We can now see why many professional restaurant critics fill up their reviews with benign and irrelevant drivel. Anything from the weather, the history of the building that the restaurant occupies, their mood, the dress sense of their dining companion, that rash that just won’t clear. Anything, anything at all it seems that will make that word count rise. Somewhere in the midst of all this they just might mention the restaurant and the food. It is easy to pour scorn on these reviews and the scribes that produce them, we have and will continue to do so, but in the defence of these expert gourmands you have to remember that many have been doing this for years and there are only so many ways you can describe food before you start repeating yourself and every review starts to feel the same. Delicious, moreish, subtle, balanced, whatever…
It is easy to write a review of a truly great restaurant, a one off, a chef doing something unique, a place that gets you excited, but most critics plod around the country eating in the latest generic opening getting served the same old, didn’t I eat this somewhere else before?, fare. This is why the next time you open your newspaper to get the verdict on the latest restaurant opening, you may first have to skim past the critic’s ramblings about, well whatever happened to enter their head. There are reviews that we really enjoyed writing, but in the main writing reviews can very easily get a bit boring.
We think anonymous restaurant reviews are the best way of doing it, but doubt it would actually be possible for a professional critic to maintain anonymity. We never mentioned to one person, not even friends or family, about TGC. We have, as a result of the amount we frequent restaurants in Dublin, become on friendly terms with a few people in the industry and it was extremely irritating having to watch what we said, being careful not to mention other recent meals, holidays or anything that may tell people who we are.
This will never be a problem for the amateur food blogger. The chances of the person we are talking to actually having read our reviews is, in all likelihood, small and even if they had, the chances of them caring, is smaller still. But it would probably be impossible for a professional restaurant critic to actually remain anonymous. It is only a matter of time before someone finds out. There are some critics, not in Ireland, who still, even after years of doing it, claim to be anonymous, but you would have to wonder if they really are. Michelin inspectors supposedly slip in and out of restaurants without being recognised, but there are restaurant managers who know who they are, or at least, how to spot them. We guessed once that the guy sitting on the opposite side of dining room was Michelin inspector, there was just something about this respectable, observant man dining alone that just gave that impression. On the way out we said to the restaurant manager, “bet you that guy was a Michelin inspector!”, only to have him respond without hesitation, “yep, he was”.
It may be very difficult to achieve, but in theory being anonymous must be the best way of writing fair, impartial, unbiased reviews that are not serving any self-interest or boosting one’s ego. A known professional critic might not get comped meals (most restaurants wouldn’t be so brazen), they may not even get a free extra course or glass of champagne, but they would more than likely be given the best table, get the most conscientious servers, their food would get some extra attention before being allowed off the pass. All of this makes it difficult to think that the reviews they write are based on the experience of the regular guy off the street.
How long does a restaurant review stay relevant anyway? Well, some are not even relevant to begin with. Going to a restaurant on opening night, or even in the opening weeks, might give a sense of what a restaurant is aiming to be, but one must expect improvement and development. Pointing out and criticising faults in the food or service in the opening weeks of a restaurant, unless published with a promise to revisit and update the review at a later date, is puerile and unfair.
Mulberry Garden, a very nice neighbourhood restaurant in Donnybrook, with a small brigade and an ever changing menu, is a perfect example of how a review can quickly become irrelevant. Most professional critics reviewed it when it first opened when John Wyer was at the stoves. Year or so later Tom Doyle comes in, the food changes, rendering all previous reviews pretty irrelevant. A couple of years later Doyle moves on and the food changes again. Now you can argue that most reviews are timestamped and it is up to the reader to weed out anything that is not current, but that isn’t really going happen. On twitter you will regularly see critics recommending a restaurant based on reviews that are now more or less useless due to their age. If you are going to recommend a restaurant shouldn’t you make an effort to ensure that the endorsement is based on a review that is still relevant? There is a reason Michelin will revisit restaurants each year and a starred restaurant at least a couple of times of year.
This is another reason that we are not going to bother with reviews of Irish restaurants and our ratings table anymore. We felt obliged to revisit restaurants that we put on it and quite frankly we could not be bothered visiting a few of them again. We visited Chapter One three times in the last few years and each time and we never enjoyed it. We have just never had a good experience there; the food has always been, let’s say, flawed, the service was poor and we don’t like the dining room, so why would we bother part with another few hundred euro just to leave bewildered once again. Yes, we know most people love this place, but we would much rather just eat at home. There are other restaurants we would love to visit again this year, but not sure we have the time or the cash to do it.
When we read over old reviews, we are happy with some of them, mostly the ones we wrote this year, but some, the earlier ones in particular, we wish we could do over. We had fun writing them, but we are going to change our site a bit now. We will keep it for some food related ramblings, maybe tales from our travels or musings on some of the really great restaurants we eat in around the world. Instead of an Irish restaurant ratings and reviews we will simply list our favourite restaurants that we eat in around Ireland and a few words on why. We will keep the world list so we can chronicle our travels. Thanks for reading…