What are the ingredients of a useful restaurant review? Nat tells you what he thinks and why he believes catandnat.com serves up meaningful recommendations.
I love to cook and, all false modesty aside, I feel I do it well. I love it when guests come to my home and gush about a meal I have served. But when people go on to say, ‘You should open a restaurant,’ I can tell they don’t know what they’re talking about. In a recent conversation, fellow catandnat.com blogger Chris Schultz made the distinction between dinner party food and restaurant food. His point was that an excellent home cook does not necessarily make a restaurant chef. Good as it may be, an incredible meal in someone’s home would, and should, be subject to more demanding standards if served in a restaurant.
Because I take cooking very seriously, I have no pretentions of being a chef and, unless I were to go through the gruelling years of training it takes to become one, I will never be a chef. If I were to take my cooking ideas and serve them in a restaurant, I would need the help of a professional who would have to make sure that the production of each dish was consistent and cost-effective. Whereas entertaining at home is all about hospitality and generosity, a restaurant is all about business — delicious business, but business. I can’t do the latter, so I have immense respect for people who can.
This does not mean, however, that I go to a restaurant feeling unworthy of pronouncing whether the food is any good or not. I like food. I like cooking it. I like eating it. I may not have had formal training, but because I usually know how a dish is prepared, I know if a restaurant is doing a good job. When I pronounce a restaurant’s food as being of ‘dinner quality’, it is not a compliment.
It offends me to pay too much for food. I hate going to a restaurant only to feel I am paying for the décor, the linen and the snooty service, when the food coming to my table isn’t as good as something even I could produce myself. Remember, a restaurant should be subject to more rigorous judgment than my kitchen, and if I feel I can do better, that restaurant has been found lacking.
Having said that, I have been to restaurants where the meal has come to almost USD 1,000 a head and have been more than happy to pay for it. I have also paid THB 50 per head and felt ripped off. It is all about the food and how good it is.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good restaurant with lovely atmosphere, attentive service and sublime wine pairing. I’m especially pleased when a dining companion mispronounces the name of a dish and the waiter does not repeat the order with the correct pronunciation. An excellent restaurant is all about the customer’s total experience and it should be a pleasing one. But for me, it is always more about the food than anything else. That’s why I can eat on the side of the street and be convinced that this was as good a meal as a Michelin-starred restaurant.
And so, as we reorganise our Recommendations section to take on Bangkok neighbourhood by neighbourhood, I defend our decision to make food the main focus of our efforts. Cat and I, and our entire team, go out to eat a lot. We have tried every restaurant and food stall that looks appealing and pass on the information.
As we explicitly state elsewhere on catandnat.com, none of the bloggers are paid by a restaurant to write a review, nor are we given any free meals, wine or gifts of any sort. If we get any discounts, they are the same ones available to any diner who buys the membership card or clips the coupon.
What you get here is our opinion, plain and simple. And, because we all like to cook, it makes us better critics.
30/07/2012 - 11:27