Thursday, 11 February 2010

Bloggers v Critics (Again....)

I've been umming and aahing over the last few days about whether to post this article on the blog. A large part of me wants to ignore this issue but what's the point of having a blog if you don't use it to vent your frustrations. My beef is with Time Out's review of Empress of Sichuan, which ends on a bizarre note with critic Guy Dimond having a gratuitous dig at a boorish blogger.
At the next table, a food blogger was being hosted by two men who appeared to be restaurant managers. The blogger boasted about his blogging contacts and his love for Chinese food, but also how there were some things on this menu he wasn't prepared to eat – ears being among them. His companions were, of course, all ears. Don’t be surprised to read shilling about this Empress elsewhere.
Dimond's comments didn't really bother me until there was speculation that either The London Foodie and/or I were part of the group mentioned by him. However, if you read either my write-up or The London Foodie's review then you'd realise that our party of three consisted of two bloggers and LF’s friend.

And given that LF's review includes a copy of the bill, you can also work out that we paid for our meal and weren't in the pockets of the management. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset that some might think that I was the boorish blogger in Dimond's review but I think there is a far wider issue that affects all food bloggers.

Dimond's craven comments imply that any positive reviews of Empress of Sichuan by bloggers should be taken with a pinch of salt due to the behaviour of this one rogue blogger. Or to put it another way, he's saying that his review of this restaurant is more trustworthy than any blog.

He also propagates the view held by many in the mainstream media that food bloggers are a bunch of blaggers and braggarts who are easily swayed by restaurant PR's. I don't doubt that there are some nefarious food bloggers out there but my experience of the blogosphere is contrary to this bleak view.

Like most food bloggers, I blog about food because it's a passion that I like to share with friends, old and new. Funnily enough, I didn't start blogging to get free meals and besides if I wanted freebies, I doubt writing blog posts on noodles was necessarily the best way of going about it.

The final word, I have on this matter is to challenge Dimond to name the blogger. Given that he overheard so much of the conversation, why doesn't he name and shame ? Otherwise, us bloggers have to put up with the insinuation that we're less honest than journalists !

{Update 13 February 2010 – since this post was first written, Guy Dimond has left a comment on the Time Out website clarifying some points he made in his original review. He doesn’t really address the issue that he indiscriminately attacked all bloggers but he does congratulate himself on having ‘killed’ the potential rogue blog review that is lurking out there. Well done, Guy !

I still remain bemused how the ‘Chinese whispers’ got so out of hand that anybody thought that either London Foodie or I were the bloggers that Dimond saw. Anyone who reads our respective blogs should’ve quickly deduced that we’re not that kind of people. And just to clarify, there was no third blogger at the dinner, merely LF’s mate.

Anyway, I’d like to draw a line under this issue, important as it is, I much prefer writing about food. You can continue to leave comments on this post but please don’t be offended if I don’t reply.}


  1. Really interesting post. What I feel about Diamond is that he is completely missing the point. The whole problem is the celebrity reviewers. To put it mildly I have a very different experience from Jay Raynor/ Fay Maschler/ Giles Coren when I go to a restaurant they have reviewed. Often it is the polar opposite of their experience.

    I would actually be interested to know how many bloggers have actually been offered a free meal/ a backhand in London. I just don't think the industry is that developed (unlike NY) to be doing this (yet).

    I like the principle behind Time Out and have been a subscriber for about 16 years now. Nowadays the restaurant reviews are the only thing worth reading it for as the rest has been desiccated and is a pale imitation of what it once was. Shame they are obviously feeling a bit nervous about the blogging competition...


  2. Hey Noodles, great post and I'm glad you spoke your mind. I agree with Tom that it's usually the celebrity reviewers that receive the disproportionately better treatment, unlike bloggers who are, for the most part, unrecognised. And for those bloggers who receive a free meal, well, this topic has been discussed to death but usually the blogger makes it known in his/her post that it's a comp'd meal and readers either accept it as objective or they don't - but at least they know.

    Sorry you had to go through all this - and I'm with you.. Guy Diamond name and shame please :)

  3. I find myself agreeing with what the previous commenter, Tom, has said when he claims that the problem is with celebrity critics. I disagree that the food and drink section of Time Out is worth reading though; the reviews tend to appear later than they do on blogs, and their selection is rather small. There are some places that I love that have never been reviewed by Time Out, such as Mooli's on Frith St.

    Anyway more on point of the post: well written and I agree, it seems a ridiculous dig at the blogging community, which isn't trying to replace him, but write about food as a hobby and through their love of food.

  4. I am so pleased thT you blogged this. I found the comments in that Time Out piece outrageous, especially after that post on blagging that they published last year. He was utterly discrediting any review that any blogger might publish and in a very cowardly way.

    Bloggers don't stoop to such tactics, I notice. Well, certainly none I read. Why Time Out?

    Fess up, you were wrong, weren't you, Guy?

  5. Over the last 11 years, I've eaten free in any number of restaurants because, unlike Guy Dimond or the likes of Maschler, Rayner, et al I've worked for newspapers and magazines that needed restaurant reviews but couldn't afford to reimburse the cost of the meal. I have NEVER been asked to say nice things about the meal. Not once. If I've enjoyed the meal, I've written that I've enjoyed it. If I haven't, I've written that I didn't and why.

    When it comes to it then, what's the difference between writing about a meal after accepting a PR invitation or writing about a meal after my employer has reimbursed me for it?

    Maybe PRs have been treating bloggers differently? But I very much doubt it. Time Out need to get off their high horse, extract their collective heads from their pretentious arses and accept that, actually, there are many other valid, well-written opinions out there.

  6. So these are my questions:

    1. Do you think you were dining nearby to Guy Diamond that night? Or do you think it was some other bloggers that he was "quoting"?

