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Sep 16, 2008 04:08 PM

Not Up to Snuff?

I was disheartened to hear my friend's verdict as he proclaimed that Nota bene wouldn't reach the caliber of a one star restaurant where he resides in London, England ( let alone a Michelin star one).

He mentioned that at NB's price point, we could have had (i.e.) a fine dining experience at a French resto in London. He felt the food at NB was good but nothing to be dazzled about. (Personally I had a good time:) I've never been to Splendido but here at NB, I felt the food was quite delicious, creative, and covered a lot of ground for a smaller menu selection (I had the trout sashimi, he had the duck salad, we shared the charcuterie plate. For entrees, I chose the suckling pig and boudin noir tart which was absolute heaven on a plate!.. and he had the beef tenderloin which was cooked perfectly medium as requested). To boot, we got to to meet and chat a little with Chef Lee :)

I cannot agree or disagree with his opinion because I have never eaten at a fine dining resto in England. However, I am requesting all chow experts step up to the plate and assist me in showing him that we do have great places to dine at in Toronto. I have an extensive list of what I consider to be top notch restos, but want to hear from you all first before providing it. He's going to be here for 2 weeks and our round 2 of dining out is coming soon, so I want to be sure that my suggestion will be a winner!

Help me show him that Toronto's got game.

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  1. Most everything in London is double the price of Toronto.. I can see if you spent $200 that he may get same caliber for 200 Pounds but not for 100 pounds.. I got takeout chinese in London 8 years ago... Lemon chicken, seafood fried rice and two cans of coke and nothing else and I paid 18 pounds at that time it came out to $45 canadian! portions were small and it was not that good..

    Ask him to name some restaurants and check out their prices and reviews online...then call him a liar :-)

    3 Replies
    1. re: OnDaGo

      I wouldn't necessarily say that. Gordon Ramsay @ Claridge's, for example, has a tasting menu of the same approximate size as Splendido's for $150 ($10 more than Splendido), and, though 1 Michelin star, I found the food, service, and atmosphere better than Splendido (which I like a lot, for Toronto). Splendido would likely be comparable to a one or two Michelin star restaurant.

      Paying less than double the price of the tasting menu at Splendido would net you a three star like The Fat Duck; and Toronto has nothing to offer which could compare to something of this calibre (and it is worth more than double the price of Splendido, imo).

      Yes, London is incredibly expensive, and a lot of things cost double the price for the same, but I think you may be exaggerating the costs a bit :-)

      1. re: tjr

        Right but we are talking the price point of Note Bene... which is about half of Splendido.. and the person said they could eat at a london stared restaurant for that price...

        1. re: OnDaGo

          I think you misread the original post, and perhaps my intentions. The original post says that Nota Bene would not be a Michelin-starred restaurant (which is likely true), nor a one star on some other rating system that I am unfamiliar with, as it is not mentioned. Following that, he said that he could have a fine dining experience at a London French restaurant. This is also likely true. He never mentions that he could eat at a Michelin-starred French restaurant in London for the same price that he could at Nota Bene, or even a one star restaurant (on whatever rating system to which he was referring).

          I am speaking of comparing prices in general, as your post seemed to be naming prices in general, rather than speaking specifically to the price of a meal at Nota Bene and a similar establishment in London. $200 in London will net you pretty much the same as $200 will here (and maybe even much better food), as long as you do your research.

          Sure, you can get suckered into ordering $45 Chinese food, I guess, but if you actually look at the prices, especially considering the value of the pound now, you'll find that they are more than reasonable and usually of comparable value if you just do your research (note the trend, and why we are at Chowhound in the first place).

          When sugarcube gets a list of restaurants he likes, hopefully it will include an example of a restaurant where he can get better food in the same price range; at this point we can see whether or not he is making the whole thing up.

          I'm pretty sure he could eat at a London fine dining French restaurant (note: not Michelin-starred, as per the post) at the same price point as a meal at Nota Bene.

    2. There may not be very many restaurants that would reach Michelin star status in Toronto, but "one star" in London not referring to Michelin? What does this even mean?

      You'll likely get the same list of suggestions each other thread of a similar nature (see the ones on impressing people visiting from New York, or who knows where else) receives, suggestions for great Chinese (London seems to be bereft of non-Cantonese Chinese), and threads on other ethnic food (obviously don't go for something like Indian, because it's way better in London).

      If he's looking for restaurants serving great food with white-gloved service in an impressive room, there aren't very many options he would find "up to snuff." Splendido is probably the only restaurant in this category, but keep in mind, London has a lot of really great restaurants, and many restaurants better than Splendido.

      Perhaps if we knew some of the restaurants he liked in London, or food/service/atmosphere preferences, it would be easier to provide you with suggestions to wow your friend.

      5 Replies
      1. re: tjr

        I'm on it.. I've asked him to give me a list of the restos he's eaten at and will give you his response when I receive it.

