At the cost of inviting the ire of many a fellow writer, I wish to raise the question: what is a review worth? So many of my ilk walk into restaurants and either pay for a meal or allow themselves to be fussed over by the establishment PR person and in the end jot down a little something about the place. Both eatery and the journalist wish to benefit from it—the outlet by getting more customers and the reviewer by commanding more authority. Integrity and sincerity thus should be unquestionable.
Sadly that is not the ideal situation. Outlets will often pay extra attention to the journo/blogger who’s in house and that same attention is then subtracted from the average table. Writers too, especially those just starting off, feel obliged to turn in a good review so that (a) they get invited more often and (b) when they return to the same outlet, a hefty discount awaits them.
Which is why I never write reviews. I am fortunate enough to earn my bread and butter elsewhere, so when the bread or butter is not up to the mark, I can say it without having to fear bearing the brunt of an irate restauranteur mafia. That doesn’t mean I am out to shred every eatery I walk into but I do feel a lot less obliged to resort to euphemisms.
Another reason why reviewing isn’t all that worthwhile is because often an outlet has a bad day. A chef or a server or two go AWOL, and it takes its toll on the product. Imagine if that is the day one happens to be reviewing it. Alternatively, what if I walk in with a surly frown; everything that follows will get filtered through this negative veil and seem less impressive.
The plethora of online platforms where reviewers are average customers is worse still; to eat out often doesn’t make you a critic. Sure, you can have an opinion, but it isn’t objective to award an outlet a rating based on it (as also to the writer simply because he turned in 15 reviews in a week!). Going to a restaurant frequently doesn’t make you a critic just like going to a temple often won’t make me god.
I trained in the art and science of cooking. I served and handled restaurants. And still I feel it doesn’t endow me with enough to write a worthy review. If anything, it makes me more empathetic to the serving community and I am happy to discount many a shortcoming.
The only review then, that should really matter to you, is your own. Use online portals to know of new openings and then let your palate guide you. The fun is in exploring, not going by someone else’s word.
Twist in Cyber hub impressed me; Papaya, sadly, didn’t. Most microbreweries in Gurgaon disgust me, save for Quaff. I love the cocktails at Grappa at Shangri-La, just like I love the vibe at Social. I don’t understand the nightclubs in Delhi, but I don’t think they understand themselves either. Yauatcha in Mumbai is far nicer than in Delhi. Variety is what makes this world a lovely place—not just of bars, restaurants and cuisines but also of experiences and points of view. Adhering to a single review or an award can only mar your potential enjoyment.
The writer is a sommelier.