    2. Do you think Time Out paid for their meal?

    3. Do you like pigs' ears? I do. A lot. Crispy pigs' ear salad at St. John is one of my favorite things.

    4. Do you wanna do lunch sometime? You've already done Hunan, which is a bummer. (I haven't.) But if you want to go back, I am game. But just as equally, I'll go anywhere.

    5. Are you ever going to post a Top 10? I wanna know!


  7. The Time Out reviews are so good because they're utterly anonymous - ultimately you have no idea if you were the group mentioned because you have no idea what Dimond looks like and that's the way it's meant to be. I don't think it's wrong to ask him to identify the blogger, but I don't think it's right to get all het up about it - if you know it's not true, it's just not worth posting an entire blog post about it. No-one would've remembered that bit of the review or thought anything of it until people started diseccting and trying to find hidden meanings. Ockham's Razor.

  8. Tom & Ibzo – spot on about ‘name’ critics. I agree with Tom in that Time Out does a decent job – it’s just that they’ll never get round to covering all the places that are on bloggers’ collective radar. I always check out what Time Out has to say, which is why I’m particularly hacked off about their comments.

    Catty – thanks ! Most bloggers who receive a freebie do say so. Of course, we will never know if there are those bloggers who get a freebie and don’t say so. What pissed me off was the implication that all bloggers are shills (a word whose meaning I had to look up).

    Niamh – spot on ! What is Dimond’s beef ? Food bloggers probably read his columns more than anyone else so why does he indiscriminately attack us as a group ?

    Neil Davey – well said. Time Out can be pretentious – some might say boastful – and they shouldn’t feel so precious about the opinions of others.

    Krista – to answer your questions:

    1) We were in a booth so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t us.
    2) I’m sure that Time Out pay for all their meals but I’m not sure their critics are as anonymous as they make out.
    3) I’m not that big a fan of pigs’ ears but it isn’t something I make a big deal of either way.
    4) Lunch would be good but I’d have to take a half-day off work for Hunan ! Drop me an e-mail.
    5) I won’t be doing a top 10 but I will have regular round-up’s of noodles and stuff.

    Anon – I agree with a lot of what you say which is why I thought long and hard about posting. That said; I felt Dimond’s comments were indiscriminate and thoughtless which is why I ultimately decided to post.

  9. Good post that raises interesting points. I read the timeout review and that last paragraph stuck out like a sore thumb. It was kind of odd, had nothing whatsoever to do with the review and didn't add anything to anyone reading to find out about the food, experience etc.

    Taking that into account i think there has to be some sort of other motive, which is a shame because I think Timeout does quite a good job with its coverage and reviews. And it usually seems fairly supportive of blogging in London. This just sets all that back. Do we ignore all restaurant reviewers' opinions because some of them get their meals for free? Or because some of them are boorish idiots? Of course not.

    It came across as an unnecessary and bizarre attack on food blogging. And because, right or wrong, Timeout's opinion does carry weight, I think it is right to get het up about it.

  10. An excellent post that definitely needed to be made. Timeout may be panicking that their authority is being gradually eroded but to resort to an attempt to discredit all bloggers is perverse.

  11. Interesting post - agree with The Grubworm, the last paragraph of the review seemed rather out of place.

    Also, just a (generous) thought: perhaps the blogger in questions was not there to write a review of the restaurant, but perhaps was there to chat about Sichuan food, or conducting an interview with the owners, etc.? Not all food bloggers are purely restaurant reviewers...

    A few US-centric articles about restaurant critics / online reviews that might interest:

  12. I very much agree with what Neil said. I've been asked to write about a meal that I didn't pay for, but I always disclose that so anyone who does read it can make up their own mind. This 'blagging' business has been done to death (sparked off by Time Out anyway) now, and it was a cheap dig from Dimond.

    On another note, if you do go to Hunan with Krista I'd love to join!

  13. Sorry to take some time to comment on this, as you know I am in Hanoi.

    I am glad that you decided to tackle this head on. I am also pleased to see Dimond's clarification that we were not the offending blogger, posted on the same day as your write-up.

    However, that does not deal with the malicious implication in his review that bloggers' good opinions can in general be bought for the price of a free meal. This is an afront to all bloggers who spend hours of their free time to write pieces expressing their passion for good food.

    Speaking for myself, I have been offered complimentary meals, and I do not see anything wrong with that as long as it is made clear in the write-up, which I do. Some of these reviews have been critical, and I have never felt pressurised to write one way or the other.

    Happy Tet!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  14. Grubworm / Chris – thanks ! There’s room for Time Out and bloggers but there’s no room for unnecessary attacks on bloggers who form a significant part of their readership.

    JenJen – I really don’t want to speculate on what Dimond saw but if I was in his shoes, I would’ve written more about the restaurant rather than have a pop at bloggers based on snippets of conversation. Interesting articles, it clarifies what Tom was saying about NY being ‘more developed’ than London in terms of blatant backhanders.

    Lizzie – thanks ! I’m running out of ways to describe how crap Dimond was by having a cheap shot ! On Hunan, I’m not sure I’ll revisit just yet but I’d love to meet up for a meal. I’ve heard of a couple of other places that do what Hunan does i.e. serve a mystery multi-course feast but there are loads of other stuff, we could try like dim sum, da bin lou - I’ll drop you a line with my ideas.

    LF – I’m glad you’ve had your say, as I know you were as bemused as I was by the speculation that we were the bloggers in question and by the intemperate attack on bloggers in general.

    I’d like to draw a line under this now. I’ve made my point and many of you have contributed with your opinions. Feel free to leave further comments on this post but please don’t be offended if I don’t reply.