Alexis Gauthier puts calorie counts on the menu

We all like to bring home souvenirs from trips abroad. But some are wondering whether chef Alexis Gauthier has taken this too far – last week he introduced New York-style calorie counts to the menus at his London restaurant, Gauthier Soho. This makes it the first Michelin-starred establishment in Britain to do so. "I was in New York," he said yesterday, "and I noticed that most of the top-end restaurants and brasseries were putting calories on the menu. For me, as a diner, rather than guessing, as I would in England or France, I knew." He struggled to decide whether to do the same with his menu, but, concluded it would be no different to including the price, or a description of the dish.

Gauthier became more concerned with calorie-counting last October. "I was diagnosed with a very common thing called fatty liver disease. I am 38, I'm not obese or overweight, but it proved that I was eating far too many calories. I had to watch my calories, but it was almost impossible for me to do that unless I was eating at home."

Gauthier's head chef, Gerard Virolle, is adamant that they're "not trying to sell ourselves as the 'healthy choice'. What [customers] do with the information is up to them." So the question is, will the knowledge of just how many calories are present in Gauthier's roasted fillet of Welsh lamb (542) or the Angus beef, cooked in a pot with Italian lard (565) put people off ordering?

Calorie information on the menus of New York City's chain restaurants has been common since the introduction of a new law in 2008, and other American cities have since followed suit. A 2009 study by professors at New York University and Yale found that half of customers noticed the calorie information, with 28% saying it had influenced their ordering. But when researchers checked receipts, they found diners had in fact been ordering slightly more calories than the typical customer prior to the law.

In any case, argues Observer restaurant critic and food writer Jay Rayner, for people going out for a Michelin-starred meal, calorie-counting is the last thing on their mind. "Alexis Gauthier is a very, very good chef. But I find it slightly hard to believe that when people decide to pony up £60-£70 a head, prime in their minds are the calorific values of the dishes they're ordering," he says.

"On the one hand," adds Rayner, "he can say the more information you have the better. On the other, we're talking French cookery here and the old gag about the three secrets to French cookery being butter, butter and butter would suggest there are better ways to watch your weight than go out to dinner at a place that does food of that kind."

Gauthier says he hasn't had any negative customer feedback yet: "We started last week and, so far, nobody has said: 'Oh my gosh, that's disgusting!' Actually, you ignore it, or you say: 'That's helpful'. In five years' time, most of the restaurants, with or without regulation, will do it."

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