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 8:16 pm

You’d write a good restau­rant review blog.

The Style Scientist
February 2, 2010 at 12:09 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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