The Wisdom of Crowds: Eating Out

According to James Surowiecki’s theory of the wisdom of crowds, aggregating the decisions of groups will often give a better answer than could be come up with by one individual alone. This collective wisdom idea means that TripAdvisor should be an unbeatable system when it comes to eating out. I’ve noticed in recent years that TripAdvisor based listicles have become a favoured format of our regional press when it comes to eating out recommendations – so I decided that I should put the top ranked restaurants to the test myself.

I was particularly interested in this idea when I realised that I had only actually visited 4 out of the top 10 ‘places to eat’ in Leicester. That includes restaurants, pubs, dessert places, bakeries, coffee shops – everything. As it currently stands (Dec 2019), the top 20 reads:

  1. Reece’s
  2. Gillys Sandwich Bar
  3. Revolution
  4. Pamson Grill
  5. Lilu
  6. Ben’s Kitchen
  7. Dine India
  8. Cafe Two Ten
  9. Spice Bazzar (sic)
  10. Herb
  11. Bistro Live
  12. Aarti Sweet Centre
  13. Steak & Lounge
  14. Hollys Coffee Shop
  15. Altro Mondo
  16. Bodega
  17. North Bar & Kitchen
  18. Kayal
  19. Gelato Village
  20. The Windmill Inn

Now, I’ll confess that Bistro Live has been kicking around the top 20, and even the top 5, for years now. This is what initially aroused my suspicions about how reliable the system is. But the three main criteria that are judged for food establishments are food, service and value – so how far out can it be?

Number One: Reece’s

Located slightly awkwardly through the labyrinthine corridors of the Groby Ex-Serviceman’s Club, this seemed an unlikely top spot. And indeed, it’s full of sports and social club chic, making dining there feel a little bit like attending a family gathering circa 1990. But it’s clean and the staff are friendly, which always goes a long way!

Reece’s appears mainly famed for its Sunday Carvery, although I spotted signs indicating that other meals during the week are catered for. I’m not sure how you figure out whether they are open or not on any given day without chancing your arm and popping in. We went for the carvery, along with having sent in a pre-order for a vegan guest. A good range of vegan options were offered, although on the day it turned out that all of the carvery vegetables were done in butter (as well they should be!) and so our guest had to have accompaniments to her mushroom and ale pie done separately. No great hardship though!

vegan mushroom and ale pie
A vegan friendly homemade pie with chips, mushy peas and vegan gravy

The carvery was the usual deal – a choice of a few meats, with a MASSIVE homemade Yorkshire pudding and a stuffing ball, accompanied by your selection from a heated counter of vegetables. Nothing particularly remarkable except perhaps for the addition of Dauphinoise potatoes (along with mash and roasties) which is certainly something I can get behind!

Sunday Roast Dinner

The carvery comes in three sizes and pricing ranges from £5.45 up to just below ten pounds. This puts it about on a level with the bigger chain carveries, but Reece’s is clearly independent and proud. There was nothing of an exceptionally standout quality, but nothing I can really pick fault with either. They do a good solid roast dinner, cater well for vegan guests and have a typical selection of starters and puddings to choose from if you think you’ll need a bit more.

The dessert was probably the least successful element if I’m honest. I had the apple pie which had an incredibly thick crust which was underdone in the middle, while the vegan friendly chocolate dessert was pleasant enough, but didn’t have any hint of the promised hazelnut in it – I think it was mainly crushed up biscuits although I could be wrong.

So, it’s not the most palatial of surrounds, but the service is friendly, the food is perfectly adequate for the price point and so it represents good value. Is it the very best place to eat in Leicester though? Not really. Will I be recommending it to everyone I meet from hereon in? Well, no to be honest. Cheap and cheerful carvery is not really something that needs careful planning, but I’d happily go again one day if I’m in the area.

Number Three: Revolution

I initially wondered if Revolution was well up there because of their 241 menu on a Monday representing very good value. However, it seems they don’t offer that any more, but do have a range of lunch options including a soft drink from about £5.50. I popped in and tried their fishfinger sandwich on this offer, with some extra chips for £1.

It’s quite a cosy venue really, not too big, relatively comfortable in the daytime for eating. Service tends to be a little slow and lacklustre, and this was the case during my last visit. So already I’m not sure how they make it to number 3 on TripAdvisor’s wishlist.

