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Why democracy is not always the best system

Tuesday, August 21st , 2007

 gordon-ramsay 5472 outside-crop-v8.JPG

The other day I was pointed to the London Eating site's "top 10" list, which I believe is constructed by votes from readers of their web site. It is surprising, to say the least. What might you expect to see would look something like this:

Gordon Ramsay    9/10 GFG  3 Michelin stars

and then, in no obvious order:

The Square           8/10 GFG   2 Michelin stars
Pied a Terre          8/10 GFG   2 Michelin stars
The Capital           8/10 GFG   2 Michelin stars
Gavroche              7/10 GFG   2 Michelin stars
Petrus                   8/10  GFG  2 Michelin stars
Tom Aikens          8/10  GFG  1 Michelin star
The Ledbury         7/10   GFG 1 Michelin star

After that would presumably be some other 1 star places like Zafferano, Locatelli, 1 Lombard Street, Chez Bruce, etc (take your pick). One can debate the merits of these, but both the Good Food Guide and Michelin use anonymous inspectors and don't take money from restaurants, so they at least have no incentive to be dishonest.

But in fact what do we see?  Using the "Top Food" top 10 to remove value for money etc as a factor, we see at the time of writing:

Gordon Ramsay
Petrus
Michael Moore      GFG  0/10   Michelin - nothing
Gun                       GFG 3/10   Michelin - nothing
Clos Maggiore       GFG 0/10   Michelin - nothing
Claridges               GFG 6/10   Michelin - 1 star
Pasha                    GFG 0/10   Michelin - nothing
Chez Bruce            GFG 6/10   Michelin - 1 star
Boxwood Cafe      GFG  3/10   Michelin - nothing
Maze                     GFG 5/10    Michelin 1 star

while apart from Petrus the other four 2 star places are nowhere in sight. Exactly what use is this list?  Does anyone seriously believe that the Boxwood Cafe is better than Maze, or that the gastropub Gun serves better food than Chez Bruce (or Le Gavroche)?  I have never even heard of Pasha, but have been to Michael Moore, and while pleasant I can't imagine even the genial Mr Moore is really expecting a Michelin star. 

Such lists are unfortunately not only misguided but are open to manipulation. It would not take much to set up a bunch of free Gmail or Hotmail accounts and post some positive reviews of your own restaurant, or indeed to trash the competitor over the road. For example how exactly Pasha gets up above every two star restaurant in London is a mystery only London Eating presumably know the answer to. 

This is not intended as a slight to the London Eating site, who perform a useful listing and booking service. However it demonstrates the nonsense of relying on web polling to take an objective view of culinary standards. It is very expensive for Michelin and the Good Food Guide to commission independent reviews by inspectors but, as with so much in life, you get what you pay for.

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