I don’t see why a flawlessly executed Pizza, Crème Brulée or any other easy-to-make food item that is perfectlty executed would not deserve a 10/10. It has to, when it’s flawless and it stands out. It is NOT about whether perfection exists or not. It is about what is interpreted as the bar (or not) of what has been achieved in oneself’s perception. Furthermore, if you can talk about the good, it implies you know the bad, if you know what’s a 0/10, you should know what’s a 10/10. As for rating a food item, my intent behind it is not to patronize, nor to put down anyone. My sole intent is to ‘convey’ a contructive evaluation of what I am eating at a restaurant. ——— Aromes
All along my years of cooking practise, I found important to enjoy two roles that are complementary and that all Chefs (and hopefully food critics , too) would benefit from experiencing : sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes as a diner. As the diner, I spent years studying all kind of food rating systems (Michelin, Gault Millau, methods used by food critics, the ‘Good Food Guide’ and plenty others). I came to the conclusion that, since food appreciation is anyways subjective, the only rating that makes sense (to me) is what I think of what I am eating. I’ve adopted a very simple rating system over 10 since rating food does not need to be rocket science. Food is food, there’s no need for unecessary intellectual complication, and all that matters is what we think of what’s in our plates. The only thing you need to ensure is to be as accurate as possible and that can only be achieved by long years of educating your palate, knowing what you are talking about (never, never ever talk about food that you are not familiar with…that shows, as with a recent food critic who complained that what he was eating was spicy whereas spiciness is the main feature of the cuisine he was covering..aouch!), tasting as much different cuisines as possible (the more you travel, the better) and of course, while you are at it, cook..cook..and cook, taste ..taste and taste ..so that you better understand flavor combinations.
All food ratings will always be imperfect for a very simple reason: while you are there reading what I’ve experienced, I was there eating. The theory Vs practice clash is a first step of the imperfection of a review. You would have been eating what I was eating, at the same moment, and there could have been differences in both our interpretations of those same dishes. So imagine what can be lost into the translation of it all. I tried my best to get the rating numbers as accurately representative of my overall impression of the food I eat.
Meals and food items at non-michelin starred ventures will be primarily scored in relation to their closest geographical competitors : for example, scores of a bistrot in Montreal should only be compared to scores of an equivalent bistrot in Montreal and not to a fine dining destination in that same city nor to bistrots abroad. If the score applies to comparative dining scene abroad, I’ll explicitly mention it. Regarding Michelin star ventures, since it is a global standard, my scores encompasses cross continental comparisons : As an example, of a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Hongkong, I expect what I am used to at other equivalent 2 stars Michelin abroad. Whether I should not expect such comparison (of a 2 star Michelin standards in one place Vs the same at another location) — or not –is irrelevant to me since it (Michelin stardards) ‘s supposed to be a global standard in the first place.
Now, the details of my food rating:
Remember, I am reviewing specific dishes on a a given meal. I am all about democratically putting our rating systems to the test of popular criticism, but given their subjective nature (whoever you are, the food item that you found spectacular is just that: a food item YOU found spectacular) I believe that it is a nonsense to go over and over the meaning of a given rating system. It will always never be perfect anyways, however you compose it and whoever you are! Also: I am rating the food only. The service is not rated but commented. As for the ambience, I am not going to put this on the back of a restaurants: diners make their own ambience!
There are two levels of ratings in my reviews: An overall rating as well as individual dish scores.
I. The overall rating - Overall food rating HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation
of the individual courses. It is my personal subjective rating of the meal’s overall performance relatively to the highest standards I am used to at similar dining level/category.
10/10 (A meal that as a whole stood out — against the top standards I am used to find at the level of dining / cuisine category in which the given restaurant is competing– example of categories, bistro/fine dining/poutine place/burger shop/sushi shop, etc — as a benchmark meal in all aspects: refined work of the texture, sublime work of the taste, outstanding technique. This is food of a meal that worths leaving the comfort of home for. If that meal rivals with other places outside its geo location, I’ll explicitly mention it) ; 9/10 (An excellent overall meal against the standards I am accustomed to in its category with flawless execution, excellent work of flavors and textures, excellent technique but not a benchmark in comparison to what I have experienced at its level. If that meal rivals with other places outside its geo location, I’ll explicitly mention it. This is food of a meal that worths leaving the comfort of home for); 8/10 (A very good / great overall meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category with great technique, great work of textures and flavors); 7/10 (A good, NOT great overall meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category. Although this is food of a meal that generally showcased potential to easily rise to higher levels); 6/10 (An overall just Ok meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category. Without being particularly strong as an overall food performance, this is a meal that somehow managed to detach itself from the pack with a slight edge either for being technically a bit more consistent than the standard in which it is competing, or for standing out in a particular aspect which detail will be explained in the review of that meal. Either way, it is not an impressive meal, not a severely weak one neither ); 5/10 (An overall average meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category , and clearly the entry point to what appeared to me as an overall close-to dissapointing meal where technique/taste/texture was generally lacklustre.); 4/10 (an overall below average meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category. A severely disappointing meal)
II.The rating of each dish – The following is how I rate each dish. This dish per dish rating ‘s purpose being to try my best to convey my real personal appreciation of each of the sampled dishes. I have been cooking for years and was lucky to be part of a family where many have cooking abilities that would put most top Chefs out there to shame, therefore it is hard for me to go to a restaurant just for the excitement of discovering the next new eatery. While reading my reviews, you will need to remember that this is not a restaurant review website to try restaurants, not a traditional restaurant review web site at all, and that is the intent behind it . This is the result of long diligent searches about which restaurant might reach out to my personal expectations as a dining experience that I could perceive as worthy of an effort (to partake in) from my part. It is like spending years finding that exact wine that really sounds to be the standing out pick worthy of a try. As you might expect from such, you should not find lots of bad scores on this web site (PS: do not get me wrong, although a web site like this could make you think that I am picky or elitist, that is not the case at all. To the contrary, you might be surprised by how a simple fully-flavored juicy grilled lobster with a bottle of beer appeals to me way more than any of the best food items at those top world’s tables). Please find my dish per dish evaluation scale:
Exceptional (10/10) – Certain evaluators believe that a mark of 10 should be omitted, arguing that perfection
does not exist. I am against that way of thinking. Unless all you do is to force your imagination into refuting reality, perfect food item does exist (naturally, relatively to our respective personal expectations)! If to your palate, a given meal reaches the top marks, you should be honest about it! A 10 of my standards means a dish that reached, as far as I’m concerned, one of /or the three following conditions: (1) a level of deliciousness — to my palate — that would be hard to improve upon (2) a level of balance between cooking technique and taste that is of the highest consideration (3) a level of creativity that is very unique and that brings a lot to cooking evolution, but it really needs to be very tasty as well since my primary focus is the pleasure of my palate after all. A very creative dish with no taste will of course suffer from a poor rating, but I’ll insist on underlining its fortes. The quality of ingredients needs to also be superb on such dish. Either way, a 10/10 is of benchmark material and also means the dish had sparks. A food item of the highest level of excitement (the excitement should primarily be palatable, but it needs to be also technical: for example, a superior work of the textures, colors, temperatures, etc – Again, dinings being variable by nature, I can only talk for what I had experienced at X given time. Does not mean the same item will be cooked by the exact same persons, in the exact same mood when you will get to sample it).
