A while ago I quoted from a report on the ridiculous kind of grub you get at three-star caffs in San Sebastián. I have not been to any of them, because I cannot imagine that either the expense, the months of waiting to get a table or the food will be really worth it. But very complicated dishes in tiny portions are becoming commonplace; no-one talks about cuisine nouvelle or cuisine minceur any more, but the influence remains.
At the moment, either from the goodness of their hearts or because they are doing poor business during the recession, most of the Michelin-starred restaurants in London are offering excellent deals on mid-week lunches; you can have three courses for half or even a quarter of the cost of their grand menus. The really elaborate dishes are excluded, but the quality is no less and the service just as assiduous.
Grumio and I, sometimes with our wives and sometimes as two old codgers, have been working through the best ones at the rate of one a month or so, and very enjoyable it has been. It is an intellectual as well as a gastronomic pleasure; one tries to guess what the dish of Ravioli of Lobster and Scallop with Caramelised Cauliflower, Peanut Butter and Smoked Whimberry Purée is going to look like, let alone taste like, and will the Confit of Pork Belly with Fricassée of Paimpol Bean, Pineapple and Coconut Sauce be as good as it sounds? Ah, and for dessert how about this Buckthorn Parfait with Fig Compote, White Miso Ice Cream and Yuzu Sauce?
It never disappoints, though sometimes it is not quite as one imagined. It may be surprising when something that was described lyrically in fifty words arrives in the middle of a huge white plate looking like a bloodstained golfball with a couple of tea-leaves on top; by then they will have taken your menus away and you may have forgotten what you ordered, but anyway the waiter is going to tell you again, at length.
And the beauty is that such lunching is an economy, really. Doing it once and then having a bacon butty the next day will cost no more than having a prawn cocktail, steak-and-chips and apple crumble sort of thing, twice. Provided, that is, that with your high class deal you have restricted yourself to one glass of the house wine and skipped the £7.50 aperitif.