“...and something called coconut bacon, which you just know isn’t.”
March 11, 2018 1:17 PM   Subscribe

In which the restaurant reviewer Jay Rayner visits a café, pays £110 for a meal for two, but doesn't even stay for dessert. “The artichoke is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someone’s overheated suburban front room ... 'Paola’s Market Veggies' arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly 'carrot hummus' thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate accident and decided to close the loo door and run away ... The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This means it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pubs with a flat roof.”

More
* December 2017: Gul & Sepoy. “At time of writing the website says this will cost you £6.50 which is a fair price. The printed menu in the restaurant will tell you they cost £11, which is – forgive the vernacular – bloody outrageous.”
* September 2017: Jean-Georges at the Connaught. “To be fair the prices here are of a similar magnitude. They are stupid in the way Donald Trump is stupid. It’s a kind of aggressive stupidity. The cheapest bottle of wine is £39. I ask the sommelier if that really was the cheapest they could find. "This is Mayfair," he says. "You will find nothing cheaper here."”
* August 2017: Fancy Crab, London. “It’s a crab restaurant for recently married couples who hope they’ll get divorced before they ever reach the companionable stage in which one of them brushes their teeth while the other has a pee.”
* July 2017: Mr P’s Curious Tavern, York. “A couple of years ago I reviewed his other York restaurant, Star Inn the City, where the bread was served in a flat cap because it’s a Yorkshire restaurant and the menu was splattered with dialect gags, much as the bonnet of a farmer’s Land Rover is splattered with the stains of road kill. Not long after that review, he ditched the flat caps, which suggested there was hope.”
* May 2017: The Test Kitchen, London. “There is a manager of sorts, who attempts hospitality, but behind the smile even he seems to recognise he’s charged with managing death’s waiting room. He has nothing to give us: no bread, no canapés, no hope.”

* March 2017: Barbecoa, London. “The first wine I choose, from a list that accelerates from just about affordable to 'stop hurting me' faster than a Brexiteer reneging on economic promises, is a tooth-numbingly sweet Riesling that the sommelier had first said was dry.”
* January 2017: The Holy Birds, London. “There’s an orange counter, orange dangly lights and orange banquettes, plus various bits of midcentury modern furniture and wood panelling. If the art director on Mad Men had got completely off their tits on Fanta and then set to work, it would look like this.”
* October 2016: Gino D'Acampo. “The risotto with scallops is where hope goes to die. The rice is claggy and completely overcooked; each traumatised grain looks like it’s been roughed up down a dark alleyway.”
* April 2016: Savini at Criterion. “The floridly described mango ricotta mousse in crispy orange waffle is a tuile boat back-filled with sweetened cream. It looks like the kind of thing served at an expensive wedding where most of the guests are a Pantone shade of self-tan orange.”
* April 2016: U.P. at Dominique Ansel Kitchen. “The drink with this summed up the dreadful cocktail pairings: a huge, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon completely ruined by the addition of a peaty whisky. It’s the sort of drink kids invent when pissed at the end of a teenage party by decanting other people’s leftovers into one cup.”

Previously
* July 2017: Brexit, Food & Sustainability.
* April 2017: My lips purse, like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles.
* January 2016: Don't you dare move my bottle ... It's mine. I paid for it.
* April 2015: Korean with a side of litigiousness
* July 2015; article is from 2009: F is for Fabulous. F is for Fabio.
posted by Wordshore (69 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yesterday's food at tomorrow's prices.
posted by Jode at 1:23 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]


The menu at the Farm Girl Café features lots of initials. There’s V for Vegan. There’s GF for Gluten Free. There’s DF for Dairy Free. I think they’re missing a few. There should be TF for Taste Free and JF for Joy Free and AAHYWEH for Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here... It fills quickly on a cold winter’s evening, with blonde-tressed Chelsea women just bubbling with intolerances. They are fizzing with them, these dairy- and gluten-fearing dietary warriors, seeking sanctuary from the terrifying world of modern food. With them are their pink-cheeked, anxious-looking boyfriends, who clearly fear they are just one more rugby club, traffic-cone-on-your-head piss-up away from being chucked. A woman arrives clutching her Yorkshire terrier. They are given a corner table. The dog is offered a bowl of water and a plate of food and disappears on to the floor for dinner. At least somebody gets to eat well.

