How useful are restaurant reviews?

restaurant review

Before you set foot in a new restaurant you've probably researched it to death. Sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp allow you to see feedback from diners, but as we've seen many times, those reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. So you then turn to the professionals: restaurant reviewers from newspapers or authoritative websites. But are those reviews actually helpful to you in deciding whether you should go to the restaurant? In a highly entertaining essay, Peter Preston of The Guardian says no, the reviews aren't doing the job.

Preston notes that while taste is subjective, restaurant reviews have become too literary and obtuse to be useful in the task for which they were created: helping the dining public decide if a restaurant is worth the expense. As an example he uses two wildly divergent reviews of the same Indian restaurant by critics from the same newspaper chain. Preston describes the review from Giles Coren from the Times, in which Coren laments that the "ghastly" place is "perishingly dark and in no way glamorous". The Rajasthani laal maas that he orders is "equally thin and pitiful", and the sauce tasted of "rank acidity… a mouthful was all I could bear".

Contrast this dismal review with glowing comments by critic AA Gill, who describes the restaurant as a "comfortable, modern and elegant dining room blissfully free of the tired and threadbare cliches of Anglo-Indian restaurants". Gill savours the "subtle and assured spicing" in the butter chicken and describes the same lamb shank that Giles pushed away as "lustrous".

The takeaway from these disparate reviews, according to Preston, is not just that they don't agree with each other - food is subjective, after all - but that neither review gets to the basic point. He goes on to say that "restaurant reviewing has also become a series of elegant essays too frail to chomp. It's a style, a prevalent entertainment: but also not much of an answer to the most basic question of the lot. No, not could Corbyn hack it in Downing Street? Just: was the blinking mousse set, or not?"

Do you rely on restaurant (or cookbook or recipe) reviews from prominent critics or do you treat these reviews in the same way as other online comments? How much weight do you place on any reviews you read?

2 Comments

  • sir_ken_g  on  8/10/2015 at 9:53 AM

    We eat at a lot of ethnic restaurants and many of the reviews from pros or not are worthless. As soon as you see them calling a Vietnamese restaurant "Chinese" or if they dwell on trite items like egg rolls, wonton soup and Kung Pao chicken then you know to ignore it. If you do not know the food don't review it.

  • Foodycat  on  8/12/2015 at 4:09 PM

    There are a couple of reviewers that I read because I enjoy their writing, AND I have found that what they think constitutes a good night out is similar to mine. Neither AA Gill nor Giles Coren are on my list.

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