The poison arrow of the restaurant critic. Photo: Jim Pavlidis
EVERYONE'S a critic, baby, that's the truth. And nowhere more, it seems, than when it comes to dining out. Where once we relied on word of mouth (or maybe even a restaurant guide) to determine our eating choices, now we can simply turn to Google. Chances are we'll find the perfect place via a crowd-sourced ranking site or the drool-worthy pictures on a high-rating blog. Or will we?
We punters respect authority. We may consult our mates on the best fridge or phone to buy, but when it comes to parting with our hard-earned, we're more likely to trust the technology nerds at the electronics store, or the appliance testers at Choice. Expert opinion is useful. Surely that applies to dining, too?
We know the food media world is changing. Take Colman Andrews. Previously associated with top magazines such as Saveur Magazine and US Gourmet, he now edits a well-respected website.
Thedailymeal.com publishes fascinating lists — the Top 101 Hotel Restaurants, America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2012 — as well as terrific recipes, cooking tips and trivia. Even more importantly, it does its homework, consulting sources, researching the facts. Like an old-fashioned newspaper, really.
Which brings us to the good old-fashioned restaurant critic — the one who does the homework, whose opinion is honed by experience and practise, the person with a sense of context, who asks, "What is this restaurant attempting to do? Has it done it and done it well? And was it worth doing?"
In the old days, controversy sold newspapers. Think of critics such as Britain's A.A. Gill or Giles Coren — provocative maybe, but always a treat to read. And then there's trolling, the new social media phenomenon. With the virtual vitriol that oozes from some restaurant-rating sites, it's a wonder anyone ever eats out at all. And far from contending with a professional who takes good care with his comments, for a chef taking on the cyber-complainer who didn't like a portion size or waited too long for his requested well-grilled steak, it's like duelling with shadows.
Yes, there is still room for restaurant critics and for publications such as The Good Food Guide where the views of almost three dozen educated stomachs translate into a pretty robust restaurant ratings system.
As someone who has written about restaurants for more than two decades, I'm confident there's still a job to do.