Author: Damian Carrington
How do you judge a restaurant? What really makes the difference between the truly great and the merely good? Is it purely about the food for you? How important is a friendly greeting when you arrive, the service, the wine list, the décor, a specific table, the location of the toilets?
I am extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to eat out a good deal and the recent publication of the 2015 Michelin Guide got me thinking about how I rate a restaurant experience. As ever the Guide garnered praise and criticism in equal measure for rightly elevating (in my opinion) the brilliant Barafina to a Michelin star (although you can’t book a table and even before the elevation you often had to queue for some time to get a seat; fortunately they have opened a second site close by where the food is just as good) and demoting the likes of Medlar, which I still believe provides one of the best restaurant experiences in London.
Despite this criticism I admire the straightforwardness of their star rating and the clear explanation which still retains a nod to the Guide’s original purpose as a traveller’s companion: one star being “A very good restaurant in its category” (“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”); two stars, “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”) and three stars, “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”).
I certainly wouldn’t for one minute take my views as seriously as an historic and rigorously researched guide but to me there is something more to a really great restaurant and a great restaurant experience than purely food. Of course the meal itself is a key element but it struck me as I sat in the private room of the Delaunay last night looking through the windows at the main dining room that there is something even more vital and that is ‘atmosphere’. I couldn’t hear the buzz of the restaurant last night cocooned as I was in the private room but I could sense it. Like the most exquisite staging of a classic play the room was beautifully lit. The tables were full. The front of house staff were so brilliantly choreographed they almost seemed to be pirouetting between tables.
There was certainly food, and wine was flowing at most but not all tables. One could almost sense the enjoyment of my fellow dinners through the glass. It wasn’t quite a eureka moment and certainly a glass or two of the sensational 1999 Ch. Beaucastel may have lifted the spirits but that view through the window defined for me what a truly memorable restaurant experience should be and it is one certainly worth a ‘special journey’ in my book.