I'll be reading all these, thank you.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:23 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


I adore Jay Rayner's reviews, particularly when he's suffered so the rest of us don't have to.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 1:26 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


In fairness, most of his reviews are largely positive. The savaging he reserves for places that serve terrible food at ridiculously high prices. I only went back a few years through his reviews to find ten where he's done such a savaging. There's probably a load more from before 2016.
posted by Wordshore at 1:29 PM on March 11 [21 favorites]


I go to London for work a few times a year. There are plenty of really good restaurants in central London but there's also a cottage industry devoted to separating rich people with no taste from their money (or in many cases other people's money, since so many dinners are expensed to companies).

Overpaying for a meal that's far worse than something you could have thrown together yourself in 15 minutes on a Sunday evening is one thing, but it's the relentless gimmicks and/or pretension of some of these places that makes it worse.
posted by kersplunk at 1:31 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Much as I adore Jay Rayner, I always hope when I open The Observer that he's had a terrible lunch that week.
posted by essexjan at 1:32 PM on March 11 [31 favorites]


Man, I love reading angry British restaurant reviews. I miss Giles Coren (who hasn't gone anywhere, but who has lost a bit of his edge and is now paywalled anyway).
posted by elsietheeel at 1:49 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


is "pubs with a flat roof" some sort of sick burn in the UK? I don't understand.
posted by supermedusa at 2:03 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


The drink with this summed up the dreadful cocktail pairings

There are a few bars that do really good, inventive cocktails. Most should stick to the standards because most “mixologists” lack taste, discretion, a sense of balance, and a solid connection to reality.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:07 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


is "pubs with a flat roof" some sort of sick burn in the UK? I don't understand.

I think the American translation is something like "strip mall hole-in-the-wall, sandwiched between a Dollar Tree and a visibly panicking mattress outlet store".
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:10 PM on March 11 [56 favorites]


is "pubs with a flat roof" some sort of sick burn in the UK? I don't understand.

There are some pictures of pubs with flat roofs in this thread. Though very cheap to drink in, and also (when there is "food") to eat in ... you can draw your own conclusions about the quality of what you are consuming. Also, a spoof of the clientele, and a Guardian article.

(I used to drink in one when I lived in Glasgow and had little money. It was actually okay, so long as my English accent wasn't too loud, and I sat at the table nearest to the door in case things kicked off.)
posted by Wordshore at 2:11 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]


thanks tivalasvegas and wordshore. your explanations make it all perfectly clear!
posted by supermedusa at 2:13 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


I thought restaurant staff were always on the lookout for restaurant critics. I mean, the restaurants must be real bad since he does not go to lengths to hide his appearance like Mimi Sheraton so him getting anything off when the staff knows a critic is present is unusual? Is the UK different on this?
posted by jadepearl at 2:32 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]




British people, I have a question: In the Mr P's Curious Tavern Review, the restaurant staff describe the food as "Yorkshire tapas" and then it turns out to be, like, artichokes and octopus and hummus and shellfish crackers and guacamole. I love all those things and my familiarity with Yorkshire is pretty much entirely from novels, but...are those in fact characteristically Yorkshire ingredients? I know it must be more than the pudding, but I hadn't expected guacamole.
posted by Frowner at 2:59 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


While I do love a good bad restaurant review, I was tempted to click through to read about Claire Rayner, Jay Rayner’s mother. I hadn’t hear of her before (I blame being American), and it sounds like she was spectacular.

I mean, her last words: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him.”
posted by faineg at 3:01 PM on March 11 [17 favorites]


I recently read a perfectly lovely, albeit nothing for the ages, murder mystery involving savage, vicious, cruel reviews. I also recently remarked to a friend that this administration is so cruel, it may be pushing me away from eating meat. I can’t take all this violence toward vulnerable things.

I mean, I think it's good for people to be warned of bad restaurant food at ridiculous prices and bad restaurant food in pretentious wrappers. I just. . . can't enjoy savagery right now. Maybe never again. is this middle age? or is this the new world?
posted by crush at 3:06 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


No, none of those things are typically Yorkshire in any way. They are maybe typically generic British middle class.
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:09 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


guacamole is generically english middle class? TIL!
posted by supermedusa at 3:12 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


British people, I have a question: In the Mr P's Curious Tavern Review, the restaurant staff describe the food as "Yorkshire tapas" and then it turns out to be, like, artichokes and octopus and hummus and shellfish crackers and guacamole. I love all those things and my familiarity with Yorkshire is pretty much entirely from novels, but...are those in fact characteristically Yorkshire ingredients? I know it must be more than the pudding, but I hadn't expected guacamole.