After a relatively short amount of time, our food came. A pleasing number of fishfingers were in my sandwich, and my fries were hot and crispy. Even though it was on the lunch deal, I think the fries should really have been included to make it feel like real value – I certainly wouldn’t pay £6 for the sandwich alone in the evening. My friend ordered the seitan ‘chicken’ wrap and it was similarly… fine. No major issues, but nothing that took my breath away either, in the third supposed best place to eat out of over 1000 options in Leicester.

TripAdvisor Gets It Right

For all it’s algorithms and wisdom of crowds, I’m not a wholesale convert to picking where to eat from TripAdvisor then. As with so many things in life, perhaps just ask one person who knows what they are talking about rather than a thousand people who don’t. That said, as I was writing this post, I decided to check out an old Leicester favourite that I re-visited for the first time in absolutely years this week – Casa Romana.

Casa Romana on Albion Street only makes 58th best on the overall TripAdvisor list, and is 6th on the Italian speciality list. Now this is interesting as hearing people rave about it, and knowing people who visit it regularly week after week, you would think that it’s something a bit special. A hidden gem.

This is precisely what I don’t like to miss out on, which is why I took myself there for lunch this week. The menu is relatively concise, which I like, but devoted to a kind of generic ‘Italian’ style of cooking which I don’t really think I do like. There was no sense of regionality or seasonality to the menu, and looking at the specials board the smart money clearly goes to the speciality fish dishes.

Casa Romana

Duly, I ordered mussels to start, which were amazingly fat and plump. Without doubt the nicest quality mussels I have seen in Leicester recently (and I had mussels at The Case a couple of weeks ago, so you know I must mean it). But that’s where the joy ends I’m afraid. The mussels were smothered in an underseasoned tomato sauce which was barely heated. None of the acidic sharpness of the passata had been cooked out. You could see from the texture that it was a rush job. And that’s without mentioning the single, rock-hard garlic clove which sat miserably in the corner of the dish, adding nothing to the overall flavour.

The disappointment continued into the main. I had picked one of my favourite flavour combos in the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Again, the whole thing was smothered in a tomato sauce that was rushed and overly acidic. The pasta was cooked nicely. But sadly the filling was watery spinach, grainy ricotta and a distinct lack of seasoning throughout. This was a dish that I’d hoped to be rich and creamy and decadent. Instead it tasted spartan and austere.

So perhaps when it comes to Casa Romana, TripAdvisor has their number…

My favourites of 2019

I want to offer a more positive outlook of Leicester and Leicestershire’s food in 2019. I thought I’d finish by reflecting on some of the best meals I have enjoyed and written about this year. Click back a few months and relive the deliciousness! My top five blog meals of 2019 are:

  1. The Geese & Fountain – probably the best roast dinner in the county. Plus incredible set menus through the year with some of the best quality, locally sourced produce around.
  2. King Richard III – probably the best roast dinner in the city. Plus incredible robata cooked meat the rest of the week.
  3. Mirch Masala – a delicious combo of street food from around the world. Go Indian or Indo-Chinese for their best dishes. A vegetarian restaurant, but in reality the menu is at least 90% vegan.
  4. The Good Earth – Leicester’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, but possibly just Leicester’s oldest running restaurant full stop? The rissoles aren’t what they used to be sadly. But a homely, affordable and well cooked lunch is always sure to await.
  5. Best Mangal Restaurant – Is it the best in town? Probably not, but it’s the only one I’ve written about this year apparently, and their chicken shawarma is damn fine.

What are your food highlights from 2019?

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2 Responses

  1. Alan Merryweather says:

    I love this article, I like Tripadvisor.
    We use it loads to see what is about and what is happening.
    Like everyone else we dont read the 5* reviews, just the one and two star ones.
    Forget the venues for a minute.
    Look at the reviewers, most of the bad reviews are complaints NOT REVIEWS, after all you can have an average meal in wonderful surroundings with great clean decor and immaculate loos and great service, but give them a poor rating because your gravy was lukewarm.
    Generally it’s a good guide to and one that generates us a lot of footfall from the 3 local hotels.
    Once again Laura a great piece, looking forward to many more in 2020.
    Happy New Year to you and all who read you xx

    • Laura says:

      Thanks Alan, kind comments and always nice to have an independent barometer to know that my musings aren’t always so far off the mark! I think there is also a big issue in people writing reviews with little knowledge or basis for comparison. I always try and be fair about ‘value’ in particular when thinking about a venue and its target audience. A chain carvery pub vs a street food truck vs a self proclaimed ‘fine dining’ establishment are all going to produce very different food and experiences yet they are have the potential to be excellent at what they do.

      Looking forward to having the chance to come and eat at the Black Horse Aylestone again next week – it’s been too long!!

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