There’s been a bit of a rumpus recently, about food reviews in the local media. Seems some websites mix up paid-for glowing write-ups with honest, impartial opinion – sort of like a pot luck supper, with readers unsure if they’re getting integrity or payola.
Does it matter? Well, yeah. It matters because restaurants like the one we went to this weekend, Liscard’s Canteen, can’t afford to pay for pop-up adverts, or banner ads. They can’t afford to pay a hotshot PR agency a retainer. And so, all they can really do is make good food and hope that the word will get out. But if they have to shout above the massed ranks of Cafe Rouge and TGI Friday, well, the end game is that we’re all left a little undernourished.
No-one with any sense would trust a review in one of the glossy lifestyle mags littering the foyer of dentists in a suburb near you. Nor, for that matter, the freesheets (is Wirral Globe food reviewer, Barry Bragg a real person? I need photographic proof, please. Preferably of him tucking into that dessert his long suffering wife insisted he made room for). But when the waters are muddied in publications who make a big noise about their integrity, well, that’s a side of hypocrisy we didn’t order.
So we’re happy to reiterate that if you see a food review here, it’ll be one that we’ve shelled out for. Not one that we’ve made you pay for by some sleight of hand marketing manoeuvre. And if there’s advertorial we’ll tell you. At the top. In big letters. And even then, it’ll be true: which is why we’ve turned down advertorials for many of the food places in LiverpoolONE. Because they’re crap. And why would we want to write ‘nice things’ about crap food – to make you go and waste your money, while we get paid?
There’s nothing inherently wrong in advertising, nor in paid-for promotions. If you’re not shelling out to read something, money needs to be exchanged somewhere. Just let’s keep the boundaries clear, and don’t lie to readers who trust you.
Anyway, Liscard’s Canteen is great. And they haven’t paid us a penny to say this, the swines.
It’s a slim, grey and polite space – well, polite save for the maddening mariachi music piped through the PA (seriously, guys, less of the Tijuana brass next time), with slim, polite menus – offering eight or so starters, mains and puds. And, frankly, dear reader, we sort of ate it all.
One of our gang pointed out the menu’s lack of provenance. It’s true, save for the beaut of a fillet of Curwin Hill beef, there was no ‘Formby’ this, ‘Cumbrian’ that, or ‘Morecambe Bay’ the other. But, here’s the thing: it didn’t alter the tart creaminess of the hollandaise and duck egg-drenched asparagus, didn’t mute the pinkly moist rack of lamb, nor neuter the searingly great stone bass with clams. So, yeah, give us food that tastes this good, and we’re really not gonna ask to see its passport. Is that wrong of us?
Curiously, the menu omitted to inform us that mains come with a fondant here, a dauphinoise, or a gratin – so we erred on the side of caution, and ordered a hundred weight of hand cut chips. Mind you, we’re glad we did.
But the truth of the matter is – this wasn’t the world’s most exciting menu. It was simple (but high quality) food, judiciously cooked, served with a smile. A couple of steaks, a chicken, some fish and a veggie option. But places like this have no wriggle room. Bald economics means they have to play it a little safer than, perhaps, chef would like. They daren’t deviate too much from the norm too much because, well, because the big names, with the big pockets, who pay for glowing reviews in other websites, have it all stitched up. They shout and holler (or get others to) about their arrival, and we all shuffle on down. And there are only so many times we can eat out in a month. Every paid-for plug means one less table booked at your local.
So, yeah, it does matter when advertorials masquerade as honest reviews. Because, in time, it will mean the end of places like Canteen. And, while it won’t win glowing reviews from Coren and co, it’s serving great food, at decent prices, cooked by people who give a damn.
So, go. Honestly. And act like Barry Bragg – do save room for the lemon tart. It’s sensational.