When your world is full of strange arrangements / and gravity won’t pull you through

Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews.

Of course, after a few glasses of house chianti, I usually get some perverse notion in my head that I should perhaps think about writing good restaurant reviews. This thought evaporates as the Chianti lulls me to sleep an hour or two later.

I’ve trusted restaurant reviews from time to time.

In Auckland, not once, but twice (tag: do not learn lessons easily) I’ve trusted reviews of the awful Soto, a sad, overpriced, excuse for a modern Japanese restaurant in St. Mary’s Bay. Both times I’ve been badly burnt by shitty service, unimaginative nu-Japanese fare that would only pass muster if the reviewer had never had the privilege of seeing modern Japanese done well – and even then would likely fall badly at the final test: the size of the bill when put next to the fare and appalling lack of anything approaching customer service. Don’t like. At All.

That it somehow wins awards underlines how little food reviewers are to be trusted.

In Bali I soon learned that restaurant reviews are largely bought there, and perhaps the very worst restaurant on the island (which is saying something in an island where good eateries – and there are some amazing places – are the exception), the gruesome Telaga Naga, where the staff told us the chef had moved on years before, leaving a faded Chinese cookbook that the local guy uses with brought-in packet sauces, regularly gets the nod as best Chinese from rags like Hello Bali (yes 100% paid for, like all their reviews) despite the fact the island has some really good Chinese places.

We trusted reviews in NY and felt thoroughly scammed by the mediocrity of Freemans. I’d rather keep my rustic pricey pilgrims fare, washed down by pricey, average, new world wines, in those gruelling feral British cottage cookery shows that I can turn off. Jug yer own hare elsewhere, please. Urgh. Brigid said as we left, that if you were to try and make food like your mother did, at least track down a mother who can cook.

We went to Red here, this week. It gets good reviews. Seriously good reviews. It was fucking horrendous. Watery white sludge that looked like the sauce leftover from my dad’s old tripe, loud James Blunt anthems played by the, might be a boy, receptionist; staff telling us what desert we wanted; vinyl table cloths; and, in a deserted three room restaurant, being placed next to the table of loud Germans who included the man with (Godwin be damned) a Hitler moustache in a white singlet.

And it was pricey.

No, fuck off Red.

It gets awards too.

Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews.

I trust friends. Grier recommended La Buca. He was right. We’ve taken his advice on dining a couple of times in Bangkok and it’s been pretty good, so the pointer towards an unnamed two storied building in Sukhumvit Soi 1 with home-style Italian was vague but worth the 70B taxi fare.

And it was worth getting dropped off at the beginning of the street just so we could walk up past the German sausage house (every city in Asia has a German restaurant or two – the one in Sanur, Bali, had no windows, and was full of very pleasant, if loud, large German people smoking heavily away in your breathing space, and devouring kilometers of sausage and sauerkraut. Our German friends often asked to meet them there – we mostly, for reasons of health and taste, declined) down the road.

Was he a part of the decor – I don’t know – but there was a fat, unsmiling German man in full Prussian military regalia, spiked helmet and cape included, sitting outside. It’s one of those odd Bangkok things. The city seems to attract the perverse, as well as the perverted. I tried to get a photo but thought better of rousing any Prussian military ire, given its history.

So, yes, La Buca, the Italian place was thoroughly wonderful, with great quaffing Italian house wines, pasta designed by the Italian chef/owner (who was as passionate about explaining each dish as only a Southern European can be – we spent a reasonable time dodging the wild gesticulations) that just pulled you through the door, and homebaked breads. We’re returning this week. Grier sent us in the direction of a hole in the wall Indian in Silom too, the sort of place that never makes the endless online or printed guide books, and for BKK there are as many unreliable eating out guides as there are puffed up and unreliable restaurants.

Of course, there are the blogs.

It was a recommendation, from a blog, that seemed reliable, that pointed us in the direction of Little Arabia, where 30 or 40 Middle Eastern places, some dodgy, most not, sit together. Falafels, lots of middle eastern tourists (or residents – I like the way Bangkok doesn’t want you to be Thai, it just asks that you be you – no “I’m a kiwi now, Charlie” faux multiculturalism), Arab guys sipping beer out of a plain mug because it ain’t on the menu, while they suck on the endless hookahs and look at plates of perfectly made Tabbouleh and huge naan smothered in garlic paste.

Of course, there are dozens of blogs. There are hundreds of blogs. There are thousand of blogs. Everyone that sets foot in Asia starts a blog about it (mine predates moving here, as an excuse – but without Asia …).

Which brings me to rule number two:

Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman. Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman. Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman.

The English have no understanding of food or the preparation of such whatsoever. Zip. Zero. Kosong. In my not unlimited experience, even the pricey places in Londontown are mostly utter tosh, complete shite. No, the only food you’d want to eat in the UK is foreign, and not foreign created by English people. By Indians, French, Italians, Japanese and so on, but an English-born hand should never be allowed near the preparation, ordering of ingredients or serving. The British may argue but there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. One just has to see the fare that the celebrity UK chefs serve up on TV to underline this inflexible rule.

Adding (a little) evidence for the prosecution are large numbers of blogs written by English expats, like this one, written by some guy, who may well be a nice chap, but I’m not sure if I want to follow the culinary and social exploits of a bunch of expat aging Farangs stuck in the sleaze hellhole of Pattaya, with their add-on Asian girlfriends, their trips to go-go bars and the endless visits by the likes of Mr. Tony, and his girlfriend:

Once again: they may all be lovely chaps, but it also goes towards the case that there is a very odd side to many of this nation’s visitors. But, it does make for some sort of fascinating and voyeuristic reading, albeit briefly, although the blog seems endless. The question must be why? I just need to find the energy to care enough to ask it.

Of course, I’m perfectly normal. Must set up a restaurant review blog.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Chad Taylor
January 22, 2010 at 08:01 PM

You'd write a good restaurant review blog.

The Style Scientist
February 02, 2010 at 12:02 AM

You are hilarious! I love this. Keep up the great work! I'm going to Bali in a few weeks and have run across the reviews and blogs as well. Yours was the most helpful! =]

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