What Makes a Restaurant Good?

4 Apr

I was recently asked if I’ve considered writing restaurant reviews for this blog. My response at the time was a marvelously poetic and coherent “Ennnnnnnnnnnh.”

To put that noise into words, I’ve not written reviews before because I don’t want to push myself as some kind of obnoxious all-knowing expert. Taste in food is leagues more subjective than in music, or films, or books. Every person in the world has their quirks of palate, their weird vestigial preferences that make no sense to anybody else. I’m the person who dunks dill pickles in barbecue sauce, for goodness sake, so who am I to judge?

Put simply, I’d like to think I’m an enthusiast, not a connoisseur. That said, after over 24 years of going to restaurants, I have a pretty good idea of what my ideal restaurant is.

Food

I’m biased towards food with big flavours (no surprise there!). I’m equal opportunity when it comes to cuisine, but I have a soft spot for anything Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. Taste aside, I think the most important factor for me foodwise is a lack of pretentiousness.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a reverse snob. I will hoover down foie gras and caviar if it’s offered, and I am kind of intrigued by molecular gastronomy. But I’m not interested in irony, or preciousness, or machismo. Good food, served with attention and pride. And preferably not in little towers or surrounded by sauce squiggles.

Service

I also think attentive but not overbearing service is important. I don’t need my servers to be my bestest, but I am delighted when my water glass gets filled before I have to ask. I’m under no illusions that this is an easy balance, so thumbs up to the servers who can strike it. Bonus points if they can talk about the menu fluently and make good suggestions for beverage pairings.

Atmosphere

I’m at home just about anywhere, as long as it’s not too over-the-top. To be honest, I think the company you’re with determines the atmosphere more than anything the restaurant does. I can have a sedate meal on my own in a noisy burrito joint, or have a boisterous group dinner in upscale surroundings. In generally, I tend to prefer places that are a bit more casual.

All of that said, here are my five favourite restaurants. I guarantee you will have a fantastic meal at all of them. Unpretentious and delicious food, great service, and a relaxed atmosphere. Go!

Sarah’s Top Five (in no particular order)

Range (San Francisco)

Moro

Barrafina

Bocca di Lupo

Tayyabs

This list is subject to change – there are places like Hawksmoor and Ducksoup which I haven’t tried yet and are supposed to be fabulous.

Your ideal restaurants are probably different from mine, so I’d love to know; for you, what makes a great dining experience?

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One Response to “What Makes a Restaurant Good?”

  1. Tom April 4, 2012 at 3:49 PM #

    Wot? No Redwood?!

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