Of new restaurants and restaurant critics

Vikram Doctor points me to an interesting couple of blogs posts, one from a restaurant chef, and the other from a restaurant reviewer.

The first post is by Alex Sanchez, a young chef from the US who’s now cooking at this new restaurant in Colaba. He complains about how restauarant reviewers in India don’t give the place a chance to settle down before reviewing. Mangal Dalal responds in Mumbai Boss making the point that restaurant culture is different here and you better get ready to hit the ground running.

Having been a restaurateur, I agree with points on both sides.

Sanchez is right; no matter how well-trained the staff, how organised the kitchen, handling a full house of customers in a new restaurant is stressful, and it is impossible to get into the flow of things for at least a month. This is why I generally don’t visit new restaurants until a month has passed since opening.

Let me share a personal experience: when I moved Shiok to a new location, my original plan was to open with not only a new look, but also a new menu. As delays hit the setup process, I also figured that things would be slow enough with a new restaurant, and there was no need to aggravate it by changing the menu as well. Despite this, things took the usual 2-3 weeks to run smoothly, and this is for a restaurant with largely the same service staff and entirely the same kitchen staff.

That said, as a paying customer, I firmly agree that if a restaurant is taking a customer’s money, they are entitled to a proper dining experience, especially in a high-end place. When Gautam and I visited Edo, the expensive Japanese restaurant in ITC Gardenia in B’lore, we had an excellent experience, despite the restaurant having been formally open only for a week or so.

My recommended way around this for restauranteurs is to not start with a big bang on day one. Restrict news about the opening to only a few connected people, and let a couple of weeks go by with low-traffic before embarking on a publicity blitz. It gives the staff time to get used to the workflow and settle down. This may not sit well with investors, but it’s the best way.

As for the other question of restaurant reviewers, I agree whole-heartedly that most don’t know their mouths from their asses. If it’s college kids writing most reviews (as Mumbai Boss points out), then they possibly don’t know enough about either restaurant reviewing or food. Every restaurant, even the best of them, can have a bad day, and it’s not fair to assess a restaurant till you’ve dined there a few times. You say you don’t have the resources to do that? Well, don’t do restaurant reviews then. You say there are too many new restaurants? Well, don’t review every last one of them. And if a critic is knowledgeable enough, he/she can surely make a judgement call on whether a screw-up is due to general incompetence of the staff or just them having a bad day. The incompetent ones need not be visited again.

Let’s face it, the whole “restaurant review” business in this country is fucked up. The “reviews” for most major newspapers are arranged by PR people, and the critic will happily turn up after informing you in advance. You will make small talk with them, make sure your best waiter is at their service, and the head chef himself handles the food for their table. If you’re a Page 3 person who has been added to the restaurant management for your celebrity value, you will schmooze with them too – so, essentially, nothing like a typical guest’s experience. They will then partake of your free food and booze, and hopefully give you a stunning review. They may even write wonderful things about food they never tasted (a newspaper critic wrote about my fragrant Beef Rendang despite not trying it, and only reading its description in my menu.)

Restaurant “awards” from major publications too are usually a matter of who has more publicity clout or is a major advertiser, and I have often gone, “you can’t be fucking serious!” after seeing a particular restaurant win a category award.

Unfortunately, the average Joe is heavily swayed by such reviews and believes them to be authoritative. And that is the real tragedy of it.

(A post about the uselessness of “user/community reviews” web sites will have to wait for another day. That much vitriol in one blog post may be too much to handle.)

Book Tag

Yazad tagged
with this book meme that’s actually hopped from LiveJournal to the
"other" blog world. Sorry, my response has been late. But getting the
flu has at least one upside, and that is that you find some time to write stuff
like this. You can’t work even if you want to because your taste buds are shot,
and without being able to taste food properly, a chef is pretty useless.

Here we go then…

Total Number of Books I Own: Like Yazad, I never counted. I estimate
several hundred (at least 700 or so). I got them insured for Rs. 50000 which is
much lower than what they’re worth. The collection also grows faster than I can read
them, so I have about 20 books still to be read. 

