To review or not to…

After reading a damning review in the Times of Jason Atherton’s new venture last week, I was left wondering what purpose is served by a bad restaurant review.

Certainly they’re funny, as long as they’re well written. It gives us a delicious sense of schadenfreude, as we shudder to think about the poor chef whose livelihood is about to go up the spout because someone didn’t like their steak. But are they really fair?

In English lessons we were told that no opinion was ever wrong, because literature was subjective to the reader. One man’s Hardy is another man’s Jilly Cooper. Surely the same thing can be said about food?

Admittedly, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to argue that bad service, or a cold main course, or a forty minute wait for a cocktail is ever acceptable. But when restaurant reviewers begin to criticise the dishes, is when I begin to question the point of the review.

So what if you don’t think that vanilla salt goes with a chocolate pudding? Or if you don’t like the size of the sharing plates. Evidently someone did, which is why they’re on the menu, and who knows, maybe quite a lot of other people like it too. It’s hardly fair for one person’s taste, simply because it’s put into print, to influence the number of people that it can.

And chefs, like everyone else, are subject to human error. Imagine you had a bad day at work, and somebody wrote a double page spread about how hopeless you’d been. And since reviews are mostly about new openings, imagine that this was your second week in a new job. It’s not really on, is it? Surely it’s far better to say nothing at all?

Of course I’m not suggesting that if restaurants serve sub-standard food, or have waitresses who look at you like you might possibly be leperous they should be allowed to get away with it, I simply think that people should be able to form their own opinions.

So, in the spirit of that, I welcome yours.

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7 Comments

Filed under Musings, News, Restaurants, Uncategorized

7 responses to “To review or not to…

  1. “…FOR WHAT WE ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE MAY THE LORD MAKE US TRULY THANKFUL”..no qualifications about the food or who cooked it.Nature wouldn’t serve up poor ingredients.It was the professional critics who blasted “Les Miserables”, proving a strong dislocation from the masses. If they can do it with theatre I am sure they can do it with food. Eat up and shut up…you don’t have to go back there and you may have denied someone else an enjoyable meal as well as upsetting the Chef..as you said “truefoodie” he may have had a bad day.

  2. Maureen

    I generally go by word of mouth or simply try somewhere the menu looks good rather than go by the reviews… does anyone religiously follow them?
    I suppose people are entitled to their negative opinions but I can’t help thinking they’re often over the top to make good reading. No-one would be interested if the review simply said ‘it’s alright’…

  3. Pere de Rupe

    It seems to me that one should take into account the general tenor of a particular reviewer. A reasonable critic should have established their credentials in one’s own mind before notice can taken of recommendations, good or bad. There are so many places to eat that it is necessary to have a little weeding-out.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed above regarding that ghastly git, Gill.

  4. Roger's Mum

    Once again, I find myself in full agreement with you. As my English teacher used to say, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Whilst in no way condoning rip off artists – in restaurants or anywhere else – it seems extremely unfair that some (usually) smug so-called expert can effectively destroy someone’s reputation and business at a stroke. The same holds true of other critics in the arts and elsewhere. Make up your own mind seems the best policy to me.

    Besides, A A Gill thinks it’s ok to shoot baboons. ‘Nuff said!

  5. maria

    Well, I live in Cyprus and we went to a french restaurant – there is only really one in Larnaca and it was quite awful.

    My friend ordered a chicken dish – it was raw inside. She was too embarassed to send it back. My other friend ordered a caesar salad – the vinigerette was solid – you had to spoon it out – even though there was a spout on the jug – she asked for balsamic vinegar instead – the waiters didn’t know what that was and they bought the old fashioned container with normal vinegar and oil!!! She called them back – somebody else came – and I think she finally got what she wanted after half an hour – I was too busy thinking since when does a steak diane become soup diane – there was so much sauce – all over the place – the steak, jacket potato and vegetables were all floating in it – I complained (I am not too embarrassed) – NO WAY HOSE!!! And they did bring me another meal with the sauce in a separate bowl – I didn’t know you could order it that way – not that I was asked mind!!! Mind you, we weren’t asked anything really except to pay the FULL bill. Not once did somebosy come and ask us – if everything was alright. Since my friend with the chicken scenario didn’t fill up – she ordered dessert which was 2 full pages of crepes and not very good ones at that – I tried last time and was deeply disappointed (but they’d just opened and the food was good – maybe the chef walked out just before we got there this time!!!)- no cakes listed – so went for Chocolate Mousse and Creme Brulee – not very solid – not much else choice. I ordered Gin and Tonic – NO ICE – the glass came full of ice – I was so fed up by then – I was just shovelling it out with my fork! There’s so many times you can call them back after all!!! NEVER AGAIN. We had an even nastier experience at the Mexican upstairs – so they won’t be seeing any of us four again!! Oh and the fourth girl, she didn’t eat it all – because her steak was quite tough and not the best quality – she was right – my Mum cooks better – without a EURO 90.00 price tag!!

    We were not impressed!!!

  6. Pete

    If there were only good reviews, your expectation would be that the restaurant is consistently good all of the time, and that you’d be pretty safe choosing anything on the menu because all the dishes are crowd pleasers. In general this is unrealistic and is likely to lead to disappointment.

    If a review questions the composition of dish, it might encourage prospective diners to think hard about whether that dish will be for them when they go to the restaurant themselves. Adventurous eaters may give it a go, not only for a new taste experience, but to be able to discuss whether it works or not. Safe eaters may shy away from it and spend their money on something less risky. Negative reviews are important for the sake of balance and realism. The problem is where the negativity focuses on petty things just to make the article more interesting or the writer seem more creative.

    Having said all that, AA Gill is an a*se.

  7. Victoria

    It depends, I suppose on whether or not you accept the credentials of the critic.
    Am I interested in the opinion of a well travelled, well dined foodie? Naturally.
    Do I want to read the grumblings of a gout ridden “grumpy old man”? Probably not.
    Are they one and the same…quite possibly.

    I suggest, that all restuarant critics should take my mother’s advice; “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all”.

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