Our friends at the Spectator have finally gotten around to putting up a link to my piece about the generally lousy state of establishment restaurant criticism in Australia and what food bloggers could – but aren’t – doing to remedy the situation.
The problem, as I note, is that food bloggers in Australia, the US, and elsewhere (especially the ones at the top of the tree as measured by Urbanspoon rankings) are shockingly reluctant to deliver anything but glowing praise. Over at Corridor Kitchen, it was recently posited that the restaurant industry is down on food bloggers; I can’t imagine why. When was the last time you saw a food blogger say they had a lousy night out? It happens, but rarely.
Whether it is politesse, an unwillingness to admit that one spent hard-earned cash on a crummy meal, or the hope of freebies (one highly-ranked Sydney blogger openly advertises that he is “available for restaurant reviews, media launches, special events and product samples”), food bloggers aren’t willing to go against the grain of the publicity-industrial complex that overlays most major metropolitan food scenes. As I note in the Speccie,
There are nearly 500 ‘food bloggers’ registered with the restaurant review aggregator Urbanspoon.com in Sydney alone (I even recently joined their ranks), and as of this writing about 700 more in Melbourne. Yet weirdly, given that the internet has broken down users’ usual qualms about being measured and judicious everywhere else, like their professional counterparts Australia’s own army of hungry Davids is gun-shy. Random spins through most local food blog posts reveal nothing so much as a collection of hand-hewn Roget’s thesauruses entirely devoted to the word ‘delicious’.
Come on guys, I’ve eaten at the same places, and they’re not all that good. And even when they are, everyone has an off night.
So I propose a new manifesto for Australia’s food bloggers, one which I will be more than happy to lead. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty. Don’t be afraid to admit that you just spent $500 to celebrate your anniversary and got treated by the waitstaff like you were unwelcome in-laws. Don’t be afraid to say that the hot new dish of the moment or restaurant of the week is nothing but a bunch of pretentious faff arranged prettily on a plate. Don’t worry that people won’t like you, or that if your site becomes really popular, no PR girl will ever call you up to attend a private tasting for the latest hipster hangout. If that’s your motivation, get a new hobby. Don’t be gratuitously rude, but also remember that as a would-be food writer, Tolstoy’s maxim about families also applies to meals. All the good ones are the same, but all the awful ones are unique in their own way.
As I say, this doesn’t mean everyone has to be down on everything all the time. But – to take one example – Mrs Prick and I recently went to Sixpenny, and while we had a really fantastic time, there were a few off-notes I was happy to call them out on as part of an otherwise praiseworthy review. Perhaps other local bloggers who’ve been recently just got lucky and had better nights. But if food bloggers want to be of some service to their readers, they’ve got to write about the bad and the ugly, and not just the good.