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Your favourite UK food critic


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#1 PSmith

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 01:47 AM

I don't often read professional food reviews, but recently I have become hooked with Grace Dent from the Evening Standard ES Magazine with her "Grace and Flavour" column.

I appreciate that her style of writing won't appeal to all, but I find her rather personable.

http://www.standard....ro-7938350.html

So do you have a favourite food critic?

http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

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#2 Harters

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:28 AM

I really only come across Jay Rayner as the Observer is the only paper I regularly buy.
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#3 Putty Man

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:44 AM

I liked Jonathan Meades many years ago. Nowadays, apart from Marina O'Loughlin, (the best imo) the current crop of critics seem to be marred by cronyism, and spend far too much time buddying up to the individuals they're supposed to be evaluating.

#4 Putty Man

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:47 AM

I really only come across Jay Rayner as the Observer is the only paper I regularly buy.


I seem to be in a minority, but I can't stand Jay Rayner -- far too pompous, and completely out of control.

#5 Jon Tseng

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 06:12 AM

Jay and Marina are both foodies restaurant critics, which is why I rate them. A daresay Jay is a pompous as the average person on this board... ;-)

In London I also rate Time Outs reviews and its annual guide (which I guess is all spearheaded by Guy Dimond) very highly. Because its not a big newspaper the effort is often highly underrated. http://www.timeout.c...on/restaurants/

For what its worth I would place the TO coverage more highly than Fay Maschler and the Evening Standard, although the latter is more commercially influential. I dislike Fay's habit of visiting restaurants as soon as they open. Pace arguments about "if you're charging you're fair game", I think this habit benefits her profile much more than it gives a genuine assessment of what the average reader will face when (if) they finally get a booking.

With regard to Putty Man's comments on cronyism I broadly agree. One trend I notice (which no-one in the press ever highlights - funny that) is the habit for high profile critics to have consultancy gigs on the side. e.g. Nick Lander and Fay
http://www.nicklande...txt&set=c____ph
http://www.aprivatev...the-company.asp

Fine you can put safeguards in place around fair disclosure of commercial relationships, but at the end of the day it means the critic isn't wholly working for you the reader. They are also working for the restaurant trade.

That makes me uneasy. Doubly so because, as mentioned, these sidelines are rarely written about in the press.

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#6 Harters

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 06:34 AM

Online, I have a soft spot for Mark Garner - Manchester Confidential's "Gordo".

Not a man to take himself too seriously.
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#7 liuzhou

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 07:28 AM

Jay Rayner by far. He can write

No respect for Fay Maschler after seeing her in a certain restaurant London restaurant 25 years ago. Her review was full of praise, but the meal we got was horrible. The staff seemed to be too busy sucking up to her.

#8 Gary Marshall

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 08:57 AM

One trend I notice (which no-one in the press ever highlights - funny that) is the habit for high profile critics to have consultancy gigs on the side. e.g. Nick Lander and Fay
http://www.nicklande...txt&set=c____ph
http://www.aprivatev...the-company.asp

Fine you can put safeguards in place around fair disclosure of commercial relationships, but at the end of the day it means the critic isn't wholly working for you the reader. They are also working for the restaurant trade.

That makes me uneasy. Doubly so because, as mentioned, these sidelines are rarely written about in the press.

J


Indeed, and fair play to Jay, when a friend of mine (who he'd reviewed a few years previously) asked for a bit of advice/consultancy his reply was basically that he felt he couldn't review and consult.
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#9 Pam Brunning

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 10:06 AM

I am obviously biased but if you look at the restaurant reviews in our Food & Wine publication at
http://www.iwfs.org/...ions/newsletter
You will find all the reviews are completely independent. The reviewers’ names are withheld so they do not get known to the restaurateurs and they all pay for their meals in full. My instructions to them are ‘tell it as it is’. They receive no payment either from the restaurants or the Society, they are completely voluntary and independent, resulting in genuine reports.
Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society
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#10 Putty Man

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 11:27 AM

they are completely voluntary and independent, resulting in genuine reports.


I'm not quite sure this works as an argument, but I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'genuine'. The problem, as I see it, is that there are too many sacred cows, special friendships and vendettas to make the London based newspaper critics trustworthy.

If Gordon Ramsay opened a new place in the UK, it would be generally ill received regardless of the quality of the dining. Nowadays, the critics' relationship with restaurateurs is more about power and personalities than eating. However, the amateurs are even more starstruck and suck up to chefs like pre-adolescent girls with Justin Bieber. In order to be a good critic, you need to have some integrity and be a good writer. Having a blog or exchanging tweets with chefs is not enough.

