Monday, 1 February 2010

Undersell/Over-deliver... The Budget Lunch

If there is one thing that annoys me more than any when it comes to dining out, it is how dishes are described. Its all good and well telling me what is in the dish but I don't need to know everything! There seems to be a worrying trend where restaurants are trying to out do one another by detailing each and every component that forms a dish, and this has gotten worse of late by telling me where every item on the menu has come from!

I understand restaurants want to highlight there use of seasonal and regional products, but just tell me that's what you do at the start of the menu, I will believe you, and I for one will be a happy chappy. By all means restaurants should have this information available, but to be honest if I wanted to know where my lamb chops grew up I would ask the waiter to find out. I could then take it upon myself to drive down the road and find the farm and heckle the remaining lambs telling them that their brother or sister tasted very good, and that next week I will be back again, for one of them (insert sinister laugh). Maybe I would take an empty bottle of Reggae Reggae Sauce with me to taunt them with the prospect of ending up under its sweet and spicy blanket, while all the while I sing along to the Levi Roots song....

You see I believe that as with most things in life, a little bit of mystery does one good. Isn't that the very reason that Lingerie was invented? When you order a dish from a menu that has detailed the DNA profile of the dish, all you are waiting for is for it to be delivered so you can consume it and go and find the mother of the Dunfermline Dexter Steak you just devoured and lick your lips and rub your belly in front of her. My personal preference is for understated menus that give you a surprise when it turns up as you weren't quite expecting what you see before you.

Of course for all the fussy eaters out there they will probably have an acid reflux attack at the very thought of what I am suggesting, but if I had my way these people would have been dealt with by Darwins Theory of Natural Selection, that and a little help from me and a blunt object. Alas with the UK laws being what they are at present this is unlikely to become a reality for at least a couple of years.

A  clear case of Over promising and Under delivering!

In the stock market world they call my preference “Undersell and Over-deliver”. Steve Jobs and his team at Apple are famous for giving earning estimates which they know they can easily beat. The analysts cottoned on to this quite quickly, raising their own estimates above that of Steves, yet Apple still leave room to allow them to over deliver on the analysts expectations most of the time. Of course the equation could be reversed... but who would want to risk a dish being perceived as under delivering? My point is over explaining a dish could lead the diner to expect too much, thus leaving room for it not to meet the standard they have created in their head... with the dish served having no faults.

Now imagine this from a diners point of view... a few select words describing the key constituents of the dish, the mouth starts to salivate, the mind starts to imagine how its going to look when it arrives.... and then it does, but with a few little things that you weren't told about, a few little nuggets of flavour and texture you hadn't been preparing your tongue, nose and brain for. Ohhh yes, that's what I am talking about, that little bit of, as the French say “je ne sais quoi”! Marco Pierre White had a tenancy to do this at Harveys, it would seemingly slip his mind that a dish contained not just a little, but a whole mountain of truffle shavings for example, resulting in an unexpected and greedily welcomed surprise for the diner. I would wager this doesn't occur too much nowadays, and the world is a sadder place for it.

So its with this in mind I would like to introduce the Budget Lunch task I will have to undertake in about 6 weeks time at Tante Marie. We have been challenged to create a family meal for 4 guests, comprising of 3 courses for the total sum of £8. That's £8 for the whole thing, not £8 per person or £8 per course £8. Total.

Having thought about this a few times since we were informed of task last week, I believe I have settled on a menu.

Shepherds Pie
Rice Pudding

Isn't that lovely. What more do you need to know? Is it understated? Yes. A little too understated? Maybe. I guess the challenge for me now is to develop serious flavour into each dish, as well as utilising a number of techniques to allow me to expand the descriptions a little, but still leave room for that little bit of “je ne sais quoi” of my own. Working with the budget I have, my skill set and the time limit of 2hrs 45mins may make this a difficult goal to achieve, but as ever I am always up for a good challenge. Don't be surprised if I bite off a little bit more than I can chew... as I fully intend on chewing it!

More on the Budget Lunch task to follow at a later date. For now, just ponder what 3 courses you would make remembering to stay within that £8 limit.... my menu is not set in stone, any suggestions are welcome in the comments area below.



  1. When you lobby parliament for legislation on the 'duff up the lacto-gluten-anykindoftaste brigade', let me know. I'm there man!

  2. I will indeed, I think I could find more than a few more to swell our ranks!

  3. This 3 course meal for four for £8 really fired up my brain cells! At first I thought it was impossible, but it can be done. I'm thinking soup, maybe boil up some bacon bones (free) from the butcher to make stock, one onion, one potato, pack of Tesco value frozen peas, Ham and Pea soup - Done! About £1.50

    Mains, Pasta-1Kg Tesco Conchiglie shells 60p, 500g Value mince around £1.20, tin chopped tomatoes 30p, onion, garlic, brocolli £1.50. Pasta with Ragu and Brocolli - DONE! Around £3.60

    Sweet - Mousse, 3 value eggs 50p, plain and white cooking chocolate (100g of each) £1, 300ml double cream £1. Double Chocolate Mousse - DONE! Around £2.50

  4. Brightlight... nice ideas!

    The is a condition I left out that I will talk about in a more detailed post later, but basically we have to incorporate skills into the meal as that is what they want to see.

    So, you made a stock which is a skill, no skills in your main... sorry, chuck a leaf of gelatin in the mouse to help set it and you have another skill. So two skills.

    Think about this, we need to show a baking skill (bread, cake, pastry etc made from scratch), we need to show we can bone some meat or fish.. other skills such as knife skills, and cooking things well and presentation ware skills that are part and parcel of cooking.

    Have a think about what fish or meat you could do some work with within the budget... my head hurts from thinking about it!

    oh and remember it has to taste good.... real good!


  5. LOL, just been out for a meal in the village and the menu was exactly what you're talking about. It read - Finest hand reared Cheshire aged (28 days) Hereford beef (is that brought up in Hereford but aged in Cheshire?) with our hand cut chips (aka out of a bag) etc etc yadda yadda yadda.

    It felt like I was reading a small paper back novel. Why they couldn't have just put steak n chips I don't know as thats all it was!

    Maybe the more words they put on the menu the more they can charge for the food to recoup the printing costs?

  6. Steve I have been thinking recently that more and more 'normal' restaurants are doing this as a way to increase the customers perceived value of the dish... during a recession this may indeed be a winning tactic.

    Of course 'fine dining' establishments have been doing this for years to help justify the cost of the dishes, but it is something I have notice filter down through the industry.

    Bangers and Mash is always a good one to look out for... they oversell them soo much and when it turns up, its just sausage and mash.

  7. You're right, it's the opposite of the title of your article, you want to under-sell and over-deliver - it's the basis of any good customer service.

    Trouble is, as you have pointed out so many places are over-selling with the fancy descriptions but actually under-delivering with what is served which will only lead to dissapointment and an unsatisfied customer in many cases.

  8. Glad someone is with me on this Steve!

    So with my menu I gave for my budget lunch, do you think I will be able to over deliver your expectations of what it will be?

  9. Dylan I prefer your theory on it too. I don't care for elaborate descriptions that over state the food. I would rather feel comfortable that I understand what I am ordering and then if it is served at a level above what i am expecting, with a bit of a twist, great!


I look forward to reading your comments whether they are good, bad or indifferent!