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May 17, 2014 04:07 AM

Anonymous UK restaurant critics - any others, or is Marina O'L the only one

Marina's review of the Ubiquitous Chip in today's Guardian prompted me to Google her. I was surprised that she works anonymously and that, presumably, this isnt her real name. Just wondered if there are any others amongst the major players who move amongst us incognito - obviously several crop up on TV regularly - Rayner, Campion, Macleod, etc

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  1. I don't know the answer to your question, John, but in NYC, quite a few of the reviewers were always incognito and never favoured with special treatment.

    I wonder if the known such as Rayner ever book under a different name.

    2 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      I'm sure they all book under different names but they must be so well known that you'd imagine they'd be spotted as soon as they walked into a place.

      1. re: Harters

        I once sat across from Campion on the Tube. It would be tough not to know who he was. :-) Remember how Giles Coren wasn't spotted at Rogan's new Manchester restaurant? I guess it can happen.

    2. Marina is definitely the only mainstream critic who is anonymous. She is certainly the first point of call for a 'do I actually want to eat there' review. In particular I recall her reviews of Koffmans and the Delaunay where she was given pretty shoddy short shrift service which would never have happened to another critic. She has her own prejudices as they all do but she's the most valuable UK critic in my opinion.

      You have the 'writers/entertainers' like Coren and Gill and then the doyen/doyenne types like Rayner and Maschler. Rayner is the best of the 'known' critics for me and makes a big point of how he always books under a different name but that is minutiae really once he's recognised, personally I think he is overly dismissive in interviews of the benefits to the consumer of anonymity.

      The US system is totally different of course - Pete Wells even went to the lengths of bringing a decoy 'control' second table to Daniel to compare service quality once he thought he was recognised.

      The Independent seemingly have a habit of appointing their restaurant critics as the editors of the whole paper. I remember Amol Rajan just writing a few very straightforward reviews of a whole bunch of pubs in Islington for a while which was quite bizarre.

      7 Replies
      1. re: ManInTransit

        Much as I enjoy reading Marina & Jay (you can see my political leanings by my newspaper selection), it rarely sways my decision making about where I want to eat. Now, OK, most reviews are London-centric and I'm here in Cheshire, so I understand I'm not necessarily target audience. Actually, I think I've only eaten in one place based on a Jay review. I thought "it really can't be as awful as he reports". And it wasn't.

        1. re: Harters

          I think that goes to the heart of the entertainment/information debate - clearly Coren and Gill etc think they are predominantly writers who are there to amuse and entertain and not to carefully critique the restaurant which only a small proportion of their readership will actually go to.

          Then Marina, Joe Warwick etc, while decent writers, are predominantly providing restaurant reviews for the consumer. Others lie somewhere in between.

          The fact is though that they are tremendously powerful - a positive Gill or Maschler review does send bookings through the roof - see Gymkhana, Chiltern Firehouse, Dabbous etc. They do also have a responsibility to the restaurant and its associated livelihoods - and not destroy it in print for entertainment.

          The other angle of course is that several critics have restaurant consultancies on the side and or are so chummy with restaurateurs that they are basically press release machines.

          1. re: ManInTransit

            I didnt know about the "on the side" consultancies. It would make you wonder, wouldnt it?

            I came across similar potential conflicts of interest with a couple of local restaurant review sites. Neither will post negative reviews from punters beause they have a commercial side to their business - restaurant website design and the like.

            1. re: Harters

              It is quite a conflict isn't it - and the one I know about is quite a name. I know they protest it doesn't affect their critical skills but it does stretch credibility. Sponsored bloggers with deals with agents ad agencies also perturb me.

              1. re: PhilD

                Again, I didnt know about sponsored bloggers, although I've often thought that many bloggers have a cosy relationship with the industry which gets them freebie meals in return for the publicity from blog mentions.

          2. re: Harters

            Jay was in Liverpool and Martini was in Glasgow this week. I actually think they cover the UK quite well and if you did the stats the restaurants reviewed outside of London would probably be in line with the overall restaurant density in the country.

            Agree with Manin that Jay's incorrect about anonymity - I still like his reviews but he is getting a lot of exposure with his work on R4 and TV. As a result I feel his attitude seems to be becoming more strident - hopefully he won't travel the same road Ramsay has done which I don't believe has enhanced his food credentials.