Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chatter 44 The Future of Restaurant Reviewers.

Colman Andrews, a highly respected food writer, wrote an opinion piece in Epicure today in which he made the case that 'Restaurant critics must adapt or perish'. It's a nice article which delves a little into the history of restaurant reviewing. The guts of the argument comes from two directions. Firstly who would want the job. It destroys the joy of a meal to have to think about what you are eating in detail, possibly at places you never wanted to go to, and secondly can they survive with competition from bloggers, web sites offering dozens of opinions and social media. He concludes that they will have to lift their game, to write better and more intelligently. They will have to look at issues "raised by style and attitude of restaurants, by their hiring and sourcing practices, their cultural implications."
I disagree.
First of all I find reviewing a meal at a restaurant adds several more dimensions to the event. It changes eating a meal to dining. It causes me to think about the venue, how it presents its self, what sort of ambiance it creates. The table settings, crockery, cutlery, glassware all become of interest as does the manner of the service. Then there is the food. This is a highly subjective area. Journalists and print media food writers are very limited by their inability to show lots of photographs to illustrate, better than a thousand words, what they are saying. While some people may be interested in the living conditions of the chicken that laid the egg on their dish, and fancy restaurants like per se constantly tell you from which farm this or that product was sourced, I doubt that the average punter wants to know much about this in reading a restaurant review.
I like well written reviews that give me a picture of what my dining experience might be like, about the sort of things on the menu, how they are prepared and am I likely to enjoy it. Is it worth the effort of going and is it fair value.
All guides have their weaknesses. Crowd sourcing is not a bad thing at all. Zagat tends to go for the slick phrase and have an unintelligible system for converting contributors scores to the ones they publish. For all that I have eaten happily at many of the restaurants they have reviewed and find their assessments quite reasonable, although they rarely say much about more than one or two dishes anyway they're fun to read. Gault Millau only talk about food, Michelin is very oriented toward French cuisine although they have gone a bit overboard in Tokyo. Our own Age Good Food Guide has it's biases and loves a few chef's whose ratings are not always matched by their cooking. UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor, Yelp and bloggers have their place too. None of these replace well researched, intelligent attractive writing about restaurants, what they are trying to do and how well they are succeeding which is the province of the professional.
Colman Andrews and Co I think you have a long and interesting future. Do enjoy it.


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Elliot and Sandra said...

Tx Puppy lover, Skincare and biglietti.
Proof of the pudding is that we have been doing this for about six years purely for fun.
There're still heaps of places to visit and lots of stuff to talk about.
Bon appetite