Midsummer House in Cambridge has announced that it will no longer offer tasting menus and will return to serving only à la carte menus.
The two-Michelin-starred restaurant, run by chef Daniel Clifford, said that after seven years of preparing tasting menus only, the restaurant will now focus solely on an à la carte menu option from April.
Clifford said that a shift in the way customers dine out and the need for creativity was the main driver for the decision. It will also provided his brigade with a better work-life balance.
"I believe customers now want choice and not be dictated to by a tasting menu," he told The Caterer. "When I eat out, I don't want to be dictated to; my time as a dictator is no more. I think diners want change, they want choice and don't want to be preached to anymore."
He added that tasting menus had their place and had helped make Midsummer a success by giving him an opportunity to steady the ship and time to grow and develop the restaurant.
Changing to an à la carte will also give the chefs a better chance of learning their craft and not creating "robots".
"If you have one chef on a section for a month doing the same thing, they become robots, they won't stay. I've got chefs from Australia and NZ and they haven't come all that way to learn just one dish."
"I am not being arrogant, but I am the best chef in my kitchen. But I am just on the pass putting food on plates, when I believe that I should be teaching the new generation of chefs to better than me."
New menus are currently being written, but some Midsummer classics such as the sea scallop, Granny Smith, celeriac dish will remain. The new menu will allow Clifford to work better with the seasons and a provide a greater understanding of where the produce comes from.
The move to an à la carte menu will also improve the chef's working hours.
"Service starts here at 6.30pm on a Saturday night, and desserts are going out at 1am and not finishing until 2am. With the new menu, it should enable chefs to finish at a more reasonable hour."
To facilitate the new menu, Clifford will spend £350,000 on doubling the size of his kitchen, so that he can provide the service and the food quality required. Clifford admitted it was the biggest gamble he's ever made at Midsummer.
"There is going to be a cost implication and with a tasting menu you know where you are financially. If I don't take the risk now, I'll end up getting bored, stop going the restaurant and everything will go pear-shaped!"
Midsummer House celebrates its 20th anniversary in August. Clifford's first book looking back over the past 20 years of the restaurant will be published in the spring.
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