Sun 17 Jul 2011
Two weeks ago a food blogger in Taiwan started serving a 30-day sentence for writing a critical review of a local noodle restaurant. Known only as Ms. Liu, the blogger wrote that the restaurant’s food was too salty, which led to the restaurant owner taking her to court for defamation. The judge sided with the owner and in addition to the jail time ordered Ms. Liu to pay NT$200,000 (4,900 Euros) in damages to the restaurant.
I imagine some restaurant chefs and owners are secretly celebrating this “victory.” The relationship between food bloggers – most of whom are amateur writers with little or no cookery school backgrounds – and restaurant owners has always been tenuous at best. Many chefs cite bloggers’ no-holds-barred critiques as nasty and irresponsible while bloggers say they’re merely doing the public a service by offering straightforward reviews. Both arguments are equally compelling.
Even in Ireland, where the social norm would be to quietly accept mediocrity rather than complain, I’m seeing a real uprising among food bloggers who are fed up with lousy food and terrible customer service in restaurants. A local vegetarian food blogger relayed her disappointment at the “nasty” comments she received from her waiter – who clearly wasn’t interested in her vegetarian-related menu questions – at a popular Dublin café. “Next time you have a veggie customer, I hope you treat them better than you treated me,” she warned. Recently CheapEats.ie “named and shamed” a Dublin restaurant for “appalling” service and then launched a week-long series outing a variety of other offending eateries. The feedback from readers was generally positive; they, too, were fed up with the lack of good service and conceded that it was high time blogs called restaurants out for it.
Particularly in Ireland, where most food critics are instantly recognisable from their appearances on telly and byline photos, it would seem difficult to get an unbiased review from any of them. I don’t fault the critics – they are not asking for perks, it’s just the nature of the game. And I don’t blame restaurant owners for rolling out the red carpet for those big-time restaurant critics; we’d all do the same. But would the average Dubliner get anywhere near the same five-star treatment? I’m doubtful.
Of course there are issues with the name-and-shame game. What if the restaurant is having an off-day due to a staff shortage or a late delivery? It happens to the best of ‘em. A bad review from a blogger can genuinely hurt business for a restaurant. My view is that as long as food bloggers practice responsibility (see the excellent Food Blog Code of Ethics) we have the right to call out those places who offer little more than slop on plate with a side of attitude. Celtic Tiger is over; the aw, shure it’s good enough approach isn’t good enough anymore. Food bloggers have the right to vent their concerns publicly. It saves customers from wasting their precious money on restaurants that don’t deserve their business and in most cases the blogger reviews are not influenced by special treatment.
Farro with Avocado Pesto and Pork & Leek Sausages
While I have a handful of favourite restaurants here in Ireland I have to admit I’m disappointed more often that I care to admit. The solution? Cook at home. Sunday – Thursday we eat at home, with very few exceptions. And you know what? It’s cheaper and there’s no risk of being disappointed! This dish is very easy but so tasty and perfect for either a weeknight dinner or as a side at a barbeque. Works great warm or at room temperature.
2 cups (use a teacup if you don’t have measuring cups) of farro, cooked and drained – also know as pearl barley. Because cooking directions differ depending on manufacturer, I recommend following the instructions that come with your farro.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 links of pork and leek sausages, available at most good butcher shops
1 medium onion, minced
1 green bell pepper, minced
1 Haas avocado
Handful fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Once you’ve cooked your farro, drain and set aside. In a sauté pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook your sausage. Mine were quite thick and took about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan but do not drain the pan of the drippings.
Put that same pan back on the hob over medium heat and throw in the onion and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the veg become soft, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Mash your avocado with a fork in a bowl and set aside. Using a blender or a small food processor, whiz together the basil leaves, garlic and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil until smooth. Add this mixture to the avocado mash and mix, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Now you’re ready to assemble the dish: Put the farro into a large serving bowl. Slice your sausage and throw into the farro. Now add in the onion and pepper, then the avocado/pesto mix. Stir together until incorporated and serve. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
I’m just throwing this recipe in because I made it for a party last night and it was a crowd pleaser. Next time you think of grabbing an already-made dessert to take to someone’s house, try this recipe. It’s easy peasy and delicious!
12 Digestive Biscuits
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled slightly
2, 300-gram packages of cream cheese at room temperature, I used Philadelphia brand
100 grams non-fat Greek yogurt, natural
100 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lime
Preheat the oven to 170 C.
In a food processor, whiz the Digestive biscuits until it’s ground into a powder. Add the melted butter in a stream until the crumbs are moist. Distribute the crumb mixture among 18 muffin liners in a muffin tin; press down with your fingers to form a bottom crust and set aside.
For the filling: Combine the cream cheese, yogurt and sugar into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the eggs and blend until well combined. Add the vanilla extract and lime zest and mix until smooth.
Pour the filling into each muffin cup about 3/4 of the way full. Put a heaping teaspoon of the jam in each, then take a toothpick or the tip of a knife and swirl the jam into the cheese mixture until a pretty pattern forms.
Bake the cheesecakes for about 25 minutes, until the edges look relatively firm and the middle is just firm (read: they still jiggle a tiny bit!). Cool on a rack for an hour, then refrigerate for at least an hour- longer if you can.
These keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 days.