The G Restaurant Awards will be announced this month. The winning restaurants, representing the best fine-dining establishments in the city, were selected by the Peak team after they had dined there incognito. The evaluation process was rigorous and many failed to make the grade.

I admit, there’s a naughty thrill and just a touch of glamour in being a secret emissary. Especially since there has been an explosion in the number of celebrity restaurants and avant-garde establishments in recent years, all of which go all out to woo your dining dollars.

For food writers like me, that means almost daily tastings at Singapore’s finest spots. Sure, it sounds like a cushy job but really, having a massive appetite and an adventurous palate are a lot
harder than it looks.

If a visiting chef from Iceland plates up reindeer penis, like what happened last month – I’m sorry Rudolph – reindeer penis it is I will eat.

Thanks to the variety of cuisines I’m exposed to, I’m expected to be a refined, sophisticated diner who eats only at glamorous new restaurants.

“You? At a hawker centre?” mocked a friend when I told him I was buying dinner at Maxwell Food Centre in Tanjong Pagar. “I’m sure any of those chic restaurants at Tras Street will roll out the red carpet for you if you walk over.”

I’m sorry but the jig is up: I dine out only on special occasions and my choice of cuisine is about as vanilla as it gets.

I cover so many new locations that I want nothing more than the safe predictability of a place so familiar, it feels like home.

The reason: If I’m eating out, the experience must be perfect. To go to a new place is to risk having a bad time. This, I only realised when I was scrambling to put together a birthday dinner for the other half.

The occasion had to be mildly romantic, with white tablecloths and a respectable wine list. The desserts must also be hearty. This effectively ruled out all the trendy counter-seating restaurants or any kitchen that serves a tablespoon of chocolate mousse poached in liquid nitrogen for dessert.

So I picked a low-key Parisian brasserie I had visited multiple times. It comes with an unsmiling French waiter whose voice trails off while going through the wine list’s pricier labels.

The only reason I can overlook Monsieur Superieur’s cold shoulder is that I’ve been to the restaurant so often, I’ve learnt that his attitude isn’t personal. I love its delicious, rustic French dishes too much to let anything get in the way.

Good food aside, a high stakes occasion like this one could have been easily ruined by bad service had this been my first visit. That’s why I’m a firm believer in cultivating a relationship with restaurants.

Despite the dozens I flirt with each week, I can only commit my heart (and stomach) to a restaurant that I am familiar with. You learn something new with each visit. Sometimes it’s a dish, other times, it’s a wine. If you’re lucky, the waiter may even learn your name. That level of genuine personal service can only come with time.

Sure, the Parisian brasserie may not be a headline-grabbing award winner. But the food and ambience were as good as I remembered them. Just as I thought dinner couldn’t get any more perfect that evening, as I paid for the meal, Monsieur Superieur did one thing I had never seen him do: he smiled warmly.

And just like that, I knew I was home.