Lizzie Loel was the restaurant critic for the Courier Mail for 12 years, has reviewed for Gourmet Traveller and was the founding editor of the Courier Mail Food and Wine Guide for five years. She is a regular contributor to various publications including delicious. and Winestate and in 2011 won The Good Food Guide Award for Professional Excellence. She is now the restaurant critic with the Courier Mail’s Qweekend magazine on a Saturday.
Lizzie wasn’t always a restaurant critic – she started her career as a chef running a catering business and before she knew it was the mother of three young children (twins plus one), which made things a little tricky careerwise. So she began writing about food, and the rest is history.
“I try to stand in the shoes of people who don’t eat out all the time, where a meal out is a real treat.” she says. “And funnily enough it’s not just about the food – to give a fair assessment of any establishment you have to take the whole experience into account – from the moment you call to book to the moment you leave the restaurant.”
Lizzie also makes an important distinction between the growing number of ‘food bloggers’ and restaurant critics…
“Most food bloggers are good writers and they enjoy what they do, but they do not visit restaurants anonymously (unlike food critics) and so are generally unlikely to post an unfavourable review, especially if they have been welcomed as a known food blogger to the venue.” explains Lizzie. “But I’m not saying it’s easy for restaurateurs and cafe owners either – now that everyone purports to be a food critic via online review sites, you just don’t know what is motivating some of the reviews you will get. In some cases they may be completely unrelated to the actual experience.”
Lizzie says she is most impressed where she tastes something she has not seen before. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, she appreciates simple food with stunning ingredients done in an appropriate way. Service is also critical to the whole experience – good friendly service and ideally staff who love their job who know how to pre-empt the questions and concerns of diners.
“If you come away feeling warm then that’s a great experience.” Lizzie says.
At the other end of the scale Lizzie’s had her fair share of terrible experiences. The worst she relates was where she got food poisoning. Despite this, she still gave the establishment 17/20 for the service, but an overall 3/20 since the owner had under resourced the restaurant by leaving a young unqualified chef in charge.
She disputes the claims of critics from the southern states that don’t rate Queensland restaurants and puts it down to the more casual approach north of the border.
“Our warm climate means everything is much more casual, but this doesn’t mean the food or service is sub par.” says Lizzie. “There is a strong regional restaurant culture, with places like the Gold Coast, Noosa, Port Douglas and Palm Cove leading the charge.”
Her best experience? Not in Australia unfortunately! It was a restaurant in a tiny village outside Lyons in France. And it wasn’t all about the food (although it was great) – it was more to do with the way the staff and the sommelier in particular helped them navigate the enormous wine list and helped them choose an appropriate bottle, namely a good wine that wouldn’t break the bank.
And Lizzie’s connection to Total Knife Care? A mutual friend of the TKC team who was setting up a cooking school introduced Lizzie to the I.O.Shen range of kitchen knives. She loves them and her son – now grown up and a jobbing chef – uses them every day.
Catch up on Lizzie’s thoughts on restaurants and food on her website – thefoodzine.com