‘Newspaper food reviews? The only thing that matters is empty plates’

A cleared plate: The only type of 'food review' that really matters, says restauranteur Richard Hugh

A cleared plate: The only type of 'food review' that really matters, says restauranteur Richard Hughes. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

You wait years for one national newspaper restaurant reviewer to come along and then two appear almost at the same time.

Two critics have deigned to visit our Fine City recently and both recorded very different experiences after visiting two of our feted city centre restaurants.

Of course it's great to be given a good review and equally it's unfortunate that a bad one generates far more excitement but I'm not sure we should take much notice of either.

Good or bad, I'm convinced neither will affect the chef's trade in the long term, particularly here in Norwich, where any restaurant that survives and thrives will have had to satisfy far harsher critics than a chap from a Sunday paper.

The chef can only do his best and in turn hope for the best. Who knows what critics are really looking for?

Most driven chefs have chased stars and rosettes – I once changed my entire menu in the early 1990s as I had a tip-off that an inspector was calling.

It's hard enough now – with a full team and days to prepare for menu changeover day - let alone when you're cooking single-handed and trying to impress.

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Needless to say, the inspector didn't appear, which was just as well given the culinary carnage I was knee-deep in.

I haven't always been so sanguine.

For years I would fret over my perceived lack of recognition from guide books, food critics and Sunday food supplements before maturity and experience told me that the only people who really matter are the ones already coming through the door.

If you're cooking for full-houses that's a review in itself, anything else is just gilding the lily, truffle oiling the mash.

Nowadays everyone has the opportunity to be a critic, be it on TripAdvisor, Facebook or on food blogs (though I'm sure most of the latter are only read by the scribes' Mum).

As for me, I'm with the savvier actors: I try never to read my reviews.

I realise that it's not the professional thing to do and it's not a case of ducking criticism: if something's wrong I hope I'm hands-on enough and wide awake enough to spot it before it becomes problem for someone else.

It isn't always the case, but my customers are a loyal bunch and will generally flag problems up to me instead of grinning and bearing it before heading to their keyboard to vent their spleen.

Cooking and serving is a very personal business – if we make a mistake it's there on the plate for everyone to see and eat (or not eat).

There's nothing we can cover up, all we can do is apologise and try to ensure it doesn't happen again.

On the positive side, our reviews are instantaneous and we don't have to wait for months and the newspaper delivery boy or girl before we get an appraisal.

The best reviews of all are empty plates returning to the kitchen. Anything else is just tomorrow's chip paper.