Food & Drink

Fine Dining – Art Or Archaic?

Example of a dish at a fine dining restaurant
Credit: Manoel Petry/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Credits: eprescott/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Students don’t get many opportunities to go for fine dining – but for the rare occasions when you do, it’s hard to say whether the experience is worth it or not. We get two students to weigh up the pros and cons.

For – Tom Reeder

The term ‘fine dining’ holds various connotations. It can refer to restaurants of Michelin Star status, but has been extended in modern times to somewhat arbitrarily accommodate restaurants with shared common features. Eccentric flavour combinations, beautiful presentation of dishes, and exceptional standards of service are to be expected. The term ‘fine dining’ has allowed restaurants to operate within a certain bracket of consumer expectation. This means that restaurants can charge more for a service that imitates, but does not necessarily replicate the work of high-end competitors.

Example of a dish at a fine dining restaurant
Credit: European Parliament/Flikr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Plum Valley, a self proclaimed ‘fine dining’ Chinese restaurant in Soho, has had food described by critics as ‘inedible’. In contrast, The Waterside Inn holds three Michelin Stars, and is widely regarded as the best restaurant in the United Kingdom. Both restaurants fall into the ‘fine dining’ bracket. Menus are generally expensive (Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester charge £125), and the portions are usually small. While it could be suggested that this approach is somewhat stingy, the law of diminishing returns must be accounted for. Chef Thomas Keller, of Per Se in New York, said ‘the more you have of something, the less you like it’, and creates his dishes around this philosophy.

Example of a fine dining dish
Credit: Farrukh/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Many restaurants offer tasting menus which are not comprised of winter comfort food, nor are they for carb loading or intended to fulfill gluttonous desires. They focus on taste combinations, presentation; Chefs seek to achieve culinary perfection with every dish. Even though the majority of us would agree that £125 is an expensive for an evening meal, it does not necessarily make it overpriced. Burger King is overpriced. Their food is tasteless, even by the standards of fast food chains, and costs almost double competing products at McDonald’s. High-end fine dining restaurants compete within a narrower bracket.

Example of a dish at a fine dining restaurant
Credit: Manoel Petry/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Due to the capitalist society we live in, such restaurants can afford to market their food at high prices, because there are consumers happy to pay them. At the heart of restaurants like The Waterside Inn, however, there is a shared love, passion, and respect for food. An honest fine dining experience is the pinnacle of modern day cuisine. One can only hope that more people will begin to see it that way.

Against – Sophie Lodge

Traditional pub food meal of toad in the hole
Credits: Joselu Blanco/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In June I went for a meal at the The Clink, a charity run restaurant in Cardiff prison where the inmates cook and serve the food. While I totally agree with the intentions behind this scheme and I understand they are running what should be a 5*diner, I paid £40 for my five courses. During the main meal, I was given a single sweet potato and half a cherry tomato with my lamb, and this is something I will never understand. Even the most precious, succulent cherry tomatoes that were organically harvested on the remote plains of New Zealand under the light of a full moon cannot be so rare and expensive that after paying £40 (and that didn’t include drinks), I was only covered for half of one with my main meal.

Credit: Laine Pub Company/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Nando’s kind of girl. I can appreciate good cooking when I experience it. But my idea of a really good meal is a good pub lunch where you can fill up your plate as much as you want, or a pizza/pasta joint where you can take your leftovers home. The problem I have with high class restaurants isn’t so much the price of the food, it’s the quantity. Cooking can sometimes be an art form, and yes, some ingredients are expensive, but I do not understand why I can’t be given more than a forkful of it. If it’s that expensive, hike up the price a lot – just give me a little bit more! I don’t care how good your cooking is, if I can eat it in one mouthful you are ripping me off. If I am not being rolled out of your restaurant in a wheelbarrow, you have not done enough to warrant that amount of money.