Let’s go round again…
Maybe we’ll turn back the hands of time. Do you remember that song? If you’re not a baby boomer, you probably think it’s a song by Louise Redknapp.
When I started this blog a decade ago, I wrote about my food memories and why I was doing it, here. Much of that still stands so it’s with a read if you want to go down that rabbit hole.
Though not having written about restaurants for some time, it might be helpful for anyone new here for me to introduce myself so you can hop onto the Richmond restaurant roadshow and see whether you want to stay.
I’m an ex-lawyer on a career break. Even typing those words is weird after 36 years of continuous work. I still think I’m on a long holiday.
As you will see from a scoot round the blog, I haven’t been reviewing in any meaningful way for about five years. I stopped after a Michelin crawl round France which felt wrong. As I often say, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
And I had put on a lot of weight. A lot. Shocker. And then I went to the other extreme and got to a size 6. But I’m over that now, thanks to lockdown and sanity. But I’d also got a bit jaded with reviewing. I was looking at the rise of the Instagram influencer, where it seemed like all you had to do to get Insta-famous was take a few photos of food, enthuse wildly about said food, get cosy with the PRs, get invited to all the openings, get a shedload of followers, repeat ad nauseam and suddenly, there is such a thing as a free lunch.
For quite a while, this
influencing advertising was done surreptitiously, dare I even say illegally. And when I see the words [invite] or [gift] or [ad] I tend to walk on by. It’s different for those whose job is the industry and who are professional reviewers. I’m not talking about them. I struggle with influencers who are really just advertising for the product or restaurant and who do so without any specialist knowledge or care. Its all about the ££££. Or the publicity. Or the free food. Or all of it. And I get why restaurants do it and I’m sure I would too, in their shoes. But I’m doing this for a different audience.
I’ve always paid for my own food. And if I’ve lucky enough to have been comped, I can’t write about it, because I won’t be able to be objective. Call it a character defect. And when I see a website review for a meal or product that’s been comped but the review says that they weren’t influenced, I’m sceptical. Which is my polite way of saying that that is, in my opinion, complete bollocks.
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to afford to pay my own way and I still will. It means that you get the benefit of an independent and unbiased review.
So why the Oxfordshire focus? When I’m not in London, I spend quite a lot of time in and around Oxfordshire and I’m always looking for good places to eat. I rarely find them. I have my (few) favourites in the den of deep disappointment that is the City of Oxford and some trusty gastropubs within 30 minutes or so in the car. I know there must be more, so I’m determined to seek out those places in the area that it’s worth your while to get to, even from that there London, but particularly in the Oxfordshire area. Think of this as a public service. You’re welcome.
As ever with my reviews, I’m not (actively) seeking out the worst of all possible worlds (see earlier in the life is too short category) and I’m not the queen of the snarky review for the sake of it (fun though they may be to read), though if something’s not right, I will be telling you. So don’t be writing, telling me to go to some mediocre gaff, just for the bantz it will bring, because the answer is no.
And at the time of writing (November 2021), we are still in the grips of Brexit-related staff shortages and the other effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, so whilst there are no free passes for poor places, there’s real compassion for the restaurant industry, which has been on its knees during this time and which needs your support.
Sermon over. Let’s go pray at the some temples of gastronomy. And some caffs also.
PS The weight thing? Doing my family tree during lockdown I learned that I come from a long line of larger ladies so I am simply fighting my genetic heritage by trying to remain slim. The elasticated waistband is my frenemy.
And in case you think I’m exaggerating, this is one of my comfortably-built aunts.
There is, as you will see, no hope.
I said that to you! Good post.
Nice to have you back, Nicky xx
So glad you’re back!
Nicky, it’s been a very long time. We’ve missed you. Isabelle and I have just bought a house in Donhead St Mary Wiltshire and are also exploring for good food. And as you say it’s difficult…
I can’t remember if you’ve tried The Coach in Marlow? Tom Kerridge but so far not in the kitchen. Not exactly an average pub and not average prices (but still less than half the price of his main restaurant) but sometimes a great experience. Particularly at the counter looking into the kitchen
Great to be back in touch. Isabelle and Ivor
Hi Ivor, lovely to hear from you. I’ve not been to the Coach and was v disappointed in last 2 visits to Hand & Flowers some time ago, so it’s not on my wish list. Let’s stay in touch. There are things here but you have to hunt them down :) Congratulations on the purchase and please stay in touch.
So lovely to read you again xx
Xxx thank you Rachel I’m pleased to be writing again x
Completely agree with you on freebies. And some of the biggest restaurant bloggers still going take an increasing amount of free food but are very cagey about declaring it. #AD seems to be the hardest word. I have a soft spot for a few Oxford restaurants but I look forward to seeing what you come up with.
Thanks for this. Completely agree about Clay’s by the way. Love it there. Your site is great. So much info.
That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you!