Food! Magical food! Wonderful food! Marvellous food! Glorious food… It’s so great, people have been writing music about it for decades. Food is more than just absorbing nutrients and replenishing energy levels – it’s comfort, it’s escapism, it’s celebration. It’s common ground. Fitness and nutrition specialists would probably reprimand me for attributing pleasure and emotional appeal to food; purists might say this mindset is the stronghold of weight issues and health problems but I say stuff it. Stuff it, fry it, bake it, roast it – however you enjoy it, just bloody well enjoy it.
Life is for living, great drinks are for drinking and delicious food is most certainly there for devouring. I survived my fussy childhood on Wotsits and white chocolate mousse (much to my parents’ dismay) so growing up to create this blog is a minor miracle in their eyes and a playground of potential for me. It has taught me to experiment with ingredients, embrace different dining cultures and just generally leave my mind (and mouth) open to new culinary experiences. I may still love a 6 McNugget meal as much as the next guy but I’m definitely expanding my horizons.
So, what makes for the perfect dining experience?
Of course, the answer to this question is purely subjective. What might be your idea of Hell, could be my perception of complete and utter Heaven. However after attending the incredible Casa Campo Viejo eating experience last week, I felt inspired to offer my ideas on what makes the perfect dining experience…
Something for all the senses – Even the most popular trends in food aren’t isolated solely to the food itself. These days we want the complete experience, we’re content in just simply eating. Sure, there are plenty of great brands like Hello Fresh who can help you recreate global gastronomy from the comfort of your own kitchen but customers these days want to enjoy their Thai Green Curry in authentic surroundings complete with a story. We want to see visual representations of the menus we eat from, we want to hear the soundtrack of their origins, we want to smell each and every ingredient and these are now all equally as relevant as taste.
A culinary specialism – As I said in my recent review of Grill on New York Street, I much prefer an edit of a handful of well-executed dishes as opposed to a 10-page menu which sacrifices substance for appeal to the masses. Whether it’s in a professional restaurant serving the freshest ceviche outside of Peru or hosting a killer dinner party in your own kitchen with some locally sourced produce, less is always more for me. Showcasing a smaller repertoire of signature dishes equates to a more sophisticated and memorable dining experience in my eyes.
Creating the right setting and atmosphere – It might sound bizarre but for me, the food isn’t always number one on the list when reviewing a dining experience. For example when I went to the Pudding Club at Leaf Cafe in Liverpool, I wasn’t cock-a-hoop about many of the desserts but the twinkling fairy lights, communal seating arrangement and quiet but assured delivery of our host made me want to return to the next instalment.
Restaurant design is an art form in itself and even if, as a guest, you aren’t aware of it, plays a massive role in your experience and lasting memory. One of the most prominent trends in restaurant interior design right now is an exposed kitchen with glass walls (just ask the guys at https://www.professionalglass.com.au) and offers a more immersive, dynamic dining experience. Statement features like this marry with smaller accents like show-stopping table settings and the perfect light fixtures to create a recipe for ambience success. Colours also have a stimulating effect on dining experience so be sure to research your Pantone before making any final design decisions. If your imagination is failing you, have a mooch about for some dinner party inspiration boards on Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing.
As well as the aesthetic of the space, it’s also important to consider factors such as the balance of capacity and mood. If the kitchen staff are stressed or if the waiting staff are unwilling, it can dull the shine of even the most beautiful decorated bar or restaurant. I once visited an eatery in Liverpool – which I won’t name spitefully now – who had beautiful Moroccan-style floor cushions scattered around the room, incense creating an authentic aroma and stunning, ornate ceilings but a sullen waitress who slammed my kofta in front of me so hard that I ended up with a whole green chilli pepper on my lap. It’s safe to say I haven’t been tempted to return since.
So to summarise, I guess my idea of the perfect dining experience encompasses a concise menu of expertly-crafted food, a great ambience, a consciously-designed venue and a host or hostess who makes you feel at home and has plenty of pearls of knowledge to impart. Any great customer experience must offer more than just good quality food – it needs to be a journey, a story and most imperative of all, a memory.