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British Restaurant 'Critics'


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In addition to service questions (see 'A Glass Half Full?'), The Box Tree thread also prompted me to ask you about British restaurant reviewers and their seeming propensity to review a restaurant after a single visit. It seems that the reviews of The Box Tree were written after a single visit, or at least that's the impression I got. Am I correct in this assumption?

If so, is it because the budgets of even the national newspapers/magazines don't allow for multiple visits given the horrific expense, especially in London? As it takes greater effort (and perhaps knowledge) to qualify for a driver's license than the postion of large-circulation restaurant reviewer, I was wondering if it asks on the job application: Are you (check one) (a.) not very, (b.) quite, or (c.) very clairvoyant?

Because as any critic worth their salt might allow, restaurants can and do change from night to night, as well as over longer periods of time; a decent critic can tell you if chef fought or made love with his girlfriend that afternoon. That change and lack of consistency is especially true of new restaurants still gaining traction; ironically that is the stage in a restaurant's life when most reviews take place.

Perhaps even more ironic however, is the fact that the financial editors of the same periodicals would never consider reviewing other businesses (and forecasting their future prospects) after a mere two hour visit--much more due diligence would be required of the reporter. Why does this seemingly not hold true in the UK for restaurant businesses?

So, for the most part are they one-shot wonders? Or do critics of conscience revisit (as in the methodology of The New York Times) until they're sure that they have gotten the full measure of the establishment, especially in tasting most of the menu? I ask this realizing that there are some cartoonish characters such as the oxymoronically named Michael Winner and AA Gill who could as easily be writing about The Norfolk Small Animal Auction as food and no doubt should.

But for the most part, what's the deal--and the rationale?

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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In addition to service questions (see 'A Glass Half Full?'), The Box Tree thread also prompted me to ask you about British restaurant reviewers and their seeming propensity to review a restaurant after a single visit. It seems that the reviews of The Box tree were written after a single visit, or at least that's the impression I got. Am I correct in this assumption?

If so, is it because the budgets of even the national newspapers/magazines don't allow for multiple visits given the horrific expense, especially in London? As it takes greater effort (and perhaps knowledge) to qualify for a driver's license than the postion of large-circulation restaurant reviewer, I was wondering if it asks on  the job application: Are you (check one) (a.) not very, (b.) quite, or (c.) very clairvoyant?

Because as any critic worth their salt might allow, restaurants can and do change from night to night, as well as over longer periods of time; a decent critic can tell you if chef fought or made love with his girlfriend that afternoon. That change and lack of consistency is especially true of new restaurants still gaining traction; ironically that is the stage in a restaurant's life when most reviews take place.

Perhaps even more ironic however, is the fact that the financial editors of the same periodicals would never consider reviewing other businesses (and forecasting their future prospects) after a mere two hour visit--much more due diligence would be required of the reporter. Why does this seemingly not hold true in the UK for restaurant businesses?

So, for the most part are they one-shot wonders? Or do critics of conscience revisit (as in the methodology of The New York Times) until they're sure that they have gotten the full measure of the establishment, especially in tasting most of the menu? I ask this realizing that there are some cartoonish characters such as the oxymoronically named Michael Winner and AA Gill who could as easily be writing about The Norfolk Small Animal Auction as food and no doubt should.

But for the most  part, what's the deal--and the rationale?

THe March issue of Saveur has a piece on the differences between US and UK restaurant critics by, er, me. It goes into all this stuff.

Jay

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Savuer featuring Jay Rayner seems like the sort of product that would enrich my lifestyle. I'd like to purchase a copy of Savuer featuring Jay Rayner, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Could someone answer the following questions for me:

What UK stores stock Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

How much is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

When is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner published?

Thanks!

Now, to address Jamie's question. Looks like you'll have to purchase a copy of Savuer featuring Jay Rayner to answer that one!!!!

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Saveur can be bought at the magazine shop next door to The Grocer off Portobello Road, as well as on Marylebone High Street, and I might even have seen it once at W.H Smiths - though that could be the drugs talking.

Congrats Jay on getting a piece in - it's by far the best food mag of the bunch.

Edited by MobyP (log)

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Savuer featuring Jay Rayner seems like the sort of product that would enrich my lifestyle. I'd like to purchase a copy of Savuer featuring Jay Rayner, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Could someone answer the following questions for me:

What UK stores stock Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

How much is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

When is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner published?

Thanks!

Now, to address Jamie's question. Looks like you'll have to purchase a copy of  Savuer featuring Jay Rayner to answer that one!!!!

Despite featuring in Savuer magazine, are we really sure that Jay Rayner is the best person to answer the question, "why are British restaurant critics so crap?"

