In my not so humble opinion

Cape Town does like to think of itself as part of the big cosmopolitan world, so it’s no surprise that in recent years, there have cropped up a bunch of self-styled “foodie” blogs in the Mother City. Yes, this *could* be considered one too, but the bunch I’m thinking of are the ones who set themselves up as bona fide restaurant reviewers, with no apparent expertise apart from a) liking to eat, b) having enough disposable income to do so on a(n alarmingly) regular basis, and sometimes c) having eaten at restaurants in the actual Cosmopolitan world, which apparently gives them the authority of comparison.

Now, I like to read about other people’s experiences with food – who doesn’t? But I do find it irksome when some of these bloggers forget that what they should could be doing is humbly giving up their time to share some private experiences with the world (or maybe they/we are just exhibitionists: that’s fair enough too). Instead they make “authoritative” pronouncements on restaurants (go, don’t go, this one is a con!),  and even worse, take swipes at professional restaurant critics in the process.

Consider this gem:

JP Rossouw publishes what is so far the only independent restaurant review in the country. He is also my brother-in-law, but that’s beside the point. More to the point is that restaurant reviewing is what he does for a living, and I also happen to know that while he can’t exactly stop people from recognising him in a restaurant, he can and does conduct himself like a professional. This means, where possible, not announcing his arrival beforehand, generally not accepting invitations, and never accepting freebies. JP didn’t make this stuff up – these are the standards of professional reviewing that people like Craig Claiborne established when he worked at the New York Times back in the 50s.

Let’s go back to our friend, whose latest review began like this:

Hmm. Do we think she may have been recognised? Are we surprised that she left “impressed with the slick operation which Bertus and his team runs,” and that she knows she will “return to Overture regularly”? I think not. Hey, I wouldn’t turn down an invite from a restaurant, free-loader that I am. But then I’m not pretending to be anything else.

One more gripe before we get onto more serious business. Twitter is cool. I like it, like I like Facebook. And I confess that I follow some silly tweeters just because I like to be in the know about new restaurant specials (cheapie that I am). But this?

(Translation: Capetonians: DAX IS DOWN!)

How do they say… TMI? Or (come on, Gnarls Barkley), “who cares”?

Actually the most scary piece of news from the food bloggers is that they are forming a coalition. I really can’t imagine how they’ll fit all those egos into one room. I wish I could put together a reader for them. The first article would be this one, “Everybody eats…But that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic”.

Now to more serious matters. I have my favourite restaurants too, you know. I don’t generally ever get invited by the establishment itself, but there are a handful I will happily return to. I have three main criteria: a) quality of the nibble bread, b) quality of the biscotti, and c) will they let me smoke. Alas, as cosmo-fab as Cape Town is, I have yet to find one that scores highly in all three categories, but the closest contender is the lovely Societi Bistro, which is a happy stone-throw away (=2-minute drive, because no one walks here). Smokers are relegated to the coolest room in the restaurant, which is the “Snug” – a bar painted black and adorned with retro-porn. They used to serve a rocking ciabatta – ah, when straight out the oven, slathered in butter – but that seems to given way to a solo-choice of “health” bread, which is also pretty nice. Societi doesn’t do biscotti, but they do give you a chunk of melt-in-the-mouth shortbread which elevates the average coffee to new heights. They make a pretty fine ostrich burger too.

Now I’m hungry, so that’s the end of my “review” for today. There will surely be more stories after what promises to be a delightful gastronomic weekend in the country, with a scheduled visit to Rust-en-Vrede, which recently made it to no. 74 on San Pellegrino’s list of “best” restaurants. Lunch next day at Waterkloof, which promises spectacular views (and hopefully food).

I’m pretty certain they won’t let me smoke. But I promise to be honest about the bread and biscotti. (NB. I myself make the best biscotti in town, so don’t mistake “honesty” for “objectivity”).

6 Replies to “In my not so humble opinion”

  1. Very well written post. I enjoyed the points you have made. Honesty is not always appreciated by everyone. I am always suspicious of freebies – I wonder how honest you can really be and how honest you experience is when a restaurant knows why you’re there ( other than to just eat your food).

  2. I hear what you say re freebies and how it might influence one’s opinion, but I would like to point out that the blogger in question did disclose the fact that they received a freebie, leaving it up to the reader to decide how to interpret the review in the light of that fact.

    You also seem to bunch restaurant reviewing blogs with all other food blogs, viewing everyone in the same negative light, which I think is a bit harsh.

    Having said that though, I don’t really understand your gripe with “amateur” restaurant reviewers. Sure, they do this as a hobby, but is that a crime? And for that matter, what type of qualifications does one need to review a restaurant bar a love of food? I would think that would be the chief criteria. With perhaps a general knowledge of grammar & spelling thrown in.

    (PS: Yes, twitter updates tend to be random and tmi at times. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.)

  3. Marisa, yes, said reviewer did point out the freebie, but I happen to agree with one critic who doesn’t believe ‘it’s legitimate to review a free meal. Write about it, yes, making absolutely clear that you didn’t pay for it, that you were invited and known by the restaurant, that it was early in the restaurant’s run (if it was), that you don’t know how whether what you eat would coincide even remotely with the reader’s experience.’ (http://tinyurl.com/3yeu85v)

    I don’t have any gripe with food blogs, including those that review restaurants. For the most part, I enjoy them very much. I have a gripe with those who try to undermine the credibility of professional reviewers, who don’t just do this as a hobby. That’s less about “qualifications” as it is about integrity and common decency. Having said that, if there are legitimate grounds for questioning someone’s credibility, then I’m all for that too. In this case there were none, and reviewer walked straight into a self-contradiction by accepting an invitation and then going on to write about it as if it was a professional review. That’s amateur hour.

  4. I find it rather amusing to read this a few months after the fact, with you carrying on about JP Rossouw being independent, when its since come to light that he is everything but. Hypocrite anyone? Anyone? Yes there you are…

  5. Hennie,

    Pray tell what exactly has ‘come to light’? I am generally happy to change my position in light of new evidence, and even concede to being a hypocrite if that is what I am. But if you’re talking about rumours with no substance that have been repeated so many times that people mistake them for the truth (yawn), then I suggest you go pointing fingers elsewhere.

Leave a Reply