For the first time since 2007, we have no restaurants on our “to try” list. Not a one.
Back then, we decided to start eating out more often. It was a decision taken comparatively late in life – we were both in our mid-50s. Before that, like most people we know, meals out at somewhere “decent” were something for celebrations – birthdays and the like. Or there was the occasional meal at the local curry house, Beefeater or Pizza Express. Or something we did when we were on holiday.
We’d always sent a review of the “decent” meals to the Good Food Guide and this seemed as good a place as any to start. We decided to visit every place listed that was within a 60 minute drive. We were ruthless about this – and it’s meant that we’ve not visited places in, say, Leeds because the sat nav brings them in at, literally, 61 minutes.
Of course, we added other places to the list. Places that we’d heard about on local websites that were not listed by the Guide (and I’m pleased that some of those we reviewed eventually found their way into the Guide – although vanity takes hold and I’m almost as pleased to see my own words used in a Guide’s write-up). And, of course, since we both retired we’ve taken more short breaks which means more dinners out. More dinners to write about.
It’s taken us to 340 different places across the two countries. And we’ve eaten in the north, south, east and west of these islands – or, more specifically – Inverness, Bournemouth, Alnwick and Castletownsend. Most of the places have been fine – enjoyable evenings but not places to rush back to – not even if they were a lot closer. A few have been poor. Not just poor quality, but poor value for money. And a few have been outstandingly good and they’re the ones where I can still taste a dish – they tend to be the higher end places - the Michelin star restaurants like the Waterside, Sat Bains and, nearer to home, Fraiche and Northcote. But, occasionally, there’s been an absolute belter of a dish somewhere else – like a lamb nihari at London’s Moti Mahal.
Well, what now? We’ll obviously still be eating out regularly. And we’ll be scouring the local review boards looking out for recommendations of new places to try. But, for the main, we’re going to draw up a list of local places and visit them on some form of vague rotation. In the main, they’ll be bistro/brasseries serving the Modern British style of cooking local, seasonal food that is always our preferred eats. I expect it to be as much fun as the last seven years. But it’ll be different.