This is why I liked Meades, he liked eating, but he also has other fish to fry. This is why I don't like Rayner, he has far too much invested in being a food critic to be a good critic. This is why I trust O'Loughlin, since she doesn't appear to be exploiting the restaurant world for her own media self-aggrandizement.

Edited by Putty Man, 19 July 2012 - 11:37 AM.


#11 RDB

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:05 PM

I am obviously biased but if you look at the restaurant reviews in our Food & Wine publication at
http://www.iwfs.org/...ions/newsletter
You will find all the reviews are completely independent. The reviewers’ names are withheld so they do not get known to the restaurateurs and they all pay for their meals in full. My instructions to them are ‘tell it as it is’. They receive no payment either from the restaurants or the Society, they are completely voluntary and independent, resulting in genuine reports.

What like erm Egullet? Shameless plug!

#12 RDB

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:37 PM


they are completely voluntary and independent, resulting in genuine reports.


I'm not quite sure this works as an argument, but I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'genuine'. The problem, as I see it, is that there are too many sacred cows, special friendships and vendettas to make the London based newspaper critics trustworthy.

If Gordon Ramsay opened a new place in the UK, it would be generally ill received regardless of the quality of the dining. Nowadays, the critics' relationship with restaurateurs is more about power and personalities than eating. However, the amateurs are even more starstruck and suck up to chefs like pre-adolescent girls with Justin Bieber. In order to be a good critic, you need to have some integrity and be a good writer. Having a blog or exchanging tweets with chefs is not enough.

This is why I liked Meades, he liked eating, but he also has other fish to fry. This is why I don't like Rayner, he has far too much invested in being a food critic to be a good critic. This is why I trust O'Loughlin, since she doesn't appear to be exploiting the restaurant world for her own media self-aggrandizement.


Think you make some very good points. Some critics and chefs are much closer now due to the circles they rotate which is often mediated by media of some sort, so it will naturally create a bias. I agree about MOL and respect her for that, I also like AA Gill as he does not associate or show any sycophancy, he can also write better than any of the critics hands down. I agree with you regarding how bloggers act in that starstruck way, which will always influence how and what they write, i.e. I guarantee if a chef pays attention to a blogger the review will be positive, if they do not get this treatment then the review will be negative and at times histrionic. Then again Chef,s play the game to and court the adulation, and fame, why not it is good advertising etc etc.
I think Rayner writes descriptively and succinctly about the food, which is good, however when he moves beyond that it rarely works, and is not enertaining as a read. Saying that he is suited more to print, and radio, rather than Television.

Michael Winner is my guilty pleasure :-)


#13 Soundman

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:14 PM

I like Jay, I know what he likes, and thus can judge a review as to whether I'll like it or not.

I think bloggers have done the biggest disservice to food writing imaginable, people consumed by ego and the ability to pay for food writing about it, rather than people with a talent for writing, writing about food, it can't work.

I rarely read food blogs and when I do it's mainly to convince myself that I'm right to think they're written by fools with more money than sense.

#14 Man

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:27 PM

We've had this discussion already in January and it was decreed then by a large majority that Jay is the best. Sorry guys, that verdict is not appealable before 2013, and it's the only sensible one anyway. Leave Jay alone, OK? :raz:

#15 Putty Man

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 02:00 AM

We've had this discussion already in January and it was decreed then by a large majority that Jay is the best. Sorry guys, that verdict is not appealable before 2013, and it's the only sensible one anyway. Leave Jay alone, OK? :raz:


Far be it from to question such an illustrious consensus, but, to me, he comes across as transparently ambitious. He seems to want to corner the print/internet/TV/radio authoritative critic/pundit market across the UK, without having the talent or charisma to pull it off.

#16 dustbuddy

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 02:30 AM


We've had this discussion already in January and it was decreed then by a large majority that Jay is the best. Sorry guys, that verdict is not appealable before 2013, and it's the only sensible one anyway. Leave Jay alone, OK? :raz:


Far be it from to question such an illustrious consensus, but, to me, he comes across as transparently ambitious. He seems to want to corner the print/internet/TV/radio authoritative critic/pundit market across the UK, without having the talent or charisma to pull it off.


