Susie Rishton: Modern-day curse of the glowing review

Urban Notebook
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I love eating, and in a good restaurant my attention is usually fixed, madly, on my plate. But even the most delicious dinner is easily spoiled. The discovery of hitherto unannounced mushrooms (bleurgh!) in a dish is deeply dismaying; so too is the table that's not quite next to the door, but still somehow in the slipstream of an icy draught; just as disappointing are the meals self-sabotaged by an excess of aperitifs.

But now I've identified a new irritant: the glowing restaurant review. Like many Londoners, I am a pathetic slave to the star-ratings, marks-out-of-20 and gushing recommendations from critics that insist "you simply must go, the chef used to work at another, much more famous restaurant that you've never been to either." This weekend I booked a table at Modern Pantry, a new place in Clerkenwell. The reviews – and as usual I read them all online before making the reservation – were adulatory. Head-over-heels. The critics simply hadn't lived before eating Modern Pantry's "new Asian fusion" cuisine. The woman who took my booking had read them too. "Can you come at 7.30pm, it's a bit of a squeeze," she apologised, "We've had such good reviews, you see." That's it, I thought smugly to myself, that's Saturday night a cast-iron, no-excuses gastronomic success.

And so it was. Apart from the air con was on a bit high, and the seats a little hard. The courses were delivered just a few minutes too quickly. That little blob of tapenade on the prawn omelette was a touch overpowering. By the end of the meal, when I heard myself say, "The problem with that pistachio panna cotta is that it tastes too much of pistachio," I realised I had crossed a line. I had become unreasonably picky. The two women at the next table were doing it too, rolling their eyes in disbelief when the waiter brought the wrong starter. Modern Pantry is an excellent restaurant. But don't take my word for it.

The problem with good reviews is that they prejudice the experience. Dining in the shadow of outrageous expectation, even reasonable variations in service or seasoning became a personal slight. It's not as they promised. And – unlike the professional reviewers – we still have to pay the bill afterwards.

Keeping it real...

Rather than shop at Primark, I've stopped buying clothes completely to save cash (to spend on food). But I was tempted by one special offer this weekend. Outside a Brick Lane shoe shop, I saw a notice pitched to budget-conscious shoppers. "The Devil Wears Prada," read the hand-made sign, "But the people wear £5 plimsolls".