OPINION: I've got real beef at paying £300 for a vegan tasting menu

Are you thinking of going vegan Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Andy Newman says a restaurant going vegan for eco-reasons but still serving meat to some customers doesn't make sense - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

You don’t think of eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant as an act of environmental rebellion, and yet that is how one of the world’s leading eateries is trying to portray the experience.

And whilst the move might be well-intentioned, frankly, it’s a load of greenwash.

I once asked Norfolk super-chef Roger Hickman where he had had the best meal of his life.

He was able to narrow it down to meals cooked by just two or three chefs, and one of those was Daniel Humm, who for 15 years has been in charge at the kitchens at New York’s three-star Eleven Madison Park, which was voted the world’s best restaurant in 2017.

This falls very definitely into the special occasion place for its tasting menu is an eye-watering $335 a head.

However, for that (broadly what you would pay for a ticket should Norwich City ever get to the Champions League final, to put it into perspective) you get to sample amazing dishes such as the signature lavender honey-glazed duck, or lobster and Hawaiian prawn roulade.

Except, you can’t, not anymore. When the restaurant re-opens in June, after a 15 month closure due to Covid, it will only be serving vegan dishes – a decision which has sent the foodie world into shock.

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I know, there are more important things to worry about just now. But let me put it this way; how would Norwich City fans react if Daniel Farke announced that next season every player would take to the field with one leg tied up so they have to hop?

Although in the end it’s just 11 men kicking as ball about, there would be uproar.

The announcement from Eleven Madison Park was full of justifications for the vegan move, with Humm saying weasel words such as: “We have always operated with sensitivity to our surroundings, but it has become clear that the current food system is not sustainable.”

Now, any restaurant has the right to serve whatever food they choose to, and it is certainly true that we have become more aware of the impact that food production has on the environment.

But you can’t help thinking that it’s virtue signalling of the most extreme kind when a huge air-conditioned restaurant which employs an army of chefs to create ten course tasting menus to be served to people who have jetted in from all over the world, starts sounding off about sustainability.

Particularly as the restaurant is still prepared to serve meat to diners in its private dining rooms – in other words those who are prepared to pay for the privilege. Which starts to sound like this is more of a cynical bid to boost the bottom line than a principled stand against meat eating.

Otherwise, how to explain that the cost of the tasting menu will be remaining the same, despite the absence of expensive ingredients such as lobster and prime cuts of beef?

Whilst it’s true that the ingredients only make up a minority of the cost of getting a plate of food to a restaurant table, I’m not sure that diners forking out the best part of 300 quid will be thrilled to find their favourite dishes replaced by ‘marinated beetroot in a herb and lettuce sauce’, even if it does come in a special clay vase which has to be cracked open in order to eat the dish.

You might be thinking what this has to do with your life Well, even if you are not among the lucky few who can afford to jet around the globe sampling the world’s best restaurants, this kind of greenwash is all too common at a more local and more prosaic level.

There is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about the impact of meat rearing on the environment, and the evidence shows that the message is getting through: even the most devout carnivores are tending to eat less meat, and introduce more plant-based dishes into their diet.

It seems to me that it is on the day-to-day level that we need to be making a difference, not at ivory-tower top tables where the diners have probably arrived in a limo direct from their private jet.

It’s great if the best restaurants can produce plant-based dishes which are so tasty they will tempt meat-eaters to choose them.

But by going 100 per cent vegan, I suspect that Eleven Madison Park will end up only serving those who are already converted to the plant-based way of life, and that the carnivores will go elsewhere – or else stump up extra for the private dining room get-out-of-jail-free card.

All of which will nicely bump up the profit margins for Mr Humm. I’m just not sure how much good it will do the planet.