Just next door to Yorkshire there was a famous (although, apparently and disappointingly, apocryphal) tale of Peter Mandelson mistaking mushy peas for guacamole. Past that I have no idea - there's a few fishing villages in Yorkshire but no specific catch I would immediately associate with the place.
posted by Dim Siawns at 3:28 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


are those in fact characteristically Yorkshire ingredients?

not really, but i suppose that's what makes it 'fusion.' there are bits and pieces of yorkshire -- the sausage rolls, the boudin noir (fancified black pudding), the 'chocolate orange' -- all jumbled up with 'tapas' touches like octopus and artichoke.
posted by halation at 3:30 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


These reviews also suggest to me that I am at a tremendous advantage because I only ever go to cheap (or cheapish) restaurants. Because I live in a city with lots of restaurants, they're mostly independent and mostly of the studenty kind, so lots of banh mi and diner food. And the thing is, it's possible for most careful cooks to make good omelettes and banh mi and so on - there's a challenge in making great ones, and those can be very sophisticated dishes, but the nice thing is that good enough banh mi and omelettes can be made by anyone who is willing to be reasonably careful and use decent ingredients, so you pretty much always get a tasty meal. Whereas if you're making, say, truite au bleu, you have to be pretty competent indeed or else it's a mess.
posted by Frowner at 3:31 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


mistaking mushy peas for guacamole

oh god oh no let us never again mention peas and guacamole in the same breath, it is the name of Abomination and its Sign
posted by halation at 3:31 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


Eating (Tasty and beautifully instagrammable food) at (Expect a queue and a clientele of well-dressed gals here, oft-spotted toting DSLRs and handbags worth more than your rent) Farm (I was in food heaven) Girl (I hope my pictures do it enough justice, because as Instagram rightly alludes it is certainly worth the trip) Cafe (You need to plan about 20-30 minutes waiting time, but it's worth it)
All in all I'd recommend it for the pretty Instagram photos, but past that I'm not sure it's worth the effort if I'm brutally honest
I don't think it's a place for eating actually.
posted by unliteral at 3:42 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


From the Test Kitchen review: "It does not smell of food. It smells of intensity and nerd."

HOW DARE THEY STEAL MY SIGNATURE SCENT!

(Thanks for these - they are a delightful way to break up an afternoon spent grading exams!)
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 4:13 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


I have a very unsophisticated palate. I'd love to take my adventurous-eater sweetie out to a really special meal sometime, but the best restaurants often have nothing on the menu I would eat (sometime I'll take him anyway, eat something before we go, and enjoy drinks, the bread, and a terrific dessert while chatting away at him while he savories his way through something wonderful).

I am not generally embarrassed by this. But I am aware, sometimes, that the gimmicky chain restaurants that are the peak of my aspirations ("G'day, mate! Up for a bloomin' onion today?") are not, to the educated palate, very good.

I have learned from these reviews that super-upscale restaurants can be just as gimmicky, if not moreso. I feel better. And, while I would love to take my partner to a truly good tasting-menu type restaurant someday (after carefully reading these sorts of reviews to avoid wasting a mortgage payment), I feel a bit better about my middle-brow midwestern tastes.

I have friends who travel quite a bit, both in the US and abroad, and always eat very, very well on these trips. Sometimes I fantasize about sending my partner along with them, so he can experience travel alongside other people who are adventurous and who love and appreciate food.
posted by Orlop at 4:20 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised how repetitively similar those blogs are - looks, clothes, thoughts, leadenly innoffensive writing. They must all read each other and beg each other for mentions. Is the market not crowded. How are they monetizing, it must be steeply diminishing returns by now.

I enjoyed reading Rayner's review this morning. But the instagrams - colourized* pictures of food covered in hefty flakes. I can't believe these waifs have enough power in their jaws to eat that stuff. And DF toast!: young'uns, butter is more than half the point of toast.

*actually that might just be f.lux
posted by glasseyes at 4:20 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


I don't think it's a place for eating actually.

