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Finding a great place to eat - hints and tips
Wherever we go in the world, if we eat out, I like to know that I will not waste my money. This applies from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant. And Chris and I love both! All I ask is that the food is fresh, well cooked and tasty. The more I pay, the more I expect to find top quality ingredients, unusual flavours and evidence that time and love has been spent on preparation and presentation.
Most of the time I am happy, because I spend time finding the right places for us.
So how do I do it?
Firstly, I do some research in advance. I use reviews, especially Tripadvisor, and make a shortlist of places we might like when we arrive in an area.
Tripadvisor does work if you use it carefully.
1. How many reviews are there? Less than 30 for a place that has been open for 5 years - I might look elsewhere, unless it is in a location where reviews are rare.
2, Who posted the reviews. Where are they from? How many reviews have they posted before? If all of them have only posted 1 or 2, there is a good chance they are the owners friends giving them some support!
3. When were they posted? Trip advisor often displays results so that the best results show up first. They could have been posted years ago! Choose 'see all reviews' and look at the most recent!
4. Look at the style of the reviews. If a bunch all say the same thing with just a few words changed, they could be friends posting together!
5. Don't be instantly put off by negative reviews, especially if the vast majority are positive. It is well known that competitors will post negative reviews to adversely affect a competitor. Are there others confirming the same issue?
However, a recent run of authentic poor reviews could indicate a change of ownership or style that isn't as good as before.
6. What do the reviews say? If you are looking for a romantic, fine dining meal for 2 and spot a top rated restaurant, make sure the reviews don't tell you "Brilliant for families, they have a play area in the centre of the room" or " I went with 11 of my mates and the burgers were amazing" And vice versa of course!
7. The search feature is useful on Tripadvisor if you are trying to find out about a specific issue like special diets, accessibility, whether dogs are allowed etc. Use 'Find reviews that mention' and insert your topic.
Once I have my shortlist, I look up the cafe or restaurant website to check the menu, opening days, hours etc.
Different countries have certain days when restaurants are more likely to be closed. In the UK, Monday is often trickiest.
Now I probably have a shorter shortlist!
My final and most important ways to choose a place to eat are when you are right there in the city or town where you hope to have a delicious meal or snack.
Firstly, talk to local people and ask them where they recommend. This does raise the possibility of their uncle's cafe 3 miles away!
Secondly, look at where local people eat. Which places are full of tourists? Which ones are empty? They might not be the ones if you want good local cuisine.
Thirdly, look at the food on the tables, not on the menu! Do the diners look and sound happy!
The best places are often not in the main tourist spots, but in the surrounding streets.
We have had some truly amazing meals on our travels, and, in all honesty, very few bad ones using the tips I've written above.
Our Top Ten places to eat in the UK - in no particular order! Roll on Summer!
1. Makla in Southbourne Dorset. Authentic Moroccan and Lebanese Food in a great atmosphere
2. Pollen Street Social in London. 1 Michelin star modern British with an amazing tasting menu, and great value set lunches
3. The Ship Inn in Low Newton, Northumberland. Amazing crab sandwiches, a super view AND it's own microbrewery! Heaven.
4. Roots fine dining in Southbourne, Dorset. Upmarket, delicious food that is a work of art. Tasting menus and super Sunday lunch.
5. The Mussel Pod in Brancaster, Norfolk. Fresh mussels from their own beds with a range of imaginative sauces. Takeaway. Divine!
6. Chequers Inn, Binham, Norfolk. Currently holding our title for best pub Sunday lunch.
7. Verveine in Milford on Sea, Hampshire. Fishmonger and exquisite fine dining fish restaurant with a mystery menu!
8. The Jumble Room in Grasmere, Cumbria. Organic, local produce served up with Asian twists in a quirky setting.
9. Yalbury Cottage near Dorchester, Dorset. Local produce used for British cuisine with twists! Lovely setting.
10. Juliet's Garden, St. Marys, Isles of Scilly. Great food, from seafood sandwiches, to dinners overlooking the islands.
Christchurch, Dorset close to home!
Town centre: Cuckoos - Breakfast and lunch snacks £, La Mamma Italian ££, James and White ££, Splinters Restaurant £££
Mudeford: The Noisy Lobster everything from coffee to fish and chips, great breakfasts and full meals £, ££ or £££;
The Jetty Fine dining at the harbourside £££
Highcliffe: Cliffhanger café £, ££ Bistro My Way - excellent French Bistro ££
Milford on Sea: La Perle ££, Verveine - also a fishmonger! £££
Southbourne: Makla - a great Moroccan/ Lebanese cafe restaurant £, ££, Casa Carlos – Authentic Spanish food £, ££
Sobo Fish - wonderful fresh fish restaurant ££, Restaurant Roots - Fine dining for a real treat £££
Tuckton: Beccafico - Snacks and meals with a Mediterranean feel £, ££