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Mar 26, 2013 02:39 PM

Well, that's that then!

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.

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  1. Wow! That sounds like it was a fun project.

    There's a group of people in Toronto who have been working their way through every restaurant in the city in alphabetical order. You could always try that:

    1. Just out of curiosity, how many times a week do you eat out in a restaurant or have a carry out (if you ever do)?

      2 Replies
      1. re: zuriga1

        We usually eat out once a week, June. Might be a lunch, might be a dinner. The 340 places that I mentioned we've visited don't include return visits so, for example, we've been to Fraiche three times over the years and a couple of the local bistros on several occasions

        Takeaways are a rare occurance. A treat, if you will, as my companion in life is rarely enthusiastic about takeaways. I enjoy cooking at home - I'm a regular contributor to the "What's for Dinner" thread on the Home Cooking board - but can be a very greedy man when it comes to a takeaway from the Indian place in the village.

        1. re: Harters

          Thanks for the reply, John. I'd say that's often about our average, too. We don't have too many local 'stars,' so I'm always pushing a bit for more meals in London. I just use the word star without the Michelin connotation. I've just booked Bocca di Lupa for a Sunday lunch... another notch on my holster.

      2. That's neat that you kept such a good record of the places you've visited. I'm going to keep better track of my restaurant meals.

        In an attempt to lose some weight, I haven't been actively keeping "to try" lists this year.

        For close to ten years, I kept "to try" lists for various meals/dishes/cuisines in Toronto, where I live, but lately, I keep track of some older threads to other cities outside Ontario, where I listed restaurants I hoped to visit. Your reviews of restaurants you've visited in London certainly helped me with my restaurant list when I last visited.

        I feel like I've tried most of the better quality restaurants in my city and region, so I'm more likely to focus on returning to a few old standards, although I'm always open to new restaurants.

        I've become a better and more adventurous home cook over the last decade, so I'm no longer that impressed by the average Toronto restaurant's attempt at curry, Italian or Mexican food.

        Over the last year or so, I've been eating at restaurants less frequently, and I've become more selective when it comes to choosing what I order and which restaurants I visit.

        1. Gosh. Well, a heartfelt thanks from me to Our Man in the North, as your 60 minute radius isn't that different from mine, meaning you've tried a lot of duds so I don't have to, and pointed us in the direction of some blinders eg Fraiche. I, for one, would be VERY interested in your shorter list of favourites.

          1 Reply
          1. re: helen b


            Don't forget that my 60 minutes also run north and east, so some places will be well outside your 60 minutes. Mrs H and I havnt yet started to whittle the numbers down but I can't see these not making the list:

            Damson, Stockport
            Aumbry, prestwich
            Baslow Hall, Derbyshire
            Alderley Restaurant, Alderley Edge
            Middle Kindom, Manchester (Sichuan)
            Glamourous, manchester (Cantonese)
            Stolen Lamb, Wilmslow (Greek Cypriot)
            Yara, Alderley Edge (Lebanese)
            Dilli, Altrincham (Indian - but last meal there was not good)
            Northern Quarter Restaurant, Manchester

            I'm also a fan of the Brunning & Price pub chain. Not absolute blinders but bloody decent pub food. And, on the subject of pub food - the Mark Addy in Manchester.

            The search facility should find most of my reviews (although there was a period when I took my bat and ball home and didnt post to Chowhound, only to egullet and local boards. If there's one you can't find, please feel free to drop me an email (address in my profile) and I'll send you the write-up.

          2. Very inspiring, Harters. I always enjoy reading your reviews, even though we no longer live in the UK. I love the idea of trying anything and everything. If there's one thing we really enjoy about living in different places, it's the opportunity to make those little discoveries-- all the more sweet because of how many tries it takes to land on a gem. You have a breadth of experience that brings a lot of value to this board.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gemuse

              Thanks, gemuse.

              And you're right about trying things. In the "old days" when we might have had only 3 or 4 "decent" meals out a year, there was tendency to always order the same things - the stuff you really like. So, that'll be the pate, venison and cheese, please.

              Now we are much more inclined to order different things because even if a place or a dish isnt that good, there's always next week's dinner to look forward to. And, yes, have learned a lot about food (and myself) in the last few years.