An important mission of this site is to attempt to develop reliable and rigorous criteria when evaluating restaurants. Readers of restaurant reviews, whether they are made by guides or by restaurant critics, are often in the dark as to what standards the reviewer has applied and exactly how the verdict – as this is often how the chef regards it – has been reached. Few guides or restaurant critics, if any, give deeper explanation of their ratings or what standards they use. Also, restaurant criticism is often highly influenced by the preferred tastes of the reviewer.
Gastromondiale uses the following criteria.
1. What is the quality and rarity of ingredients?
This only targets the quality and not the price of the ingredients. A great dish can be made with inexpensive ingredients of exceptional quality and a poor dish from expensive ingredients of inferior quality. On the other hand, particularly when dining in a Michelin multi-starred restaurant one is entitled to expect at least some rare ingredients on the menu which are not readily available in supermarkets. By rare, I do not necessarily mean very luxurious ingredients like caviar, foie gras, lobster or truffles. Indeed it is better not to serve low grade foie gras or canned truffles. But one expects to find, depending on the season and the region, some rare seafood, shellfish, wild mushrooms, milk fed lamb, etc.
2. How well do preparations respect the used ingredients, how well have the appearance and true flavors of the ingredients been enhanced and with what clarity do the ingredients shine in the preparations?
A chef must not make carrots taste like tomatoes. It may sound trivial but the lack of respect for ingredients is one of the biggest flaws in the cooking even at famous restaurants. When you eat a plate with several vegetables, too often, you won’t be able to taste each of them. One benchmark-example in this respect is a plate like Michel Bras’ Gargouillou, where each vegetable is cooked on its own ensuring that every component in the dish respects the true taste on its own and where the total result is a symphony of tastes that together enhances the impression of the true tastes by offering all those clear tastes of the garden at the same time. Having said this I want to stress that the chef is by no means obliged to respect the shape or the "raw" tastes of the used ingredients. The chef will have a far-reaching discretion to modify ingredients, both with respect to taste and texture, as long as the result respects the essence of the used ingredients.
3. How much of magic touch of the chef is displayed in the preparations and how well has the chef calibrated and married tastes to achieve greatness?
The magic touch in preparations is often what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The magic touch can often be very subtle elements such as clever seasoning, presentation, temperature control etc.
4. What is the level of originality? Is it just a copy, has the chef actually tried to take another dish to a new level or is it a completely new approach with little influence of something that has been done before?
Chefs with ambition should strive after originality in their cuisine and try to form their own style. Sometimes it is, even with dishes that at first sight may seem original, easy to find preparations in the culinary history that seem to be the obvious source for inspiration, but it is often difficult to conclude if the chef has used that source or on his own come up with the resulting dish. It is often easy after eating a number of dishes at a given restaurant to determine the level of originality and style of the cuisine.
5. Can the preparation be improved by a higher rating of the above without completely changing the concept of the dish?
Clearly, I will not give perfect scores to dishes that easily could be improved by the use of better ingredients or a better taste calibration for instance. A perfect dish in this sense is a dish from which you cannot subtract or add an element/ingredient without lowering the quality.
6. To what extent is the chef able to build a successful flow of the meal?
I think it is important that the chef displays talent to concoct a balanced meal which progresses without repetition and with high notes in terms of achieving, throughout the full course of the meal, a superb textural and flavor balance.
It is worth pointing out that I have no preference for certain type of food whether it is traditional or highly innovative avant-garde cuisine. I feel that regardless of style, the above criteria can be applied. There are many guides and food critics that today place the originality of the used technique as one of the primary criteria for judging food regardless of the result. I take a different approach since the applied technique adds nothing on its own to a dish and I am not going to give any style points to chefs who use certain techniques just for the sake of it.
Gastromondiale offers a score rating coupled with a star rating. The scoring system should not be compared with the scoring chart of other guides. We feel one weakness with most guides’ rating systems is the lack of recognition of the vast difference between what is very good food and what is exceptional food.
Four stars indicate exceptional food that is rare to encounter. It is food that is made with an exceptional attention to ingredient sourcing, respect for seasons, offers sensational taste calibration and magic touch of the chef, careful execution of the cuisine and a high level of originality or style.
The difference between the four and three star rating is a big step. A three star restaurant is a restaurant that offers outstanding food made with exceptional to outstanding ingredients but where there is room for improvement with respect to ingredient sourcing, executions of the preparations or where the originality or style is not clear.
A 2-star rating is an indication of very good to sometimes outstanding food. There is a clear step between two and three stars. It could be restaurants offering outstanding to exceptional ingredients, but where there is no enhancement or taste calibration or originality or where there is a lack of magic touch from the chef. Several restaurants rated as 3-stars by Michelin falls within this rating.
A 1-star rating is given to food that is worth exploring and offers culinary interest and enjoyment. Of course this rating is a very good rating for a small restaurant or for a young chef with limited resources. Obviously it is a less impressive rating for an expensive and prestigious restaurant.
In the non-starred scores, a score between 9-12 offers various degrees of food that is good and enjoyable to eat but where the sourcing of the ingredients or the execution leaves room for significant improvements.
A score below 9 is given to food that to a varying degree is disagreeable to eat for the real gourmet and should be avoided.