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Newspaper restaurant reviews


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Reading the thread on egullet about the best guide to London restaurants got me thinking - who has found the most reliable/consistent restaurant reviews in UK papers/magazines?

I say this, because reading the Guardian this morning there was a dreadful review to a place in Bournemouth. (0.25/10)

It may well have deserved it and the critics job is to give their opinion but I'm finding more and more reviews focus on the negative only.

I think this is more justified if they can offer ideas for other local alternatives (such as Jay Rayner did for Cheltenham a few weeks ago in the Observer) as this helps put their standards in context and gives a visitor an option, rather than a simple 'don't eat here'

Perhaps there should also be a right to respond in the columns for the restaurant? - Let the critics be criticised?

Edited by Richard_D (log)
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Maybe, but a good review smacks of enough impartiality to glean a useful description of the restaurant even if the reviewer doesn't like the place. No restaurant would be able to respond to a poor review with impartiality anyway. Ultimately, they have to describe the place in general and if I don't get an alternative local recommendation I don't mind. That's why god created Egullet

:biggrin:

What was the bournemouth restaurant reviewed, may I ask? I've been living here a year now and if I was reviewing the restaurants a lot of them would be collecting similar scores.

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Beandork, I'm sure Richard won't mind me giving the Link to the Matthew Norman review of Sixty One. Have you been? Was the "chef" working?

Paul

I went into a French restaraunt and asked the waiter, 'Have you got frog's legs?' He said, 'Yes,' so I said, 'Well hop into the kitchen and get me a cheese sandwich.'

Tommy Cooper

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Surely the newspaper critics are solely out to flex their journalistic muscles and the content's irrelevant, as long as newspapers are sold. Without a readership, they aint got jobs.

True perhaps if you are working at the level of Norman, Rayner etc... I write for a regional edition of a free daily paper, and can assure you my instructions are simply to focus on the flavours and appearance of the food. Yes we give a context for the restaurant, but flexing my journalistic muscles? Nah. i just describe the meal. What feedback I get from readers says they like the fact the reviews "say what the food was like".

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Hmm, Matthew Norman does have a lot of bad luck with restaurants. I used to glance at his reviews in the Telegraph, and the number of times a restaurant got zero or one out of ten seemed disproportionate. I see the Grauniad allows him fractions of a point; how does he distinguish between (say) 0.25 and 0.33 out of ten?

But, as has been posted here before, a lot of reviews are presented as entertainment, not information.

Stephen

Stephen

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Surely the newspaper critics are solely out to flex their journalistic muscles and the content's irrelevant, as long as newspapers are sold. Without a readership, they aint got jobs.

True perhaps if you are working at the level of Norman, Rayner etc... I write for a regional edition of a free daily paper, and can assure you my instructions are simply to focus on the flavours and appearance of the food. Yes we give a context for the restaurant, but flexing my journalistic muscles? Nah. i just describe the meal. What feedback I get from readers says they like the fact the reviews "say what the food was like".

Have no doubt what you say is true. Just curious. Does your paper pay for the meals you review or do you accept hospitality?

Jay

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Beandork, I'm sure Richard won't mind me giving the Link to the Matthew Norman review of Sixty One. Have you been? Was the "chef" working?

Paul

Thanks Paul

Beandork - I'd be interested to know if it's really that bad

Well, looks like it's time to post my first egullet restaurant review.

Yeah, I ate at sixty-one. I won't give it quite the same kicking but I was disappointed. I had looked at the menu by the door with excitement for a while as it seemed to hold a lot of promise, it certainly seemed to be aiming for a level of fine dining which doesn't really seem to be available much in this town and the prices seemed a guarantee that it would be done right.

Firstly, I liked the venue. I didn't think it was grubby or tacky and found it a refreshing change to many local restaurants that all seem to have been carved from a cupboard. Any goodwill gained by the venue itself is comprehensively lost by the service however, which was shonky to the point where I'm going to have to indent and do another paragraph entirely.