Excellent (9/10) -No benchmark material, but perfect (impeccable cooking technique, seasoning, mastery of the temperature, and superb taste) and inspired. Quality of ingredient needs to be impeccable, too.
Very good (8/10 to 8.5) – Great (well cooked, tasty, technically superb). Quality of ingredient needs to be very high. A food item of great level of excitement.
Good (7/10 to 7.5 ) – Good. A dish that remains tasty, the overall been well cooked, technique is good (suitable cooking temperature as well as a work of taste and flavors that are on point) too, but that remains “standard / normal / safe/expected ” (although NOT ordinary at all) for the standard of dining in which it is competing. A food item of good level of excitement.
OK (6/10 to 6.5/10) – A dish with a weak level of excitement, but still acceptable to some extent. Ordinary or close-to ordinary food item with regards to the comparative standards I am accustomed to.
Average (5/10 to 5.5/10) - Average, forgettable with regards to the standards of dining in which it is competing.
Below average (4/10) – And anything below is what I perceived as simply bad with regards to the standards of dining in which it is competing.
****The overall rating, is the rating that you will see at the top of my reviews of Michelin star restaurants, at the bottom of all my Non-starred Michelin reviews. As for my reviewed Michelin starred meals, you will not fail to notice that whereas there’s usually a big difference betwen a top 3 star Michelin table and a top 2 Star Michelin (usually in the refinement of the texture and the ability to push complexity –either in flavor combination or in technique — further without failing), there are virtually none among the average 2 Vs 3 stars (for ie, a good 2 star can be as good as most standard 3 stars, a very good 2 star as good as a good 3 star and you of course have 2 stars that are simply better than most 3 stars as this applies to any level of dining as well, naturally). I try my best to avoid comparing apples to grapes, so you should not compare my ratings of a progressive kitchen like the Fat Duck (gave my 2009 meal at the FT, an overall score of 9/10), for ie, to my rating of a classic one like L’Ambroisie (a score of 10/10 for my 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie). Both are simply different and since they perform at a very high level of excellence in their respective genre, it is important to understand that my overall rating of their meals is not an observation that one is better than the other (at such level, those folks have reached a level of perfection that’s hard to fault anyways) , but that one catered more to my personal likings.
***What about two dishes with same ratings? How to know which was better, to me ? Indeed, of two similarly-rated dishes, there’s still that possibility that one dish was better than the other, in my view. Answer: just ask!
***To make it clear, whether it is a Michelin-star table, a laidback neighborhood table, food on the street, etc: food is food (whatever goodies, effects, sensation that is propelled around it is irrelevant to its core purpose: it needs to be stunning in mouth!) , so there is no discriminating-rating: it’s exceptional, excellent, very good, good or bad!
***Last but not least: read between the lines….when I use words like “divine food” that obviously means it’s about food that blew away my taste buds, as an ie.
In conclusion, here are what I value in a meal: the level of deliciousness / precision of the cooking/technicalities such as the proper temperature, cooking techniques/association between the elements/sparks in taste/ creativity, originality. Again, no creativity nor originality will be valued at the expense of taste! The quality and freshness of ingredients are of course very important, but you can have the best ingredients in hands and not knowing what to do with it…so it all lies in the talent of the Chef (in either transforming the product or in leading the product to express itself at its very best).
The restaurant world, as with most things in life, is of imperfect nature. It is meant, as you and I, to disappoint as many as it might rejoice. It’s as frustrating for a diner to throw a lot of money on a deceiving dinner as it is stressful for a restaurateur to find his work being criticized. But such is the nature of things: when you pay for something, you do expect a return on your investment, nothing less but enjoyment in this case. Talking of impect nature, even our best findings are condemned to sometimes let us down, which is why I won’t stop reminding all of you that all I can guarantee is my opinion on the food that I a reviewing. The rest is completely out of my control.
No one will ever be in a position to recommend what’s perfect for you. But hopefully, this can help.
Another article worth of reading: Learn to know your food reviewer.
Also: My background as a diner -> http://tinyurl.com/8774sax