The money-saving gourmet

Are money-saving and gourmet eating mutually exclusive?

Given the eye-watering prices stamped on the mouth-watering menus of high-end restaurants, many of us would probably be inclined to agree. I recently looked at the prices of meals at various Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the UK. The cost of an à la carte meal (3 courses) averaged out at £92.50 for the establishments I looked at. And, of course, that won’t include the cost of any sundries that you are likely to order along with the meal – bread (if they charge for it) as well as wine, a bottle of fizzy water, coffee and so on.

Of course, it’s great to have the occasional splurge on a slap-up meal in a fancy restaurant, so it’s worth remembering that prices are all relative. Imagine you only went to a Michelin star type place once a year. That £92.50 is only the price of about 16 fast food meals. So you could quite easily spend that kind of money over the course of a couple of months without realising it. Money saving is all about being smart – not about avoiding life’s joys! I am glad I managed to un-supersize my lunchtime fast food habit though – it saves money and I actually feel better for eating loads of salad – as does my bank account.

In terms of gourmet eating, its worth remembering that price isn’t everything. Indeed, a lot of chefs favour cheaper cuts of meat because they’re more flavourful (as well as, I assume, being healthy for the old profit margin too). Indeed, a lot of the things that we really revere today were once considered peasant fare – oysters for instance. So if you’re an inventive cook, the stuff you’re buying cheaply right now might be considered an absolute delicacy a few years down the line. In fact there was a very scary story about avocados recently – apparently a low future crop yield along with a surge in demand from China could result in the avocado becoming a less common sight on European plates. So today’s avocado could be tomorrow’s oyster.

It’s also worth remembering that only when you get into the basics of cooking do you get an idea of a dish’s true value. That £8.50 premium range supermarket ready meal lasagne for two might look like a handy purchase for your cosy Thursday night in dinner à deux but what are its ingredients worth when bought individually? You can buy lasagne sheets for mere pence, make a roux for pence too, and easily make a fantastic ragù for for not a lot of outlay. Smack ’em together, oven ’em and that’s a real homemade lasagne – gourmet style and money saving too.

Here are my top tips for sourcing cheap ingredients:

  1. Don’t be tied to one supermarket. The discounters are often pleasingly inexpensive as well as offering superb quality. But the big guys also occasionally have great deals too.
  2. Loose or bagged? The price of loose goods can be way cheaper, so always check.
  3. Deli counter or aisle shelf? At the deli counter you can specify the exact amount you want, which cuts the chances of waste. Just check the gram for gram price against the aisle equivalent.
  4. Shop local. We have this perception that supermarkets are always the cheapest. But your local butcher, greengrocer and baker may well have a few pleasant low price surprises in store. Plus, they’re often extremely knowledgeable and willing to help you out with tips and recipes.
  5. Look for cheap cuts. While we’re all programmed into thinking fillet steak is the absolute best, many butchers prefer the more humble onglet cut. Likewise, your tender pork fillet maybe much coveted – but pork belly is often much cheaper, and even make it onto Michelin star menus these days.

If you’d like to share any food money saving tips (gourmet or otherwise) get in touch in the comments. Bon appetit!