Lea’s Pensieve
Published in

Lea’s Pensieve

Thoughts on “the worst Michelin starred restaurant ever” by someone who actually likes tasting menus

At this point four different people have sent me this (quite hilariously written) article, which is making the rounds lately:

I’ve finally decided to write my thoughts about it so I can point people here instead of retyping the same response over and over.

First, some background: We love having tasting menus, at restaurants with or without Michelin stars. We even have our own food Instagram where we document our visits and our own hobby website (warning: can be slow to load the entire list of hundreds of visits and thousands of dishes) where we store the visits in a more structured/searchable format. We see food as an experience, and a tasting menu maximizes the flavors and flavor combinations you can experience in a single meal.

So, I may be coming to this from a slightly different perspective than most people.

First, let’s get this out of the way: I do agree that this place sounds awful, and I would definitely not want to eat there. Some things were simply unacceptable, and very unlike any Michelin star restaurant we have eaten at:

The way they handled allergies is appalling. Not serving a person in the party for three consecutive courses because they couldn’t accommodate their allergies?!? Serving another person things they were allergic to?!? My dude, this is running a restaurant (any restaurant!) 101.

Being scolded for eating edible parts of a course that were meant as decoration or going outside for a cigarette break is also completely unacceptable. Some restaurants ask you to alert them if you need to take a break so they can adjust the flow of the experience accordingly, but that’s about it. And I’ve never ever been told not to eat obviously edible parts of a course. It’s usually the opposite: the waiter highlighting that something is edible, because it may look like it’s not (e.g. a shrimp’s “head” made out of carrot or “pebbles” made out of truffled cheese)

The course with the chef’s mouth (!) went too far. I get wanting to push the boundaries of culinary art, but there are plenty of restaurants who make great art without being actually creepy. (Eater.com published a mini-article on this and highlighted this other Michelin restaurant that served a course on a realistic tongue, but somehow that does not even come close to this in terms of creepiness, IMO).

The infamous course with the chef’s mouth. It’s made even worse by the fact that you had to eat it without utensils, by scooping it up and …yes, you get the imagery. Source: Original linked article.

Speaking of creepy, it’s also of course completely unacceptable that one of the staff stalked a single female from the table on Instagram and tried to make a pass at her! Yikes, yikes, yikes.

From a chemical point of view, there is no such thing as “meat molecules”. I’m sure that sounded fancy to the chefs and I can imagine them high-fiving each other for coming up with it, but it’s just as nonsensical as saying “molecules of humans”. Meat is mostly the muscle tissue of an animal, which consists of water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and certain minerals, all of which are made up of different molecules. “Meat cells” would have made a little more sense, though it’s still awfully vague.

The chef responded to the viral review with images of horses and something along the lines of “you just don’t get my art”. It boggles the mind that he was able to write three pages of rebuttal and somehow manage to make himself and his restaurant look even worse. That’s got to be some kind of achievement.

So far, I’ve been agreeing with the viral review, just like pretty much everyone else on the Internet. So why am I writing this? Because there were also parts of this critique that sounded like the authors have never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant or had a tasting menu before.

First, they complain about the size of the portions. IT WAS A 27 COURSE TASTING MENU, PEOPLE!! The longer the tasting menu, the smaller the courses need to be. If the courses were not tiny, halfway through you’d be so full you’d be wondering why you paid so much for this cruel and unusual punishment.

This is not theoretical — it has actually happened to us — at Ramón Freixa in Madrid, a 2 Michelin star restaurant where we made the mistake of ordering the 27 course tasting menu. After a few courses we started feeling comfortably full, then uncomfortably full, and then actively nauseous. We asked how many more courses were left. “Oh not to worry! Only one more course, then the pre-dessert, and three desserts” said the server to our horrified faces. At a regular restuarant, you would have asked for the rest of the food in a doggie bag far earlier, but that is not a thing at these types of places. Either you eat it right there, or you lose it, and given how much the meal cost, we definitely didn’t want to do the latter. Finishing the meal was a struggle, and on the way back we were lamenting how we paid so much to feel sick. Photos, descriptions, and ratings of said meal here. I wouldn’t trust our ratings toward the end, we’d probably hate anything by then.

