489 Liverpool Road
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, June 3rd
The Victims: Sarah, Gaby
The Damage: Gaby paid.
The Background: If you haven't noticed, I do like to eat.
But I like exploring more. Some of my favorite blog posts–the blog posts I really enjoy writing—are not the ones that are all about a dinner out and a London restaurant review.
I like the adventure posts. The getting-on-a-London-bus-and-going-somewhere posts. The something different posts. I enjoy a good day out, with multiple stops, some with food. Some without.
When I first started my blog, I borrowed a post from business writer Seth Godin about creating a blog disclosure statement and posted my own on my About page. My Disclosure Statement has gone through various iterations over the years. For a long time, it said something like "I will go out of my way NOT to write about things that other people want me to write about, except when there's a lot of champagne involved." And for somewhat of a shorter time, I removed my Disclosure Statement completely because I felt like I was violating it so utterly and completely.
Case in point. My friend Sarah runs a site for new moms in London. A month or two ago, she went to an event about women in business and met Gaby, who just happens to do PR for restaurants, many in London. Sarah says, "You must meet my friend Krista." Gaby knows my work and says something like, "Krista from Londonelicious? The London food blog? I'd love to." And we all arrange to meet up for lunch at Morgan M in Highbury, a place I've always wanted to go to. And a place that Gaby does PR for.
I like Gaby instantly. I want to help her understand bloggers and blogging and Twitter and all those good things. I like Morgan M instantly as well. It's peaceful and relaxing and a great "Ladies who Lunch" sort of place, and you know that I not-so-secretly wish that I were a lady who lunches. Instead, I'm a lady with a full-time job, an addiction to restaurants, a passion for blogging, and a train that leaves for Paris at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday.
The Entrance: I like how I'm met at the door of Morgan M. and how they take all my belongings away; I've come straight from work with a lot of stuff that I need to run home with after lunch and throw in a suitcase and turn around again and head back to Kings X with. (Are you still with me?)
I like the plates at Morgan M. They're pretty. And I like how while I'm waiting for Gaby and Sarah to arrive, the staff offer me my choice of good magazines. Not bad magazines. Good magazines. (I choose a travel magazine.)
I feel a little pressured to order the tasting menu, which is what Sarah and Gaby opt for. I am on a bit of a diet these days, and really I am not that hungry. Plus I'm heading to Paris and I know I have a multi-course dinner to look forward to. So with some negotiation, I manage to secure just two courses (plus an amuse-bouche) to Sarah and Gaby's five courses (plus amuse-bouche). (Generally, Morgan M prefers that the entire table opt for the tasting menu, but I think I must have looked panic-stricken at the thought of a full menu, so they relaxed their restriction for me.)
The Conversation: After we order, we go back to talking about bloggers and London food and restaurant bloggers and restaurant reviews in particular. Gaby says that she's counted, and there's something like 70 of us London food bloggers these days. I note that she should start looking at the wine bloggers too because for a restaurant like Morgan M with such a nice wine list, I think she's got an additional market.
We talk about the real food critics and I learn that although the big ones have budgets and pay-their-own-way, the smaller ones get everything comped. This makes me angry because here I am, paying my way for everything (or, well, nearly everything), and some of the professional restaurant reviewers actually get all their meals for free? But then, I get angry at myself; if I just went around London accepting restaurant freebies all the time, I'd kinda feel like somebody's mistress. All the nice things, but no respect in the morning…
Somewhere around here–or maybe it was sooner–our amuse bouche arrives. It's a chilled cream of broad bean and horseradish foam and I love it. Think summer! It gets me pretty excited about whatever will be coming next.
One blog we talk about over lunch is LondonEater. Kang's blog is a young one–he just started last summer–but he does seem to have quite an appetite and his photography is really great. (I should note that I did bring my real camera to Morgan M, only to find that the batteries were dead. Hence the Blackberry photos.) His prose, in my opinion, is quite effusive and eager. Lately, Kang has accepted invitations to a number of restaurants, who have comped his meals. This has me wondering: what if every guy or gal with a decent food or restaurant blog in London knew that they could possibly bag a free meal at most restaurants, just by dialing for dollars? Would it change the game a bit?
