I love restaurants. I love sitting in them, especially at the bar, and watching. I love a very, very long lunch. I also love food, which is one of the reasons I go to restaurants.
It isn’t the only reason, though from time to time it seems like the world thinks it is. The rise of the philosophical, expressive, and thoughtful chef using food as a medium in which to craft a message has led to some astonishing experiences and important plates of food. The downside is that the seriousness with which we culturally criticise and dissect food has turned some restaurants into shrines to culinary composition. This isn’t always fun for the diner and, while I know that art isn’t always fun, it has begun to feel a little confining.
I see that reflected in coffee, but not in coffee alone. It is common in a variety of areas of food and drink, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
While some restaurant reviewing has gone the way of terrible artistic review (the review is written to celebrate the reviewer’s intellect and taste, and the subject of the review is merely the vehicle for the self-congratulation), there are still reviews about what it is like to sit in a restaurant, what it is like to take your seat and be part of that temporary community, dining together.
I like, from time to time, to eat alone. I’m fortunate to have this trait, considering that travel makes this a semi-regular occurrence. In those moments, as someone who loves flavour and who would be comfortable describing a dish as both elegant and clever, it would seem prudent to take the time to hunt for gustatory indulgence. With no dining companion I would be free to indulge myself, and the chef’s edible communication, completely. However, that is rarely what I crave. Instead, I want to sit in a beautiful room or an interesting one. I want to see movement, creation, and food’s artistic pinnacle reached in the moment of its destruction. I want to read a review that tells me about all of this. I love reviews that describe the experience, not merely the food. Great restaurants sell memories, and they’re very good at that. We’d be wise to remember, before our arrival at such an occasion, that we all have terrible taste memories and recall. It would be far wiser to pay attention to everything else, all at once. The gestalt, combined experience is what makes for the greatest, most treasured memories.
I love to sit in a cafe, to linger over a coffee. Perhaps to read, perhaps not. I don’t want to be head down, hunting like a truffle-pig for the aromas prophesied on a small chalk menu board. I don’t want to tune out the noise around me, to focus on the coffee. I want that cup to be entwined in what I see, and hear, and feel.
As such, these are the kinds of reviews I want to read. I want to read about cafes that make you feel something, let you be comfortable and a part of their otherworldliness for a moment. I will always find time to visit those places. I also want to read about the places that don’t welcome you in, that treat you like an outsider, that have a secret code you instantly feel like you don’t know but should. There are certain memories that I’d rather not have.