The first time I ever walked into the place there was a lone barman. I wasn't sure what time dinner began for that evening and wanted to make a booking in any case, so I asked him if I could have a table for two that evening. The poor chap didn't understand my oz accent, so after three tries at requesting a booking my girlfriend managed to get through to him. When we ended up dining we were served by a waiter who warned us it was his first night. He sounded fresh over from europe as well, so I don't know if they have some exchange program going on or a deal with the local english schools or what. In any case, he was perfectly pleasant but had a few mishaps. I let the waiter order a glass of red - "choose for me" - and enjoyed it, but when I asked which wine it was he'd ordered (I intended to have another) he couldn't remember which one it was. We had ordered dessert and it took so long to arrive we cancelled it and asked for the bill. That took about another 20 minutes. When we left the money I could not interest any of the waiting staff in taking it so we walked out with it left on the table, half hoping someone would nick it. We rummaged around in the reception cupboard to find our own coats and left. This seems to be a common occurrence though with restaurants down here so it doesn't stand out from others for this point alone.

What really let us down was the food - it felt like a stab at fine dining by someone who wasn't really interested in fine dining in the first place. Nothing was inedible, but for the prices we expected fireworks. I had a truffle/red onion/pastry starter that used what i believe to be tasteless jar truffles, and my girlfriend had a goats cheese and fig starter that was quite nice. Main for me was woodcock with chicken liver parfait, none of it remarkable tasting and presented with no real visual aspect. Girlfriend had lamb with sweetbreads, and once again it was...nice. But the seas didn't rumble nor did the mountains roar, and once again for that price that is what we expected.

I don't know about .25 out of 10. I would probably feel moved to give it a 2 or 3. But if I brought the same price/quality ratio from home over here without adjusting it to the UK standard, it would be 0. I don't know if the chef was in that night, and unless it's Pierre Gagnaire or Shannon Bennett manning the stoves, I generally don't care...the kitchen should be drilled enough to perform each night. Just the fine dining cost for this place requires better dishes (and ingredients), and requires some professional waiters...or at least a front of house that operates more effectively. If you're looking for local recommendations contact me as I'm starting to uncover some better, more low-key restaurants.

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Hmm, Matthew Norman does have a lot of bad luck with restaurants. I used to glance at his reviews in the Telegraph, and the number of times a restaurant got zero or one out of ten seemed disproportionate.  I see the Grauniad allows him fractions of a point; how does he distinguish between (say) 0.25 and 0.33 out of ten?

But, as has been posted here before, a lot of reviews are presented as entertainment, not information.

Stephen

He does seem to find a load of duff ones compared to his predecessor, Matthew Fort, who I felt gave good balanced reviews.

I don't think reviewers should be writing for entertainment as their primary focus - they should be factual, after all they could ruin someone's business...

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"Restaurant" magazine has a section where the relative contents of reviewers' articles are displayed graphically; the food, the restaurant, other restaurants, waffle etc. It's a curious gimmick, but educational.

Unsurprisingly, Giles "I'm on TV now" Coren, AA "Purveyor of horrible suburbanite fiction" Gill and Michael "pass me that syringe full of spunk please chef, that annoying bastard Winner's in for lunch and I can't get wood" Winner tend to have more waffle than the others.

Edited by culinary bear (log)

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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Surely the newspaper critics are solely out to flex their journalistic muscles and the content's irrelevant, as long as newspapers are sold. Without a readership, they aint got jobs.

True perhaps if you are working at the level of Norman, Rayner etc... I write for a regional edition of a free daily paper, and can assure you my instructions are simply to focus on the flavours and appearance of the food. Yes we give a context for the restaurant, but flexing my journalistic muscles? Nah. i just describe the meal. What feedback I get from readers says they like the fact the reviews "say what the food was like".

Have no doubt what you say is true. Just curious. Does your paper pay for the meals you review or do you accept hospitality?

The paper pays expenses and I visit unannounced and anonymously, so hospitality has never been an issue.

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Surely the newspaper critics are solely out to flex their journalistic muscles and the content's irrelevant, as long as newspapers are sold. Without a readership, they aint got jobs.

True perhaps if you are working at the level of Norman, Rayner etc... I write for a regional edition of a free daily paper, and can assure you my instructions are simply to focus on the flavours and appearance of the food. Yes we give a context for the restaurant, but flexing my journalistic muscles? Nah. i just describe the meal. What feedback I get from readers says they like the fact the reviews "say what the food was like".

Have no doubt what you say is true. Just curious. Does your paper pay for the meals you review or do you accept hospitality?

