Signature dish: if at first
A couple of weeks ago, I went with friends to review a restaurant. It specialised in two mains plus side dishes and between the five of us, we tried almost everything on the menu. Sadly, it was nothing if not mediocre. There was only one item we liked and that was a side dish. To put it in perspective, if it had been a siu mei shop, it would be like saying that all the roasted meats - as well as the rice - were really bad, but that the spring onion sauce served with the soy sauce chicken was fine.
I decided that I wouldn't write up the review, which irritated some of my guests, who thought I should "blast" the place for its mediocrity; one friend said the readers "had a right to know". I understand his point of view, but explained that as there's space for only three reviews each week in my food and drink section of the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours, I'd prefer to include places about which I could say something positive about more than just a side dish. I'm not afraid to write about something I dislike and would have published the review if it had been a more expensive restaurant or one that was considered hot and happening, in order to warn readers that they shouldn't bother with it. But although there had been a fair amount of pre-publicity about this restaurant, the buzz had died down soon after it opened. The fact that we easily got a table as walk-ins (the management doesn't take bookings), that it was nowhere even close to being full (even though it was a small place) and that it was quite inexpensive (no more than HK$150 per person) made me even more reluctant to write about it.
After my friends and I gave up on that meal, we went to another restaurant, nearby. Fortunately, the food was much better, although we had a few problems with the service. We weren't quite as hungry as we would have been if we hadn't wasted precious stomach space on dinner No1, but we had a substantial meal, and I was able to write up that review. Our mood went from irritated to happy, as, with good food finally in our stomachs, we were able to laugh about the first restaurant. The evening hadn't been a total loss.