lot more work than any of the meat or fish dishes which have a simple salad to accompany them. With the mezze you are getting three times the dishes and three times the experience — all for less money. The mezze is £17.50 while the protein based main dishes are about £24. Each of the mezze dishes has at least seven dishes and it would take you about two weeks if you set out to try to make at home! I’m really proud of these dishes as they showcase the flavours of what we do.

There’s perhaps a third reason why this has happened. Since we opened 20 years ago we’ve probably steadily increased the proportion of vegetable based dishes. I think it’s a momentum and mood thing and people are just ripe for more veg on the menu. About a third of the dishes on our menu are plant-based and the meat dishes themselves are about 75% veg too. I think we’ll continue to evolve our menu to respond to what our customers want. That probably means that soon our starters will only include one meat or fish dish and the rest will be plant-based.

As a chef it’s fantastic, because vegetables are so much more flexible. You just to have ensure that you have a variety of textures. You can slow cook, serve al dente, salt, roast — so many personas in one vegetable. At the moment we’ve got tonnes of courgette and so we’re serving it in at least three different ways — boiled, squeezed and dressed, raw with a wonderful crunch and thinly sliced and grilled. There are so many different flavours and textures and you just can’t say that about meat or fish. Vegetables are just so much more versatile.

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