These days, we all like to think ourselves low key ‘foodies.’ But the reality is, when you’ve been thrown across the world in a tin can and been dumped, bleary eyed, in some bustling city, finding the perfect spot to have dinner is harder than scoring a date in a Mesopotamian monastery.
Enter: Australia’s only national restaurant critic, John Lethlean, who recently took to Instagram with a picture that shows one – literally – glaring sign you’re outside a “crap restaurant.”
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While this unholy melange of ingredients is a clear signal to flee, there are a number of other, more subtle, giveaways you’re outside a stinker.
These can be useful both for when you’re exploring your home country (as Mr. Lethlean was above), as well as when travel restrictions lift and we’re able to trot the globe once more.
DMARGE spoke to Head Chef / Co-Owner of Sydney Italian Restaurant Vanto, Filippo Perra, to get his take on the features that give away an inauthentic Italian restaurant.
“Regarding a ‘phoney’ restaurant – if any of the pasta dishes have cream in the sauce… run away! Authentic restaurants will honour the small traditions like no cheese on seafood dishes too. Often the ‘phoney’ restaurants have adopted westernised styled dishes which would not be eaten in Italy.”
As for finding a true Italian restaurant outside of Italy, Chef Perra said: “If you hear the customers speaking Italian to each other – you have found yourself a good Italian Restaurant. Generally, ex-pats crave those authentic flavours and customs from home and will seek out a genuine Italian restaurant or cafe for a good meal and great wine, or even just a quick espresso.”
“I believe it is so important to find somewhere with a feeling of home, wherever you are.”
Likewise, to find an authentic dinner spot when travelling, Mr. Perra advises you “seek out a busy local Trattoria [Italian restaurant] for the best cuisine, fair prices, and an authentic Italian experience.”
“I recommend researching the most famous dishes of the region you are in. The internet can help so much these days and there are always plenty of reviews to help you find the perfect local dish.”
Vanto Managing Partner / Co-Owner Santino Agrillo adds: “I believe the best way to find good restaurants is by asking around – ask the locals or friends who have travelled there themselves.”
“Sometimes you must go with your ‘gut feeling’! The most authentic food is never going to be in the tourist squares. Also, if you see a queue of locals outside a restaurant go inside (even if it is a shabby place)! Often, ‘good looking’ restaurants are not reflective of good food.”
Another ‘foodie’ insight, which DMARGE learned listening to a Flight of Fancy podcast earlier this year, is that a kitchenhand (or chef’s) Instagram story may now be a smarter place to look than your hotel’s community noticeboard.
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Former editor of Delicious Sharnee Rawson admitted on the podcast: “So many of my friends will want to go somewhere ‘cos they saw it on Dan Hong’s Instagram.”
Another tip Ms. Rawson gave was to, “go through the archives of great publishers.”
“They [The New York Times] might say you’ve got to go to this restaurant, and then you look up that restaurant, then you look up the people that work there and see what they’re eating and then go down the rabbit hole that way.”