I talk about my own experience with accepting freebies directly from restaurants. There was my meal at Cafe Anglais with fellow London food bloggers Lizzie and Niamh and owner Charlie McVeigh. There was my wine tasting and sushi session at Tsuru. And my German meal at Vinoteca. And now there's my meal at Morgan M with Gaby. All were memorable, fun, and delicious experiences. Maybe that's all they should be. But there's a "but" in there somewhere.
Over my very nice starter of lightly seared yellow fin tuna, provencale vegetables, tapenade, and red pepper and basil sorbet (the sorbet was very surprising–I processed red pepper and basil, but not sorbet, when I read the menu), we talk about my on-again/off-again ethics policy. It's back on these days. Somewhat because of my inherent Catholic guilt. Somewhat because I hang out with a lot of economists and know that there's no such thing as a free lunch. And somewhat because in the last few months, I've noticed a shift in two types of things…
1. The volume of e-mails and invites I'm getting from companies and their public relations departments.
2. The types of things my fellow London food bloggers (myself included) are posting about.
I can only speak for myself. I won't say it's no fun–it's always fun–but it's less fun for me to blog about a free meal. It feels like work. And although I always say I'll write whatever I want, there is this odd pressure to write in a certain way. Maybe this would be different if I reviewed restaurants professionally. This is, after all, just a very time-consuming and sometimes expensive hobby for me. But writing about free meals all the time feels a bit like cheating. And it's even less fun for me to blog about the same free meal that other food bloggers who got the same free meal are blogging about. I kinda like it when I am able to write about something unique.
Plus–I have to think about it from the restaurant's point of view: If a restaurant were to pay for the meals of food bloggers, one London food blogger at a time, that would be an expensive proposition that may not lead to much in the end. As I like to remind people, never OVERESTIMATE the power of my blog. I may get a couple of hundred visitors a day, but in a city of 8 million people? Drop in the bucket. Gaby pointed out that although I may not think my audience is that large, the important thing is that it's very much made up of London restaurant enthusiasts. I don't disagree. But still…if you look at all the comments on all the main London food and restaurant review blogs, there's a lot of audience overlap. I remember joking at one fabulous event that a bunch of us were invited to, "When do you think they're going to figure out that we all know each other?"
OK, back to the food. The menu, which Gaby very kindly let me take with me, says I had the seared fillet of John Dory, Braised Cuttlefish, Barigoule Vegetables, Steamed Courgette, Saffron, and Enbeurre sauce. I remember being surprised that there were potatoes in the dish. This was a good, respectable main, but it paled a bit in comparison to the lovely broad bean cream and the surprising seared tuna.
I told Gaby that if she really wanted to engage with London food bloggers, she should do a communal event. Something informative and educational that you could invite a bunch of people to–not just one or two. How cool would it be if Morgan M were to invite a bunch of food bloggers into the kitchen to prepare a dish and get to know the chef and staff? This would communicate the restaurant's key seasonal message. (And the fact that they offer a veggie tasting menu!) Or, I suggested, how about a session with Morgan M's sommelier? Tell us about the wine list and why it was constructed the way it was constructed. Or maybe just a Q&A with the chef along with a few small tastes of menu items? Perhaps I'm weird, but there's more joy in it for me with those sorts of communal and educational experiences than there is in a free meal. I think the content is more interesting than something like "And then we had the freshest of scallops, straight from the sea." And I somehow feel less conflicted about saying yes to a freebie when I'm learning something new. I don't know…you tell me.
The Desserts: They were lovely, but I only had a bite or two of each so I don't feel ready to comment. One was a dark chocolate moelleux and the other a raspberry soufflé. Also, there was a really really great rice pudding. Yes, a lot of dessert!
The Verdict: I loved my meal at Morgan M. And I very much enjoyed meeting Gaby and getting the scoop on things from the perspective of a super-nice and super-knowledgeable London restaurant expert. The experience, however, has me thinking about the ethics and hidden pressures of freebies. (Acknowledged or not.) Do you say "yes," because at the end of the day, you're not getting paid for this and you're just out to experience new places? Or do you say "no" because you don't want to provide anyone with free advertising?
As I wrote earlier, what if every guy or gal with a decent food
or restaurant blog in London knew that they could possibly bag a free
meal at most restaurants, just by dialing for dollars? Think about it. (I am sure at least a few people have tried and/or will try dialing around. Let me know how that's worked out.)
Shortly after my lunch at Morgan M, LondonEater was invited to dine for free as well, so you can read about Morgan M on his blog too.