A few years ago was in London, and met up with my cousin and his girlfriend. For some reason he had hooked up with someone who was several social strata above him (it lasted quite a while, and we remain mystified to this day). I quietly noted that any one of the items of clothing she wore was easily more expensive than everything I was wearing, put together.

She suggested/told us where we were going to eat one evening; somewhere in that fuzzy area between posh and pretentious. I looked it up online and flinched as the basic set menu was £45; adding on drinks and stuff and ... not my scene.

Me (looking at mixed reviews): "The reviews of this place aren't that great. Quite a few people disappointed with the food."
Her (looks at me like I am a stupid hick from the countryside): "Well, DUH! You don't go to this kind of place for the FOOD!"
Me: "Right. Okay. Fine."

At which point I quietly activated my v-call. This is an arrangement with a friend where I text them a very short code (vvv), so it's a brief text that can be done discreetly. He phones me five minutes later, and the conversation I have with him makes it sound like there is an emergency and I must immediately depart and do urgent things far away, otherwise innocent people will suffer greatly.

So I left five minutes and one call later. Some time afterwards my cousin admitted it was the worst meal out he'd ever had, had cost him over £150 in total, and when they had got back home and she had fallen asleep, he went out for a Big Mac and fries to fill up.
posted by Wordshore at 4:20 PM on March 11 [39 favorites]


One of my favourite Rayner reviews: The Beast

"At that price they should lead the damn animal into the restaurant and install it under the table so it can pleasure me while I eat."
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 4:58 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


glasseyes: I'm surprised how repetitively similar those blogs are - looks, clothes, thoughts, leadenly innoffensive writing. They must all read each other and beg each other for mentions. Is the market not crowded. How are they monetizing, it must be steeply diminishing returns by now.

I'm in the middle of Googling for information about a product (inflatable kayaks) which goes from sub-$100 disposables to $2000+ handmade space-age wonderboats. You've exactly described the results that Google insists on giving me. Leadenly inoffensive. All of the products are great! (And click on our Amazon affiliate link to buy!)

I could swear that a few years ago Google would've led me at least once or twice to the acerbic, opinionated, actually useful information that I've finally found buried in the community forums at paddling.com. No more.
posted by clawsoon at 5:06 PM on March 11 [16 favorites]


Wordshore: So I left five minutes and one call later. Some time afterwards my cousin admitted it was the worst meal out he'd ever had, had cost him over £150 in total, and when they had got back home and she had fallen asleep, he went out for a Big Mac and fries to fill up.

How The Rich Stay Thin
posted by clawsoon at 5:09 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Mr P’s Curious Tavern, York.

I pity the fool who’s curious about this tavern.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:23 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]


any one of the items of clothing she wore was easily more expensive than everything I was wearing

I was mystified in all of those Farm Girl links: in their clothing breakdowns, they had brands where I could at best answer ‘yes’.
posted by scruss at 5:38 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Makes me think of this, one of my favorite British restaurant stories ever. I think people in some ways just want to be hornswoggled and bamboozled.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:09 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


> "... blonde-tressed Chelsea women just bubbling with intolerances ... these dairy- and gluten-fearing dietary warriors, seeking sanctuary from the terrifying world of modern food ... their pink-cheeked, anxious-looking boyfriends, who clearly fear they are just one more rugby club, traffic-cone-on-your-head piss-up away from being chucked ..."

This just made me want to tell the author to fuck off.
posted by kyrademon at 6:22 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]


...That bit made me fall slightly in love with the author.
posted by Windigo at 7:36 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]


Yeah, the paragraph about the patrons is weirdly and pointlessly judgmental in a kind of mysoginist way. Based on these women’s... blondeness? and willingness to eat at the exact same restaurant he is eating at? we can apparently infer that they’re all hypochondriac harpies, terrorizing their insufficiently macho male dining partners.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:09 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I am starting to think that the two major art forms of the 21st century are episodic narrative television, and creatively snarky restaurant reviews. I mean...that's not a bad package of culture, all things considered.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:24 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the paragraph about the patrons is weirdly and pointlessly judgmental in a kind of mysoginist way. Based on these women’s... blondeness? and willingness to eat at the exact same restaurant he is eating at? we can apparently infer that they’re all hypochondriac harpies, terrorizing their insufficiently macho male dining partners.

