HomeNewsIn the new year, my guide to the ideal restaurant

In the new year, my guide to the ideal restaurant

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[Editor’s note]Because of the epidemic, “going to a restaurant to meet for dinner” was once far away from people’s lives. In this short article, FT columnist Jianan Ganesh has written his own “non-mainstream criteria” about the ideal restaurant.

These “standards” may seem trivial, but they also happen to reflect some of the reasons why people love restaurants: it represents real interactions, emotions, atmospheres and even shortcomings in life. And these vivid experiences can often heal the body and mind.

It’s been a fantastic year for diners, with Sri Trat in Bangkok, Bavel in Los Angeles and Kudu in London being particularly memorable. If I overspend on eating out in 2022, it’s in retaliation for those predictions during the pandemic that said it would never be possible to eat in a restaurant again. The death notice to nightlife (and air travel and the cities themselves) was written with more joy than sorrow. The authors of these notices are skeptical about modernization: Might a simpler life make our species happier? A gentleman will forgive those who preach that nature can heal the mind and body. I demand that they be convicted and put in the pillory.

For the rest of us, going to restaurants will continue in 2023. I have more say than most in this regard. So, the following are some of my principles for choosing a restaurant for reference by diners with less experience.

The scenery has to be bad enough.

Or at least mediocre. There’s a gastropub nearby that has a nice view and would be fine if it didn’t work on the taste. So it doesn’t work. Los Angeles has miles of stunning Pacific coastline, and few of the city’s best restaurants are along the coastline. Chefs who take their food seriously know that locating a restaurant by the sea will attract a steady stream of public suitors and happy birthday sing-alongs. For the same reason, in a skyscraper, every restaurant is as bad as the next.

Good restaurants try to make the outside irrelevant – with a few exceptions, like Hide Above in London’s Mayfair facing Green Park. I have dined at the Clove Club in North London more than 40 times over the past ten years, and as I write this, I can’t recall what it looked like from its window. I think it’s the back of an office building.

There must be a bright kitchen and a bright stove.

In other words, the restaurant kitchen must be visible to customers. It’s harder for senior chefs to abuse juniors when everything in the kitchen can be seen from outside. When diners see the hard work of the chef in the back kitchen, it is difficult for them to find fault with the eggs. Aside from being a spectacle in itself, the visible kitchen has the effect of making that meal civil, even democratic. London’s Cycene (Blue Mountains school restaurant) takes you into the kitchen to see a dish on its menu. At Aulis, diners are just a matter of putting on an apron and doing it themselves.

Champagne is to be poured into wine glasses.

The extra space is conducive to the dissipation of air bubbles, allowing the fruity aroma to come out. Drinking champagne from flute glasses will more or less drink air. Tulip cups are only slightly less “tight”. Even a saucer cup. No, it’s almost certainly not molded on Marie Antoinette’s breasts. But even if it was, why sully such a celebratory drink with historical underdogs? The flute, tulip and saucer cups also attract some selfie-loving customers. Using less photogenic glassware can send photo-loving patrons to Nobu or whatever.

No staff asking if you enjoyed your meal.

It’s a bit of a blog post, and you’ll hardly get an answer other than “yes.” Or, it encourages diners to “make it at home.” Consumers aren’t always right, and often aren’t, and a good restaurant should be like The Economist, with no online reviews, politely keeping its readers at arm’s length.

Neighbors are cool enough.

This is a rule of thumb, not a rule, but it applies to most western cities. High street cafes, supermarket ice cream and pretty much everything is better than a generation ago because stilted skinny guys in thick glasses are trying something new in their area. Their ideas then radiated to the masses, just as haute couture found its way to Zara after a period of release and simplification. What and how a city eats is largely determined years ago in various “bohemian quarters”. So just go there. If I can’t get into a restaurant with a zip code that doesn’t start with E or SE, I just shrug my shoulders.

Wherever you dine in 2023, remember those who thought—and even hoped in some cases—that such a life would never return. It turns out that people need to touch each other, even if it’s just to look at each other. This was evident in the packed World Cup stadium in Qatar, as well as in the long queues at Heathrow Airport. And this is a time of recession. Human nature does heal the mind and body.

Translator/He Li

Edit email: zhen.zhu@ftchinese.com

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