Why I can’t wait to start writing negative reviews again


In this week’s episode of Extra Spicy, Justin Phillips and I speak to British restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa, who currently writes reviews for London’s. Standard Evening. It’s actually a two-part episode because Jimi and I had so much to talk about, like our feelings about being the “first” so-and-so. (especially him the UK’s leading black restaurant reviewer) and the many differences, both tonal and philosophical, between American and British food critics. And, after 16 months of cool play, we talked about our desire to criticize food when it misses the mark.

In the United States, a de facto truce has been struck between restaurants and their critics, out of sensitivity to the dire plight of the hospitality industry during the coronavirus pandemic. But 1 Star Yelp Reviews definitely continued unabated, I suspended writing from restaurant casseroles. In light of the stressors of massive shutdowns, intermittent shutdowns, and the mass exodus of workers to other industries, criticizing a restaurant for hot beer seemed like telling your friend lying in a ditch she was wearing. the wrong lipstick for the occasion.

In 2020, if I found a slimy cucumber in my lox bagel, or an understaffed kitchen took over an hour to prepare my table starters, I just wouldn’t be talking about the restaurant. My editors agreed on this front.

While I recognize the human aspect of knife storage for just about everything that happened in 2020, I think the negative reviews get a bad rap. In the restaurant world, there is a widespread sentiment that editors and food critics should work with, if not for restaurants. In my previous life as a restaurant cook, I had many conversations with chefs who thought this way – who viewed negative reviews as the work of petty critics who didn’t know the value of hard work.

Also outside of the food world, critics who write about films, video games and other media may experience public reactions to negative reviews of popular intellectual property. (See: Manohla Dargis on “1917” and Carolyn Petit on “Cyberpunk 2077”.) It’s tempting to think of criticizing something as an attack, either against the creator or against you, for loving it. But it is a toxic attitude to take.

On the contrary: letting things slide all the time, without actively doing or saying anything to help work improve, only makes it easier to stagnate. In a world without the mitigating factor of a pandemic hanging over our heads, not speaking is disrespectful to both creators and consumers. There have been many instances in the past year that I received horrible food from a restaurant or pop-up and then got annoying notes from chefs and restaurateurs asking me why their projects had not been mentioned in any story or list. A policy of no negativity simply leaves them in the dark as to how they can do better. In fact, I think I should write more negative reviews once things are sorted out.

Critical reviews have a myriad of benefits. They are a way to set standards and, more importantly for readers, to keep diners away from restaurants, which would be a waste of hard-earned time and money. In some cases negative reviews have obvious literary value, as with British critic Jay Rayner play on Le Cinq in Paris. Here he writes that an onion entree is “mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor of a teenage party.” Others contain concrete solutions to the problems: My review of the Colonial offered suggestions to an Asian fusion restaurant that seemed to be struggling to adapt its decor to the 21st century. And negative reviews can point to instances of discrimination, such as when Ruth Reichl, then New York Times critic, put on makeup and a wig to dress up as an elderly woman during a visit to New York’s Gramercy Tavern. She was largely ignored and her outrage was felt throughout the review. same Corporate domino’s took care to improve their crust recipe in response to people who mostly hate it.

Now, many restrictions and rules related to a pandemic have been lifted in California. You can walk the street without a mask, and the crowded terraces and dining areas indicate diners are excited to go out again. The summer of fun, so to speak, has begun. So, is it time to reignite the engines of negativity?

To be clear, what I mean by negativity isn’t just saying a place is bad. It’s about seeing what a restaurant aims to achieve – the experience it sells – and how well it achieves that goal. I don’t think restaurants will go back to what they were before the pandemic for years to come, but I do think it’s possible to criticize them while keeping this truthful. I might suggest that a trendy hotel restaurant with slow service and a complicated menu scale down its offerings to ensure well-paced meals. Or that a pizzeria makes its crust less pasty and uses less sugar in its sauce. My pre-pandemic policy on negative reviews remains consistent in mind: I aim my punches upwards, at restaurants that actually have the means to respond to my suggestions. If a restaurant seems to collapse with the slightest nudge, I will probably pass.

A small part of me worries that readers aren’t ready for negative reviews, or even mildly reviews. So I’m curious what you think: Email me your thoughts!

For Famurewa’s part, it looks like he dives back into the critical commentary. I bet he feels good about it.


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