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Appetizers, Dining Etiquette, General, Restaurants

A quick guide to fine dining terms that you probably didn’t know

30 May , 2015  

Dining at a fancy restaurant, especially a French one, can be a rather confusing endeavour for those of us who don’t really speak the elegant language. We thought we would help you enjoy your gourmet dining experience without having to worry about the meaning of an elaborate word, by compiling this list of 10 confusing terms that you might encounter at a fine dine restaurant.


Literal Meaning: “Mouth-amuser”

amuse bouche literal meaning

You know you are at a high-end restaurant when you are served a complimentary amuse-bouche shortly after you sit down. This is traditionally a very small course – just one or two bites. This is a way for the chef to give you a glimpse of the meal you are about to experience.
Hors d’Oeuvres

Literal Meaning: “Apart from the main work”

hors d’oeuvres literal meaning

These are small starters that are intended to be eaten by hand. You’re sure to find this being passed around an hour before dinner or at a cocktail party. A canapé (which translates to “couch”) is a popular style of hors d’oeuvre: it’s thinly-sliced bread (the couch) topped with anything from smoked salmon to foie gras. 

Foie Gras

Literal Meaning: “Fat Liver”

foie gras literal meaning

This controversial dish is the liver of a goose or a duck that has been specially fattened through force-feeding. Hence, it’s controversial. But it’s also rich and buttery when seared and shines as a mousse.

À La Carte

Literal Meaning: “According to the menu”

À la carte literal meaning

Ordering a menu item separate is referred to as ordering ‘À La Carte’. At almost every restaurant, every menu item is À La Carte, but if the restaurant has a set menu or buffet, then ordering from the menu is a la carte. Additionally, if you want, for example, a piece of chicken without the vegetables and potatoes that it comes with on the menu, you should order the chicken à la carte. 

Bon Appétit!

Literal Meaning: “Good appetite”

bon appétit literal meaning

It signals to the diner to start eating and tells them to enjoy it. “Bon Appétit!”- adds a nice touch, doesn’t it?

Crème Fraîche

Literal Meaning: “Fresh Cream”

Crème Fraîche literal meaning

Like sour cream and yoghurt, crème fraîche is cream that’s been soured and thickened with bacterial culture. It lends a smooth and creamy texture to both savoury and sweet dishes. For soups, it adds a velvety note, and is also served cold alongside fruit and powdered sugar.

Petits Fours

Literal Meaning: “Small ovens”

petits fours literal meaning

They are occasionally called mignardises and are assorted small desserts on a platter at the end of a meal. They range from tiny fondant-covered cakes to small éclairs and tartlets, puff pastries, macaroons, and even mini-Napoleons. They get their name from the small oven next to the main oven, in which they were baked during the 1700s.

Maître d’Hôtel

Literal Meaning: “Master of Hotel”

maître d'hôtel literal meaning
They are what we call “front of the house manager”. They manage the public end of a restaurant and are generally responsible for welcoming guests and assigning tables, supervising the waiters and taking reservations. If you plan on coming back to the restaurant, the Maître d’Hôtel is whom you want to be friends with.


Literal Meaning: “Fixed Price”

prix fixe literal meaning

A multi-course meal that has a fixed price. We now call it a set-menu.


Literal Meaning: “Dumpling”


In its strictest definition, it’s a Lyonnaise dish in which creamed fish or meat (usually pike) is formed into a football shaped dumpling, which is then poached, broiled, and served in a cream sauce. True quenelles are generally found in high-end French restaurants.

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Sharon Nadeem

Sharon is a food and travel enthusiast. She proclaims to be a writer and a gourmand. She believes the only way to truly get to know a new place is to eat the food of the land. When she's not eating her heart out, she's writing about it. Over the years of eating, she has developed a taste for fine food and a love for fine dine.



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