Whilst interviewing Francis Schott, we had a fascinating discussion about restaurant critics. Without going all Carrie Bradshaw, the question which came out of it was essentially – are mean restaurant critics a good or a bad thing for an emerging food city.
It began with Francis telling me the story of a critic from Philadelphia, a city that’s 45 minutes from his restaurant.
“There’s a critic in Philadelphia who’s notoriously mean and he actually appeared on the cover of a magazine with his face blocked out [because he’s a critic] and it said ‘the most hated man in Philadelphia’.
“I’ll be honest with you, whilst it’s not great, Philadelphia’s cuisine is now better than it’s ever been. But there’s a lot of meh food that’s praised there because it’s ‘good for Philadelphia’.”
One of the articles the critic wrote was a piece discussing how, with the city within a reachable distance of both NY and Baltimore that someone needed to be honest about Philadelphia’s restaurant scene. He admitted the city had three or four restaurants that were among the best but “don’t say you’ve got the best restaurants because you don’t”. It’s an interesting point, just because some places were great by Philadelphia standards, doesn’t mean they’d stand up to a heavy hitter in Manhattan, for example.
His point was that it’s healthy for the restaurant industry if there’s a tough critic out there. So, is he right? One of the things as a critic that I try and think about when reviewing a restaurant is what kind of restaurant it is. There’s no point going to a greasy spoon and expecting to get an amuse bouche before your 99p ‘any five items’ fry appears on the table.
At the same token, whatever the restaurant, if the cost per person reaches a certain threshold (before wine is taken into consideration) then I believe you’re right to have certain expectations. But should we review our restaurants based on whether they’re ‘good by Belfast standards’ or should they be reviewed by a further afield standard?
I’ve been contemplating this a lot recently because I’m more and more thinking about heading to Dublin to try a few restaurants that are making waves. The thought of places like the Greenhouse and 777 have me more excited than anything that’s happening in Belfast at the minute.
Just like Philadelphia, where the distance to NY isn’t massive, we’re only 90 minutes away from Dublin.
So, what are your thoughts? Should critics take it a little easier or is the ‘most hated man in Philadelphia’ right when he says a city needs a tough critic to make it up its game?