First (and second and third) impressions

Posted on May 28, 2006 by Aun

One of the things that I’ve always debated with friends and colleagues is, “How soon after a restaurant opens should one wait before reviewing it?” A related question to this is ,”How many times should someone dine in a place before writing a review?” Another is, “Is there a different standard that amateur reviewers, i.e. reviewers like bloggers who aren’t getting paid, and professional critics, who get paid to eat in and write about restaurants, should adhere to?”

In many major cities, the most respected restaurant critics eat in a restaurant a number of times before reviewing it. And they do so over a couple weeks if not a couple of months. Many also dine anonymously, to ensure that they get treated like any other customer. Ask anyone who works in the food and beverage industry when a restaurant is ready to be reviewed and he or she will usually advise you to wait a good 8-10 weeks before going. It takes that long for any new restaurant to identify, iron out and fix any problem areas it may have. Unexpected issues can arise and plague places opened and managed by even the very best professionals. It’s only fair, if you’re visiting as a critic, to give restaurateurs a fair chance for a good review. And that means giving any new restaurant a couple chances over its first few months to prove itself.

Il Lido, the highly publicized Italian restaurant opened by the charming and affable Beppe De Vito, is the perfect example of such a restaurant. I first went to Il Lido during its opening week. Because I was a regular at Garibaldi, also opened by De Vito, I was very excited to see what he had created in the Sentosa Golf Club and, more importantly, to taste the food. The restaurant itself was stunning. De Vito had spent a bundle making the space beautiful. The food, however, was awful. The plating was ordinary. The food was overseasoned and poorly executed. We left the restaurant disappointed and dismayed. Having experienced countless perfect meals at Garibaldi, I knew DeVito could do better.

A couple weeks ago, my wife S and I went back to Il Lido. Almost 3 months had passed since our first and disastrous visit. We went with two friends, foodies but also well-known local restaurateurs. When we arrived, we were surprised but heartened to see two other noted local restaurateurs and a respected wine distributor also having lunch (at separate tables) that day. Our meal, I’m happy to say, was a revelation, especially compared to our first visit. The food was fantastic. It was so good in fact that I dragged my whole family back to Il Lido for lunch this past weekend. This time, we had a lovely, long and leisurely meal. The weather, almost as if De Vito had planned it, was also wonderful. It was a sunny, gorgeous day. The restaurant was bathed with natural light. The view across the water was picture-perfect.

We started our lunch with a shared plate of delicious antipasti (pictured at the top of this post). We had aged Parma ham, aged Parmesan, grilled vegetables, smoked salmon, smoked duck, butter-poached lobster, calamari fritti, and some very fresh rocket.

Our next course is something that I had eaten on my previous visit and made sure to order again, not just for myself but for the whole table. It was squid ink tortelli stuffed with Atlantic cod with crabmeat in a saffron and tarragon sauce. This was magnificent. Crabmeat and saffron are two things that always go wonderfully together and this dish was no exception.

Chef Michele Pavanello gave my family and me a real treat for our third course. He served us a simple but sinful and sensual portion of risotto with summer truffles. The aroma was lovely, as was the taste. The risotto was served quite al dente. While I liked it this way both my father and mother said that they would have preferred it served a tad softer.

Our last savory was grain-fed grilled lamb cutlets with an Amarone wine sauce and broiled green asparagus. S really liked this dish. The lamb was soft, tender and very, very juicy. I would have liked the sauce to have had a slightly stronger flavor but I had to agree with her that the lamb itself was cooked expertly. Given that the sauce for this course was based on Amarone, S’s favorite type of red wine, we thought that it was only fitting that we drink an Amarone with it. We enjoyed the lamb with a half bottle of Masi Amarone 1991.

The rest of my family was too full for dessert. Greedy guy that I am, I still had enough room for a scoop of strawberry ice cream paired with some summer berries and an espresso.

I’m very glad that I gave Il Lido both a second and a third chance. I’m also happy that I spaced my visits out over a few months. Beppe De Vito took the time in between my first and second visits to take what was a restaurant with promise but a lot of rough patches and turned it into a polished stunner, the kind of place where you’d take out-of-town friends and loved ones to show off or celebrate special occasions. I’m definitely going to return to Il Lido. And I’m definitely going to remember to be patient and understanding when trying a new restaurant during its first few weeks. Because making the wrong assumptions too early might mean ruling out what might become one of the city’s best dining places in the long run.

Il Lido
Sentosa Golf Club
27 Bt Manis Rd #02-00
Singapore 099892
Tel: 6866 1977

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. lobstersquad May 28, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    I always go on first impressions, and I agree it may not always be fair.
    It looks to me like returning to Il Lido is the sort of problem everyone would love to have. Everything looks incredible!

  2. Anonymous May 28, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    so you know what I was talking about eh? You need to be anonymous and you have to actually visit a few times to judge the restaurant. It is not about taking votes from readers or popularity contest. Good reviewer has to come clean , unbiased and of course have in depth knowledge about the food/restaurant.

