How to Spot a Fantastic Restaurant: Look at these Three Things

To let the cat out of the bag, I am not into fast food at all. I love restaurants where I can feel the passion for a product, places where waiters understand how to excite diners, where waiters know how to take diners on a journey. They can take me on a tiny journey, really I don’t mind, I don’t expect fireworks every time I eat out, I just want to be on fire .. a bit. I love to observe other diners (and especially friends and family I go out with). I also read lots of restaurant ratings on several websites. Over the years and (I reckon) hundreds of restaurant visits later I came to the conclusion that most diners really have to be more honest, yes I might even say more realistic.

You get what you pay for. People often love places because they are so cheap. That is what I really hear too often. Isn’t it obvious that cheap and amazing experiences at restaurants don’t very often come together? Quality products and professional staff that in the end lead to a special experience cost money. Easy.

Cheap and cheerful is terrific too, all in good time. Expecting excellence at a cheap and cheerful place is not so cool really. That is what I mean when I talk about realistic expectations. Again, you get what you pay for, and I believe in fair play. Don’t go to a cheap and cheerful place and behave like having dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant.

If I go to a restaurant and to me the food is amazing but the waiters are not welcoming or even arrogant, they won’t see me again. You know these places where they treat you as they do you a favour that they let you in. Not into it, sorry. If I go to a restaurant where everybody is warm and fun but the cooking is so la la and really leaves room for improvement, I would certainly go again.

Once in Los Angeles, I went to a vegan organic Mexican restaurant. Location was great, food and drinks (from water, wine, to starter, to dessert and espresso) were great, the staff was great, the interior was great, the atmosphere was great, all great. As I waited for the bill to arrive I saw a rat, ambling along the exposed white wooden beams above my head. The waiter reacted completely normal and reassured me to look into the problem. Would I go again? That is a tough one right? A rat at a restaurant is a pretty full-on nightmare, but the reaction of the waiter was so natural; it seemed this was an unlucky incident. A warm summer night and the patio doors were wide open. Things happen. I would definitely go again.

I went to a complete trendy café in Berlin and there was no other guest there. No one greeted me as I entered the premises. The waitress was wearing a badge that said: “Real place, real people.” I went to the counter, ordered a flat white and said “Don’t you think it is sad that you have to wear a badge that states “Real place, real people" while I can so very clearly see that you are indeed a real human being? That was already too much for her. She was upset and didn't even answer. That again was a bit too uppish for my taste. That is the thing, I don’t like it when someone promises the moon and I only get stars. Would I go again? Probably yes, if friends want to grab a coffee there. It is too minor to make a fuss about it but I wouldn’t initiate a visit.

What is an ideal restaurant?

My ideal restaurant is a restaurant where everything works together, where I can see the concept behind it, a clear strategy, where the interior and lighting complements the food, and where the waiters understand what they serve their diners.

Three things to look out for when searching for a good restaurant

It is really rare that I eat at a bad restaurant, and with that, I mean one that I personally don’t like. Good or bad is such a very stretchy word. When I look for a restaurant while walking around a town I look for these three things.

1. Are there clean table cloths on the table?
2. Is there pretty china, cutlery, and glassware?
3. Are the windows clean?

If these three things are OK, I go inside and make a booking. If they are friendly I know that I'm one step closer to a great foodie experience. If they aren’t friendly I don’t book a table. Actually, it would be the same if I make a phone booking, if they are rude or uninterested on the phone, I can almost be sure that the experience is going to be a bad one.

You made the booking ...

You made the booking, you arrive at the arranged time, you sit down, and it is still not too late. The best indicator is how you personally feel when you enter the restaurant. It doesn't really help when some experts tell you that “xxx” is an excellent restaurant if it doesn't speak to you. Listen to your instinct. If you sit down and somehow realize that you don’t like it, don’t feel too embarrassed to leave. A restaurant visit it supposed to be fun, you want to enjoy yourself and not please the owner of a restaurant or impress others. The next person might enjoy the experience, and that again makes the chef much happier, as having you with an unhappy face at one of the tables.

What do you do to find the one? Can’t wait to hear your experiences.

Read about the following restaurants I recommend in Scotland, South Africa and Italy.

From Berlin with love