Dining Out Reviews

More than a bellyful of food and booze!

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 food itself.