by Miss Terry Diner
We all enjoy different foods, wines, cheeses or
cocktails. There is no ‘universal’ taste. We are all different. However, as
a food and wine critic it is necessary to keep an open mind, as well as an
open mouth. One is constantly judging the restaurant fare relative to many
factors, including price and how it compares with similar food from similar
level establishments. Having been a restaurateur does help in this regard.
Let’s clear up one common question, and that is why do
you not read negative reviews in the Dining Out column? There have been
times when a restaurant has fallen well below the expected standard.
However, those restaurants do not get their review published. There is
absolutely nothing to be gained by ‘panning’ a restaurant. To be told that
the food was cold, the glasses were cracked and the plates were chipped, is
not going to get you going along there, is it? Negative reviews may be
satisfying for the writer, to show just how much he or she knows about the
culinary art, but achieves nothing – other than the demise of the
restaurant. Just as we all have had ‘bad days’ from time to time, should a
restaurant be damned for ever, just because it was having a bad day? I do
not believe this is the correct, or even ethical way.
If we find that our dining out experience does not come up to the expected
standard, we inform the restaurant representative that we cannot continue
with the review, list just what does not come up to scratch and suggest
that, if they wish, we will carry out the review another day after they feel
they have corrected the problems.
So how do we review a restaurant? It would be nice to say that we creep in
wearing raincoats, order incognito and eat likewise, then like Superman,
throw off the coats and appear in our dinner suits and reveal our true
purpose to the astonished maitre d’hotel. Sorry, no maitre d’hotel worth his
salt could fail to notice someone writing feverishly in a reporter’s
notebook and standing on the chair to photograph the food and wandering
around taking general views of the restaurant itself.
Does this mean that what we get to eat may not be truly representative of
the food the public gets to eat? Not really in any professional
establishment. It is too easy to be found out, for one, and members of the
public trying the restaurant after the review will soon vote with their feet
if the restaurant does not perform to the standard we received. We do also
question the staff to see if the portions we have been served represent the
normal serving. A brief walk around the restaurant soon shows just what the
other diners are receiving, and we will often seek their opinion as well.
So what do we look for? Firstly, we look for cleanliness, both in the
restaurant and the restrooms, and a quick peek into the kitchen to see how
well the owner understands restaurant hygiene. One of the Dining Out team
spent some time in five star hotel kitchens, so is conversant with the
‘behind the scenes’ situation.
We look at the menu and the wine list and see if the items on offer and the
range of prices correspond to the perceived level of the restaurant. I
expect Alaskan King Crab in a fine dining restaurant, and I expect to see
the premium price for premium items. In a cheap and cheerful cafe, provided
the tins of crab have just been opened for the sandwiches, that is what I
would expect, and the budget price as well. However, the cheap and cheerful
that adds a little minced garlic with the crab exceeds expectations.
And what do I really hate? Frozen foil wrapped butter pats. Impossible to
open without getting your fingers greasy and impossible to spread.
‘Bendable’ cutlery (Uri Geller spoons). Warm white wine and nearly frozen
red wine. Chipped plates. Surly staff. Uncomfortable chairs, and those at
the wrong height relative to the table. Background music at a volume to make
you think you are seated in front of the loudspeakers at a Rolling Stones
Dining Out should be a fun, pleasant experience, and those restaurants which
provide this for their customers will always rate highly. Well, they will in