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Best Restaurant Review Sites for London - TopTable? London-Eating? Yelp?

Noodle fanatic Aug 19, 2010 08:22 AM

Hi Chowhounds,

Which restaurant review sites/blogs would you recommend for London restaurant reviews by consumers? As a New Yorker, I frequent Yelp or Menupages for NYC restaurant reviews. What are the equivalent sites for London? (I'm not a huge fan of many of the reviews by non-foodies on Yelp, but if a restaurant can't even get 3 stars on Yelp, it's a sign that it most probably won't be any good)

On the critics side, which publications are the equivalents of restaurant reviews in the New York Times, Time Out New York, and New York Magazine?

Thanks in advance for your help!

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    Gordito RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 19, 2010 08:44 AM

    I follow these food sites and blogs on and off:

    http://londoneater.com/

    http://rwapplewannabe.wordpress.com/

    http://youngandfoodish.com/

    http://kristainlondon.typepad.com/din...

    http://www.doshermanos.co.uk/

    http://www.tehbus.com/

    http://agirlhastoeat.com/

    Don't know whether they are the best, and would of course always happily learn of others!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gordito
      Noodle fanatic RE: Gordito Aug 19, 2010 09:16 AM

      Thanks Gordito! What about review sites? What am I missing besides Toptable and London-Eating?

      1. re: Noodle fanatic
        g
        Gordito RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 19, 2010 12:41 PM

        I'd agree with Harters on Time Out, I have generally been pleased with places they have recommended. And another I have found recently is Foodepedia, http://www.foodepedia.co.uk/restauran....

        1. re: Gordito
          h
          Harters RE: Gordito Aug 19, 2010 01:45 PM

          Foodepedia is a good site (although not one I know well). It was set up by the guy who founded (or was seriously involved with) london-eating. I know him through the UK board of egullet. Think of it more as a blog type site, rather than reviews.

    2. h
      Harters RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 19, 2010 10:31 AM

      Top Table and London-eating are the main review sites and you should get a suitably broad opinion of a place. I live in north west England and would use both for restaurant planning on trips to the capital (in truth, I dont find the UK Chowhound board very useful).

      Time Out is probably the main publication (and also has info on its website). The local evening newspaper, London Evening Standard, also carries reviews (don't know about its online information).

      FWIW, my main "bible" for UK restaurants is the Good Food Guide. Almost always reliable and, as implied by the name, only including "good places". It's not something I would necessarily recommend for someone perhaps only visiting London itself for a short trip - but for a longer stay, or visiting anywhere else in the country, it'd be a good investment.

      1. g
        guster4lovers RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 21, 2010 12:22 AM

        Another vote for Top Table. Don't use Yelp in the UK.

        4 Replies
        1. re: guster4lovers
          Noodle fanatic RE: guster4lovers Aug 21, 2010 04:11 AM

          Cool. Looks like Urbanspoon is trying to be like the Yelp of London, does that sound about right?

          1. re: Noodle fanatic
            h
            Harters RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 21, 2010 05:01 AM

            I'm not really familiar with either Urbanspoon or Yelp - but see that Urbanspoon has some mentions in my metro area (Manchester). Looking at what it rates as its "Top Ten", I'd be taking this very much with a pinch of salt. There are inclusions there that I doubt would make many people's Top 100 in the area.

            1. re: Harters
              Noodle fanatic RE: Harters Aug 21, 2010 12:18 PM

              Not too convinced about Urbanspoon at all. Not enough reviews.

              Toptable does have a bunch of reviews, but mainly only for proper take-out restaurants that take reservations.

              Just happened upon Squaremeal.co.uk - seems to have a good amount of reviews as well, but again, coverage not great.

              None of the sites seem to have the breadth of consumer review coverage (not talking about quality here, just sheer quantity) as on Yelp or Menupages in New York City. e.g. To the extremes, even different locations of Pret a Mangers in NYC get reviewed on sites like Yelp in NYC, yet I can't find too many consumer reviews on a restaurant like Golden Hind in London on most of the UK sites listed so far. Is this because Londoners just aren't as crazy as New Yorkers are about reviewing every little hole in the wall (some sort of cultural thing?) or that there's not a site that has picked up enough traction? Or perhaps, I'm just going on all the wrong sites?