Perhaps you have never been to Chelsea.
posted by tavegyl at 8:25 PM on March 11 [16 favorites]


(I don't want to go to) Chelsea.
posted by unliteral at 9:04 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]


I'm not sure the line about the patrons is mysoginyst, the characterisation of the men is not exactly charitable. Equal opportunity cattiness.

Replace Chelsea with Manly and it's Sydney right there. It made me snort.
posted by deadwax at 12:35 AM on March 12


British people, I have a question: In the Mr P's Curious Tavern Review, the restaurant staff describe the food as "Yorkshire tapas" and then it turns out to be, like, artichokes and octopus and hummus and shellfish crackers and guacamole. I love all those things and my familiarity with Yorkshire is pretty much entirely from novels, but...are those in fact characteristically Yorkshire ingredients?

Not technically British (yet--I've got a few years to go before the whole passport thing), but I am living in Yorkshire now. Short answer: no.

Longer answer: I'm surprised that the second "Yorkshire tapas" came out of his mouth that the restaurant owner wasn't immediately stuffed into a giant wheel of Wensleydale and ritually rolled down the nearest steep hill.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:22 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


If you enjoy Raynor's scathing reviews, I can recommend My Dining Hell: Twenty Ways to Have a Lousy Night Out.
posted by like_neon at 3:31 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I live in York; I walk by the aforementioned curious tavern regularly (it's in the city centre, which is very small). Haven't been inside Mr P's yet. Dude's other restaurant, Star Inn The City (because it's like his first one, the Star Inn! but it's in the city!), is good for Sunday lunch.

After 3 years here I think I can say with confidence that 'traditional Yorkshire ingredients' would be: pork, pastry (flaky puff or shortcrust), crumbly cheese, smallish north sea fish, sloe gin, a grudging acceptance of tourism as a positive force in the world, and a bone-chilling damp wind cheerfully ignored.
posted by Fraxas at 4:35 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Don't forget rhubarb!
posted by quacks like a duck at 5:24 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


I like vegetables, me

I rather like this sentence structure, me.
posted by JanetLand at 5:47 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


'traditional Yorkshire ingredients' would be

Telling everyone within earshot (whether interested or not) that yours is the greatest cricket side the world has ever seen, and even your grandmother, batting with a stick of Yorkshire rhubarb, is a better player than those of Lancashire.
posted by Wordshore at 6:39 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I can't believe these waifs have enough power in their jaws to eat that stuff. And DF toast!: young'uns, butter is more than half the point of toast.

oh lol they don't actually *eat* it
(i have in fact watched the Food Insta Lifestyle play out in its saddening entirety at smorgasburg and it really does take people long enough to get the perfect shot that they usually end up binning the stuff at the end)
posted by halation at 6:55 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


(actually come to think of it sometimes the photographers get to eat it)
posted by halation at 7:01 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I spent a couple of years subscribed to photography magazines, and I have two takeaways from that time in my life:

1) careful planning is good, but a willingness to burn lots and lots of roll to get one good shot is better

2) food photography is fucking impossible
posted by tobascodagama at 7:48 AM on March 12


halation: oh lol they don't actually *eat* it
The six high-profile Instagrammers — thin, pretty women — all claimed to eat everything they post
What a strange moral requirement. You must make the claim, however hypocritical, that you eat it all, like a policeman saying that they examine all evidence thoroughly (after tossing a rape kit onto a warehouse shelf) or a politician saying that they care about all people equally (after a day-long one-on-one with their biggest donor).

What moral precept would they be violating if they admitted that they don't eat it all? Surely it's not the morality of "clean your plate, children in ____ are starving?" But what?
posted by clawsoon at 8:16 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


food photography is fucking impossible

Laura, a lovely friend who is well-known in the Birmingham online community, does reviews of restaurants there as a side-thing for one of her blogs/websites. They have pictures, and she's said that they are often really difficult to take. (They are also logo-stamped as certain sleazy local publications have a long history of lifting such pictures without permission, attribution and/or payment and passing them off as their own)

Here's a list of some of her reviews. As well as high-end places like El Borracho de Oro, she'll do reviews of places such as Five Guys, Burger King, Cadbury World, sandwich shops or wherever takes her fancy in passing. Also pies as she's a down to earth and unpretentious Brummie.

(We did discuss, but never got round to, eating at Mr Egg and doing a review, which was a missed opportunity of a cultural jewel in Birmingham's crown.)