Our similarly long meal at Ramon Freixa (a 2 Michelin star restaurant). Photos from our food blog, Forkgasm

Ramón Freixa was probably the most egregious example, but it wasn’t the only time where a long tasting menu had portions that were too big for the number of courses and made us feel uncomfortably full towards the end. Another example that comes to mind is Funky Gourmet, the (now defunct) Greek molecular gastronomy restaurant that held 2 Michelin stars from 2014 until it closed in 2019. Despite its menu being smaller in comparison, at a mere 17 courses, I always remember everyone we were eating with feeling uncomfortably full around the time desserts started rolling around.

Our last (documented) meal at Funky Gourmet before it closed. Photos from our food blog, Forkgasm

On the other hand, we’ve had a lovely 21 course tasting menu at O Ya (not Michelin starred, but on par — the Michelin inspectors have not visited Boston yet) that we thoroughly enjoyed. Exactly because each dish was tiny, there was no point where we felt uncomfortable. We finished the meal feeling comfortably satiated, and happy with our choice.

Our far better experience of a long tasting menu, at O Ya. Photos from our food blog, Forkgasm.

Similarly, we had a great time at Umami Omakase and its 21 course tasting menu (I sense a trend here: Japanese chefs tend to do this well).

Given that the people in the author’s party were having a 27 course tasting menu, I’m baffled at how they could have possibly have been hungry afterwards. Even if every course was the size of a tablespoon, that’s a lot of tablespoons! (Volume-wise, 27 tablespoons = 1.69 cup).

Their comments about there being no main course are also baffling, given that longer tasting menus don’t usually have a clear main, but go from amuse bouche to starters to mains more fluidly.

Some of their descriptions about the actual courses also make me wonder how they can claim to frequent fine dining establishments:

  • Olive ice cream is actually quite commonplace in Mediterranean fine dining restaurants, not even experimental (e.g. here it is at Hytra, a Greek Michelin starred restaurant that we love— this is from 2016!). It’s also available in many good ice cream shops across the Mediterranean (e.g. Fenocchio in Nice, France). The authors describe it as some sort of weird abomination. Really, that’s your tolerance for experimental food? Olive ice cream?
  • “we got twelve kinds of foam”. I agree that chefs tend to overuse foam as a texture, but again, that is not unique to this restaurant, it has been a fine dining trend for years now, possibly over a decade.

It’s also fairly common for a tasting-menu-only restaurant to not have a menu because they want the courses to be a surprise, and it often works well (e.g. the recently Michelin starred CTC does this, as well as the new arrival Delta which I’d be willing to bet will be Michelin starred very soon). That said, in those cases you still get a menu in the end, usually one you can take home as a souvenir, and the waiters always explain what every course is in detail.

My bottom line after reading this article (despite getting a good laugh out of it — it is quite a brilliant piece of writing): I wouldn’t want to dine at that restaurant, but I wouldn’t want to eat with these diners either.

--

--

--

Musings on society, psychology and their intersection. Or anything else that piques my interest at any given point. Older posts in https://pensieve.verou.me/

Recommended from Medium

The Kitchen Gear You Have To Upgrade Before The Holidays

The Official Guide to Chinese Buffets

A Thanksgiving-week recipe roundup

Filling our tummies and enriching our minds at Spice Zi

Cooking in the time of COVID-19: And then …Tom made Smash Burgers

Investment in Bioprinting: All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Lea Verou

Lea Verou

Web standards (WCSS WG, W3C TAG), Usability research (MIT CSAIL), Open source. I ❤ standards, code, design, UX, life!

More from Medium

A Better Place for Your Guilt

How Teaching High School Students Made Me a More Effective Communicator

Why “No” is Your Best Friend

A Letter to Filmmakers in the COVID-19 Pandemic