As usual this guide makes compulsive reading, if you're interested in good food. For the last two years there's been a greater use of colour printing and the whole appearance of the book is more attractive. It's inevitably weighted towards more populated areas with very few entries for far-flung places, where in truth one needs guidance even more. The Guide is limited by he fact that it is alerted to good places by recommendations from the general public to which it then sends inspectors. So, for example, an excellent eating place in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland will have a lesser chance of inclusion if a volunteer inspector is unavailable to travel and stay there (at their own expense) to do the inspection--most inspectors only get the meal reimbursed. In recent years the Guide's entries have been categorized by region rather than by an alphabetical list of towns/cities, which is fine if you know that, e.g., Salford would be under Greater Manchester--not so easy for parts of the UK that one isn't familiar with let alone for foreign visitors. There's an alphabetical list of restaurant names--it would be helpful to have a similarly ordered list for recommended restaurants by the name of the town or city. I think this Guide is the best of the bunch of Guides as the entries are not paid for by the establishments listed and there is a big input from the paying public.
NOTE added October 2011: Please note that the review above is for the 2009 Guide and contains minor criticisms of the indexing of the guide that were rectified in subsequent years. I don't know why Amazon has collected together all the reviews for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 GFGs and posted them under the 2012 Guide. My review for the 2010 GFG, which is somewhere below, is more applicable to the latest edition than the one above.
I always look forward to the publication of the Good Food Guide each year even though I eat out less than I used to, I'm still interested to find out if old favourites are still included. As always, the Guide is enjoyable to read and the descriptions of each restaurant give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of price, kind of food and the general ambiance of the place. One may disagree over the precise rating of a restaurant, but if you're looking to eat well in an unfamiliar area you won't go far wrong if you've consulted the GFG. Though many of the same restaurants remain in the Guide over the years you can't always rely on an old GFG as they may have changed hands and the standards plummet.
The layout of the Guide hasn't changed since the recent re-vamp that led to more colour printing and improved layout of entries. A small change is a map of the London Underground at the front of the London section, but you need very good eye-sight to make out the stations. The Guide still categorizes entries in terms of counties which makes it difficult to find a particular town if you're not sure which county it's in. Though an improvement on last year's Guide is that they now have an index at the back of the book which lists towns alphabetically and the eating places in each with a page number. I missed seeing this helpful index at first.
One thing I've noticed over the years is that the publication date has crept earlier and earlier in the year. I can recall in the past it being well into October, but now it's the first week of September. A disadvantage of this earlier publication date is that the dead-line for reports contributing to the Guide is something like May instead of June. So reports submitted during the summer holiday season cannot contribute to the Guide for the following year. This will have a particular impact on restaurants in holiday areas such as the South West of England, Wales and Scotland. A problem if the place has changed hands and the old-of-date entry doesn't reflect the present standards.
Inevitably the big cities and centres of population have far more good places to eat than remoter areas, which is not surprising, and it's noticeable that entries for the Highlands and Islands and West of Scotland are very thin on the ground and change little from year to year. I suspect that there are good places that are not in the Guide because it's too difficult and expensive to inspect them, for example, if they are located in the Scottish Islands.
Despite the quibbles the Guide remains one of the best with entries that are based on spontaneous reports from diners and independent inspectors and, importantly, entries are not paid for by the restaurants, as is the case with some other guides.
I generally buy the guide every year, so reviewing this for Amazon was an added bonus! And to see the guide enjoy it's 60th anniversary in this 2011 edition is a very good thing.
The guide is as comprehensive and well written as usual. The sort of book that you can happily chuck into the bag when travelling around the country and know that you will never be too far away from somewhere decent to eat. I always appreciate the fact that the Good Food Guide never take free meals, sending reviewers in unannounced and thus getting an accurate view of what joe public is likely to experience. And I have more respect for a guide like this that is re-written every year to make sure it is as relevant and useful as possible.
One thing I particularly like is the fact that the guide isn't overly London-centric. Yes, I live down here and there are a wealth of 'good' restaurants to pick from in a concentrated area that you just don't get elsewhere in the UK and I benefit from the guide for that. However the guide is put together in such a way that all of the UK does not feel short changed at all and good coverage is provided on just about every part of these islands.