Last Book I Bought: I spent many hours at bookshops in Singapore
during my last trip a couple of months back (when I
wasn’t eating
, that is), and the last book I bought was a double
volume of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen
and A
Cook’s Tour

Last Book I Read: Why
Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What to Do
About It
I borrowed this from a friend because the title got me
curious. (I’m always curious about books on human behaviour.) It turned out to
be mostly crap and I read only 3/4 of it. Does that count? If not, the last book
I read completely was Frederick Forsyth’s Avenger.
It was entertaining but set off my "bullshit meter" far too often.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me: I can’t possibly restrict it to
five, but those are the rules, so let’s give it a shot.

Writing Well
by William Zinsser: This book is invaluable to people who
want to be better writers. When you read it, you will realise how much more you
could be. I owe much of my penchant for simplicity and clarity to this man. It’s
affordable, so you should buy a copy too.

Design of Everyday Things
: If you think I bitch too much, you can partly
blame this book. It opened my eyes to the world of design, and showed how poor
design is responsible for product screw-ups. If you’ve wondered why people push
a door when it’s clearly marked "Pull", this book will tell you. (And
it’s a design problem, not a user problem.)

Productive Projects and Teams
: Every person who manages a team of
professionals in the IT business should have a copy of this book, and even if
you’re not in IT, a large part of the management advice in this book
will still be useful to you. Stuff like how overtime doesn’t help in the long
run, or how motivational posters actually have the opposite effect… here, read
the sample chapter online

The Psychology of Persuasion
: Robert Cialdini has written a wonderful
book on how we are manipulated by other people all the time. He describes these
"weapons of influence", why they work, and how to protect yourself
from them.

Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions and the Joys of Thai Cooking
: Believe
it or not, this book has only 30 recipes, but its value lies in the detailed way
the author explains the principles of cooking and combining flavours. I’m a
strong believer in teaching people how to cook rather than teaching them
just recipes, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Read her pieces on balancing
, making curry
, and cooking to
rather than blindly following recipes. This book closely competed with
the far more formidable tome on Chinese cooking, The
Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
by Barbara Tropp. So why did It Rains
win? Because Tropp’s book is not in the least for the casual cook. It
can be intimidating reading it if you’re a novice, but a great learning
experience if you’re not (and I wasn’t.)


Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t been tagged yet? People like Yazad have
tossed their nets out to catch everyone. After much cross-checking, here are my

The Raving Atheist

Shanti Mangala



Anita Bora

Bharteeya Blog Mela – 21 April

Greetings, amigos. Please set some time aside for an eclectic selection of posts
from the Indian blogosphere. This week we have 22 posts for you to sample, and
as usual, I’ve taken some time to go beyond the nominated posts and find other
noteworthy pieces of prose. I’ve even broken them into topics. So for instance,
if you couldn’t care less about cricket (like me), you can skip the sports
section completely. Apologies for the minor delay in posting. There was a power
problem at home. You’d think a UPS mated to a spike-buster would do the trick,
but noooo…

On with the show, shall we? 

Society, politics, and culture

Satya argues for liberalisation
of tertiary education
(yet oddly enough not primary and secondary education)
and thinks the government should stop trying to regulate everything. In
another post
, he points out that the Punjab government is opting for a
school voucher system after seeing a big drop in education standards. A model
for the rest of the country to follow? This is an interesting blog that the
will watch closely. 

Patrix, in a post that rules him out as a libertarian, opines that individual
rights can and should be subverted
in a time of national crisis.
Shocking! Somebody tell him about Indira Gandhi and her Emergency. 😉

In another post, Patrix ruminates
about making safe career choices
or leaving it all to do something one

Harini talks about how Indians will marry anything and everything in as much
style as possible. That
includes marrying trees too

Nitin Pai ridicules a foreign
policy expert’s suggestion
to negotiate with terrorists in Kashmir. (Get proper
permalinks, Nitin. 🙂

On Sepia Mutiny, Anna is miffed that a list of the best 50 restaurants in the
world doesn’t
have anything Asian in it
. (I want to make that list one day with my
restaurant, but given how poorly Indians receive gourmet multi-course meals,
it may not happen if it’s in this country.) 

Saket Vaidya, in a long post, details
his concern for the poor
and how he has fed many a poor person on the

Suhail Kazi has a meandering post on his journey and the trials and
tribulations on his way to getting
a Social Security Number
in USA.

about witnessing large rallies in Kerala, God’s own country (how
I hate that term!) 

