Why I do this

I first got the idea for this blog whilst sitting in Inside – the posh-ish eaterie near Greenwich Station. We were in the middle of getting okay-ish food and extremely indifferent service in a bland atmoshphere when a couple arrived and the place transformed.

Suddenly the music became soft, bread rolls and oil were brought and this particular couple pandered to in a way that meant only one thing. These were the ‘reviewers’ from a local rag – I can’t say which, naturally, as I don’t know – but let’s face it – they’re all the same.

At the risk of being EXTREMELY patronising, let me explain about 99% of local mag/paper restaurant reviews. They are what’s known in the trade as advertorial, articles written about places which have already taken out advertising with the paper or magazine concerned.

Advertising is what makes these papers’ worlds go round – and it would be suicide to actually give these establishments anything other than glowing reports. What usually happens is that the paper sends cub reporters who take it in turns to eat a free meal with their mate, pre-arranged so that the place can spruce itself up for the picture. Said cub reporter gets to write a nice piece about it the next week, always bearing in mind that it is more than their proverbial job’s worth to write anything that might lose the paper precious ad money, and who can blame them? I did it myself when I first started out and Dick Laurie, the then-editor of that august organ The Soho Clarion and all-round-good-bloke, couldn’t afford to pay me actual money – so he paid me in restaurant reviews. I literally wrote for my supper. And believe me, finding interesting things to say about Seventh-Day Adventist restaurants which are closed when most people want to eat ain’t easy…

Things to look out for in Advertorial Reviews include inordinate raving about everything, and last lines which read something along the lines of “All, in all, the Blank and Blank Gastropub is a welcome addition to Greenwich’s nightlife providing both fine food and a great atmosphere for all ages…” – a line straight out of the press release if ever I read one.

Other tell-tale signs include a full-page advert on the page opposite – or more mentions elsewhere in the magazine than even The Fat Duck would merit, including spurious “news” items. Ignore any claims that the reviewers are “independent.” It just ain’t true. Beware especially, any reviews where the person has gone on at length about the lovely decor – this means the food was rubbish and the poor sub-editor concerned has at least had enough conscience to not mention it.

I can see why the papers do it – it gets them ad money and their junior hacks – always appallingly paid, – get to eat occasionally. I can see why the restaurants do it – it gives them local advertising, editorial control and a cutting to frame in their window. I just can’t see why we READERS should have to put up with it – it’s worse than useless as it NEVER gives a true evaluation of a place, its food and its service and often gives a false feeling of confidence in an eaterie. It can even have the opposite effect of us not believing it when a joint actually IS good. I have refused to write such ‘reviews’ for years now – though I have at least been flattered to have been asked on several occasions. Until I actually get to say what I really think, I will not put my name to a review. That’s what this blog is all about.

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