I love nothing better than going out for dinner.
Well, that’s not exactly true. There are plenty of things I love better than going out for dinner.
But, it’s one of life’s great pleasures, don’t you agree? And, as you may have read about in this post, you don’t have to be rich to eat out (at least in Moscow you don’t).
When on holiday, eating out is a completely different experience than it is eating out in your hometown. Everything’s unknown.
Before visiting a new city/country, I usually do quite a lot of research about our destination – things like the location of the hotel in relation to interesting places to visit, historical buildings, museums, transport etc. However, I almost never research restaurants.
I do try to learn about local, traditional food there, and what new things we should try. But planning which restaurants to eat in is something that I don’t often do before going on holiday.
Finding a good restaurant
So, how do we find a good place to eat? Well, we just go for a walk and check out what’s around. We look at the menu if there’s one outside the restaurant at the entrance, not only at the prices, but also the choice, type of cuisine, wine list etc. It’s also a good idea to peek through the window and look at the décor – if it’s too ‘over the top’ we don’t usually stay. I mean, we’re civilised people, but some restaurants are just too ‘posh’ for us.
In places like Asia, we usually choose restaurants where the locals are eating; places that aren’t full of tourists. It’s a sign that the food is good and authentic.
Sometimes we’re just hungry enough to eat anywhere, and we eat at the first place we come across. Well, almost anywhere – but not this place, ever!
This was similar to the situation recently in Munich. It was the 1st January. We’d arrived early in the afternoon, and when evening came we were ready to head out and get dinner somewhere.
We didn’t know what to expect, being the 1st January. Maybe everything would be closed?
But we were pleasantly surprised. The first place we saw was not far from our hotel. It was a steak restaurant. It looked quite nice, but we decided to go a bit further and try our luck closer to the centre of town.
We walked down a small alley/arcade, and found another open restaurant. It wasn’t full but there were plenty of customers. It looked nice, the food we could see on people’s plates looked good and in large portions, so we decided to go in.
It was quite a chic place. The waiters all wore black trousers with white shirts and black bow-ties. It’s not often we eat in restaurants where the waiters are dressed like that, but it seemed to be a nice place, with seemingly happy customers eating and talking to each other. The only thing that wasn’t really comfortable was the lighting. It was really bright, which made it feel a bit like being in a cafeteria.
It immediately became clear to me that it wasn’t going to be one of the best dining experiences. None of the waiters bothered to greet us, so we just took ourselves to an empty table. The restaurant wasn’t full, and the waiters didn’t seem to be run off their feet, but none of them seemed interested in the two new customers who had just entered their restaurant.
So, after removing our jackets, scarves and hats, we sat down. Two menus appeared on our table.
The menu was quite big in choice, with both German and Croatian food. It turned out that it was a Croatian restaurant, but there was nothing on the front of the restaurant or on the menu to indicate this. So there were quite a few things on the menu that I didn’t understand because they were Croatian words and dishes.
We chose our meals and waited for the waiter to come and take our order. It wasn’t a long wait, but there was zero interest shown by the waiter. He took our order, and walked away while Olivier was still actually talking to him!
He came with our drinks. No problem.
Then a bit later he came with our food. He plonked the plates down in front of us, and, while looking out the window at something, he wished us ‘guten appetit’. No eye contact. No smile. Nothing else, and then he walked away.
I watched this waiter for a while. He wasn’t flat out busy. He didn’t look stressed. There weren’t customers shouting for his attention. The restaurant wasn’t empty, but it was quiet enough for him to take a few seconds to acknowledge the people he’s going to be taking money from.
So we started eating. My chicken was good – tasty, not dry and well cooked. The spinach was great. The fries were overcooked, very hard, and when I tried to put the fork in them, they snapped. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had overcooked fries. You have to eat them with your fingers, even if you’re in a restaurant where the waiters are wearing white shirts with black bow-ties.
Olivier’s fries were the same as mine. Which, by the way, is pretty disappointing because in Moscow it’s really hard to find a place that makes great fries, so we always look forward to eating them when we travel abroad. He also had spinach which was also great. And he had a kind of ground beef ‘steak’ with cheese and bacon on top.
Which was not good. The steak was very dry and hard, and the bacon was also hard and impossible to eat without risking breaking a tooth. It was overcooked, just like the fries.
But, as we were hungry, we ate. When we were finished, the waiter came and took our plates and we asked for the bill. He came back and plonked the bill on the table and walked away. No eye contact, no ‘was everything ok?’, no nothing.
Paying the bill
In Germany, the custom is that the waiter comes to your table with the bill, and you pay him directly. You have to tell him/her how much you want to pay including the tip and he then gives you your change accordingly. This guy didn’t stay around to take our money, he just put the bill on the table and just walked off.
So, I left the exact money on the table, with only a very, very small tip, and we got up, put on our winter clothes, and left. Feeling more or less full, but very unsatisfied.
While leaving I noticed that there was a Trip Advisor sticker on the door, which we hadn’t seen when we went in. In my experience, a Trip Advisor sticker on a restaurant is a big warning to stay away. In my opinion it means that it’s for the tourist masses. If I’d seen it when we’d arrived, I wouldn’t have agreed to eat there. I can’t remember a great meal I’ve had in a Trip Advisor recommended restaurant, which is why I avoid them now.
Fast forward 48 hours.
We decided to have dinner at a cute little restaurant across from our hotel. It looked like a traditional German place – all the better.
We went in and were immediately greeted by a smiling waiter who invited us to sit wherever we liked. There were a few other people already there. It was smaller than the restaurant from two nights before, and the lighting was just right – we could still see the menu well enough to read it but it wasn’t too bright to be uncomfortable.
The waiter asked us if we’d like to order something to drink. We decided to read the menu first so he left us to that and after an appropriate amount of time he came back to take our orders.
I speak a little German, so we were using German and English to talk with him. He understood English well enough for some light banter. He was interested enough to ask us a little about ourselves and, after taking our order, he left.
In no time at all he came back with our drinks, and a short time later with our food. Each time he came to our table there was a smile, eye contact, some short conversation and a good feeling all round.
Everything was perfect. I had some traditional German food which I hadn’t tried before and it was delicious, well cooked, great flavours, and left me feeling very satisfied. Olivier had a schnitzel with fries, and the fries were perfect! As was the schnitzel.
The food was great! So great, that we actually went there a second time before we left Munich!
On our second visit we had wine (we had lemonade the first time), which was well priced and very, very good.
The waiters were friendly, interested in us, who we were, and not just how much we were going to pay them. The head waiter greeted every customer who walked in the door, and demonstrated his linguistic ability by saying a few words in at least 4 or 5 different languages (even Russian!) depending on the nationalities of his clients (yes, he cared enough to ask people where they were from). He was friendly, but not over-bearing or intrusive.
The dinner here cost just a little more than at the other restaurant, but the whole experience was 100 times better.
We left this restaurant feeling much better than we did when we left the German/Croatian restaurant, and I’m ready to go back to Munich for more anytime. It was a really pleasant dining experience.
I’m not going to tell you the name of the ‘bad’ restaurant, although it’s probably not too difficult to find out. I will, however, tell you that the ‘good’ restaurant was this one:
So, that’s it. A tale of two restaurants. Black and white. They couldn’t have been more different.
Have you had a great dining experience recently? Or a bad one? Is there a restaurant you want to recommend, or to recommend to avoid? And, what do you think of Trip Advisor recommendations for restaurants? Let us know all your stories in the comments below.