Fellow atheist Sybil, who lives in Melbourne, finds that most of her
colleagues have tried
some drug or the other

goes on a train ride
in Mumbai and tries to explain some of the local


Naveen, on the CCS blog, has suggestions for books that explain how markets
work around the world

Marketing and Management

Neelakantan takes
pleasure in trying food
from different vendors, grateful that he doesn’t
have to endure the standardised mediocrity served at McDonald’s. He also thinks
that ready-to-eat
packaged food
has more potential in India than ready-to-cook food.


Swaroop forgets to use the spell-check while writing that Saurav
Ganguly’s six-match suspension
will help him get the break that he needs. To
ignite a flame war, he even mentions the support for Saurav from some
cricket-loving Cartel members. Could he possibly be talking about posts
like this

And Nandan thinks Sehwag is more like
Don Bradman
than even the legendary Sachin.

Science and Technology

is upset at Microsoft
being granted a patent on a method to access emergency

Rajesh Jain believes that affordable
bandwidth will lead the way
in encouraging development of ASP-modelled
software solutions for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises)


has an excellent plan
for eliminating all crime from Mumbai. It involves a
strategic identification of all the hotspots of criminal activity, and then
shutting them down one by one. Bravo!

Lastly, please don’t miss this
hilarious post on The Examined Life
where a couple of Cartel members take on
the mysterious Sudhakar Nair who appears unable to detect sarcasm, sardonicism,
and irony. Well, maybe he’s not so mysterious after all. His writing style and
IP address bear more than a passing resemblance to a certain left-leaning socialist writer whom we all know and love. (Seriously, "Sudhakar",
you’re dealing with a bunch of very smart people who are even smarter when
working together. Did you think we wouldn’t find out? You need to do a better
job of concealing your Clark Kent identity.)

Thank you for visiting folks, and I hope I’ve given you a decent selection to
read. Posts with just a couple of lines and a hyperlink were left out, just for
the record.

The next mela will be hosted at Selective

Blog Mela Announcement

Yes, folks, yet another Blog Mela is being hosted at MadMan’s Web. This one will be on 21 April. If you missed the last one, catch it at AnarCapLib.
I’m sure you know how it all works, but here you go again:
The Rules

  • Posts must either be made by Indians or must focus on India or Indians.
  • Please send permalinks to the blog entries only, not just the blog URL. If the permalink is not working, send me the title and date of the blog entry. Whole blogs are not accepted as nominations.
  • You can nominate your own posts or someone else’s.
  • You can submit any type of posts except personal journal entries. By “personal journal entries”, we mean the navel-gazing posts of the kind that would be of interest only to your friends and family.
  • The entries have to be dated between April 14 and 20.
  • Not all entries nominated may be accepted. Editorial discretion
    will be used.
  • New rule: If your site has those annoying pop-up, pop-under, or floating ads, forget about it!

Please post your nominations as comments to this post. Don’t post too many links at once or you’ll trigger my spam-buster.

NASA says there ain’t no life on Mars

Remember that story about evidence of life being found on Mars? Yes, the same one that made front page news on our beloved Slimes of India. Well, it wasn’t quite true.
NASA just said so. But guess who broke the news before NASA put out its official release? It was the excellent astronomy-related site, BadAstronomy.com.
To be fair, the Slimes of India was not the only one to pick up the news. News sources like MSNBC and Boston Herald carried it too. What really gets egg on the face of ToI is that they didn’t bother crediting the original source, Space.com, for the story. In their usual style, they dispensed with the attribution, making it look as if it was their own story. If they had credited Space.com, they could at least have saved face and passed the blame on to them.
Will ToI print a retraction or follow-up? I’m betting they’ll keep quiet about it.

Bharteeya Blog Mela: The Tsunami Memorial

(Welcome, Instapundit readers.
Get yourself a cup of coffee, and set aside some time for reading all these

It’s Blog Mela time again, as we present the best posts from Indians and
about India/Indians. This is also the first Blog Mela of the new year, which is
of course a meaningless statistic.

As you would expect, this week’s reading is heavy on Japanese 101, as the
word "tsunami" is introduced to thousands of people who had never
heard it before.

This past week, bloggers have supplemented the regular and mostly repetitive
news coverage with their own account of the disaster, and some of these have
been more revealing than what the newspapers dished out.

Sameer has an overview of what
a tsunami is

While we don’t typically accept whole blogs as nominations, Amit Varma’s India
has tons of reading, written while visiting the tsunami-affected

(Update: Amit is churning out reports faster than I can read them. Some outstanding writing there.)