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Savuer featuring Jay Rayner seems like the sort of product that would enrich my lifestyle. I'd like to purchase a copy of Savuer featuring Jay Rayner, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Could someone answer the following questions for me:

What UK stores stock Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

How much is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner?

When is Savuer featuring Jay Rayner published?

Thanks!

Now, to address Jamie's question. Looks like you'll have to purchase a copy of  Savuer featuring Jay Rayner to answer that one!!!!

Despite featuring in Savuer magazine, are we really sure that Jay Rayner is the best person to answer the question, "why are British restaurant critics so crap?"

Doesn't this fall under the "pleasing all the people all the time" scenario? Do you have a better local in mind where the critics are clearly superior?

In my naive, nay Heidi-of-the-Hills ways, I happen to be a fan of Mssrs Rayner and Coren.

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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It seems that the reviews of The Box tree were written after a single visit, or at least that's the impression I got. Am I correct in this assumption?

Yes, you are.

I believe the arguement is that the review will reflect the experience of the average diner who may only visit a restaurant once, or that it will at least reflect the experience of a customers first visit to that restaurant. The critic takes his chances just like any other mug punter and reports what he finds. I have no real problem with that, its just a different approach from the New York Times, whose reviews read more like feature articles about the restaruants that reviews as such.

I think its entirely reasonable to judge a restaurant on a single visit. I think I can tell if a place is worth a punt just by looking at it, let alone reading its menu or stepping through its doors. A single visit is the icing on the cake!

I have read reviews by Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard and Jan Moir in The Telegraph where they mention that they have had lunch and then gone back for dinner. Maschler now has a column where she re-reviews restaurants she has visited in the past so its not always just a one off.

I think its a given that restaurants can be inconsistant. They're run by humans after all (well, some of them are). I'm not sure how useful or surprising it is to learn that some nights are better than others, some dishes more appealing than the rest, some members of staff a bit crap and others wonderful. If you intend to make that restaurant a regular haunt, then you'll find all that out over time yourself. Unless the chef or ownership of a restaurant changes, things won't be that much different night after night, and a single visit for the purposes of a review is adequate in my view.

Maschler claims to eat out around 8 times a week for her column, and considering she has been at it for nearly three decades, I would imagine that she has developed a sort of second sight when it comes to restaurants.

In defence of British criticism, I would say just read any of Terry Durack's reviews in the Independent (leaving aside for a moment the small point that the man is a bloody Aussie.)

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To compare Restaurant reviews to Buisness ones is a bit silly.All guest is going to invest in a restaurant is 2 hours of their time and a wedge of cash that they were going to spend on a Restaurant anyway.A Buisness review may be a tad more important to the end user.

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To compare Restaurant reviews to Buisness ones is a bit silly.All  guest is going to invest in a restaurant is 2 hours of their time and a wedge of cash that they were going to spend on a Restaurant anyway.A Buisness review may be a tad more important to the end user.

Not at all. I certainly wasn't referring as much to the risk to the consumer (although at London prices you could add dinner to your investment portfolio) as I was referring to the risk to the business owner.

Many are the British reviews I've read that slag the restaurant based on a three hour cruise, Gilligan. And many British 'critics' seem self-indulgent (i.e. 'simplify then exaggerate'), to the point of caring little about the effect of their misdirected and perhaps ill-researched influence.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I see.

I think your giving critics to much credit.They can't close a good restaurant, and can't save a bad restaurant.They are a usefull tool to restaurants and customers, and they sell papers.I don't think they effect a buisness in the long term.

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I should say that I'm broadly in agreement with Jamie's general point. I have not been backward in coming forward about the shortcomings of British restaurant criticism in the past on these forums (here for example), but I wonder though how much fault we should lay at the editor's feet. Surely they are the ones demanding light, jokey and gossipy reviews with a large measure of added spite, just too keep things really interesting?

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I think your giving critics  to much credit.They can't close a good restaurant, and  can't save a bad restaurant.

That may be true, but I was told recently by someone in the trade that a certain London critic well known to us all here on eGullet can make a significant difference to a restaurant's business, at least in the short term. And no, it's not Jay Rayner.

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Of course Andy. Hell ,even we have the phone ring after any small mention in the National Press.But only short term, then it's back to normal.I would think that even a negative review like the Box Tree's will see a short term increase in trade for them, but i don't think critics owe Restaurants multiply visits.

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I should say that I'm broadly in agreement with Jamie's general point. I have not been backward in coming forward about the shortcomings of British restaurant criticism in the past on these forums (here for example), but I wonder though how much fault we should lay at the editor's feet. Surely they are the ones demanding light, jokey and gossipy reviews with a large measure of added spite, just too keep things really interesting?

