Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Restaurant Reviewing: The Rules

"...The only exception to this rule is when you're describing a particularly bad dish; here it is perfectly acceptable to go overboard and compare the veal to shoe leather and the mayonnaise to bull's semen etc..."

Until now Gastrolad has mainly been an online scrap book of my efforts in the kitchen (and one excursion into the world of wine). But my ambitions do extend beyond the confines of my own kitchen and into those of the professional chef. Before I left London for the Alps, I was a fairly enthusiastic spender of money (both mine and other people's) in some of the capital's better restaurants. Whilst I certainly wouldn't have classed myself as the type of 'restaurant collector' who frequently feature in this type of blog, I did pay pretty close to attention the restaurant 'scene' and what the professional reviewers were saying in their weekly columns.

So that’s a long winded way of saying I am going to start producing some reviews of my own. I realise this a very crowded market place, but many of the reviews on the other blogs I have read seem to follow a similar pattern - lots of pictures and not as much writing. Perhaps unwisely I am going to pay no attention this trend and attempt to prove that the keyboard is mightier than the digital camera.

But before diving in, I thought I would share some of the observations I have made whilst reading the reviews of the professional and amateur critics:
  1. The column inches devoted to the restaurant are inversely proportional to the size of the ego of the reviewer. For example, A A Gill (Sunday Times) will spend much less than half of his review discussing the meal, whereas Jay Rayner (Guardian) and Zoe Williams (Sunday Telegraph) tend to be all about the food. I have come up with the equation below to better illustrate this point:
X  α  1/Y 
·         Where X = Column Inches and Y = Reviewer’s Ego
  1. The reviewer must have a companion who accompanies them to the restaurant on a regular basis. Usually of the opposite sex, they will almost never be referred to by their first name, but by an initial or nickname. Sometimes when the regular date can’t make it there will be an imposter, or in the case of the better known reviewer, the appearance of a celebrity date. But, the celebrity will never be referred other than by direct reference, thus increasing the sense of self-importance of said critic. Here it is useful to cite Michael Winner as an obvious example.
  1. To be a proper critic you should have had at least one bust up or spat with a chef whose food you have bashed. Whether it’s A A Gill getting thrown out of one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, or Matthew Norman being threatened with legal action by a restaurateur for comparing a Lobster Bisque to a WMD. 
  1. Should the critic declare that they have made multiple visits to the restaurant before being able to pronounce judgement on it (the implication here is that you must be fair as a bad word from you could sink the establishment), or that they use disguises to fool the Maitre D, you should be particularly suspicious. This behaviour implies that the critic takes themselves and their job far too seriously. The restaurant reviewers for the New York Times are particularly prone to this type of thing.
  1. When talking about the food try not to go into too much detail as to how it tastes, it’s better to talk about combinations of ingredients and whether a dish works or not. You can employ the odd simile or metaphor, generally the more bizarre or masculine the better, but an overly descriptive review of a meal is the hallmark of the amateur. The only exception to this rule is when you're describing a particularly bad dish; here it is perfectly acceptable to go overboard and compare the veal to shoe leather and the mayonnaise to bull's semen etc.
  1. If you are an amateur restaurant critic, i.e. blogger like me, it is best to include as many pictures of the food as possible. Because, unlike with the real restaurant critics, your readers aren’t as interested in your opinions and instead just want to see pictures of the Lobster Thermidor and Crepes Suzette.
So which of these rules am I going to adhere to? Well, as with my earlier posts, there will be a certain amount of digression, so number one to an extent. With regards a regular dining partner, I have a greedy girlfriend, whose initials are VD, so for comedy value she will be referred to as such. Concerning three; unfortunately I think it is very unlikely I will get into a spat with a chef, you need a readership for that kind of controversy*. Number four; I can’t afford multiple trips to restaurants just for the sake of accuracy, and anyway good restaurants shouldn’t have ‘off’ nights. Number five; I will try not to fall into the narrative and descriptive trap. And finally, I’m with Giles Coren on this one, and am not for photographing my meals in restaurants. For one it seems to elevate cooking to an art instead of a craft, and secondly, it has always seemed a little bit naff to me. The foodie equivalent of a train spotter at the end of the platform jotting down the number of the 12.44 to Crewe (or maybe that’s writing a food blog with a stupid name?).

In any case, with the rules in my mind and hope in my heart I will embark on this new chapter in the evolution of Gastrolad.

* Although…what might happen when I reveal that a Foie Gras Mousse with Chocolate covered Macadamia Nuts I had at Cambio de Tercio was the most disgusting thing I have eaten for a very long time!


  1. Great post, very funny!

  2. I love this! Just discovered your blog and I totally agree with you on the 'photographs in restaurants' issue - it's a bit cringe and interrupts the meal somewhat. But I'm torn, because I love looking at pictures on other peoples' blogs... I even took some snaps in a restaurant last night because the food was so incredibly beautiful. So I'm basically a fraud. But I love what you've written here and will definitely be coming back to read more recipes!

  3. Little loaf, thank you for your kind words! I understand your dilemma, as sneakily I do sometimes look at photos on other blogs, so maybe I'm a bit of a fraud too!