How to write a sexy restaurant review: foreplay, part 5

This chapter, “foreplay,” is one of the funniest in the late Sam Worthington’s short book, “How To Be A Savvy Restaurant Reviewer.”

How to write a sexy restaurant review: foreplay, part 5

Most restaurants know that getting your order is important: once they have got that, you are committed!

And just as is the case with the, er, other kind of sex, it has a lot to do with relationships, ambience and communication…

Why foreplay and restaurant customer service have quite a lot in common

Now you know what you want to order, all you need is somebody to convey that information to the kitchen: you need an order taker. And there is nothing more frustrating that sitting around waving a menu and nothing happens. In practice, most restaurants know that getting your order is important: once they have got that, you are committed!

Another annoying trait is suddenly announcing your choice is not available. As a restaurateur I do not mind that some dishes are not available; food needs to be fresh and items do run out. However I want to be told that before I look at the menu, not after I have decided what I want.

It is also worth checking whether the person taking the order understands the menu. Ask a few questions even if you do not need to – just to check their knowledge. It is not a bad idea to ask for recommendations and the answer is not ‘it’s all good…’ that is a cop out.

The wine list is often fun, unless there is a sommelier in which case it is better to shut up and not display your ignorance.

However asking for wine recommendations from most servers is more likely to confuse than to inform.

Having ordered it is time to sit back, relax and study the surroundings. I find I can learn a great deal about a place by simple watching it operate. Of course having been a restaurateur myself I have the experience, and know what to look for when watching other tables, and the food being served. The reaction of the fellow diners is always a good indication of how the place works.

Observe if people are waiting for service. Are they all happy and enjoying themselves? Do the staff look like they know what they are doing? Is there a supervisor keeping an eye on what is happening? How are new arrivals treated? The review is about your food and your experience. However watching the whole production is revealing and thus helpful.

The décor has been covered above, but what about table settings? Nice starched table napkins with a button hole in the corner … a fad of mine so we chaps can attach the napkin to the shirt, otherwise the damn things keep slipping down to around one’s ankles where they are of little use. And when that happens does a waiter rush over with a crisp new one?

Are there good wine glasses and a decent cruet set?

I am not very keen on chefs who think they know how to season my food and thus hide the salt and pepper.

Having said that I always taste before seasoning; to do otherwise is presumptuous.

How the service proceeds will depend upon the type of establishment. In a busy bistro hopefully somebody dumps a bottle of wine on the table with glasses and maybe a carafe of water. But in a more upmarket environment how the wine and water arrive, and are served, is important.

White wine should be chilled and in an ice bucket.

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!

Catch up with Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 of this gourmet series – click on the green links

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.

What really gets my goat is the confiscation of my wine.

The waiter pours about half a glass and then disappears with the bottle. No sooner have I taken a decent slurp, the glass is empty and the waiter missing, probably off confiscating elsewhere.

In any event despite all the usual signals, short of sending up a flare, the wine bottle does not reappear. The server is either too busy elsewhere, or texting, or simply cannot be bothered.

At that point I have been known to de-confiscate my wine much to the chagrin of the maître d’ who usually rushes to the table to try and re-confiscate it. Don’t take my word for it – try it for yourself!

How to write a sexy restaurant review: foreplay, part 5

Sam’s book makes a great little gift – available on all the Amazons. Click on this cover to go to the UK Amazon.

In Thailand, wine is ludicrously expensive because of excise duty and thus even the cheapest bottle of wine in a restaurant equals a week’s wages for the luckless serving staff. Consequently they seem to think it must be an ornament, not something to be consumed.

They rather assume that, like the images of Buddha they keep everywhere, the customer will take it home and worship it! So, getting it opened becomes a problem – even they realise once the bottle is empty it is worthless and is certainly not worth petitioning for a favour!

W C Fields is quoted as saying words to the effect that water was simply something fish fornicated in.

And I am sure he would be aghast at the absurdity of today’s water menus.

For crying out loud water it is water! I suppose I will grant 3 versions in a restaurant. Tap, be it from a water cooler, or mineral, is bottled water (imported from somewhere further afield than the nearest water works) with or without fizz.

If some ostentatious waiter offers me a ‘water menu’ I reflect back to W C and say ‘brown trout water please!” If any of them has the wit to offer Highland Spring I suppose I would have to accept it!

Another item that causes a problem, and should not, is bread.

In less expensive places I understand the bread arriving with the starter, although in France they will always put a basket of bread on the table almost as soon as you sit down. But France has had a kind of thing about bread ever since the suggestion that they should eat cake instead led to the removal of the heads off all the best restaurant customers. However in smart restaurants, in countries where there was never a suggestion cake would do, bread has assumed a complication it never should have.

I remember many moons ago a long correspondence in The Caterer (The UK’s premier catering magazine) among the great and good of the restaurant business in the UK about when bread should be removed from the table.

That was long before the era of celebrity chefs speaking estuary English.

For some reason, some thought bread should be removed after the first course; others did not. For a reviewer, though, the presence of bread, its quality and maybe quantity are of interest and may well be worth commenting on.

So now all that is needed is some food and the amuses bouches arrive. Sometimes this is called the tasting spoon and that is all it is: a spoonful of food. Personally I would rather have a decent Sauvignon Blanc, or a wine from the slopes of the Vosges Mountains, do the amusing of my mouth. Thus this is not something I am particularly keen on: it is a bit like just after the start of the foreplay, being sent to have a shower.

And then you are expected to sit and wait for your food! But never mind the shower is over – the food is on the way…

Next time: Part 6 – Food … the main event!

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