Amit’s travelling companion, Dilip D’Souza, too has plenty
to report
. I recommend you set aside a big chunk of time to read everything
they’ve written.

Kiruba, who normally sticks to very "bloggy"
stuff on his site, changes gear to write long accounts of the relief efforts. He
also takes photos, which is helpful.

Suman Kumar, who has suffered a bandwidth
tsunami on his site due to being mentioned in the New York Times (with a little
help from yours truly), is trying to do his bit with the relief. He has a tsunami
site of his own

Alpha is upset over the
loss of life
, but is more upset at the lack of news coverage in the USA.

with Alpha. He thinks the media is being particularly insensitive
in its relentless display of dead bodies and suffering people.

Sandeep blames
the government’s apathy for the deaths in India. As did I earlier.


Rhyncus has a
strange rationalisation
of why God is needed because two tectonic plates
causing the earthquake is not satisfying enough as an explanation. In part
2 of his article
, he says he’s got a rock which he calls God, and it’s an
extension of his parents.

Yazad has some thoughts on depression
caused by the tsunami

Ramanand thinks the media
is being unfair
in its criticism of cricketers for supposedly not doing
enough towards the relief effort because they make an easy target.

And now, on to the non-tsunami stuff…

After the silly MMS "scandal" where Avneesh Bajaj was arrested by
for no fault of his, Sandeep
lashes out

Vivek draws some parallels
between Don Quixote and the Nasruddin Hodja
legends in the middle-east.

Sharma says
"A human edited product news feature is never going
to happen at Google" because he thinks Google is primarily a technology

A lady known only as "Medium Latte" says that she prefers
not to accept help
given just because she is a woman, although it’s

That’s it for this week, folks. I know some Hindi blog entries were
nominated, but I’ve left them out of this mela, not because I’m a snobbish
bastard, but because:

1) I studied Hindi for 10 years at school, and speak the language fluently, but haven’t read any big chunks of
Hindi since 1990. So my reading speed has reduced to a crawl.

2) The thin strokes of the text coupled with the low resolution of a PC
monitor made it even harder to read the entries.

3) Some of the spelling mistakes (mostly misplaced matras) didn’t help

My apologies to you all. Perhaps we should start a Hindi version of the Mela
soon. Shanti, what do you think?

I’d like to remind you that my web links blog, in addition to being on this
page, also has a separate page of its
. Even if I don’t write longer entries, the links blog is still updated
almost daily. Check back often.

The next Mela will be on Nilesh.org

Blog Mela: Call for entries #2

Ladies and gentlemen, our beloved Yazad Jal, who blames the viruses for his inability to post his Blog Mela on time, has now created a cascading wave of schedule changes to the darn Mela (I think I won’t use the word “tsunami” at the moment.) Since his mela was a week late, my Christmas edition shall now be the New Year edition Blog Mela (apologies to Nilesh.)
I’m sure you’re familiar with the rules, but here we go anyway:

  1. Posts must either be made by Indians or must focus on India or Indians.
  2. Post permalinks to the individual blog entries, not the blog URL. If the permalink is not working, post the title and date of the blog entry.
  3. You can nominate your own posts or someone else’s
  4. You can submit any type of posts except personal journal entries. I am serious about this.
  5. The entries have to be dated between December 26-31.
  6. Last date for submission of entries is 01 January 2005.
  7. My own little rule: Entries written in SMS-lingo will not be considered, no matter how insightful.

C’mon folks, shake off that holiday lethargy and write something interesting.
The last mela was held at AnarCapLib and the next one will be at Nilesh’s weblog.

Bharteeya Blog Mela

Hello there. How are you? Take a seat, won’t you? The show will begin in a minute. How about a cup of virtual coffee? No? You’re sure? OK then.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages… MadMan’s Web is proud to present you with yet another weekly edition of the Bharteeya Blog Mela, our virtual showcase of insightful writing by Indians without any of the “I changed my toothbrush today” fluff.

The entries below have been chosen both from reader submissions and from my own travels around the
Indian blogosphere. I have used editorial discretion when picking the posts and if yours hasn’t made it, I’m sorry. 

(This is the paragraph that’s supposed to start with the “without further ado”
clich? but I will not use it.)

Let’s jump right into it, eh?

Vichaar.org has some suggestions for online promotion of
Shwaas – India’s nominee to the Oscars. (Editor’s note: Have you noticed the media attention paid to
Shwaas compared to Lagaan?)

