Writing informative and objective restaurant reviews can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for or how to structure the review. While everyone has their own level of ambition and knowledge the following guidelines will provide you with a solid base to write informative reviews which are useful to your readers. However, these guidelines can easily be modified for any kind of service or experience and equally well for any other type of media.
Anyway, the guidelines: Keep it centered on the food – Describe it with detail, use adjectives, mention the dishes original name but explain them if it isn’t obvious what they are. Other details to note:
Surroundings – Location, view from window, neighborhood
Atmosphere – Interior design, décor, cleanliness, other guests, sound volume, mood
Menu – Menu and Wine list contents broadly described
Service – Speed, presentation and demeanor
Exclusives – What makes this restaurant stand out
Make notes – Mental or in a notebook, if possible take pictures
No novels – don’t work in yourself in the story, keep it factual and unbiased
Don’t go too hard on failures – think of the possible reasons for the failure, is it just an “off” night
Ask for information – make the staff tell you about the establishment, the food, the menu and so on
Sample the courses – If you can’t sample the whole menu, try to sample a few dishes at least with the help of your friends
Extras – You can nick (or ask for) press material, menus and so on to use as reference later, this is also often found on the restaurants website if they have one
And don’t forget to keep it personal! The review should reflect your experience there, it might sound counter-intuitive to keep it factual, unbiased and personal at the same time, however it really isn’t. What it means is that although the dinner might be a part of a big night out or some kind of celebration that you want to write about, those things should not be the backbone of the review even if they might be mentioned. The review is about the establishment, not you.
To illustrate my point I’ll finish with an example, an review of the Beirut Cafe in Stockholm. Although my knowledge of Lebanese food is not the best it serves as a good example for a nicely structured review of the compact type:
First off, Beirut Cafe is very popular so book your table in advance. My party showed up a Tuesday at 7pm and it was jammed! The host was very helpful and eventually managed to seat us in the lounge area. The locations is a little bit off, it’s not that it’s very far from the central parts of Stockholm, it’s just that there’s nothing else that way except fancy residences. There’s a mixed clientele although there’s mostly groups probably having some kind of after-work get together.
They have a wide array of mezes with a very good overall quality. The Kras Nana and Sojok stands out as the best mezes. The minced meat beef with mint and lemon (Kras Nana) is perfectly balanced and the lamb sausage with vegetables (Sojok) is without competition the hottest dish with the most punch served (in our selection at least). Most of the other ones just beautifully complement each other without taking over the show. The only thing not quite up on par with the rest was the Sojok bel baid (lamb sausage omelet), it was a little bit soggy and bland, maybe because I only sampled that one towards the end of our sitting.
The wine list is rather limited although they have an impressive selection of the Lebanese producer Chateau Musars champagne from 1956 and forward. A Merlot (Santa Helena Vernus Blend) and two red wines from Chateu Musar are available by the glass, the Merlot is fairly average while the least expensive of the Chateu Musars (can’t remember the name though) is very good, full of life without too much tannin and great value for the money.
I cannot stress how good atmosphere they have created, the interior design is just fabulous and never fails in any detail, the music is clear but never intruding, the service is very swift but at no point rushed and the service staff is helpful and friendly.
Beirut Cafe is an establishment of international class that’s truly one of the highlights in Stockholm.