Calorie counting sabotages fine dining

Updated on 06 September 2011 | 0 Comments

Eating out is supposed to be a treat, but one Michelin-starred restaurant has started to print the calorie counts of all dishes on the menu...

Oh, how I adore eating out. Don’t get me wrong, making this lovely chicken korma from Anjum Anand last night was extremely satisfying, but there’s something so indulgent and liberating about going out to eat, even if it’s just popping out for a pizza.

Part of what makes the experience so pleasurable is that you don’t have think about it, so you can relax. OK, plenty of restaurants make you want to shake their sommelier upside down rather than relax, but putting diners at ease is one of the guiding principles of eating out.

The best restaurants aren’t just about great food, they provide an environment where you can leave the stress of the day, and everything else, behind you.

Eating out usually means over-eating

It is also the perfect excuse to relax into being a greedy pig. Three slices of bread smeared with butter with the starter? Yes please. Can I squeeze in dessert? Oh, go on then.

This is fine once a month, but I suspect that many of us are quite spoiled when it comes to eating out. Yes, yes, I write about food for a living so it is an onerous requirement of my trade. And yes, most of us are watching the pennies at present. But eating out has become something of a hobby for food lovers, where 15 years ago it was much more of a special occasion treat.

Can you count calories in a restaurant?

And so it goes that if you eat out regularly, you might want to consider how much you trough. Dining out three times a week is a surefire way to pile on the pounds, hence the portliness of business folk condemned to a lifetime of luxe lunches.

Michelin restaurant reveals calories on menu

A response, of sorts, to this problem is just in from Alexis Gauthier, the Michelin-starred chef patron of the Gauthier Soho. He has just begun printing the calorie counts of all his dishes on the menu.

Gauthier Soho is the first Michelin-starred place in the UK to do this. It’s not selling itself as a dieters’ destination – the menu is unchanged – but you can now decide whether to risk the Summer Truffle Risotto at 557 calories over Scallops & Garlic at just 225; or the Roasted Fillet of Welsh Lamb at 542 calories against Anjou Pigeon & Confit Lemon at 420.

To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised to find the £68, eight-course tasting menu, with petits fours, comes in at 1,852 calories. I would have estimated far more. I’m afraid booze isn’t included.

Then again, I never would have dreamt of estimating the calorie count of such an extravagant meal in the first place. Who would? Calorie counting is a punishing pastime wherever you’re doing it, and it certainly shouldn’t be entertained in top flight restaurants where food is the opposite of fuel: it is love, it is art, it is passion. It is all manner of airy-fairy resplendent concepts to be savoured. Calorie counting has no place here.

But Gauthier believes different. “When I go out, I want this information,” he explains. “I believe others do too.” He got the idea from New York, where the practise is commonplace. But then so is sneering at the weakness of anyone who dares to eat or drink in public.

What’s more, the sort of diners who pass through Gauthier Soho’s doors on a regular basis can afford a nip and a tuck and a daily session with a trainer to burn off that extra spot of veal jus.

Nutritional info on fast food is welcome

Which brings us to the inclusion of nutritional information on menus in general. Is there a class divide here, where rich folk don’t need it because they are eating “good” food, even if it is high in fat and calories, and those of us dining at Nando’s and McDonald’s need a helping hand?

Not at all. Where Nando’s and McDonald’s are every day or every week occurrences, we could all do with a heads up as to how many grams of fat and salt a portion of fries is packing. Calories reveal very little anyhow. A breakdown of fat, salt and sugar content is much more accurate and useful.

Printing the calorie counts on a posh menu makes the whole experience seem as pedestrian as your morning Corn Flakes, when it should be the opposite. The menu certainly suggests a visit to Gauthier Soho should be a treat – that’s if the sight of the other diners grimacing over 385 calorie fois gras doesn’t spoil your appetite.

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