The kind people of Zomato sent me the “Zomato Restaurant Guide 2012” (Bangalore) this week. Considering this is their first attempt at publishing a physical food guide and my first attempt at writing a book review – let’s hope the Gods will be kind.
I buy food guidebooks religiously every year – even though I place them on a bookshelf and use them as paperweights once I’ve read them cover to cover. (Yes, I do read a guidebook – just like a cookbook it can transport me to a food wonderland). The reason for ignoring them after aquring them (just like men and the chase!), is that – searching online for a restaurant is so much simpler. (brunch+indiranagar+continental >hit enter). The reason most guidebooks are cumbersome, is because they are not ready-answer-providers. They are directories, with tiny little lettering that one has to frown over with a microscope to get your pick. So has Zomato solved that riddle? Let’s find out.
First impressions – the book looks good. The paper quality is nice and glossy (compared to most other review books where the pages are so thin you can see through them – reminds me a lot about yellow pages!). Zomato is associated with Citibank for this book and it’s only obvious that a few pages will be dedicated to Citibank promotions and restaurants tied up with the same. (But who’s complaining when someone highlights discounts?).
After a quick note about Zomato.com (They claim it’s the largest electronic restaurant guide in the country serving more than 3 million users every month) and another one pager from the editor about how this book aims to “distill the best of the website in an innovative and user friendly form” – I was ready to dive right in.
When you are deciding on which restaurant to visit, the general areas of elimination and deduction are cuisine, price, location, Veg/Non-veg (just thought about my veggie friends) and if it serves alcohol. (Legally or illegally!) If you are leafing through a guide book, you would go to the index and then narrow down choices by cuisine and then keep flipping back and forth to figure out the rest of the details. This is where the Zomato folks have done a clever thing to differentiate themselves from the pack. The first few pages are like a ready reckoner of frequently asked questions when we start to look for a restaurant. They have 22 categories (Eg: Beer in a Bar, Catching Up, Sunday Brunch, Kid Friendly etc.) and restaurants tagged to those. Next to each restaurant name is a bunch of logos which will give you more details about the cost, whether they accept Credit Card (Citibank darlings!), whether they serve alcohol or they have home delivery. I might not readily agree with their choice of restaurants in most of their categories, but at least they are headed in the right direction!
The rest of the book is the standard fare of restaurants listed from A-Z and further details. This irks me because there is no grouping by area or cuisine. Even the index fails me here, because it’s just the exact list from the body of the book (minus details) with page numbers next to it! Huh??? The purpose of an index is to cross reference – so give me some intelligence in this area! Maybe the next edition will have a split by area (CBD, Kormangala, Bangalore North etc.) which will make it much simpler to navigate the 100 odd pages. What I would really like though is a split by area and then cuisine! I can hear the Zomato folks groaning here. Ok, ok I get it … I’ll hit the website for such detailed distillations!
Now that I battered them with the stick, its time to offer the carrot. Other guide books shy away from giving restaurant’s ratings or recommending the best dish there, in order to appear impartial. Zomato, I see, has no such qualms! That’s because they’ve used the user’s ratings from their website and this absolves them of all sin. The users are not the Big Bad Corporation, but people like you and me. Now, we can always go into a lengthy debate about sample size and quality, but at the end of the day – I like to gauge the general opinion of a place before heading out. Another helpful inclusion from Zomato is their ‘Don’t Miss’ box. It gives you a list of the must try/ most popular dishes at that restaurant. And now my favorite feature – I love the fact that they have a QR code next to every restaurant listed! What’s a QR code you ask? Well it’s a nifty little code that lets smart phone users scan it and view the restaurant’s menu on the Zomato portal. So geeky cool! *clap clap clap*
So would I pay 200 bucks to buy this off the shelf? For a comprehensive listing of every restaurant in every nook and corner in Bangalore – No. For a friendly nudge from a group of fellow foodies to try something that they have, and loved – Yes. And the QR code doesn’t hurt either!