The Critical Couple

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th March 2011

New friends, a few enemies, some incredible people, tasting some of the best food on the planet (but nothing really approaching the worst) and even a national newspaper feature, that's been just a few of our experiences in the 12 months since our blog started. It has undoubtedly been fun though and that is key. The blog has no commercial motives, no sponsorship and no advertising and we run it purely for the enjoyment of participating in the UK's food and drink community; should it ever cease to be fun, at that point we'll stop.

In the beginning, the blog was merely a challenge of creation: creating a website, writing a passable review of somewhere and capturing the experience on camera. It was also very much a "˜friends and family affair' whereby people we knew could see what we've been up to. Since most of our leisure pursuits involved food, drink and travel in one form or another, it was a natural unifying theme for the website. Two things then happened that changed the scale and basis of the blog: we joined a restaurant blog aggregation site that brought us a new audience of foodies and second, we visited El Bulli (the meal of a lifetime!) which started to differentiate our blog's content from many others but also made us want to further expand the content that we offered. By good fortune and coincidence, we found ourselves eating at Noma just six weeks after El Bulli so, to complete the triumvirate, we re-visited The Fat Duck also. After that, the blog evolved from being a passing hobby to a keen passion and that changed everything. Once the blog had become integral to our lives, it developed its own momentum and when planning our diaries we started asking questions like: what are we doing for the blog this week? It was AJ Liebling who said that "˜each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol'. If a friend for example invites us to join them for drinks in the West End, since we are making the journey there, we reason that we should go somewhere for a spot of lunch also so maximising the value of our trip; and of course it's fun. Writing the blog challenges you to try new places (and new dishes) rather than just fall back on old faithfuls and the past year has brought many discoveries for us. We loved the food at Hibiscus and The Square in London for example. Slightly further afield, we wondered if the food at Le Champignon Sauvage is the best in the UK while other absolute gems included the simple perfection of Rafa's in Roses, Spain which is Ferran Adria's favourite restaurant; eat there and you'll know why. But it is also about people, from the absolutely charming Diego Masciaga, General Manager at The Waterside Inn to the brilliant Jason Atherton who recently gave us a Pollen Street Social preview. Some have become good friends who we now meet with on a social basis while others (chefs and foodies alike) we know from the on-line world, especially Twitter, and we're getting to know them and their food for real is something we have to look forward to. Of course, that connection to the people of food also presents its own difficulties, especially when we've had a bad meal. We recognise that these are people businesses as much as food businesses and the lives and efforts of many people went in to brining us the food on our plate. But we do start off wanting to enjoy every meal, not least because each one is paid for by ourselves, there's no expense account or reimbursement behind any of our dining. We want to have a good time and even if things do go wrong, the right approach by staff can make all the difference. One Michelin starred chef phoned us personally to complain about a blog posting and simply wouldn't be mollified, regardless of our offer to try and make things good. Another restaurateur however, on reading a disappointing review, asked us to return to show that our bad experience was a one off and we did; on receiving a better second meal, we blogged its praises and still eat there to this day. We're also aware that blogging and Tweeting is still a new frontier and everyone from bloggers to chefs are coming to grips with the new landscape, while mistakes will be made on both sides. Some tolerance is likely needed in both directions. The debate still rages too in areas like cameras in restaurants. For our part, we're willing to use a decent camera (reasonably quickly and discretely we hope) so that the pictures we put on our blog present the food in the best light, so doing it justice. We think that posting to the web blurred and gloomy camera phone pictures of food that the kitchen has brilliantly prepared, cooked and plated is more disrespectful to the restaurant/chef than anything we do with our Nikon. Once out there in the public domain, whether it's restaurants or food blogs, the offering will delight some, disappoint others and open itself up for criticism. We like our blog, we hope others will like our blog but we also know that along the way, some will take issue with what we write, not least because food and restaurants are very much a subjective (and variable) experience. Comments on the blog are welcome as is a direct dialogue with us. Opinion exchange is part of the fun of both food and having the blog, and in the words of literary critic Northrop Frye: The only way to forestall the work of criticism is through censorship, which has the same relation to criticism that lynching has to justice. We hope you enjoy.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th March 2011

The Critical Couple