  3. J May 28, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    hiya, looks like an awesome meal – i’m a mite peeved we couldn’t make it! the crab and cod tortellini, in particular, looks spectacular

  4. keiko May 28, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Aun – I’m literally drooling in front of my monitor, what a beautiful meal. And needless to say, your pictures are incredible! You know I’ve been thinking about stopping at Singapore next time I go back to Japan… ;)

  5. Anonymous May 29, 2006 at 4:29 am

    Hi,

    while I understand what you mean, I think that 8 or 10 weeks of defective dining experiences are not fair to the regular consumer since he is paying the full fare.

    Why cannot I go to a shiny new restaurant and pay only a 50% of the bill because I am new and you should not judge my behavior because of this, my first dining experience.

    Need time to work things out? Do it before opening. Just another opening cost.

  6. mae May 29, 2006 at 7:34 am

    I love the photos… drooling as i type, the food looks just how you’ve described them. That’s a beautiful pair of lamb chops…

    I picked up a bag of squid ink spaghetti yesterday and am looking forward to cooking them. I just need a good recipe for it.

  7. Trish May 29, 2006 at 10:44 am

    In response to another commenter, restaurants quite plainly will have quirks in their first weeks of business. There’s just no getting around it, and there’s no way to prep for it before hand. You need real, live customers. Of course, you need not dine at a restaurant you know has just opened. That saves a lot of headaches on the patron end.

    In reference to this post, simply beautiful photos, as usual.

  8. Colin May 29, 2006 at 11:07 am

    Having dined in Il Lido on several several occasions, well I’m not so sure… my last visit for lunch in April was utterly disappointing. Service was patchy, wrong orders, unfilled water glasses, mediocre set lunches. Make me wonder why I bothered driving back again and again.

    Another related question is, where do you draw the line on giving a place a chance for improvement and throwing your towel in disappointment?

  9. Chubby Hubby May 29, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Ximena: I tend to do so also. But if I know a restaurateur and a chef has the potential to do well, I’ll usually give them a second chance.

    Anonymous: I think it’s a combination. The Zagat’s guide has been criticized for being a popularity contest, but many people swear by it and use it. A lot of information surrounding Michelin has been exposed over the past, calling into question anonymity. I know that no paid, professional restaurant reviewer in Singapore goes anywhere anonymously. Even if he or she might go once, getting their organization to foot the bill, the chances are extremely high that they’ll be having second meal with the restaurant’s PR people, fully hosted. The only people who can really get away with going to restaurant’s anonymously are everyday people (which is why blogs have become great resources of reviews). But every person’s tastes are different. And what you think stinks may be another person’s best meal.

    J: Yah, you missed a good one.

    Keiko: Oh, yes please. I’d love to arrange a bake-off between you and J of Kuidaore ;-)

    Anonymous: While it may be fair to hope and perhaps even expect a restaurant or any other kind of service-industry business to be perfect upon opening, this is in reality hard to accomplish. Even the most hyped places have growing pains and no amount of preparations will really simulate actual operations. I stayed at the Ian Schager owned, Philippe Starck hotel, the Hudson, just weeks after it opened. And it was a total mess. The staff apologized and were really nice about making it clear that the problems were simply opening problems and would be cleared up in a few weeks. I think any new business takes some time to get on its feet. And if after 2-3 months though, the restaurant still stinks, then it will probably not survive anyway.

    Mae: Thanks. Yum, squid ink spaghetti. I’ve actually made a duck ragout that would go well with it. It will be in my next post ;-)

    Trish: Very well said. Thanks.

    Colin: That sucks. You should definitely send a polite note to the managers and owner expressing your disappointment, especially if you are a regular customer. Regarding throwing in the towel, for me it would probably be 2 times. If I get a bad meal twice then I’m not likely to return. But I won’t tempt fate. I won’t go twice in the same week. I’d wait a bit between those visits.

  10. Anna May 29, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    your photos are stunning! excellent camera work, I get the feeling you’re a bit of a professional . . . .

  11. fooDcrazEE May 29, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    i usually like to go when they are first open. Then back again a few time within 3 – 6 mths before reviewing them. Being in the same industry, i can understand their concern and usually would like to see them improve.

  12. Bill Belew May 29, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Your risotto looked amazing. The presentation was fabulous, and it looked so rich and creamy. I am jealous that you seem to have such delights right on your doorstep!

  13. Fiber June 1, 2006 at 2:58 am

    Wow – excellent presentation. These are absolutely gorgeous pictures.

  14. Cassandra September 10, 2012 at 9:25 am

    YOU NEED TO VISIT GATTOPARDO’S AT FORT CANNING HOTEL. Try the zuppa, pastas, tiramisu, saltbaked seabass, arrotolata (best dipped in the zuppa)

    And chef lino is a wonderful host:)

    • Aun September 10, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Cassandra, I have been there a few times. Thanks.

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