How to write a restaurant review: now the book – soon the movie?

Does the road to fame and fortune start on HowToWriteBetter.net? You probably remember Sam Worthington’s excellent article on here about writing restaurant reviews. Anyway, the blog has turned into a book and it’s a winner-in-the-making. And who knows what next? Movie blockbuster starring the other, er, Sam Worthington?

Here’s what I wrote about the book in a review on Amazon…

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Don’t read this book if you’re thinking of starting a diet… 3 Jun 2013
By Suzan St Maur, author of “Business Writing Made Easy”

First of all, DISCLAIMER: I edited this book for Sam Worthington, but I edit dozens of books and I don’t necessarily like – or review – all of them.

This one, however, all began when Sam wrote an article for my website, HowToWriteBetter.net, called “How To Write A Restaurant Review.” In a short time it had become the 2nd most popular article on the site and in the last year has had literally tens of thousands of reads.

You won’t be surprised, therefore, that I nagged Sam into developing that concept into a book. It doesn’t matter whether you have a professional interest in restaurants (although restaurateurs can learn one hell of a lot from it) … or you like to blog about food … or you just want some superb guidelines on how to judge and assess the restaurants you use. Whichever way, you will love this book.

Sam writes in an amusing, light-hearted style, dropping bits of his vast knowledge of food and wine into the prose like cherries on to a Black Forest Gateau. And Sam is no toffee-nosed critic, either; his knowledge has been gained the hard way through years of experience of running restaurants, working as a chef, and of course, being a restaurant reviewer all over the world.

Buy this book, but when you do make sure you have food in your fridge and a bottle of something agreeable ready-opened. You will be drooling by page 2.

It’s all gospel truth, too. And not only did the article pick up reads by itself; you’d be amazed at how many Google searches there are for “how to write a restaurant review.” I had no idea it was such a popular pastime; but as Sam himself says, many more people nowadays can publish their reviews online with sites like TripAdvisor, etc., and become known for their reviews – as long as they are good.

In the book, Sam explains how he has worked as a restaurant reviewer as well as being on the other end, as a chef and restaurant owner. Because he has experience in both elements he stresses that you should be fair in your reviews, respecting the restaurateur’s issues as well as those of the customers … and only doing a hatchet job on a restaurant if it truly deserves it.

A taster from the book: wine

Red wine should be at room temperature – by room temperature it means a room in temperate northern Europe. In the tropics it needs to refrigerated and then allowed to come out in the glass – and it does that remarkable quickly. Conversely red wine at tropical room temperature would be called mulled wine in a ski resort!

The recommended procedure is that the diner is shown the bottle, it is opened and then a taster measure is offered. In more pretentious places a sommelier may sniff the cork, and check the wine themselves. I must admit I get rather bored with the whole procedure. Wine is sometimes off, particularly in the tropics because getting good wine to the market without boiling it a couple of times (in a container on the Indian Ocean) is tricky.

If the restaurateur has been buying young wine (under 10 years old) in Europe, it is exceedingly unlikely to be bad. And corked wine – which is when the cork fails so the wine oxidises – is obvious by look and by smell. A piece of cork floating in a glass does not suggest that the wine is corked.

A taster from the book: food

Most dishes will be known to your readers. As a restaurateur back in the late 1970s I found that customers were considerably less educated in culinary terms, and we often had trouble with generic dishes – Bœuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin and even Cottage Pie as opposed to Shepherd’s Pie.

That meant if they had a Bœuf Bourguignon in a specific restaurant they then thought that is how it should be, so any variant of how they ‘knew it’ was not, in their mind, as described. They did not comprehend that any oven cooked dish that included beef and red wine could be fairly called bœuf Bourguignon. That led to all kinds of problems in restaurants, but I like to think restaurant users now understand that most dishes are generic in nature: and thus are as the chef decides how those will be cooked and presented.

George Lang – a well known Hungarian restaurant entrepreneur who made his name in New York – used to say to me, “there is no such thing as an original recipe … only bad research.” I am not sure he was right, but that was before the fusion of Asian and European food.

The point is, the reviewer may assume general food terminology is universally understood. But is it? Here is how I think food could be described in basic terms…

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‘A piece of meat 7 inches by 5 inches and about ½ inch thick from the arse end of a cow’ is a rump steak and that is what it should be called.’

‘A piece of meat 7 inches by 5 inches and about ½ inch thick from the arse end of a cow’ is a rump steak and that is what it should be called.’

So when considering something a bit more elaborate, to say that ‘I had a very good coarse pork terrine with strong hint of garlic served with crusty French bread,’ is more than an adequate description…

The first impression of a dish is the sight of it, and if it looks good the receiver will assume it is good. Of course if it is then found to be tough, under  or over cooked, it tastes wrong or bad, it’s too small a portion or simply not as described in the menu, then it is not right.

The point is that food descriptions need to be accurate; and as such, whatever was eaten by the attendees of the meal can usually be described succinctly with the minimum of words. The main thing the reader needs to know is: is the food up to the standard expected?

Sometimes the food is unusual and needs a greater description than a generic meal may demand. Excellent! Roll out descriptive words and where required, use superlatives and let the prose flow.

How To Be A Savvy Restaurant Reviewer is available as a 10,000 word Kindle book for a ridiculously low price … buy it now before Sam comes to his senses and asks a proper price for it… (and no, I’m not an affiliate and don’t get a percentage.)

Bon appétit!

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my own Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc
photo credit: avlxyz via photopin cc

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