So far this year, my restaurant reviews for the Good Food section of The Sydney Morning Herald have covered a Vegas-style big-night-out restaurant at Barangaroo with no fewer than four kitchens, a tiny inner-urban pizzeria, a Nigerian home-style kitchen, a breezy wine bar on Sydney’s northern beaches and a roadhouse diner in the Blue Mountains. Next up, Mexican and Japanese.
It’s a similar mix for my fellow reviewer on The Age, Gemima Cody, who – while in and out of lockdown – has rated a taqueria in Geelong, Andrew McConnell’s glamorous CBD opening, a plant-forward diner in Westgarth, Three Blue Ducks at a Tullamarine surf park and Ben Shewry’s Attica Summer Camp in the Yarra Valley.
If this crazy mix sounds all over the shop, you’re right. Hospitality itself has been deeply disrupted over the past 12 months and reviews hold a mirror up to the changes, reflecting and refracting. Now everything is on the table. That said, the choice of which restaurant to review is something I spend a great deal of time thinking about, even though it might look effortless (it does, doesn’t it?).
My very nice editors don’t tell me what to cover next; they leave that to everybody else. My barista, next-door neighbour, my butcher, random hospo industry folk, produce suppliers and social media all serve up a constant buffet of suggestions for my forward list. Readers, too (email address below, you know what to do).
Sometimes a place makes my nose twitch like a cartoon bloodhound on the scent. I’ve reviewed several places on the basis of a single Instagram post of a dish whose pixels have screamed, “Eat me, I’m yours!” Then again, I’ve just added one restaurant to the list that I discovered by walking past the front door while the chef was outside on a ladder, painting the signage: the pedestrian equivalent of Instagram.
So how to narrow it down? When in doubt, I go back to why I do this in the first place. Sheer personal greed, obviously, but mainly to help people find a good place to eat. Which place is going to be of the most interest? What story does it tell? How does it fit into our new world? Then I just go to the one I want to go to the most. Works for me.