What makes a meal Michelin experience? We decode the luxury price tag for you

From the delicate bites of Beluga caviar on a bed of hand-sculpted ice to the perfectly seared buttery A5 Wagyu steak, in the world of luxurious fine dining, each bite is a revelation. An affirmation of the perfectly harmonized culinary extravaganzas orchestrated by Michelin-starred chefs with the fusion of elegance and exclusivity, often the price tag attached to a decadent meal costs an arm and leg. With bite-sized potions and rare gastronomical fusions, what makes a fine dining experience worth every penny? The top names in the food business explain.

Bringing stars to the table:

In the culinary cosmos, there’s no limit to innovation, and with each added detail, the cost of the platter goes up. From the shimmering crystal stemware to the attentive white-gloved service and the ambiance, the combination of fine details contributes to an experience that is not just a meal but a journey into the extraordinary. Michelin-starred Sébastien Broda, Executive Chef at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, highlights, “I would say welcoming the guest is one of the most important points of the experience. Clients need to feel at ease, and the waiters, the sommeliers, and the kitchen team need to give the best of themselves to offer a quality of service and attention to detail in order to provide the best memory. The gastronomic experience is made of small portions so the guests can taste a maximum of dishes transmitting emotions, and not end a meal having a feeling of uncomfortable fullness. The products used in the kitchen need to be of high quality; if the chef is using white truffle or the Beluga caviar, which are expensive products, the final price gets an impact.”

Rolling in dough:

Speaking on culinary collaborations worth every bite, restaurateur AD Singh, founder and MD at the Olive group of restaurants, mentions a recent dining experience at Daniel Humms pop-up dinner at Masque which was priced at over INR 30,000/- per head. And, he mentions the Indian food by Chef Gaggan, who is currently touring India with his dinners priced at INR 35,000 per head. Elaborating his point on the steep pricing, AD Singh explains, “The overall experience is what’s important starting from the reservation system to the final goodbye from a valet. While the cuisine should entail a unique selection of ingredients, delicious pairing of flavours, and innovative presentation, there must always be an inspiration and a story behind the dish. Beverages are an important part of a meal experience and as such cocktails have taken center stage. There is much innovation in glassware, ingredients, and techniques like fermenting, infusions, and fat washing to name a few. Today cocktails are not limited to seasonal and local but concepts and stories behind these. A perfectly curated wine list that pairs well with the menu is a must. A lot of good restaurants have a sommelier in-house and a Maitre d’ (an experienced butler), who runs operations like a symphony.”

The art of hospitality:

For ages, the bespoke royal meals in India have enjoyed a ritzy status. To curate and execute such rare experiences a lot of effort goes into putting together the perfect seating, soft furnishings, lighting the cutlery, and brassware. For the best experiences, one has to pay attention to the subtleties of service – to get it right, not intrusive but still aware of a guest’s requirements, to be fully educated and aware of the menu, cooking styles, and ingredients that go into the dish.

Comparing the small portions of fancy meals with the modern version of Indian thalis, Chef Shambhavi Singh of the Royal Heritage Haveli, informs, “The portion sizes are to emphasize the flavour profiles, and for a chef to explore their creativity, and to showcase their talents through a tasting menu. There is only so much a guest can enjoy in one sitting; with smaller portions, they can taste different varieties. Indian kitchens are known for using some of the most expensive ingredients around the world like saffron, Gucchi (mushroom), and lobsters. It most definitely impacts the pricing of a plate, and they do require a certain level of skill to handle them which comes from experience. Whereas exclusivity can be created by limited seating, as well as an emphasis on reservations, it gives a chef more time to be fully prepared to serve each table with personal requirements.”

A feast for the senses:

A fancy meal is never just about the food or drink; it is a play on all our senses. From the moment we are welcomed, escorted to our table, seated, and served, all touch points are amplified for maximum pleasure. When one is seated at a table for two to three hours, one will observe everything around and about them, says wine sommelier Magandeep Singh, who is currently a Lucaris brand influencer. He says, “The difference between a great meal and a memorable one is the emotion of the moment. A restaurant and its team have to go beyond the tactile to make the overall appeal more significant and lasting. And in creating this, everything matters, from the colour of the walls to the thickness of the pile on the carpet, from the aromas outside to the ones inside, the background music that was playing when they revealed the main course or that special ‘clink’ sound when we touch great crystalware before we take a sip!”

Speaking about expensive meals, Magandeep adds, “All great meals have one pricey component, one that is beyond the prime cuts of meat and the rarest of ingredients. It is the wine! And, it would be sacrilege if a wine worth a five-digit figure were not served in the best crystal that is available. High-quality glassware becomes a crucial part of the overall setting; for example, the luxurious Lucaris stemware is designed to hold just the right amount of liquid to maximize aromas and taste appeal. Its design and clarity contribute to the overall visual appeal, complementing the artistic plating and adding elegance to the gastronomic presentation.”

Platter perfect:

Globally, Michelin stars are awarded based on the quality of ingredients, harmony of flavors, mastery of cooking technique, how the chef’s personality comes out through the dish; and the consistency across the menu over time. Speaking about the in-house details, AD reveals, “Our current focus is on beautifully plated small portions which showcase the breadth and diversity of a chef’s vision and cooking techniques. One bite can give a burst of flavours and there’s much that a good chef will want you to taste, hence the advent of multi-course tasting menus. Our chef Dhruv Oberoi at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Delhi is increasingly focusing on small-tasting menus with larger helpings. Our customers come to us with full belief that the brand will not only serve a unique flavourful menu but also a healthy one for which correct sourcing is key. Quality ingredients are often expensive, as is sourcing seasonal ingredients consistently from the right farms.”