What’s the point of writing reviews?
The function of a review can be broad and varied, but for me it’s about respect. Yes it’s about sharing an experience with others, but more importantly somehow the process of bothering to write, to document an event, gives respect to the amount of time and effort that went into those few short hours at a table. We are blessed to get to eat regularly at some truly excellent restaurants; Sometimes ones we travel internationally to go to. Simply to try to remember a single dish from a specific restaurant amongst a 12 course tasting menu becomes challenging without some kind of record. If we consider how much effort went into creating that dish; The artistic process, the continual refinement, checking the economics, sourcing, ensuring consistency… its staggering. And all just to be consumed in 5 mins never to be seen again…to be forgotten or at best survive as a vague memory. So the great motivation for the reviews is one of respect; Respect for the effort, for the art of the restaurant, and also out of respect for our own experience and our own cherished memories as diners.
The overarching philosophy I try to stick to is quite simple. First and foremost I try sincerely to be honest and fair. Paying for our meals, and not joining press/blogger lunches is a central tenet of being able to maintain that ability. Moreover, in my experience at least, the better restaurants don’t often need to invite bloggers to eat, so it’s a good quality-filtering device in any case to not accept invitations from those who do.
Being fair is also important to me both as a sign of deference to the effort and sacrifice that goes into running a high calibre restaurant, and also in appreciation for the potential guests who may be influenced in some way by what I wrote to go and spend their hard-earned money to eat there.
Despite being an amateur cook myself and having an interest verging on obsession with fine dining, I can still only vaguely attempt to imagine how hard it actually is to run a successful restaurant. In so much as a bad review may cause that to be even harder, I take writing negative things very seriously, no matter how insignificant the audience may be. That being said, I strongly believe that there is no light without dark, and saying something was good when it wasn’t is an insult to those chefs and restauranteurs who do get it right. After all, how else can we truthfully say one restaurant is more successful than another without also saying another restaurant is worse? What is the point of the superhuman effort that goes into creating food and service good enough to win a Michelin star for example, if we can’t say that in our humble opinion xyz other restaurant doesn’t yet deserve the same accolade? Telling it how it is, even when it’s not totally positive, is the fundament of a realistic and worthwhile review.
So if we wait half an hour to be served I will say so. People who read the reviews can decide whether they find this important or not. Being made to wait when hungry, or not being allowed to pay the bill when we want to leave, are two things absolutely guaranteed to make my blood boil. But it’s a personal thing, and I appreciate it’s not so essential to everyone. Thus, especially when writing about a bad experience, I try to stay factual and let the reader make of it what they will.
Truthfulness in slight hyperbole
Of course part of the point of writing reviews is also just the joy of writing (and reading hopefully), and what form or prose would be complete without a hint of hyperbole? So sometimes there may be some small exaggerations, small emotive deviations from a full joyless robotic observation. But these themselves are nothing more for me than an accurate expression of the experience of dining itself; which is after all emotional. It’s full of highs and lows, of exaggerated response and passion. Small details in food will always seem overwhelmingly important when you are placed in a position, as you are as a patron in a fine dining restaurant, where you concentrate almost entirely on what you are eating. The spotlight, both figuratively and often literally is on the food, and the process of eating becomes sacramental. So this lightly hyperbolic style I write with, for me, better represents the experience of dining than a meal viewed totally through a cold objective lens. We eat to feel more alive, not less.
I use a 20 point scale which covers a meal verging on utter perfection down to something shockingly awful (in the context of a good restaurant). The scale for the purposes of this blog, which largely is about fine dining, stops at 10, albeit we can conceive of a virtual non-fine dining scale continuing down towards 0. In the sub ten category you’d find cafes with edible but totally unremarkable fare, down to the dregs of fast food. Pizza Hut for example would probably be found festering in its own shameful filth close to the bottom.
The point of the scale is simply to give a quick reference. Scores are relative to each other and the more restaurants we eat at the more consistent the scale becomes. Very occasionally I will change a score after publishing a review given a reassessment of a restaurant’s relative success.