Online food chat — and its usefulness in the long run

I saw a comment here recently (can’t remember which thread, sorry) claiming that online chat about specific restaurants is only useful in the short term, and over the years these comments become less useful.

As a local historian, I disagree :slight_smile: Today I published an article which quotes a five-year-old post from JFores on Chowhound, describing a restaurant that’s no longer open and giving a great insight into the history of the building I’m writing about. I only wish there had been Chowhounds/Hunions/HOs roaming my area of interest for far longer.

I’m also very grateful to people who donate flyers and takeaway menus to their local archives — this sort of ephemera isn’t often saved, but in 30, 40, 50 years’ time it’s going to be invaluable.

The article’s here if you’re interested: [79 London Road: Shadi Bakery][1], though be warned it’s a relatively long read for an online piece.


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Well… “LESS useful” doesn’t mean useLESS, but things at a restaurant can change overnight, let alone in five years. If I’m looking for a great place to eat I’m less likely to trust input from five years ago… no? Info about the building itself isn’t usually something people go to foodie sites for.

As a cultural archive they are always going to be useful. Historians and sociologists have always used a number of sources and the food boards are no different to other more traditional sources.

As for their usefulness for eating it depends on what part of the world you are talking about. In London things change very fast and I’d hesitate to recommend places after a long gap. If you compare this with say Tokyo the turnover of places seems a lot lower. I was there 7 years ago but I suspect that the placed I went to are still knocking out the same small number of dishes to the same standard . I could be wrong but there seems to be an important difference in the food culture of the two cities which would make me mire confident of recommending in one city vs the other.

[quote=“paprikaboy, post:3, topic:1473, full:true”]
As a cultural archive they are always going to be useful. Historians and sociologists have always used a number of sources and the food boards are no different to other more traditional sources.[/quote]

Agreed! Though I’m not aware of food boards being used for this to any great extent, which I think is a shame. This might be down to researchers being less inclined to cite online sources that might go away, but I think as people become more aware of archiving services such as the Internet Archive (and indeed the British Library’s own archiving project) this will be less of a turnoff.

Sort of (though TBH this is more “medium term” thinking to me than “long term”). In central London there are so many choices that “oh, I went to restaurant X five years ago and it was good” isn’t particularly useful. But in the outskirts, “oh, I went to a Sri Lankan place in Coulsdon five years ago, and it was good, and it seems to still be there” is very helpful as a starting point for one’s own research.

Agree on the outskirts of London. Places like East Ham, Wembley Tooting and New Malden that began serving food to cater to the immigrant community and have been around for years would always be a useful starting point compared to central London places.

Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting is a case in point. Haven,t been for a year but would have no hesitation in recommending. Food is always good over multiple visits over the years and not a great turnover in staff.

I think the situation is not quite that simple.

a five year old ‘one-off’ blurb about a restaurant is questionable. a continued 3-4-5-10 year string of good/bad/other opinions is not un-useful. yes, there are ‘newer’ ones, but backed up by the ‘ancient’ opinions indicates to me the place is a solid performer.

and even that approach can be very uneven. some of the “most famous” places are just coasting on past glories. prime example: Peter Luger/NYC; my impression? I can do a better steak in my oven.
in contrast:
(long time back) Emeril L NO Delmonico - absolutely excellent. fast forward 5 years - Emeril’s Steakhouse in Las Vegas - absolutely bombed. otoh, the Fishhouse was very good. Bobby Flay’s Las Vegas Mesa Grill - that place is an embarrassment it’s so bad. Colicchio’s Vegas Craft steak - stunning; Colicchio’s NYC steak joint - not 10% of Las Vegas. Gordon Ramsey - you’re kidding, right?

and compare that to Keller & The French Laundry. perhaps there’s a reason he is not flitting all over the globe but rather paying attention to his business? or Joël Robuchon - not seen those latest episodes on FoodTV, eh?

bottom line is old is old and good may still be good. how many places has one encountered that were initially stellar but later slid right into the dumpster?