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img_7602 Vincent’s at Barton reviewed

In a world where virtually anyone can be published online, there’s a veritable tsunami of trash being made public out there, and the wave is building. There’s also a growing number of websites and apps, including those focusing on food and travel, which make it easy for all and sundry to get their view on this that and the other out there.

Don’t get me wrong. This can indeed be a good thing. It’s very informative and often helpful when planning trips and outings. I often refer to review sites to get an idea of the restaurant or accommodation I’m considering to verify my choices or to perhaps warn me of the dire misery I might otherwise be stepping into. It keeps some establishments on their toes, knowing that if they provide really crap service or food, they might be called out on it publically. Of course, there’s an insidious side to it as well, as good people and good businesses can be targeted unfairly by nasty people with a gripe and an iphone, but that’s a whole other story.

What’s really disheartening, though, is the number of ‘reviews’ published, which are in fact pure rubbish. Copious amounts of crap. People red with rage about small, inconsequential things, those with ridiculous expectations and those with over-inflated egos, and those with no bloody manners.  I mean, hotels which only put one mint on your pillow instead of two, bananas in fruit bowls that don’t curve enough, countries where locals dare to speak in foreign languages, beaches with too much sand!! It doesn’t bear thinking about.

And way, way too many who think they know what they’re talking about when they are actually clueless. Of course, there’s always a range of opinions, but how can some rate a restaurant as excellent when others compare eating there to ingesting the soggy base layer of a street hopper bin? I must admit, as soon as I read the words ‘tasty food’ in a restaurant review, I’m out of there. What does that even mean, Mr I’m Pretending To Be a Reviewer? No, people, that is not enlightening or compelling. I expect a bit more in the reviews I read.

As the proliferation of ‘reviews’ by the uninformed, angry and illiterate rises, or otherwise the sycophantic, shallow panderings of those seeking favours and a multitude of ‘likes’, it helps to have a stalwart of trusted reviewers or review sites to turn to. Ones that provide honest, informed and discerning opinion, especially when it’s washed down with a measure of good humour and an excellent command of the English language. Surely a few Insta-brightened travel pics and a few superlatives in hashtags is not always enough?

Here are the ones on the top of my list:

  • Take Jay Rayner, @JayRayner1, who writes for The Guardian, for example. His reviews make my heart sing and my mouth laugh out loud (literally, and I am pedantic about use of that word). The descriptions pull you right into the restaurant with him, and sometimes into the quagmires of his despair. Take this one, for example, critiquing the much-lauded and Michelin-starred Parisienne Le Cinq, following what he describes as “by far the worst restaurant experience I have endured in my 18 years in this job”. Oh, just read it. It’s delicious.

As he’s based in England, I usually don’t benefit directly from his opinions in relation to likely dining haunts, but at least I’m kept heartily entertained. However, he’s currently in Oz so I will be keeping an eye out for his movements.

  • Closer to home, I’m also a fan of John Lethlean @JohnLethlean. Reviews served cold with latherings of insight, pith and humour. He’s not afraid to tell it like it is, good or bad, to help us diners spend our dining dollars wisely. He can place you at the table too with just a few deft words. In a recent review of WA establishment, after a painstaking description of a salad, a small sentence followed: ‘Jesus wept.’ it read. Ahh, so little, so much.
  • Time Out’s a great publication for keeping up with what’s on point in the world of food and stuff to do, notably in Sydney where it all started, but also in other places across the world including Dubai, Singapore, Berlin and Chicago. I particularly love their well-written and edgy restaurant reviews which have put me on to a couple of pearlers of restaurants in Sydney. Great way to keep up with hip and happening.
  • Lonely Planet provides masses of up-to-date in different formats, including their traditional guidebooks and now in magazines and various formats online. Their website is a wealth of travel information, and it’s really easy to use, listing experiences, activities, food, maps and more. Wish I’d taken a look there before I took off to Tahiti recently as I might have done a couple of things a bit differently.

Naturally reviews or information sites don’t always have to have a sting to be worthwhile, but without the honesty in there where necessary, how can we have the confidence to have faith in those that sing praises?

It’s hugely regrettable that many reviewers, travellers and bloggers are fast-becoming the ubiquitous mouthpieces for anyone who’ll throw them a few crumbs (#couscousforcomment) or a bit of insta-fame. I want some depth, some insight, some truth in the reviews and articles I read, not just some insipid platitudes and a cursory oversight.

There is much more to reviewing than the putting down of opinions or even facts. It must be done with honesty and fairness, and without aggression or personal attack. But reviewing also comes with a responsibility, to those who may be adversely affected, so consideration of consequences is essential.

One of the reasons I like Jay Rayner is that he takes this responsibility seriously, given his coverage. Perhaps all professional reviewers do. Taken from a recent interview he said: ‘I am never casual about what I do. I think very carefully about it. Regularly, if it’s a small, independent restaurant which is failing, I don’t write about it and pay the bill myself.’ This level of responsibility is often lacking in public review sites where the reviewer can hide anonymously.

To those out there who know their stuff, do the research, and are actual telling it like it is – in an intelligent and amusing fashion – kudos to you! May you continue to write and be read.

Disclaimer: There is none! I just like the above reviewers and sites.

Who’s your favourite reviewer? And where do you go for your travel lowdown? What do I need to add to my list?

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