For just pictures of food, drinks and a few other Brummie things, her Instragram account thingie has lots.
posted by Wordshore at 8:27 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


What moral precept would they be violating if they admitted that they don't eat it all? Surely it's not the morality of "clean your plate, children in ____ are starving?" But what?

I think it may be the same one violated when a book promoter admits they don't read all the books they promote. Or maybe more like the principle that was violated when the vehemently anti-porn Dr. Phil's son married a porn star and Dr. Phil didn't acknowledge the dissonance.

Food blogging is about selling/showcasing a lifestyle or set of habits which culminate to these being their actual meals. If it was only about the pretty pictures, they should call themselves food photographers, not food bloggers.
posted by MiraK at 8:38 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


(I have AskMe'd my question, if anyone is interested.)
posted by clawsoon at 8:56 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


What moral precept would they be violating if they admitted that they don't eat it all?

I had a friend who worked for a publisher, and after a few months she informed me with HORROR that they never actually tested most of the recipes that were published in one of their magazines. She started trying to make some of them at home, and they were largely inedible nightmares.

If your “brand” consists of telling people to buy expensive “health” products and mixing them into “dishes” that you call “delicious”, then hell yes I expect you to actually be eating them. Similarly, if you are giving promotion to restaurants and encouraging your followers to go spend their money in those restaurants, then doing so without having actually tasting the food is deceptive. It isn't about cleaning your plate-- it's about false advertising.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:03 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


With the food blogging, I think it's interesting to envision what food blogging would look like if people were straightfoward about what was happening. "I got this unicorn frappucchino for free and it's kind of gross; I suggest that you just look at pictures online"; "I went to a big food event and only had one bite of each thing because TBH it was all basically fried cheese and bacon"; "this is my one food review for the week because frankly I can't live on cheesecake alone, people"; "most of the time I eat very restricted meals because I make my living blogging about super caloric foods".

The real honest food blogging thing would be, "I need to make rent, so I have to review a lot of food, much of which is super high calorie, and yet how many of you would bother following me if I put on a few pounds or had less than radiant skin? So of course I can only eat a bite or two of what I review!!! I learned it from you!"

Or perhaps, "I need to make rent, and if I start saying 'This is pretty but frankly the photo is the best part, don't bother buying one', I will quickly be out of work, so of course I pretend to eat all of the damn things".

Or, "While intellectually you probably know that my 'lifestyle' is basically fiction, my pretense that my life isn't incredibly staged has an unconscious effect on you and creates FOMO and a sense that you need to 'keep up' - advertising works even when we think we're too smart!"

Basically, you can't be honest in a completely advertising-dominated lifestyle-based medium because the whole thing collapses. It's pretty much totally emotional labor, and like all emotional labor, you get fired pretty quick if people can see that you're actually, you know, working - everyone wants to believe that you're massaging people's egos, laughing at their jokes and posing with goji-berry-tofu poptarts out of love.
posted by Frowner at 9:06 AM on March 12 [16 favorites]


But what if you posted it with, "I didn't eat this, but it looks fantastic! It's art!"
posted by clawsoon at 9:06 AM on March 12


I'd be like, hooray, I get to see a picture of an artistic milkshake! Now I will click away!
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


But what if you posted it with, "I didn't eat this, but it looks fantastic! It's art!"

But none of them actually do this. And that's the problem.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:15 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Also, "it looks fantastic" doesn't really motivate me to buy something that is going to melt. Show me an adorable cat-related garment and I'm in, but if it's edible I want at least to have the option of eating it.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on March 12


If they didn't eat the entire thing and tasted only a small amount, much in the manner of someone at a wine tasting, they would be like all those other girls and not a fun girl who knows how to eat but somehow stays improbably thing. Obviously.
posted by stet at 9:25 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Via the Mr. P's review... wait, what?
posted by tobascodagama at 9:41 AM on March 12


When I took a friend from Southern Ohio for fish and chips at Walton-on-the-Naze, she thought the mushy peas were guacamole and ordered them. She regretted her decision.
posted by essexjan at 11:48 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


"With the food blogging, I think it's interesting to envision what food blogging would look like if people were straightfoward about what was happening."

