Readers of restaurant reviews all over the world presume
that the life of a food and wine critic must be wonderful. Swanning into
restaurants, scaring the maitre d’s, terrifying the chefs, choosing the best
wines, gorging until full while owners nervously watch your every movement and
generally living in the manner to which we would all like to become
accustomed. Unfortunately, it isn’t like that. It is work.
This week, instead of a review, I thought I should explain
just how the whole process of a restaurant review is carried out. First off,
just how does the restaurant get to be reviewed in the first place? There are
a couple of ways. The restaurant itself can contact the Chiangmai Mail
directly and ask for a review to be done. There is no fee for this - it is not
a case of the more that is offered, the better the review. Any reviewer worth
his or her salt would never accept cash inducements. The other way is that a
reader may have suggested the venue, or the Dining Out Team may just have
discovered the place on their own.
The next question that is often asked is whether the
restaurant knows it is being reviewed. The general answer is yes, mainly
because any restaurant manager gets a little suspicious of a diner writing in
a large notebook, copying the menu longhand and then standing on the chair to
photograph the food. Small ‘roadside’ eateries probably don’t care, but
accredited restaurants are informed.
How do we select the dishes sampled? Again there are many
ways of doing this, but we generally ask the restaurant if there is any
particular dish which they consider to be a ‘signature’ item for the
restaurant and we will try that. With a minimum of two people in the review
team, we will also make sure that we order different dishes to be able to give
a broad based opinion.
And what about the wines? Unless the restaurant wishes us
to try a particular wine, we will generally order the ‘house’ white or
red. This is indicative of what the average diner would choose and indicates
in a small way, what the restaurant thinks of its diners. I do believe that
restaurants offering cat’s pee as house wine would do better to move
slightly upscale! If it is a ‘local’ eatery, we will go with the flow, and
beer or soft drinks are the order of the day.
A description of the restaurant itself is also included in
the review, to give the reader, through our eyes, an idea of what the place is
like, whether it is an upmarket silver service venue, or more of a downmarket
American style diner. Again, we look for the small niceties if the venue has
positioned itself at the top end - good quality glassware, pepper grinders,
efficient staff, food on pre-warmed plates and even cleaning the tablecloth
after the meal is over. Little things do count. However, if it is a middle of
the road restaurant, then standard glassware is fine. The description is to
really indicate what the venue is like. You make the final decision as to
whether this is the type of place to take your great aunt, or much more suited
to taking next door’s kids for a fun lunch.
Why are there no “bad” reviews? Simply because I do not
believe it is the function of a reviewer to break someone’s rice bowl! If
there is a problem, the manager/owner is informed of this and the review is
cancelled. The venue is told that when they feel they have corrected the
problem they can invite us to return. Having owned a restaurant for five
years, I understand that problems can, and will, always occur.
Finally, the rating. I do not believe in stars, chef’s hats or numbers
out of 10. Ratings are always subjective and the recommendation I give at the
end will indicate very easily whether I thought it to be a good restaurant, in
its class, taking into account value for money as well as the ambience and the