Here we explain how we grade the restaurants we visit. Our system might seem a little quirky but we believe it provides a clear and consistent way of appraising restaurants.
Each restaurant we visit is marked out of 20. The marks are divided into what we consider to be the four most important ‘pillars’ of a dining experience, as follows:
- Food (and drink where relevant): 6 marks
- Service: 6 marks
- Ambience and setting: 6 marks
- Value for money: 2 marks
The reason for the slightly uneven weighting is to give more emphasis to the food, the service and the ambience. Value for money, whilst undoubtedly an important factor in the overall assessment, merits a more binary judgement: something is either good value for money or it isn’t, hence the lower weighting.
As a general rule, we consider a mark of 10 to be the pass mark. Anything 17 or above is awarded only to the most outstanding restaurants, whilst anything under 10 we would advise you to avoid. Broadly speaking, the marks fall into the following bands:
15-17: Very good
Under 10: Don’t bother
When deciding the marks in each category, our reviewers follow strict and granular marking guidelines to ensure fairness and consistency. Marking decisions are not taken lightly either: whenever a restaurant is considered by a first reviewer to be a fail (under 10) or outstanding (18 or more), the final mark is agreed with the approval of the editorial board and, where possible, on the basis of more than one visit. Restaurants can improve. They can also go downhill, so we revisit them whenever we can and revise our marks if we feel this is necessary.
Our granular marking system is summarised as follows:
|FOOD (AND DRINK)
|Outstanding cuisine in every sense. Food which not only dares to push boundaries in gastronomy, it succeeds in doing so. There will not be a single glitch or fault, however minor. The wine selection (where relevant) will be expansive in its scope. A mark of 6 in this category will be very rarely awarded and is reserved for the very best restaurants in the world.
|Consistently excellent and faultless dishes with intelligent use of ingredients and elegant presentation.
|Very good cooking, on the whole. Perhaps one or two minor errors which are by no means fatal. You will have a pleasing meal here but you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to travel far to this restaurant.
|Competent cooking but it is ‘safe’ – there is nothing particularly special or unique here. There may be more minor errors, or mediocre food may be disguised by initially impressive presentation. Presentation is likely to be clichéd or uninspiring.
|The food is edible but is quickly forgotten. Really nothing special and several mistakes.
|Just about passable but there are serious faults across the board.
|All members of staff encountered in the dining experience, from start to finish, will exceed all expectations, going above and beyond the call of duty.
|Excellent and very pleasant service all round. Discretion is exercised. You are looked after.
|Good, efficient, deferential service with a smile. Perhaps one or two forgivable glitches, delays or minor errors.
|Service may be generally fine but some errors or inconsistencies in levels of service between staff.
|Service is functional and robotic but just about OK. There are quite a few errors. Lack of training is evident.
|Just about acceptable but requiring serious improvement.
|Service was completely unacceptable or non-existent.
|AMBIENCE & SETTING
|A superlative ambience and setting in every sense. You could be in heaven. Table spacing, furniture, noise levels, lighting and temperature levels are all perfect.
|A sedate ambience that you can luxuriate in. Very comfortable.
|A comfortable dining experience but perhaps with one or two minor problems that are easily resolved or fixed.
|Reasonably comfortable and an acceptable dining experience.
|Just about acceptable level of comfort but there are several problems in more than one area (e.g. high noise levels, uncomfortable temperature, overly bright lighting, etc).
|Not very comfortable. You don’t want to stay.
|An uncomfortable and unacceptable dining experience in every sense.
|VALUE FOR MONEY
|Good value for money for a restaurant of its class.
|Just about acceptable, but pushing it.
|Not good value for money – you are being ripped off.