Editor In Chief, Dining & Nightlife Abu Dhabi, Leanne Smart
How do you critic a restaurant? When some may argue that yourself and other critics have no experience upon that cuisine?
I have a strong food and beverage background, so I have a deep understanding of how things should be done in the industry, therefore when I review a restaurant, I use what I like to call a 360 approach in comparison to some reviewers who use a 180 approach. Of course, you can’t be an expert in every cuisine, but with experience you can identify the quality of the produce, the cleanliness of a restaurant and the level of service, hence my 360 approach.
How do you think social media has influenced the food and beverage industry?
Social media has hugely impacted the food and beverage industry. Restaurants have had to up their game, from plating to service, every aspect is open to criticism. Before a dissatisfied guest would have shared their experience with one or two friends, today that same guest can share their experience with hundreds of friends whilst still sat in the restaurant. You also need to factor in bloggers and the media, who have a much larger reach than the average guest.
About bloggers, what are your thoughts in relation to them critiquing a restaurant?
Well, I don’t know every blogger personally but those I do know are passionate about what they do and have also worked in the industry themselves. I do have an issue with those that are just looking for a free meal. However, it is the responsibility of the people inviting them to the restaurant to evaluate the bloggers credentials.
Tell us about the worst experience you have ever had in a restaurant?
Once I was reviewing a restaurant and the experience was that bad, I couldn’t bear to waste another moment of my life enduring such a painful dining experience. The food was tasteless and the service was terrible. I called the restaurant manager and thanked him for the invite but explained that I would be leaving as the restaurant had too many issues and clearly wasn’t ready to start accepting guests let alone critics.
Asian cuisine is my all-time favourite, specifically Thai, which is ironic considering I’m not very good with spicy foods. Mediterranean cuisine is also a firm favourite. I suppose what both cuisines have in common is that fresh produce is key.
Restaurants that you are looking forward to trying in 2019?
I have so many on my list, Abu Dhabi’s restaurant scene has grown considerably over the last few months. Mare Mare at Jumeirah Saadiyat Island Resort is at the top of my list. It’s a poolside Italian restaurant that promises traditional Italian dishes just like Mamma’s home cooking.
Oak Room at The Abu Dhabi Edition, they promise a proper British roast, even though I don’t eat meat I would never pass up the opportunity for a traditional Yorkshire pudding. And finally, Dahab, it’s an independent restaurant that serves an array of authentic and contemporary Lebanese cuisine.
Your biggest criticism of the food and beverage industry?
Innovation, I think that many chefs here aren’t given the opportunity to innovate. I know from my own previous experience that one chef would have to run each menu change past the General Manager for approval, that’s crazy. If you are recruiting someone based on their skill and talent, then let them do their job. I’d also say communication, sometimes the restaurant is doing some amazing things, but we never hear about it.
What do you love most about your job?
The people, I love how I get to meet different people from all parts of the world. One day I am learning about what inspired a chef to enter the industry and the next I’m consulting on a food and beverage event, no day is ever the same.
Would you ever have your own restaurant?
I like the idea, but I don’t think we should underestimate how much dedication and money is needed to start your own restaurant plus I’m happy where I am.
Culinary predictions for 2019?
I think every year we are seeing a growth in people becoming more health conscious. Less people will be eating meat and dairy in 2019, we’ve already seen this trend grow steadily in 2018, so 2019 will be a hard year for steakhouses. I believe people will source more local produce, more and more farms are opening across the UAE which shows the demand is growing.
What does 2019 hold for Dining & Nightlife?
We’ve just launched our latest venture the Dining & Nightlife Discounts app. The team and I have been working on this for the last 2 years and we are thrilled to finally be sharing it with our community. The Dining & Nightlife Discounts app will allow subscribers to avail a range of discounts from dining deals, brunch bargains, last minute offers, exclusive experiences and nightlife. This will be a big focus for us in 2019!