I ponder value for money

Saturday, April 04th , 2009

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Dolada (pcitured) is a quite ambitious new restaurant arising from what used to be Mosaico in Mayfair. It has an association with a Michelin starred restaurant in Italy, though there was limited evidence of that on show in the cooking that I tried this week. The menu is ambitious in places. A “new” spaghetti carbonara was just the elements of the dish served separately in a dish, but since a waiter then just combines them for you before serving I am unsure exactly what this is really all about. There was confusion evident in a wildly complicated salad with seemingly endless ingredients; so often less is more, and that would have been the case here. Other than trying too hard I found the cooking reasonably capable, but the prices seemed to be designed for a previous, more prosperous era. I just don’t see how the restaurant can hope to charge higher prices than London’s top Italian restaurants for decent cooking in a basement room, and expect to get many customers. Judging by the deserted dining room on the night we ate, I am not the only one.
By contrast, 101 in the Sheraton in Knightsbridge sensibly offers both a flexible menu and significant discounts if you don’t mind eating early in the evening (via Toptable at present), and was largely full on our visit. The fish is well sourced and nicely prepared and presented, and while some garnishes felt over-elaborate in places, the quality of the produce generally came through clearly. Half price food meant a more than acceptable bill, though at full price it would not have felt a bargain. An excellent, if hardly cheap, wine list is a bonus here.
It is good to see a new season of The Great British Menu. The format during the week-long build-up can appear a bit repetitive, but I find it interesting to see the chefs talking about their ingredient sourcing, and the civilised Matthew Fort does a good job of guiding things through. 
I finished filming the second of two quarter finals for the next season of Masterchef Professionals, which should air in September (I will update the site when details become firm). Obviously I can’t say too much about it, but there seem to be at least a couple of talented chefs in the mix this year. 

Some odd restaurant experiences recently have caused me to reflect on value for money. It seems to me that there are two quite distinct dimensions in assessing a place: how good objectively is the food, and does this represent value for money? Serving food that is good is of course important, but if the price seems outrageous for the level provided, then who amongst us would return? On the London part of the site I have a “value for money” indicator, which is simply a formula that involves dividing the score out of the ten by the average price. A 1/10 restaurant at £50 a head would have a value for money score of just 2, whereas a 5/10 restaurant costing £50 a head would get a value for money score of 10 (it is possible to score more than 10 on value for money, as can be seen). 

When I look down the list I find a very high correlation between the places that have a value for money score of at least 10, and the places that I am happy to go back to regularly and spend my money. The only exceptions are one or two places that are awkward for me to get to for geographic reasons. I think we all do some sort of mental calculation of this type when assessing whether we would return to a restaurant (as well as taking into account other factors, like the service) but I find it interesting how well, at least for me, this list correlates with what I actually do in practice.