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A scientist researches restaurants

by Bart Janssen

Last week, a friend put together a Venn diagram which collated the restaurant reviews for Auckland by the Cuisine good food guide, the Metro magazine Top 50  and the top 50 restaurants listed for Auckland by TripAdvisor.

Yeah, my friends are geeky scientist food lovers too.

Now let’s be clear: I am well aware that I’m very lucky to be at a stage of my life where I can afford to eat out at some of these restaurants more than once. Most of these establishments will cost upwards of $100 per person for a night out. Add to that some wine from their extensive lists and, well, let’s just say it’s a serious spend-up and you better be having a good time.

For me it’s an easy call, because eating food with friends is one of my favourite things to do. My 50th birthday consisted of going to Melbourne and eating at top restaurants four nights in a row – by which time even I was starting to crave a simple meat-and-three-veg dinner with nothing remotely resembling a foam or smear.

So for me, Soon’s Venn diagram is useful. It reminds me of places I’ve wanted to get to sometime and some of those that I really want to visit again to try more of the menu. But it also made me think about how I choose places to eat.

A significant part of the fun of eating out for me is the anticipation. I like to read the reviews and try and figure out from the obscure coded language reviewers use whether I will actually enjoy the meal. I want to know if the restaurant will cater for the likes and dislikes of my dinner companions. I’m geeky enough to want to know about the chef’s philosophy: why they cook, what they cook, the way they cook it.

But sometimes I also just want to try that place I saw as we drove past last weekend. “Cazador has been revamped, so should we finally actually try it?” and “look, the place that used to be Bowman’s has changed hands again (now Bolaven, apparently the name of a plateau in Laos) -- should we check it out?”. And yes, sometimes the choice amounts to what is on the way home.

“Cheap and cheerful” is sometimes hard to find. Often the equation is half right, which to be fair, is better than the “expensive and great” being half right. There are cheap eats guides around: Metro cheap eats  and cafe guides are good and so is TripAdvisor with the appropriate filters .

But a problem with cheap and cheerful places is that they can change very quickly if a chef or front of house changes so perhaps the best way to find them is a recent recommendation from someone who has the same taste as you.

I admit to looking at food porn and sometime producing some myself. As a side note I’m in favour of taking photos of beautiful plates of food. I figure if the chef has made the effort to make it pretty, why wouldn’t I take a photo, just like I’ll take a photo of a canyon or a castle (no flashes though)?

On Twitter, I follow some foodies, a chef or two and the odd front of house person. I read blogs like Eat Here Now , Jesse Mulligan’s blog and these five sisters who make me feel very old.

All of which makes me feel like I might be a bit obsessed. That’s not a bad thing though, is it? So how do you folks choose where to eat when you want a night out?

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