It's what food blogging used to be like!
posted by faineg at 1:39 PM on March 12


Yeah, Smeg, they make fridges that look great but are alas too small to be of practical use for the typical North American house.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:56 PM on March 12


To elaborate: I'm a Blasted Millennial and a former reporter who's done a smattering of paid, objective travel and food writing. I began food-blogging back in high school, in the mid-2000s. My favorite food blogs back then were largely honest affairs. They posted recipes, restaurant reviews, and trip reports, and maintained a readership based on relatively accurate information and recipes that didn't suck. They almost never had sponsored relationships, or if they did, these were rare and explicitly disclosed. As a blogger, you were still relatively unlikely to receive detailed rape threats in response to your post about New York's best pastrami. No one really expected to know what you looked like, or expected you to be hot.

What happened? Well, pretty much the same thing that happened to mommy blogs (which we had a great discussion about back in January) and to journalism in general. People are consuming the Internet in different ways, and they're often prioritizing easily-consumable content that translates to visual platforms like Instagram.

Money follows attention. The money has evaporated from journalism, and that's especially true for non-sponsored, objective travel and food journalism. I made basically bupkis from my paid travel and food writing work, and I suspect the situation is even worse now than it was when I was doing it actively four or five years ago. My friends who are still attempting to do objective, interesting travel writing are hanging on by the weakest of threads.

I can't hate on Pretty Instagram Girls. I'm a young AFAB (albeit agender) person, and I've absolutely heard the siren song of sponsored food blogging. Instead of making nada as a freelance writer, or working at an unrelated job, you might at least theoretically make decent money while traveling and eating. But you have to be attractive (preferably lily-white), and you have to be inoffensive and you have to be willing to be photographed - and brutally judged for your appearance - along with that. I'd rather be devoured alive by moray eels than photographed, much less photographed for the Internet, so that's that for me. (Well, that and the fact that "respectable" outlets will blacklist writers who they've seen doing sponsored writing).

I'm sure most of these young women are intelligent, savvy people who'd probably prefer to be doing objective, non-anodyne writing. Not all of them are rich, either. The writing world is still a lot harder on young women who want to write something meaningful and challenging than it is on young men. A lot of young people still dream of being travel writers in the old literary (now totally dead) mode, and will take the modern equivalent if they must. I can't blame them for finding a way to have interesting experiences and make some money for it, even if I wish it didn't have to be this way.

Though people are also just hard on honest food critics in general. I have a friend who was the food critic for a Certain Small California City. He wrote very fair, very funny, and very snarky restaurant reviews. I loved them. A lot of people, not just restaurant owners, were absolutely horrified by him. He's too mean! This is too small a market for this nastiness! That would fly in the Big City but not here! He was replaced not long after by someone who was much milder and gentler.
posted by faineg at 2:01 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I love Jay Rayner's reviews. His angry ones are great fun to read but I like his positive ones more. He really loves food and it shows through his writing. Here are a couple of reviews from the last few months that stuck out in my head:

Da Maria: ‘The kind of place that keeps London human’

Piecaramba!: ‘A bloody good pie shop’

I don't expect I'll ever eat at any of the places he reviews, travelling to the UK isn't a high priority for me, and when I do go I'd be having most of my meals at the houses of relatives, but I enjoy his reviews anyway.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:04 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


With the food blogging, I think it's interesting to envision what food blogging would look like if people were straightfoward about what was happening.

They'd get taken off PR lists in three seconds flat. See also: beauty blogs that are honest about what they get sent. Temptalia is the closest thing to Trusted Reviews when it comes to cosmetics, she does it full time and has massive traffic, but had a brand owner try and sic their fans on her after she posted a critical review. A friend of mine stopped blogging because she didn't like the expectation that comes of a brand sending you £300 worth of products which will then just sit around your flat until you remember where you put them and donate them.

I really can't be bothered with all the 'lifestyle' stuff that is all over blogs now and miss the days when people just talked about things they liked. I don't want to see 12 pictures of someone walking down the street in clothes they've been sent. (And only some of this is because I'm neither young, thin, nor rich, and have to buy my own knickers and airline tickets.) Trouble is, if you want to be successful, you have to be willing to 'work with brands' and that means featuring items and being polite and inoffensive about them.
posted by mippy at 11:18 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Today's review has Jay raving positively about a chippy in London (and tbh it's got me a bit tempted, despite the cost). Northerners who prefer their fish suppers costing two and six and covered in curry sauce may choose to look away.
posted by Wordshore at 4:50 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


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