How to write a sweet restaurant review – sugar & spice, Part 7

And now we get to the dessert course in this lovely book by the late Sam Worthington, “How To Be A Savvy Restaurant Reviewer.

How to write a sweet restaurant review - sugar & spice, Part 7

Some places take their desserts very seriously…

Whether you have a sweet tooth, are a cheese lover or just fancy a glass of excellent port, this chapter of Sam’s will have you drooling…

How to write expressively about a meal’s grand finale…

It is time for the dessert, or whatever you have after the main courses. No – you are not slimming, you have no health problems; you are a restaurant reviewer and you will eat – not just red meat, fat meat, bad cholesterol, but also sugar and more fats.

If you see a thin restaurant reviewer they are a fraud: or not doing much reviewing. We restaurant reviewers must regularly put our bodies on the line for our readers.

What comes next will depend upon where you are in the world.

We Brits like desserts then cheese; the French want cheese before the dessert and the Italians often have cheese as a starter. As I am a Brit I want my pud next.

Desserts come in many forms from heavy traditional British puddings to lighter, simpler soufflés and mousses with all kind of tarts, crèpes, flans, trifles, custards, cakes, bombes and sundaes in between. A good plum duff may have been the dessert of choice when men were men and they toiled all day at hard physical labour but these days once a year is enough for most of us.

Zuppa Inglese is a favourite of mine – an Italian version of an English trifle – at its best, soup indeed! Unfortunately the art of the dessert maker has been sidelined in many modern restaurants where puds get a token look-in with the odd ‘bought in’ item.

Sometimes the dessert course is the one that really matters.

One weekend I was at a loose end for a decent Sunday lunch in Montauban in central France and finally I stumbled upon La Cuisine d’Alain. I was told I must have the menu of the day which was acceptable rather than exciting but I had to order at the beginning. I ordered a main and starter and then said I would have cheese and the waitress said, “and dessert?”

I hesitated. She appeared aghast and looked across the room. It was then I saw the dessert chariots. This is what I wrote:

“I watched the dessert chariots (note the plural) being wheeled around and the loving way in which the head waiter prepared the desserts with dribbling of this and that coulis, then finished the pattern off with knife. The foie gras had been good and nicely cooked, the little steak had been excellent served with the interesting addition of a small tortilla type pancake, the cheese board had been massive and the cheeses were in great condition … but the whole meal was about the desserts!

Not only was the dessert offering lovingly presented and on offer was virtually every type of dessert imaginable, but then in addition each helping was three desserts on the gloriously decorated plate. Before the chariot arrived a couple of taster style desserts including an éclair was presented: just to get you in the mood so to speak. I know places where those tasters would have been the dessert!”

Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4  Part 5 and Part 6 

So some places take their desserts very seriously and most top restaurants have a few desserts that they make look good with spun sugar and different coulis. Then top hotels always have a big pastry department and thus the staff have the time and incentive to make exceptional desserts.

We reviewers have a duty to encourage the art of the pud – we can’t let the PC brigade win another battle! So eat desserts we must, and then rave about them – providing of course that they are good.

Cheese is one of the great foods of Europe.

How to write a sweet restaurant review - sugar & spice, Part 7

There is no excuse for a bad cheese board.

We all know of Camembert, Brie, Stilton and Cheddar – and so we should; all great cheese genres. But even they have been messed around by those who insist everything should be pasteurised lest we get a nasty buggy-wuggy in our tum-tums.

Nonetheless there so many other great cheeses from Wensleydale to Mont D’Or … so there is no excuse for a bad cheese board. Except the saddest issue of all: cheese boards don’t sell anymore.

Gone are the days when the cheese trolley, burdened by the weight of the finest curds, turned into a staggering variety of shapes and tastes at your dining table.

Far too many of the best establishments no longer even have a cheese board. Particularly in the UK and North America, an order for post-dinner cheese is filled by a plate bearing offerings of refrigerated plasticised product which insults the name of the cheeses concerned. What a terrible shame.

Inevitably, both desserts and cheese may benefit from the appropriate wine to accompany them.

It is no coincidence that the wine that is usually the most expensive en primeur is a dessert wine from Sauternes – but as a reviewer you are unlikely to be drinking Château d’Yquem although it is a good wine to comment on if it pops up on a menu.

Most decent restaurants feature a few dessert wines although the appellation is often Italian. My years in Hungary meant I drank Tokaji (Tokay) when it was the right price. It was still the wine of Kings – it needs at least 4 Puttonyos, or to be the nectar called Eszencia. If seen on a menu well worth a mention.

How to write a sweet restaurant review - sugar & spice, Part 7

You would do well to subscribe to a decent list of ports.

Of course cheese deserves that other great wine – Port, or if you want something a little lighter, Madeira. Both are fortified, usually sweetish-peppery-red wines.

These days vintage port is seldom available except by the bottle and as vintage port less than twenty years old is still adolescent. Vintage port worth drinking is usual nearer 50 years old and not only requires a serious investment in the worship of Bacchus, but also needs decanting at least 6 hours before drinking.

Just occasionally a restaurant will have a decanted carafe of a decent vintage port – not only worth tasting but also worth mentioning.

The usual ports on offer are Ruby, and Tawny of late bottled vintage (LBV). LBV is acceptable and will improve the cheese especially if it is Stilton.

Please note: pouring port into a Stilton rounds just ruins both.

As a reviewer, you would do well to subscribe to a decent list of ports – they are well worth writing about, as is the off-chance of meeting a genuine vintage Madeira. I know of one place just outside Warminster where they had an impressive list on Madeiras. Many moons ago I started a birthday there with a lunch – not sure where it ended!

After the feasting comes the drinking and not just fortified wines but brandies and liqueurs.

Occasionally I have come across restaurants with a vast range of vintage Cognacs and even Armagnacs. But most places have a VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) at best. If you do come across a vintage cognac, or similar, remember that spirits, unlike ports and wines, mature in the cask not the bottle.

How to write a sweet restaurant review - sugar & spice, Part 7

Cognac served in a brandy snifter.

Thus a 1950 Cognac bottled in 1970 is a twenty years old Cognac, whereas the same Cognac bottled in 2010 is a sixty year old, even if both are drunk now – a few years later.

Vintage brandies are not so usual, but the so-called ‘stickies’ are.

Baileys, Tia Maria, Amaretto, Crème de Menthe to name a few – some liqueurs come from wonderful old recipes such as Benedictine, Grand Marnier and even Unicum (Hungarian). As a reviewer, you’ll find that the drinking is optional but it is worth mentioning if there are interesting offerings. For me I will just have a Calva (Calvados – Apple brandy form Normandy).

There is one final course that I have not mentioned and it is almost extinct: the savoury.

how-to-write-a-sweet-restaurant-review-dessert-part-7

Sam’s book makes a great little gift – available on all the Amazons. Click on this cover for the UK.

After a large meal in days gone by, after much carousing and entertainment (usually dancing), a small dish was offered to sustain the revellers on their carriage ride home.

Most savouries suggest they are something that they are not. Scotch Woodcock is not a bird but anchovies on toast with scrambled eggs, Welsh Rarebit is not an animal from the Lagomorpha family but is cheese on toast; and Angels and Devils on Horseback are not the cast of the Folies Bergères pursued by cast of a pornographic production house, but are respectively oysters and prunes wrapped in bacon.

There is suggestion, online, that savouries are served after the dessert course in modern cuisine; I prefer the concept of after the ball is over.

So that is it: the reviewer is fed and watered. Now all you have to do is get the bill.

Next time: how to pay, leave and write up your review as painlessly as possible!

Questions? Drop Suze a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com

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