              London natives, please enlighten me.

              1. re: Noodle fanatic
                h
                Harters RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 22, 2010 02:53 AM

                I can't answer as a London native, only as a Brit who visits the capital as a tourist. As mentioned upthread, Top Table and London-Eating are the main review sites dealing in restaurants in the capital. Obviously diner-led, I find they offer the widest and most up-to-date information on places. Like the vast majority of tourists to any location, I'm only spending a limited amount of time in London and want every meal to be a good one - so research about "the good, the bad and the ugly" is vital. These two sites, coupled with the Good Food Guide, always sort out my London dining (the Guide is my "go to" for anywhere else in the UK, other than my home metro area)

                Again, I don't know enough to make a comparision between posting habits of Londoners and New Yorkers, so perhaps there are cultural differences. In my own area, there are a number of review sites. None of which are, if you like, a "market leader" - so it means that any posts are spread thinly across those sites, making comparisons less easy. You would also need to take account of a generally different attitiude towards eating in the UK - for the vast majority of people it is much more an "event" thing (celebration, date, etc), rather than something done regularly. And, even when done regularly, meals are likely to be in the same restaurant - folk having a weekly meal at the local Indian place. It is not the sort of thing that you are going to bother posting on a site.

                I usually review my mid-range and up meals for a discussion board other than Chowhound (and always send a copy ot the Good Food Guide - which is inherently diner-driven, although all places are professionally inspected before they go in the Guide). However, I would rarely bother to do this for a local casual place nor would I bother to do repeat reviews. All this might well be accounting for why you're not finding informatikon such as you might find in America.

        2. limster RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 21, 2010 05:01 PM

          Most reviewers for web or print publications are fed on input from PR with all the appropriate hype when a client restaurant opens; and many of these PR folks do an outstanding job. If you survey the food media, you'll find that very often, multiple sources (review sites, blogs, newspapers etc) will cover the same place within a very close period of time; there's a lemming effect. These formal and informal media sources aren't spending most of their energies sniffing out good stuff; they're spending most of their energies following leads from PR agencies. Result: the dining public doesn't get an unbiased sample -- instead the sample is heavily skewed towards those with big PR budgets.

          Here's an alternative if you want high-quality information on what and where to eat. Rather than consume information, produce information. Explore neighbourhoods on your own; you'll be surprised how much you can discover that the mainstream media would never otherwise pick up. All one needs is to eat and think critically and independently.

          So rather than spend an hour reading reviews, spend an hour walking around interesting neighbourhoods. Scope out menus, smell the food, look at what people are eating; try stuff at a low investment level - a small starter, set lunch, take-out etc. It's not more effort than reading all these reviews and trying to reconcile them -- just include small things into your daily routine. Take different routes to work so that you'll encounter different places to eat. Try a different place for lunch each day. Check out a place on the way back from dinner as a potential next meal. It's a treasure hunt, and while it means having a few bad meals once in a while, discovering a great place while it's still unspoilt makes it totally worthwhile.

          14 Replies
          1. re: limster
            steve h. RE: limster Aug 23, 2010 02:49 PM

            I subscribe to this approach. Due diligence takes many forms.
            Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

            1. re: steve h.
              h
              Harters RE: steve h. Aug 23, 2010 03:15 PM

              Such an approach is fine if you are resident or a longish-term visitor to an area (although it's not really how I find good places even in my home area). However, I just visit London as a tourist for a couple of nights, maybe once or twice a year. For that I sensibly rely on the work that others have done - whether it be diner-led guidebook, professional review in newspaper, diner review site, discussion board, etc. Means I get good food guaranteed.

              1. re: Harters
                steve h. RE: Harters Aug 23, 2010 03:40 PM

                Can't say as I disagree.

                Woodrow Wilson once said, "I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."

                Due diligence takes many forms.

                How's the book doing?