An interesting comment - is there anything wrong in being ambitious in whatever field you are in? Is transparent amibition better or worse than hidden ambition? I read Jay's reviews because I buy the Observer and for what it is worth I enjoy them although I would not choose my dining destination solely in reliance of his blessing of a given establishment (or indeed that of any other critic).

#17 Putty Man

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 02:43 AM

is there anything wrong in being ambitious in whatever field you are in? Is transparent amibition better or worse than hidden ambition?


I think it depends, precisely, on the field. Blind ambition is a necessary condition for a sprinter -- for a restaurant critic, far less so since their task is completely unproductive. The only ambition a restaurant critic should have is write well and fairly about restaurants, not use the blood sweat and tears of the restaurant industry as an instrumental foundation which to build a high-profile media career.

#18 cachan

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:36 AM

I ignore Fay as I find she is not critical enough, I find Marina the most interesting and trustworthy.

#19 PSmith

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 08:42 AM

I like Jay, I know what he likes, and thus can judge a review as to whether I'll like it or not.

I think bloggers have done the biggest disservice to food writing imaginable, people consumed by ego and the ability to pay for food writing about it, rather than people with a talent for writing, writing about food, it can't work.

I rarely read food blogs and when I do it's mainly to convince myself that I'm right to think they're written by fools with more money than sense.


Excellent POV Soundman. I also think that food bloggers do food writing no service at all. Most rely on taking photos as their writing skills are lacking. I would much rather read a review and the writer convey to me the atmosphere and the experience - which at the end of the day are as much part of the package as what is on my plate.

http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

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#20 RDB

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 03:04 AM


I like Jay, I know what he likes, and thus can judge a review as to whether I'll like it or not.

I think bloggers have done the biggest disservice to food writing imaginable, people consumed by ego and the ability to pay for food writing about it, rather than people with a talent for writing, writing about food, it can't work.

I rarely read food blogs and when I do it's mainly to convince myself that I'm right to think they're written by fools with more money than sense.


Excellent POV Soundman. I also think that food bloggers do food writing no service at all. Most rely on taking photos as their writing skills are lacking. I would much rather read a review and the writer convey to me the atmosphere and the experience - which at the end of the day are as much part of the package as what is on my plate.


Again I think it is the lack of impartiality and an inability to distance oneself from either flattery or freebies, this is a perfect example

http://www.hungryhos...manchester.html

#21 adey73

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 03:13 AM

RDB, is that a spoof?
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#22 Harters

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 03:23 AM

RDB, is that a spoof?


I fear not, adey.

It's one of growing number of blogs around the Manchester area. Pretty much all of them on the same bus and, certainly, all on the invite list of the PR companies (as mentioned in the Solita review linked to ). I think the deal is that you start a blog, put yourslef about a bit on twitter and, all of sudden you're part of the Manchester food glitterati. Great way of getting a freebie dinner, innit.

However, I'm sure it's going to prove to be the future (at least until the next Big Thing comes along). Few people now use conventional discussion boards to discuss restaurant experiences - apparently you can do it just as well in 140 characters. Certainly I see a time fast looming where I see no point in posting to the likes of egullet or chowhound (although I have no interest in starting a blog)

Edited by Harters, 02 August 2012 - 03:29 AM.

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#23 Putty Man

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 04:13 AM

The decline in the popularity of food boards has much to with the question of who owns the content. If a blogger can earn revenue or status by placing his or her content on a blog, then why, if revenue or status is a principal concern, should they give it away to a food board?

There is a typology amongst those on food boards; broadly divisible into two main categories: those that see food as instrumental to furthering their own self interest (e.g. bloggers), and those that value the intrinsic qualities of food in itself (e.g. the kind of person who is too busy eating to photograph their food)

However, the exponential growth of food blogs means that the casual reader has to divide a fixed amount of time over a rapidly increasing amount of not very interesting instrumental content. It is telling that the posted responses on many of the blogs linked to here are by other bloggers who post/link here.

In time, one or two fortunate bloggers will rise to have a significant status in the field and the rest will just give up or be given up on.

Food boards are the best way of discussing food, I think we will see a return of their influence when enough people finally rumble the bloggers' game.

#24 RDB

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 04:13 AM

RDB, is that a spoof?


You would think so :unsure:
However, as Harters says alas not. Maybe this restaurant believes that the opinions of an over zealous primrary school teacher will be a valuable source of business generation or a provide some expert culinary knowledge , however such sychophancy may actually have the paradoxical effect of dissuading anyone from wanting to go near the place.

