The vast majority of restaurant posts on this site are positive. This is totally counter to my general disposition: in which frowns come more naturally than smiles; cynical grunts outnumber praise at a ratio of 33 to 1; and where others see opportunity, I see risk.
Some clearly relish drafting negative posts – not least, I suspect, because they are easier to write. But I prefer to avoid putting the boot in.
I think there are three reasons for this:
The first is that I don’t eat out to blog. That is, I don’t go anywhere specifically to ‘review’ it. Rather, I eat out to be with friends and to have a good time. It’s my money, my social time, and it’s not in my interest to go somewhere bad; these days there are so many good places to go (both new and established) that it’s easy to avoid a crap meal. If a meal happens to be particularly good or interesting, then I’ll write about it (probably around one third of them). On the very odd occasion I leave with a sour taste, I tend to bite my tongue.
The second is that, despite my natural tendency towards cynicism, I believe in fairness and, perhaps more importantly, have a deep respect for anyone in the hospitality industry and the personal and financial sacrifices they make. That’s particularly true for independent restaurateurs and café owners, but is still an important perspective to have about the people working hard for big companies too. Who are we to condemn someone else’s work? Imagine a chef or waiter from your meal the night before coming to your office and commenting, without qualification, on your efforts. There’s a place for justified criticism, but as my mantra is to write up good and interesting restaurants, that place is, in general, not here.
The third is that I think negativity on paper is overrated. As enjoyable as drafting a damning write-up feels, a few months later, it never seems as witty, intelligent or warranted as it did at the time. Sure, they’re quicker and more fun to write, but that’s mostly because it’s very easy to criticise, and is even easier to go overboard. Unduly negative reviews reflect worse on the writer than the subject – I can think of at least one broadsheet critic whose put downs have the same effect on me as watching the unnecessarily showy reverse sweep of a flat track bully. There’s a misplaced smugness over the perceived wit and intelligence in their reviews, which should really be regarded as professionally embarrassing. Reading such glib articles is like eating a Big Mac: glorious for a bite, then bloated misery and shame for the next three hours.
But, you know, personal rules and ethics are there to be stretched and broken.
I fell into Yazu Sushi a week ago without having undertaken my customary levels of due diligence. There seemed little need as we walked past: this small kaiten-sushi bar appeared to immediately meet our need for relatively quick and casual food in the middle of Mayfair, and happily coincided with an urge for raw fish.
First impressions were that it would at least do the job: a smiling greeting on entry; a full conveyor belt of food; the apparent charm of a one or two man/woman independent operation that so often leads to great meals. But as the minutes ticked by, it became increasingly obvious that the belt was full because no one was taking any sushi. Most of the dishes, each with two pieces of sushi or a small salad on, were at the very upper end of the coloured plate scale (their plates were graded £1.60; £2.20; 2.80; 3.40; £4). The vast majority of them didn’t look worth the cost. It seemed other guests were there on a discount voucher, yet they weren’t exactly diving in.
Best of the bunch were some standard salmon avocado and spicy tuna handrolls, which we ordered whilst hoping something going round might take our fancy. The fish in these was fine, as was the construction of them. But nothing more than that. Looking at the menu online now, I hardly recognise any of the items actually on offer. There’s certainly no mention of the grim sweet chilli sauce dabbed in some of the rolls, the copious levels of mayo in others, or of the tinned tuna mayo rolls that kept on going round and round and round like a Dolphin’s worst nightmare. Salmon nigiri, that base staple of Western sushi bars, were measly and devoid of flavour.
I think we had eight plates of sushi – so 7 miserly pieces of sushi each, given two of the plates held individual temaki. We filled the hunger gap with mountains of the pickled ginger condiment, rather than order more.
And I would have left it at that. I had written the meal off as a bad debt by about plate two and would happily never have thought of it again. I certainly had no intention of noting anything online. Not the sub-standard sushi. Not the poor value. Not the awful metal chopsicks. Not the repeated drift of the chef to his laptop as his plates circled for the nth time, tempting no one, not even the Wowcher and Groupon vultures. But then we were presented with a bill, which included but did not openly disclose a service charge of 20%. Twenty per cent. Pah.
These sorts of pieces usually finish with the kind of patronising advice to the restaurant that only someone without an MBA, without professional experience in the relevant cuisine, but with the unfounded belief that they can write a bit can give. So here’s mine: be more generous, stick to plain sushi, and drop your pricing and your stupid ‘service’ charge to more appropriate levels – your volumes, spend per head, percentage of returning customers and ultimately profit will increase. Everyone will be happier. And you won’t need to buy nearly so much ginger.
Yazu Sushi in 3 words
Not very good
£17 per person for bugger all. Includes 20% service charge.
yazusushi.co.uk – 46 Curzon St, W1J 7UH – 020 7491 3777