The week that was (25 February 2016)

The week’s big food scandal revolved around the role of the critic.

A couple of former MKR contestants got themselves in trouble for their review of the West End Deli in WA. They caned the restaurant (I can't find the original); bizarrely thinking the restaurant would not call them on their fabrications (one of the girls was not even present at the review, despite a direct quote, in print, about her experience that evening). The restaurant did call them on it, via Facebook.

The story is ridiculous, as much for the publications who choose to employ “reviewers” like this, as it is for the faux reviewers themselves (watch the MKR vid here where one notes her favourite restaurant is “Madison Eleven Park”). They were out of line and have been sacked as a result. 
Ridicule aside, I do think it’s a decent opportunity to take a moment to consider the role of the critic. Rob Broadhurst, food editor for the West Australian thought so too:

“So, is everyone a restaurant critic? No. Everyone has a point of view, but the critic’s role in our society, whether it be ballet, books, motor cars or restaurants, is one of enormous responsibility and it’s not without gravity … When it's all added up, a good critic should amplify the good and the bad for the benefit of their readers without grinding their own axes, self-aggrandising, looking for adulation from chefs or looking after their mates.”

I agree. It’s a serious profession with real consequences. It is not a role I covet. You have someone’s business in your hands, you also have your readers' wallets in your hand. It takes a particular person to walk that line.
Writing this missive, I have somewhat made it my job to poke fun at the reviewers, thus I have thought a bit about what makes a good restaurant critic in my eyes:

  1. They are impartial.
  2. They are educated on the topic.
  3. They are able to communicate it well. 

If I were to add in a fourth, I would suggest they also focus their writing on the matter at hand; less banging on about your taxidermy collection and more about what we will find in the restaurant. Unlike Rob, I don’t think a journalism degree is fundamental.
One final point, and this one is for the readers, is to realise a reviewer’s opinion will not always be your opinion. It is subjective. It always will be. That’s the point. Find a reviewer you like (and generally agree with) and be guided by them. That’s how taste works and that’s ok. I don’t have to like heavy metal to like music, that doesn’t make metal wrong, nor does it make the critics who like it wrong, nor does it mean I don't like music. Likewise for food.