The paper pays expenses and I visit unannounced and anonymously, so hospitality has never been an issue.

Good stuff. Unfortunately it's all too rare these days on even the bigger regionals.

Jay

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I rate Marina O'Loughlin in Metro.

Her reviews are usually pretty much on the money in terms of food, atmosphere etc., and she's not afraid to say what she really thinks about a place. What I really like about her is that she actually cares quite a bit about the food.

I don't think the restaurant community really know who she is, and she doesn't appear to get any special treatment. For example, when we went to Pied a Terre back in Jan we got chatting about reviews etc., when her review appeared they could work out when she'd been in & the table, but didn't recall anything about her.

-- Harry

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I rate Marina O'Loughlin in Metro.

Her reviews are usually pretty much on the money in terms of food, atmosphere etc., and she's not afraid to say what she really thinks about a place. What I really like about her is that she actually cares quite a bit about the food.

I don't think the restaurant community really know who she is, and she doesn't appear to get any special treatment. For example, when we went to Pied a Terre back in Jan we got chatting about reviews etc., when her review appeared they could work out when she'd been in & the table, but didn't recall anything about her.

-- Harry

I dunno. Whenever I've been with her, I always thought her Jimmy Choos and Manolos with the disco lights were a right give away.

"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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I rate Marina O'Loughlin in Metro.

Her reviews are usually pretty much on the money in terms of food, atmosphere etc., and she's not afraid to say what she really thinks about a place. What I really like about her is that she actually cares quite a bit about the food.

I don't think the restaurant community really know who she is, and she doesn't appear to get any special treatment. For example, when we went to Pied a Terre back in Jan we got chatting about reviews etc., when her review appeared they could work out when she'd been in & the table, but didn't recall anything about her.

-- Harry

I dunno. Whenever I've been with her, I always thought her Jimmy Choos and Manolos with the disco lights were a right give away.

hers or yours? :hmmm:

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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Chris Beanland, who writes on food for Metro in Birmingham is one to watch for the future. That is once he leaves home, cuts the apron strings, progresses into long trousers and sells his skateboard. He'll then be ready to take on the aforementioned National critics at their own game.

Oh, and also, when he actually learns a little about food and realises that you can't really order chips with everything

Edited by postcode (log)
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Chris Beanland, who writes on food for Metro in Birmingham is one to watch for the future. That is once he leaves home, cuts the apron strings, progresses into long trousers and sells his skateboard. He'll then be ready to take on the aforementioned National critics at their own game.

Oh, and also, when he actually learns a little about food and realises that you can't really order chips with everything

Chris is my editor - I do part of the East Midlands for him and he's good to work with, though I don't get to read his Birmingham stuff. I'm sure he'll pleased to be noticed - cryptic stuff about short trousers notwithstanding.

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I rate Marina O'Loughlin in Metro.

I dunno. Whenever I've been with her, I always thought her Jimmy Choos and Manolos with the disco lights were a right give away.

:biggrin: Bless her. The only time I used to bother reading the Metro on the Tube, was on Wednesday mornings to catch her column.

I rather like Coren's writing, although he does stray off-topic on occasion, but so what. And at least Norman, and before that Fort, as well as Jay, actually write at length about the bloody food. (Incidentally Jay, I thought that the cartoon of you in Restaurant Magazine is perhaps a little too flattering :wink::biggrin:)

The one writer I do miss is Jonathan Meades. This snippet from dining in East Anglia, always makes me chuckle.

"The cooking veers alarmingly from near excellence to absolute bathos. In the latter category comes a disgusting scallop and pork sausage which is like a condom filled with dog food."

Priceless

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I don't think the restaurant community really know who she is

-- Harry

They haven't got a clue and are desperate to find out - her audience is huge and she is genuinely influencial in London. All the other critics just think they are.

Apart from the Sainted Marina, I always take particular note of Terry Durack, Jan Moir (whose occasional tangental ramblings are more than excused by her brilliant prose) and Fay Maschler.

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I've always had a passing fondness for Terry Durack too, ever since I read his contribution to Conran's "Restaurants".

It's a guide to restauranteurs on how to get a good review. I got to the stage of 'ow, it hurts to laugh this much'.

A question, apropos regionality:

Do the better critics tend to be London based? Mainly SE England?

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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