Let the critics speak for themselves. You might recall AA Gill's infamous review of 66 in Manhattan, published in Vanity Fair:

“How clever are shrimp-and-foie gras dumplings with grapefruit dipping sauce?What if we called them fishy liver-filled condoms,” he continued. “They were properly vile, with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital.”

Mr. Gill was eviscerating 66, a new TriBeCa restaurant owned by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. As it turned out though, he was just warming up. In the next 1,000 words, Gill found absolutely nothing redeeming about the new restaurant. The vitriolic review caused a furor in the food media—a tempest in a stock pot—with vituperative remarks like“vendetta” and “assassination” levelled at Gill.

Later, in an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Gill, who frequently waits until the last few paragraphs to mention the food, simply said, “My job is to sell newspapers.” And Gill—a dyslexic dipsomaniac (to which we can now safely add dyspeptic)—sells a lot of newspapers. Enter your quintessential celebrity restaurant critic, whose powerful voice can fill or kill a dining room.

Critics do have a commercial influence. And, in addition to selling newspapers they sell restaurant seats. A poor review can hold a restaurant's head under water, and as most reviews are written early in the life of a restaurant, sometimes the opening notices can be devastating. I applaud Ms. Maschler's revisits and updates.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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i don't think critics owe Restaurants multiply visits.

Also completely impractical for someone like Jay who covers the whole country, and does mainstream journalism as well (quite apart from writing novels of course. Say, isn't his last one due out in paperback around about now?)

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It seems that the reviews of The Box tree were written after a single visit, or at least that's the impression I got. Am I correct in this assumption?

Yes, you are.

I believe the arguement is that the review will reflect the experience of the average diner who may only visit a restaurant once, or that it will at least reflect the experience of a customers first visit to that restaurant. The critic takes his chances just like any other mug punter and reports what he finds. I have no real problem with that, its just a different approach from the New York Times, whose reviews read more like feature articles about the restaruants that reviews as such.

I think its entirely reasonable to judge a restaurant on a single visit. I think I can tell if a place is worth a punt just by looking at it, let alone reading its menu or stepping through its doors. A single visit is the icing on the cake!

I have read reviews by Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard and Jan Moir in The Telegraph where they mention that they have had lunch and then gone back for dinner. Maschler now has a column where she re-reviews restaurants she has visited in the past so its not always just a one off.

I think its a given that restaurants can be inconsistant. They're run by humans after all (well, some of them are). I'm not sure how useful or surprising it is to learn that some nights are better than others, some dishes more appealing than the rest, some members of staff a bit crap and others wonderful. If you intend to make that restaurant a regular haunt, then you'll find all that out over time yourself. Unless the chef or ownership of a restaurant changes, things won't be that much different night after night, and a single visit for the purposes of a review is adequate in my view.

Thanks for answering the question.

If I had written a review of our luncheon at Bibendum, after our two hour visit, I might have gotten most of it right: the haughty receptionist; the laconic, ill-kempt, sleep-walking sommelier with dandruff issues; the service disconnects regarding 1.) no olives, 2.) too many olives, 3.) just the right number of olives; and the lazy cooking and product management. I would have rated the overall experience at 11 out of 20. But I would have owed it to myself, and certainly to readers, to revisit, taste more of the menu, and deliver a more balanced picture.

Anything less is just bad reporting, no?

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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i don't think critics owe Restaurants multiply visits.

Also completely impractical for someone like Jay who covers the whole country, and does mainstream journalism as well (quite apart from writing novels of course. Say, isn't his last one due out in paperback around about now?)

Are you suggesting that the editorial philosophy/methodology/budget (of time and money) dooms the enterprise to something less than full, plain and true disclosure?

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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No, the critic can provide full, plain and true disclosure, but only about that one visit. I wonder if there ought to be a caveat published at the end of each review to say something like "Our critic dines incognito and always pays the bill. Reviews are based on one visit to the restaurant and should therefore be viewed as a snapshot in time. The review is however a fair and accurate reflection of the food and service provided on that day."

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No

You came , you ate, you report.

What happens if you go again and it is fantastic? Does your report show that 50% of the time they get it right, the other 50% it's a bit pants? How does that help?

By telling the reader exactly that. They deserve to be informed, and the average of 6 to 8 reviewed dishes may not necessarily get them there. In saying this though basildog, only rarely does a restaurant go from somnolent to fantastic over several visits. But the difference between lunch and dinner can mean different chefs and staff, and the difference between dishes can ellicit different reactions as well.

This whole 'critic as average punter' thing (especially as so many British critics are hardly anonymous--just look for The Blonde or the very tall, jowly Aussie) seems a little New Labour anyway, especially in light of the long British tradition of balanced journalism--in certain precincts at least.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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