The writing style is very approachable, not snobbish just well informed about food and providing a good impression of what you can expect in relatively short space. In that respect I always appreciate the fact that despite covering a huge number of restaurants and thus having limited space the reviews never feel cramped or rushed.
All in all this is my favourite guide to the restaurants in this country. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes to travel and dine throughout Britain.
I always eagerly await the annual publication of the Good Food Guide and been reading it for over 30 years. I still think it is the most user-friendly and readable guide to places to eat in the UK. Michelin has caché, but is nothing like as entertaining and informative and, when it comes down to it, the opinions of people who choose to go to a restaurant, mostly pay for the experience themselves and take the trouble to post a review counts for a lot when the rest of us are looking for somewhere to eat. And that's the strength of the GFG it's an accumulation of thousands of readers' experiences distilled into often quite extensive entries that give one a good idea of what the food and ambiance will be like. At the end of each entry there's a guide to the days and times it's open, the kind of prices you're in for and if they also have overnight accommodation.
There are also unpaid inspectors, most of whom are drawn from ordinary diners who've sent in quite a few reports over the years and are asked to undertake a number of anonymous inspections with only the cost of the meal for two and half a bottle of wine covered in return for an extensive report.
The new edition builds on the re-vamp of the layout and graphic design improvements of the last few years. The tables of contents and indexes have been further improved to aid finding an eating place in an unfamiliar part of the country or for travellers from abroad, who in the past, might have been perplexed by the categorization of restaurants by county. Now, you can search by maps,county, by town or by the name of the restaurant each in an alphabetical listing. The maps are excellent and there's intelligent use of colour to highlight different sections of the book and to flag a change of town or city.
Not surprisingly some areas of the country have a lot more entries than others so the guide is inevitably heavily weighted to the South of England and London in particular. Restaurants that are located in summer-holiday destinations, such as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland will also be under-represented because the dead-line for reports to be counted in the 2011 edition, for example, is around May 2011, before the peak holiday season begins. The publication date for the Guide has got earlier and earlier over the years.
Looking back over all editions of the GFG I've bought what is so striking is the the enormous improvement in the standard of restaurant food (and how publishing has benefited from computer-aided design). In the GFG editor's introduction, there's a wonderful quote from the very first GFG in 1951 in which the then editor, Raymond Postgate, wrote that inclusion in the guide meant "any place where food could be eaten without nausea, where the helpings were not derisively tiny, and the staff not directly rude". Obviously there were great restaurants then, and many of them are still there, but the big change is that there are affordable restaurants where one can eat well, if more simply. Thirty years or so ago I ate a restaurant listed in the GFG that served tinned tomato soup: no way would it get a look in now.
The Good Food Guide, like any other, is influenced in it's ratings by fashion and at the moment that's food designed to excite and surprise, with many small courses and juxtaposing unusual ingredients. But if you don't go for a culinary roller-coaster the description of dishes in the written entries will point you to the kind of food you like and that's one of the strengths of the GFG.
The 2011 Guide points to there being an iPhone and iPad App to the Guide, but as of today it's not yet up and running: only the 2010 edition's App for the iPhone.
UPDATE 10 September 2011: I have just received the 2012 GFG and can tell you that it the format has not changed from that of the 2011. I thought last year that the Guide has sorted any deficiencies in earlier editions over finding a place to eat in an unfamiliar area. Many of the recommended places have continued in the guide but there are new discoveries. Though much is unchanged at this discount price it's probably worth getting the new edition as some places have changed their style of eating, for example, Michael Caines at ABode in Glasgow had a 5 star entry last year, but is not listed this year because the upmarket restaurant has disappeared to be replaced by a more modest eatery.
on 18 May 2009
I was disappointed with this. If you live outside of London, there is not much choice and what there is seems to be high end. The impression I got was of a "bit of a Cclub", with only a "certain class" (and a regular group)of restaurants being reviewed. I mean, what use to the average Joe is an entry for Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, with meals at £150-£175 a head and a waiting list of years. All in all, it was pretty useless to me, trying to find good value, good quality restaurants in West Midlands and Norfolk, that I did not already know about. I thing the reviewers need to set their Sat Nav to outside the M25 a lot more. Or maybe I should be looking in a different guide?
on 1 November 2009
We always enjoy this book and find it most useful, but the layout has got better every year, and now it is really very comprehensive.
The readers recommendations are a useful addition too.