            2. re: limster
              Noodle fanatic RE: limster Aug 23, 2010 05:14 PM

              Agree with you for the most part limster, BUT...

              As a marketer by trade (not in the food/resto biz), I rely especially heavily on consumer reviews to help round out the big picture of any given restaurant before I try it. I think that many consumers nowadays are savvy enough to know that a lot of things they hear/read are a result of marketing campaigns (no matter how big/small the budget). Of course, nothing quite beats trying a place out in person yourself, but I'd personally rather spend that time researching consumer reviews than wasting time+$+calories on something that's likely not going to wow me. My boyfriend thinks I'm nuts to discount restaurants based on negative reviews, but if 60%+ diners are saying that the food was only mediocre, it's highly likely that it is. I've tried enough restaurants with average reviews to not feel bad about my crazy approach. For those who are as bad-food-adverse as I am, I never trust star/# ratings, just the hard work of skimming through countless pages of consumer reviews to get a good picture of any given place.

              I see your point of the joys of discovering a great undiscovered/unspoilt restaurant, but honestly, in downtown Manhattan (NYC), where I spend the majority of my time, that is near impossible. Almost every new opening gets blogged about somewhere, and online reviews by real consumers normally appear before a restaurant even opens its door officially (courtesy of friends/family/guests who dined during soft opening). Perhaps the only "undiscovered" gems are certain ethnic restaurants, but even those aren't totally considered undiscovered, since they're likely to be known within their respective ethnic enclaves or reviewed by a non-English newspaper/other media. This leaves restaurants that have no intent in attracting/taking care of you as a consumer, and restaurants with 0 clue in marketing.

              Although seeing that consumer reviews aren't as ubiquitous in London as they are in NYC, I have a feeling I might have a chance at being the first to "discover"/review restaurants as a consumer here in the UK.

              1. re: Noodle fanatic
                scoopG RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 23, 2010 05:52 PM

                Your approach is not crazy but the norm for most people. What Limster is talking about (I think) is the old chowhound experience - discovering for yourself. Snooping and scoping out neighborhoods on your own. Great cities like London and New York are moving all the time so the possibility for change is constant. Just today I found two old favorites in Manhattan were totally transformed into new entities. Recently I found two "new" restaurants in Flushing, one of which I just posted about and the other I am working on a review. Found them by making a point to just walk around. I understand Harters point but there still is time to explore the neighborhood in which one is staying.

                1. re: scoopG
                  steve h. RE: scoopG Aug 23, 2010 06:31 PM

                  Well said.

                  1. re: scoopG
                    limster RE: scoopG Aug 23, 2010 07:17 PM

                    Traveling is great way to find more raw material for treasure hunting, when you want a change of scenery from where you normally scout for delicious food.

                    1. re: limster
                      steve h. RE: limster Aug 23, 2010 07:19 PM

                      Travel broadens.

                    2. re: scoopG
                      h
                      Harters RE: scoopG Aug 24, 2010 05:19 AM

                      scoopG

                      Yep, I understand that point. When I do my trip to London, I tend to stay in the same suburb. Means I've got to know the area well and have "come across" places either worth trying or, more usually, noting for some more research for a possible visit on the next trip (more research usually means reading the review sites as above - if most say the food is crap, then it's probably crap).

                      I still contend that the "discovering for yourself" route is not something that is practical or, indeed, at all sensible if you are only visiting for a short time on "one-off" visit - as most of my trips round the UK are. The sensible thing there is read the guidebooks; read the review sites. And let's face it, that's what the vast majority of us do - read the UK Chowhound board, there are next to zero people posting there who are "discovering for themselves" (limster is very much the exception, not the rule, and all credit to her/him).

                      1. re: Harters
                        limster RE: Harters Aug 29, 2010 11:36 AM

                        While I appreciate your kind words, credit is also due to the many hounds that have reported on all kinds of finds and discoveries, on the UK board and everywhere else on CH. They may not be posting everyday, but it's the quality that counts, and we shouldn't dismiss them.