        1. re: sugarcube

          He's one busy person! He finally responded and here's a few of the places he mentioned: Petrus, Pied a Terre, The Square, Hakkasan, Locanda Locatelli, Nobu

          1. re: sugarcube

            I was in London early July and ate at Hakkasan, Zuma and Le Caprice. All very good but obscenly expensive. With decent wine $200 to $250/person. A round of drinks at Hakkasan for 5 was $150.00

            1. re: robb

              Pied à terre, Nobu, Locanda Locatelli, Hakkasan can all be had for the same price or perhaps less than Splendido, depending on what you get (and the quantity of booze you get).

              If he likes Hakkasan, he should be able to find excellent Chinese in Toronto (see Charles Yu or skyline's posts), though, albeit, likely without the pretty room. If he likes Nobu, he might like Kaji, but Nobu (I've never eaten at the London one, but I have eaten at the NY one) is better than Kaji for a lot of dishes (Kaji is far more intimate, though).

              Toronto lacks very good classic/contemporary French, so you won't be able to impress on that front. I'd say look for a Charles Yu post on Chinese; this is your best bet.

              1. re: tjr

                But the price comparison wasn't to Splendido, it was to Nota Bene. I'm no expert, but I doubt he's be able to get better quality for the same price in London.

      2. Can't say that I would think that you could find something at a similar price point but an exceptional tasting experience in the UK.

        On another note, I would be more disheartened to hear that a friend/guest of mine would put down a place that I wanted to take him/her to. Nota Bene is a lovely spot.

        1. Those British food critics can be very acerbic, can't they. :) (Jay Rayner, Giles Coren, AA Gill...)

          I find it hard to believe that NB doesn't reach a "one-star" rating. Did your friend give specifics of where the place didn't meet his standards?

          6 Replies
          1. re: Pincus

            NB doesn't have the service to get any sort of Michelin star rating.

            1. re: tjr

              When awarding stars there are a number of factors Michelin consider:
              the quality and freshness of the ingredients, the technical skill and flair that goes into their preparation, the clarity of the flavours, the value for money and, ultimately, the TASTE. Of equal importance is the ability to produce excellent food not once but time and time again. Thats why their inpectors make as many visits as necessary so that the patrons can be sure of the quality and consistency.
              The decoration, service and comfort levels have no bearing on the award!! ( however, I doubt this is true for 3* )
              All these are best illustrated by the Tokyo Michelin guide where one can find 'cheap, cozy and small' establihments awarded a star solely by their food only.
              Now going back to Nota Bene. I will be dining there tonight and I'll keep a particular eye open. However, based on my eating experiences these past few months, I have been finding more and more inconsistency in the Michelin guide. I can easily point out a few glaring examples. First, Babbo in NYC, a 1* that has been recieving rave reviews since its opening. The meal I had there was borderline mediocre and the service was pathetic!. On the other hand I had a great meal at Samuelson's Aquavit. The food was great and borderline stellar, the service attentive and friendly. But! where is the star?!! Lastly, Sushi Yasuda. In all account a Michelin calibre establishment. However, despite of its great Japanese food, nice decor and attentive service. Its a 'NO-STAR'!
              I've lived and worked in London and Paris for a substantial part of my life. During my stay I literally 'live and dine' on the little red book. My only comment is, London's fine dining is 'obscenely' expensive even when compare to other Micheline cities like NYC, SF, LA and Tokyo. Whether any Toronto establishments deserve one or more stars, one thing for sure: Value for money/food quality wise, Toronto's restaurants are pretty hard to beat!!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Michelin can be wrong, and, of course, the Tokyo guide caused a little bit of an uproar amongst Japanese foodies, who not only claim bias (token restaurants excepted), but that Michelin purposely avoided much better Japanese restaurants, or gave less stars to restaurants deserving of more (and vice-versa).

                NB's service can be frustrating enough to ruin a good meal. Room quality, atmosphere, service, etc. are taken care of with a separate rating (as you already know). One thing, though, is certain: Michelin has never revealed the inner workings of their system, and while they say food is the most important thing, it is likely not the ONLY thing that works into a restaurant's rating. This, at least, is how I like to explain the differences in star ratings to myself for restaurants that are surely at the same level in terms of food. If Babbo is capable of one star, surely you can see that "what is on the plate" isn't always what matters (whether they claim this or not).

                I guess it depends on how cynical you are, and how willing you are to believe them.

                1. re: tjr

                  But the original reference wasn't to a Michelin star, just "one star" on some undefined scale.

                  1. re: Pincus

                    Yeah, which was never clarified. I still don't understand what he was talking about.

              2. I was born and raised in London and I think Toronto has got loads of game.

                I think it's a little tough to compare Toronto to the UK. While the south of England (not just London) has some of the finest places to eat, it also has some of the worst (There are plenty of horror stories of bad food and service). And it is as expensive as people say, even for people who live and work there. London's the kind of city you shouldn't be surprised to pay for the restroom in public places (no joke).

                Nota Bene is a great restaurant and I'd be more than happy to take my out of town guests there. When I was last there I paid $160 for me and my partner, believe me 80pounds doesn't get you very far in London.

                When I'm looking to impress out of town peeps I usually go to:
                Jacob's and Co.