I like the idea that it is now first 'by county' and then 'by town' within that county, instead of just totally 'by town'. It helps then to locate others in the vicinity.
on 27 March 2011
The well established and reputable guide has been going 60 years now. Since the beginning reader feedback and recommendations have been invaluable, inspections anonymous and the Guide remains independent. This addition contains 10 £5 vouchers able to be used in some participating (and included) restaurants.
To be honest, I always assumed that the included restaurants would be top end, but there are a number of mid-priced and pub based restaurants included. Many entries are marked with a symbol made up of £30 and a downward arrow to indicate that it is possible to have three courses (not including wine) for under £30 per head. Ratings (out of 10) may seem quite harsh at first, but the achievement is to be included in the first place. Some places are just 'Recommended' and don't garner an offical score. I have tried some of these, and wouldn't let this or a low score put me off.
My other half and I have used this Guide quite often when looking for places to eat, especially in other parts of the country but sometimes discover and try other places on-spec when we are out and about, although not all of these are included. While I have not been surprised by any of the inclusions I have tried, I have often found I have had fabulous meals in places that didn't make it in the book. Whilst the inspectors may have stringent guidelines, the ratings must have a certain about of subjectivity to them. For example, one of the top rated restaurants I visited was the Carlton Riverside in Llanwrtyd Wells which was awarded a six. However it was not the best restaurant I have tried within this book (the jury is still out as to who will get this award, but the current favourite only received a 3), and both my boyfriend and I are in agreement. It has given us lots of inspiration of places to try, but the budget isn't always willing!
The write ups generally are concise but vary in length. Usually there are brief descriptions given of the décor and service where notable (or otherwise), as well as a summation of the menu and interesting dishes of note, described well by people who have eaten them. The writing is accessible in that it is down to earth and not stuck up, it doesn't assume that we are all gastronomic experts, or look down on pubs and local ethnic restaurants. In additon guide lines as to a numbe of veggie options, prices and type of menu are also indicated. The Guide is completely rewritten every year, so restaurants on the wane may be dropped, and new ones are included.
Overall I would recommend this to people who enjoy eating out, especially if you take short breaks or travel around the UK occasionally.
on 18 October 2009
This is the best restaurant guide available at the moment in my opinion. I first bought the Michelin Guide but wish I hadn't bothered, as the Good Food Guide is much more user-friendly. Restaurants are indexed clearly, by both name and location (town and county). Each review is fairly extensive, giving a 'cooking score' and a breakdown of average prices, as well as contact information for every restaurant. There are also lots of helpful maps included. This version is slightly different to the last one I bought (2007), as it now includes reviews by members of the public and interviews with some of the top chefs in the country. The ten £5 off vouchers in the back are a bit of a bonus. In conclusion, this guide is excellent value-for-money, and a must-have for any foodie!
on 28 October 2010
I agree with previous reviewers that one of the positives of this book is that it contains such a wide range of restaurants. If you are practically anywhere in the country and have the book with you you will find somewhere recommended to dine. But therein lies my downside to this book. Who are the restaurants recommended by? Some of them state they are "reader recommendations" but others are just listed. Do they pay to be included in the book? My instinct is that they do, especially because there are money off vouchers in the back that can be used in some of the restaurants. I prefer a guide that is totally impartial. That said its still an excellent way to have an overview of local eateries when you're out and about and is one to keep in the car.
You can also more than make the cost of the book back if you use the £5 vouchers that are included.
on 21 October 2010
I live in London where there is a plethora of restaurants so finding somewhere to eat can be a daunting task. I have used several guides over the years to help me find some of the treasures I would otherwise have missed and the Good Food Guide has to be the best. Covering the UK the guide is broken into sections for country, then regionally. The entries are informative and the reviews interesting. I particurally like the 'Under £30' symbol which highlights restaurants where you can get a meal for less than £30 and there is a symbol for showing which ones have excellent wine lists. As well as the starred reviews there are also reader recommendations and some unstarred reviews for notible restaurants.
The guide is unbalanced in as much as the sections for London and the South are larger which is a shame as I assume this is not a reflection on the rest of the UK.
The Good Food Guide has a little bonus of £5 off vouchers which you can use at some of the restaurants (there's a symbol indicating which ones you can use the voucher at).
All in all this is a highly recommended restaurant guide.