                        But if chowhounding is not the the rule, then we need to work harder at it. Afterall, everyone agrees that uncovering more information is a good thing, and there is always room for improvement.

                    3. re: Noodle fanatic
                      limster RE: Noodle fanatic Aug 23, 2010 07:09 PM

                      Discovery comes in several forms. It's not just about being the first person to eat a given dish at a given restaurant.

                      One aspect is going deeper, to understand a restaurant and come up with an optimal strategy for maximising one's eating experience. For example, Jim Leff swears that the best chef at a particular Italian restaurant in Boston is the Vietnamese guy, and the best time to eat there is on his shift. Finding out when the best chef is cooking, or seasonal dishes or wines that are not on the menu (I've once scored an '82 Guigal La Landonne for under US$200 a couple of years ago at a widely loved restaurant where no one has talked about ordering off the wine list) are also part and parcel of that process. It's not something that eating a few meals will uncover.

                      Another aspect is recognising the chef's abilities and exploiting them to the max. For example, when several intrepid SF chowhounds found that a Chinese chef had been a Bocuse d'Or competitor (imagine being selected to represent 20% of the world's population) and had cooked at the Beijing Grand Hotel, they negotiated a banquet menu that the restaurant never had thought of offering, and that was largely unavailable elsewhere in the US and probably not straightforward to match in many parts of China for the price. It was the first time those dishes were served i un that restaurant. More locally, Howler's understanding of his native Maharastrian cuisine allowed him to pre-order a bunch of outstanding Maharastrian dishes that Indian Zing normally doesn't make, and that no blogger or professional critic has written about, even though there are lots of other stuff written about the place.

                      Some counter examples...

                      Re: restaurants within their ethnic enclaves, Kebab Cafe in Queens is a chowhound favourite, and although it's an Egyptian place, one rarely sees Egyptian there; some of the earliest ordering strategies for that place come from chowhounds in NYC. Not all "ethnic" places are located in their enclaves or a fully understood by their community - e.g. a Sichuan place in a Jewish neighbourhood with a chef that made an outstanding Shanghainese squirrel fish.

                      Re: ratings, it really depends on what's being rated. Many Chinese restaurants often offer Cantonese dishes (or facsimiles of them) when their centre of gravity is a completely different region. The ratings for American-Chinese dishes at a place that specialises in Shanghainese food are often deservedly low; sometimes one might need to know how to navigate a menu to avoid disasters, not all menus are created equally. That's not a big stumbling block, as one can read through the reviews critically.

                      Yes -- there are restaurants with no intent of in attracting the average consumer, have never thought about that, or are clueless in marketing. That's ok; afterall, we're interested in great food, not great marketing.

                      The situations you describe are true for the vast vast majority of restaurants. But there are always exceptions, and that's fine, because the goal is to find the exceptional. And the way to do it is to eat critically, dig deeper and not settle for anything less than the most delicious.

                      One could always play it safe, but that usually means missing out on a lot of delicious stuff. It's risky and occasionally one has a bad meal, but the real time dialogue for sharing tips during the discovery process is what makes the board most useful and helps minimise "damage." Chowhounding can be a collaborative process.

                      Sorry I couldn't be more succinct, but I do look forward to reading about more finds from yourself and other hounds.

                      1. re: limster
                        buttertart RE: limster Aug 24, 2010 09:43 AM

                        Your point about American-Chinese dishes at a Shanghainese place being not terrific is the case in one of the best Shanghai places in Manhattan, Tang Pavilion. There have been numerous posts here about the food there being indifferent (which drives me crazy). It sure as hell isn't if you know the cuisine and specialties, they are very well executed. But if you go in looking for orange beef and fried rice you most likely would be as happy with any of a number of other places.

                        1. re: buttertart
                          limster RE: buttertart Aug 29, 2010 11:37 AM

                          Glad to hear that Tang Pavilion is still good. I remember a lovely lunch there with a few NY hounds a long time ago.

                          1. re: limster
                            buttertart RE: limster Aug 30, 2010 06:19 AM

                            It really is, glad you enjoyed it.

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