Dilip D’Souza has just adopted a baby and shares his experience as well as the neighbour’s reaction.

Ashish Hanwadikar pores over reams of data and concludes that failed economic policies are the only reason for India’s lack of economic progress.

Want another theory? Atanu Dey opines that Indians are getting left behind just because of ignorance and stupidity. Hopefully he will explain how in a future post.

In another
, Atanu posts Part 5 of a detailed proposal to get all of India educated by giving them a Rs. 5000 financial incentive to study. Will it evade the notorious Indian skill for finding loopholes in systems and abusing them? Read it and decide for yourselves.

Amardeep Singh explains how the Bush camp has turned the word “lesbian” from a value-neutral description to a slur.

Sandeep is furious that winners of the Nobel Peace Prize don’t seem to be particularly worthy; the latest being a lady who believes AIDS was a virus created by whites to wipe out blacks.

Alka Dwivedi laments the mindset of some men that causes operations like hymenoplasty (“repairing” the female hymen) to be offered.

Lazy Geek tells us about how Chennai is making preparations for the shopping season that is heralded by Deepavali.

The Acorn ridicules an NRI mgazine’s view that modern technology deployment should be withheld until intelligence agencies can catch up. 

Brooding Dude has a theory of why the British tolerated Gandhi’s non-violent protests for so long. He falls short, however, of explaining how this led to India getting freedom.

Feminine Mystique is a little overwhelmed by all the technology around us and thinks that things are hardly “simpler” as they were supposed to be.

Rajk takes an Indian friend to an Indian restaurant in UK where the conversation is not about the food but mostly about the cooler there.

Please visit these sites and whenever possible, leave a comment for the
author with your views.

I hope you enjoy this selection of articles. The next mela will be hosted by
young Aadisht Khanna. (A full hosting schedule
is available here


Blog Mela: Call for entries

Come one, come all to the next weekly Blog Mela, showcasing interesting writing from around the Indian blogosphere. This is your chance to nominate your Booker Prize winning, Arundhati Roy busting, golden prose. And even if the Booker is in your dreams, you can still find a place here. 🙂
Here are the rules:
a) Either you or your blog entry must have something to do with India. The entry must be made between 8 October and 14 October.
b) Don’t bother with the personal posts. We won’t carry them.
c) Send me a cheque for $10 as a nomination fee.
If I’m in a good mood, I might even waive the $10. Who knows…
The Mela will be posted on 14 October for the world to see. Post your nominations as a comment or send me a mail at madman AT madmanweb dot com.

Journalism or advertorial?

The latest issue of Outlook magazine has a piece titled The
Body Electronic
that I found… strange.

It masquerades as an article about exposing the Indian sex sites on the
Internet and how they’re hawking women to willing customers. If I didn’t know better, I’d call it an "advertorial" for the sites in
question. The writer goes all out to provide every last bit of contact
information for the people involved in this business.


"Business is good…. Earlier, we had services all over India…but
stock was proving to be a problem…we are looking for customers for a
lifetime…" ?Sameer, who claims to be an MBA with specialisation in
marketing, on the Mumbai mobile number 098216-86191.

www.indiasexguide.com, true to its name, is more pan-Indian, giving contact
details for most big cities.

In Mumbai, you can contact one Robert or Ashok, reachable at 09819437751,
who will do the needful. The duo has offices in Churchgate and Andheri (W).

A registration at the indiatimes.com dating site in Kashyap’s name (Is
Outlook ready with my bail money?) led me to Arun, available at 098218-44021.
"I can sure provide the service in Delhi. Just call me two hours in
advance," he said. Based in Mumbai, he needs just an hour’s notice there.


The author concludes with:

My intention is not to raise awareness about Sameer, Arun, Purnima, Robert,
Ashok, or their websites. I wouldn’t dream of doing that in a magazine that’s
read by my mother. My honest intention is to make cyberspace a little more
worthy of our kids’ eyeballs. So I spoke to the cbi about it, whose
spokesperson expressed surprise and wanted the addresses of these websites.

Gee, by publishing it in a magazine read by thousands of people, he’s
certainly raised awareness. Just what we need – a journo on a moral crusade who
writes articles like advertorials. If he wanted only the CBI to investigate, he
could’ve given them the mobile numbers in question. What purpose did printing
them in the magazine serve?

Go read
the article
and tell me if you too find it stinks a bit.