Vegetarian Tasting Menu: Opting for The Wild CardReading Time: 3 minutes
This is a personal story from earlier this year. We went for dinner at The Ledbury to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and I had decided to try the vegetarian tasting menu. Until very recently, it would not have occurred to me to do that. Who goes to exceptional restaurants to then make a sacrifice on the food? But it all turned out quite differently.
This was really the moment that made me look at vegetarian food in a completely new light and I think it’s worth sharing.
Pre-ordering a vegetarian menu put my family in a situation we normally wouldn’t have been in. Unless you ask for them, you often don’t see vegetarian tasting menus and we never used to ask. But now we did see it. And guess what happened… three out of us four wanted to order it, because it sounded absolutely amazing. I had called in advance to pre-order one, but now we decided to order two vegetarian and two ‘regular’ tasting menus and share.
AND THEN THE FUN STARTED
I was the one who had called to ask for a vegetarian menu and now I ordered one with meat (it worked best this way because of how we sat). This earned me an incredulous “I thought you were vegetarian??” comment from the waiter. Saying that I was ‘just curious’ didn’t seem to explain my decision. It was hilarious. He was really nice and friendly, he just seemed genuinely surprised.
When the food arrived, we started swapping. My brother dies for serrano ham, I can happily live without it, so I devoured warm bantam’s egg, celeriac, arbois and truffle without ham. My mum doesn’t like cheese, I love it, so my water deer worked better for her while I enjoyed roast cauliflower with potato cream and chanterelles, a cheesy dish. We all ended up eating some meat, but we also all tasted the vegetarian food and, to our big surprise, we all agreed that it was at least as good as the meat menu, most definitely not in the ‘sacrifice’ category. For vegetarians this will hardly be a surprise. But for a meat eater, this simply is not what you’d expect.
The other thing we realized was that the paired wines we were served for the meat dishes were lighter and less complex than the ones served with the vegetarian dishes. That’s because the ingredient combinations, spices and herbs for the vegetarian dishes were more complex as well.
The vegetarian menu seemed to be a lot further in the ‘could never manage to make this at home’ category than the meat dishes.
That’s mainly because it takes so much creativity to come up with compositions like Aubergine glazed with black tea and olives, Young beetroot, quince and purple kale, Artichokes, walnuts and marinated grapes, Salt baked turnip, seaweed oil and frozen English wasabi.
Sharing both menus allowed all of us to taste even more food and I think it’s fair to say that overall we had a more interesting experience than we would have had if all four had ordered the same tasting menu with meat.
But it’s more than that: I’d make the case that, if you’ve always been a meat eater, it will probably surprise you MORE and be a MORE interesting experience to have a vegetarian tasting menu at a great restaurant.
I recently complained somewhere about the often-poor quality of vegetarian dishes and someone said something to me that sounds very obvious but (embarrassingly) was quite an insight for me: “Great chefs make great food”. I used to always order the meat at nice restaurants and vegetarian food when I didn’t really care as much. That obviously re-enforced my idea of vegetarian food being a sacrifice. I’m glad I know better now, because there is so much to explore!
If you enjoy exploring food as much as I do, use our Search Tool to find restaurants. It’ll help you find the ones where ordering the vegetarian options will be a treat.