Food for Thought ?

I recently read a vitriolic online restaurant review by a highly-regarded (and highly-opinionated) critic which comprehensively trashed the meal she and a friend had eaten.

All good knockabout stuff. 

But bearing in mind that nowadays a review posted on a website or blog with a large following can rattle round the world in the blink of an eye – and remembering too that a great many travellers rely heavily on reviews when deciding where to eat – I wonder how much thought critics give to the fact that in writing their barbed comments, they can be effectively crippling their victims’ businesses ?

Well, so what ? If a place serves substandard food, it deserves to be named and shamed. But then again, who has the right to set themselves up as the arbiter of what’s ‘substandard’ ?

Dissecting the review this critic had written, it quickly became clear that what was eaten simply hadn’t been to her taste; hadn’t matched her opinion of how it should’ve been cooked and what it should’ve tasted like.

Scant reason for rubbishing the restaurant, especially as you and me might’ve eaten the same meal, in the same place, on the same day and thought, “Yum !”

But we aren’t all influential food critics or bloggers. Our opinions aren’t often seen or heard. So it just seems way out of balance that on the basis of just one opinion that is, lasting damage can be done.

 Delicious for some - but not for all ?

Aside from an ability to chew and string a sentence together, what other attributes are needed to become a food critic and the judge of whether a chef’s a champ or a chump ?

Unlike other branches of journalism, there are no courses to take or exams to pass that qualify you to declare whether a meal’s good. bad or indifferent.

And telling me to give a restaurant a miss because basically you didn’t like it, is highly questionable.

Sure, if you’re a food critic who also happens to be a qualified chef, that might lend weight to your opinions. It might also help you appreciate that your fellow-chefs, like everyone else, can have the occasional bad day at the office when things don’t turn out like they should.

An instant snapshot judgement based on a single meal is scant reason for a highly-personalised rant.

How much better it’d be if restaurant reviews were based on a series of visits. Probably impractical – but a lot more valid.

And why this polemic ? Well, I’ve been revising and updating the list of local restaurants we recommend to Villasfor2 guests and it got me thinking how a food critic would react to a typical Abruzzese restaurant.

With only a very few exceptions most of the places round here are what Americans call ‘Mom and Pop’ operations – family-run places in which the food on offer invariably owes less to catering college and more to tradition, and to watching and learning in the kitchen.

Sure, techniques can be a little wobbly and presentation might not earn too many stars for artistic merit, but if we’re judging purely on taste, isn’t that really the only issue ?

Some things may not be to your taste; or certain dishes may be prepared in a different way, or in your view not as well, as those you’ve eaten elsewhere.

But that’s not a reason to write-off your meal as a monument to incompetence and consign the restaurant’s reputation to the garbage bin.

Do we advise you to steer clear of anywhere round here ? Yes we do – solely for reasons of price. But the belief that some restaurant-owners have that good food = expensive food is thankfully in a tiny minority here.

And of the places we do wholeheartedly recommend on the basis of the meals we’ve regularly eaten there, the yardstick we’ve adopted is to imagine that we have a couple is staying with us for a fortnight who want to eat out every single night.

Can we honestly send them to fourteen different places where the food’s definitely been to our tastes and hopefully will also be to theirs ?

Yes we can. Take a look.

In all of them, you’ll eat well and pay a fraction of what you would back home. You’ll rub shoulders with the locals and you’ll be warmly welcomed everywhere.

And there won’t be a food critic in sight !

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