#25 HungryHoss

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 04:41 AM


RDB, is that a spoof?


You would think so :unsure:
However, as Harters says alas not. Maybe this restaurant believes that the opinions of an over zealous primrary school teacher will be a valuable source of business generation or a provide some expert culinary knowledge , however such sychophancy may actually have the paradoxical effect of dissuading anyone from wanting to go near the place.


Thank you 'over zealous' is a very polite way of describing me! ;-)I have been back to SoLita on three occasions (as a full paying customer, no less) since this series of freebies and I stand by my initial comments. On the second occasion admittedly, there were some first week teething problems but by my third meal these seemed to have been resolved.

#26 olicollett

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 05:30 AM



RDB, is that a spoof?


You would think so :unsure:
However, as Harters says alas not. Maybe this restaurant believes that the opinions of an over zealous primrary school teacher will be a valuable source of business generation or a provide some expert culinary knowledge , however such sychophancy may actually have the paradoxical effect of dissuading anyone from wanting to go near the place.


Thank you 'over zealous' is a very polite way of describing me! ;-)I have been back to SoLita on three occasions (as a full paying customer, no less) since this series of freebies and I stand by my initial comments. On the second occasion admittedly, there were some first week teething problems but by my third meal these seemed to have been resolved.


Unless I'm missing something, you don't appear to have a clear disclaimer anywhere in that "review" that mentions that it was free?

#27 RDB

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 05:35 AM

I imagine once you receive a series of freebies then after this point any attempt at being impartial is null and void? You often hear professional critics speak about restaurants sending out "freebies" etc etc as a means to curry favour, however this often has the opposite effect. With bloggers it works a treat, much like Pavlov's dogs, that is why it is very hard to take any of these reviews seriously.

#28 Harters

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 07:13 AM

In time, one or two fortunate bloggers will rise to have a significant status in the field and the rest will just give up or be given up on.


I think the Dos Hermanos blog would be regarded as one of the successful ones. It used to be interesting to read (at least about the London area) and, of course, it was the significant help in thrusting Simon Majumdar towards his book writing and, then, his food related career in the States. Job now done, so no blogging since last February.

As for most blogs, even those written about my own area, I simply don't generally come across them as I am not part of the local twitterati. On the occasions that I do, I read them in the same light as I assume folks might read (or not read) my posts to this board - i.e. just one bloke's opinion about a dinner he's eaten.

Of course, for the blogger there may be other benefits. I know a blogger in an entirely different field to food. He used to contribute to a discussion board but, since starting the blog, no longer posts to the board. His reasoning is entirely one of control. When he posted to the board, he was open to comment, criticism and, indeed, offensive remarks. Now, with his own blog, whilst one can submit a comment, it is entirely within is discretion whether he allows it to be "published".

Edited by Harters, 02 August 2012 - 07:52 AM.

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#29 HungryHoss

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 12:58 AM

Not sure what's going on with my computer as it doesn't seem to be allowing me to quote directly... also, I am in Spain on a dodgy internet connection having last night eaten at Dani Garcia's two star Calima, which, like over 99%* of my meals, was not a 'freebie'.

Out of the 151 posts that are now on my blog, I think just 3 or 4 were comps (Aulis, Jamie Oliver, The Cube with Sat Bains) - with Aulis and Sat, I hardly run the risk of 'compromising my integrity' and with Jamie, I made clear at the end of the post that I suspected the quality I received would perhaps not be maintainable as time went on (subsequent visits have proved this to be the case and a return visit post is due).

I have now added a disclaimer to the SoLita post and will endeavour to get another up that represents my subsequent meals there.

To keep this post on subject... I do not regularly read any of the food critics. I may skim over if it is brought to my attention that they are reviewing a local resaurant or one that I have eaten (or plan to eat) at. With blogs too, there is none that I read regularly.

I take a lot of your points on board... I generally agree with your points directed against bloggers. Of course, I do (and would) like to think mine is 'different'... I never refer to my posts as 'reviews' as despite the fact that I eat out several times a week and have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world, I do not feel 'qualified' to 'review'... in my posts, I aim to just write up 'my experience' - one major downside is the fact that I love most foods and do tend to be very positive about most places. Perhaps I should, like most of your favourite critics, be more critical?

#30 Jon Tseng

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 04:15 AM

Note that Time Out is now planning to go free in the Autumn. Hoping to hoick distribution from 55K to 750k.

That should (hopefully) mean their reviews get the prominence they deserve.

J
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