A few days ago we wrote about the ‘weakest links’ that make or break restaurants, especially those vying for the Eat Out Top 10 or the World’s 50 Best restaurant lists. Inspired by (the American) The Amateur Gourmet’s blogpost ’10 Signs You’re in a Good Restaurant’, I have ‘translated’ his signs into the local context:
1. The bathroom is clean – a good way to judge the cleanliness of the restaurant. The Delaire Graff bathroom is the best smelling and cleanest I have enjoyed using. Spice Route and Societi Bistro have dreadful ones.
2. A waiter comes over quickly – this is so obvious, that one is surprised that the waiter of one’s section does not see you, or that a manager, hostess or another waiter can not see that there are no drinks or menus on the table. This happened to me last night at Willoughby & Co, and when the waiter arrived after 15 minutes, he said that he was very busy!
3. The items on the menu are in season – the trend to foraging, and vegetable and herb gardening by restaurants is commendable, but it is a pity that those that lead the way are not yet recognised by Eat Out, even though they state it as a criterion, and it has been highlighted for the past two years. La Motte and Babylonstoren lead the way with massive gardens, but Delaire Graff, Jordan Restaurant, Makaron, The Greenhouse, and Waterkloof also are sourcing produce from their gardens. Spier’s Farmer Angus is supplying local restaurants such as Delaire Graff, Le Quartier Français, Planet Restaurant, Makaron and others with free-range beef, lamb, eggs and chicken, which is commendable too.
4. You can hear the people at your table – the more expensive and exclusive the restaurant is, the fewer tables there should be, and therefore the better you are to hear each other speak.
5. The waiter is authentic and knowledgeable – expressing enthusiasm for the dishes on the menu (but not recommending something without knowing the client well) and reflecting an understanding of how the dishes are made are the signs of a top waiter. Having to check notes, or asking the chef are not. French terms, both in terms of pronunciation and in understanding, usually are a give-away.
6. The restaurant is accommodating, within reason – most chefs are accommodating with special customer requests, and many will check special dietary and other requirements, so that they do not become an issue during service. Burrata is prescriptive about not allowing additional or swopped pizza toppings other than their combinations, but they do allow one to ‘deduct’ toppings one does not want.
7. The bread and butter are good – artisanal bread is becoming increasingly popular, and restaurants that serve their own baked bread warm, with cold unmelted butter, are the winner. Not all restaurants serve bread any more. Last night Willoughby & Co said that they waste a lot of (unused) bread, and therefore they expect customers to ask for it. Jordan Restaurant serves one of the most attractive bread plates, a work of art in itself.
8. The food all comes out at once – this is well handled in our local restaurants, yet I witnessed a most irate customer at Café Dijon a few months ago, when one in the party of four guests did not receive the food at all.
9. The plates are cleared quickly but not too quickly – this is a tricky issue. The waiter should wait with clearing until all persons in the party have finished eating, unless requested by a guest to remove a plate. However, removing plates should not be too quick, to make one feel that one is in the Spur, and that they want one out of there as quickly as possible. Wasting the customer’s time by clearing the table when one has asked for the bill is not acceptable.
10. The little details add up – the surprise touches, e.g. an amuse bouche, the chef coming to the table, an invitation to see the kitchen, friandises with one’s cappuccino, or a complimentary glass of sparkling wine for a celebratory dinner, all make the guest feel special, even if the cost is built into the price.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage