{20/09/2012}   What makes a restaurant meal memorable

I will be eating at Noma in Copenhagen a week tomorrow, allegedly the best restaurant in the world.  I feel justified in having extraordinarily high expectations, though I am expecting it will be memorable primarily for serving food I have never tasted, perhaps even experienced (live shrimps, for example!); a series of new and exciting taste sensations.   Having spent some time wondering what will make this experience unique, I have thought a lot about restaurants and what makes me want to go back to certain ones and not to others.

The food is of course a huge draw.  The environment is also important and the cost is relevant in so far as it matches expectations and quality of food.  To add to that, the waiting staff can make or break or restaurant, as can unexpected additions to the bill (For example, I object to tips being added to the bill and I hate being charged extra for bread or, fortunately rare, a table charge).  But, having recently read The Evening Standard Food Magazine and realised the restaurant reviews didn’t interest me, I realised that the other clientele can also ruin a dining experience.

I am lucky that I can eat out a fair bit, though I appreciate it more when I just eat out for a treat or special occasion rather than going out more regularly as I sometimes do.  I eat out for the experience, to have someone else cooking and washing up, to try food I wouldn’t cook myself and/or to have an evening out with friends.

Restaurant reviews in magazines and newspapers tend to be for more expensive restaurants, often ones with white napkins.  These are not the restaurants I want to go to for I know the odds are high I will leave slightly peckish and with a distressingly lighter wallet than I went in with.  However, as a very special occasion and when in the mood to dress up, such places can be a suitable treat.  I just can’t think of any off the top of my head that have made me desperate to go back.

In an ideal world, as seems to happen more often when you’re on holiday, I would be wandering around somewhere, ready to eat dinner, and some non-chain, simple restaurant would seemingly appear out of nowhere and I would go in, wearing, say, jeans and a t-shirt, and I would feel comfortable.  The food would be fairly simple, the tables and chairs wouldn’t be matching, the menu would be small and variations to the dishes would be possible (eg, “No, sorry, you can’t have that dish without the brussel sprouts”, would always send off warning bells that I am about to be served a glorified ready meal).  I know a few places around London that fit the above criteria but, sadly, I don’t know any around where I live now.

I have eaten some unforgivably dreadful food in restaurants, had service so bad I should have walked out without paying, felt distressingly out of my comfort zone, walked out before ordering as nothing on the menu appealed or I got an overwhelmingly bad feeling and I have been embroiled in bill disputes, from overcharging to having to refuse to pay the service charge for the atrocious service (a lot of faff and a new receipt had to be printed but I would not let them make me feel guilty, the service was exceptional for its awfulness).  However, I have had some memorable meals in memorable locations and with memorable friends.  So, come on, Noma, I’m going with a memorable friend, so let’s hope the rest exceeds expectations and goes on my short but treasured list of amazing dining experiences … not that I think they won’t have white napkins or be posh or serve me some, erm, challenging food (fish foam, anyone?!).



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