As you know, formal dining can present a challenge to the uninitiated. There is a vast array of cutlery to choose from (if the layout of the table has not been designed with the infrequent diner in mind), so we at The Perfect Gentlemen are offering a little guidance to aid in any confusion.
Here is a basic break down of the cutlery that you might find in a formal setting:
Entremet Knife: A small knife, with a rounded tip, often serrated. ‘Entremet’ comes from the French, and literally means ‘between courses’. This is used for starters, and other dishes that come before the main course, which require cutting, and can also be used for a savoury course (either preceding, or immediately after a desert).
Entremet Fork: A small fork, with thin tines. Used as above.
Fish Knife: The same size as a fish knife, but with a wider, duller blade, often with a concave cut out on the left hand side, allowing the knife to come to a point. Usually, the blade is offset from the central axis of the handle. Used for fish courses, when the fish in question does not need much cutting (lobster and squid would be classic exceptions to this). This is used to separate the flakes of the fish.
Fish Fork: A small fork, where the outside tines are usually wider than those of an Entremet fork. Used for all fish courses.
Main Knife: A large knife, similar to the Entremet knife, with a rounded tip, and a serrated blade. Used for main courses. This is larger than the Entremet knife, and is serrated, with a rounded tip.
Main Fork: A large fork, similar to the Entremet fork, with slim tines. Used for main courses, cheese courses, and any other course that a full sized knife is used.
Steak Knife: A large knife, often serrated, but the best ones are not, as the serration can give the impression that even the most tender of meats require sawing. The tip is pointed, and the blade is kept sharp. Used for cuts of meat presented whole at the table, not limited to beef steaks.
Cheese Knife: A large knife, much like the main knife, with a rounded tip, but unlike the main knife has a straight blade. This knife is used only for cheeses.
Desert Spoon: A spoon with an egg shaped, deep bowl. It is about the same size as an Entremet knife or fork. This is used for deserts, and also for other courses that contain a lot of sauce.
Soup Spoon: A spoon with a round, deep bowl. The same size as the Entremet cutlery. This is used for soups only.
Sauce Spoon: An almost flat spoon, with a rounded end, and an indent on the left hand side. This is the same size as the other spoons. The indent allows the spoon to be run along the rim of the plate, collecting any sauces or jus. This would normally be used when there is little sauce, but it is much reduced, so that none is lost.
Tea Spoon: A small spoon, used when the serving dish is too small for a desert spoon. Normally used only for amuse bouche, sorbets, or small deserts where food is concerned.
Demitasse Spoon: Half the size of a tea spoon, this is used for small coffees only.
Pastry Fork: A little larger that the tea spoon, the left tine of the pastry fork is wider than the others. A pastry fork is used for little pastries, (or for amuses bouche on rare occasions). The left hand bias, as with the sauce spoon and fish knife, indicates that this is a piece of cutlery designed to be used in the right hand.
Butter Knife: A small knife, smaller than the Entremet cutlery. Used for taking the butter from the communal dish to the side plate. It should not be used to apply butter to bread or toast.
There are a few simple rules that make the confusion simpler:
• The bread knife (normally an Entremet knife) is the only knife that is used with the left hand.
• Start out, work in. Cutlery should be reintroduced to the table at each course, but the main fork, and its accompanying knife should not be used at all before the main course.
• The knife should never go in the mouth. The fork should be used to transport food to the mouth, unless a deep bowled spoon of equivalent size is also being used. In this case, solid pieces should be forked, but otherwise, the spoon trumps the fork.
• The fork should never be turned so that the tines point upwards.
• All pieces of food should be stabbed with the tines. Mashes or purees can be loaded on to the back of the fork.
These last two points, while entirely correct, are not often observed in even the most formal of settings, and few if any establishments would be expecting these to be observed.