Over 25 years have passed since Richard and Peter Harden hit on the idea of an independent restaurant guide written by the very people that eat in them – the diners themselves. The Harden’s Restaurant Guide was born, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most accessible and reliable restaurant guides around.
The format has changed very little since. In March each year, Harden’s invites anyone and everyone to submit mini reports of restaurants they’ve eaten in – for good or for bad – during the past 12 months. Each reporter rates the restaurants on a scale of one to five (one, execrable and five, subline) for food, service and atmosphere, alongside an optional explanation of their rating. An average is taken across the ratings to arrive at a restaurant’s score. This year’s foodies have until 16 May to submit their reports for the 2018 guide, with publication of the guide following in November.
It’s easy to forget, in TripAdvisor’s era of the public vote, that Harden’s was where the crowd sourcing of views to rate great places to eat all began. And it remains a trusted, go-to resource for restaurant diners. With 50,000 reports submitted every year, it neatly side steps the hazard of relying on a single critic’s view formed on a single day of service – after all, a hundred reports saying the same thing can’t be wrong.
The joy of Harden’s is in its mini-reviews of each restaurant, which usually come in at about 50 words, and draw on choice quotes from the reports. They’re a reminder of the readiness of the general public to call out the Emperor’s New Clothes on the latest overhyped hot spot, or whip up enthusiasm for a local unsung hero.
Here are some of our favourite Harden’s quotes from the 2017 guide:
Raymond Blanc at the top of his game at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (Food: 5, Service: 5, Atmosphere: 5), “makes one truly believe that fairy tales are indeed true”
Thumbs down for Petersham Nurseries (Food: 2, Service: 1, Atmosphere: 3), “queuing for the loo with the garden centre customers, and paying £100 per head does not feel right”
On the trend for walk-ins only in city centre hotspots: 10 Greek Street (Food: 4, Service: 4, Atmosphere: 3), “naturally they don’t accept reservations, but you can’t have it all”
A pot shot at the ubiquity of the ‘locally sourced ingredient’ at the otherwise popular Three Chimneys, Dunvegan (Food: 5, Service: 5, Atmosphere: 3), “locally sourced, blah blah blah. Of course it’s locally sourced in this part of the world. Where else could they get seafood so fresh?”
Drumming up support for The Five Fields (Food: 5, Service: 5, Atmosphere: 4), “Until Oct 2016 this was perhaps ‘Michelin’s most shocking omission’”
So, what are you waiting for? Got something to get off your chest about your local eatery? Harden’s want to hear all about it. We’ll be rooting for our favourites at Boxpark Croydon, including Coqfighter and Mamalan.
The Harden’s 2018 survey closes on 16 May.