‘5Questions’ ~ The Journalists, Marina O’Loughlin 10

Todays post is from a journalist who is a rare breed indeed, unlike many restaurant critics, Marina O’Loughlin seems to thrive on the anonymity that has been her preserve for over her 11 years while at the Metro. She once said in a rare interview,

I was once at the Connaught sitting near [the London Evening Standard’s] Fay Maschler. We ordered the same menu, but Fay got five more courses than us and had about 10 people fussing round her table while we were really badly ignored. “When I took this job seven years ago, I took a very conscious decision to be completely impartial.”

With the readership for her column now standing at over 2 million in London & 3.5 ,million nationwide, she has reaped the benefits. Giles Coren now allegedly craves her anonymity (but secretly wants the limelight, we think), she is well respected by chefs, and whilst she has her own Wikipedia page (surely a sign of impending stardom), the internet throws up little information about her. So here are Marina O’Loughlin’s 5Questions.

1.How do you feel the change in the media interest in chefs has influenced the industry?

I’m not sure what you mean about change in media interest… There have been spotlights on chefs for decades – centuries! Careme was a superstar back in the 1800s.  But if you’re talking in terms of celebrity, it means that every potwasher now dreams of being St Jamie and the word ‘chef’ doesn’t automatically bring to mind pale, spotty youths rehashing Brake products. It’s made being a chef a desirable métier. Which is obviously a good thing. What’s not so good is the creation of the occasional monster.

By and large though (and I do talk mostly about London alas) it has meant a far better quality of restaurant, because the chefs are more committed and more involved. And ultimately more answerable.

2.How do you see the future of the printed media in the industry, with what seems the relentless march of blogging, social networking and the general internet?

Hah! That old ‘look into your crystal ball’ number. Nobody knows. Nobody.  The blogging/online thing is really interesting but is ultimately very large, inchoate and fragmented.  Searchers for restaurant recs seem to give as much credence to a few lines dashed off on Qype as they do to thoughtful, insightful posts.

A few trusted voices will rise to the top and the rest will continue to  chunter away to their chums. Mainstream newspaper restaurant critics will be read more for their writing than for discovering where to go for dinner on a rainy Salford evening. But then it was always like this, really.

As far as food-writing as opposed to restaurant reviewing is concerned, the internet continues to offer ripe pickings to publishers – great for new voices.  And niche publishing, like Tim Hayward’s intriguing and rather lovely Fire & Knives, will flourish.  But what do I know? As long as someone – anyone – pays me to go to my beloved restaurants, I’m as happy as a clam.

3.What is your view of the guide books, relative to their impact and influence on eateries & the general public?

Tricky. I have always, always bought the Time Out London restaurant guide and will continue to do so. It’s a brilliant, exhaustive and knowledgeable piece of work. But with a rapidly moving restaurant scene – I went away for two weeks and have come back to a rash of high-profile openings; two weeks! – I’d only use it with back-up from their website. I think that apps are the way to go. Regularly updated apps from publishers with real restaurant expertise.

As for Michelin? Fossils.

4.What advice would you give to an aspiring chef or restaurateur looking to raise their profile?

Tweetitty tweet tweet. Talk to opinion formers.  Get into an intelligent, meaningful dialogue.  I find it very odd when I get a press release from a restaurant’s PR after having already heard inordinate amounts about it online. I think PRs are going to have to up their game to demonstrate value to their clients. I got an invitation to a high-profile new bar recently. The PR didn’t know that I’m a) always anonymous and have been for the past ten years, b) had already reviewed the place favourably and c) converse regularly with the owner on twitter.  Did it have the desired effect? What do you think?

Alternatively, have a fight with a blogger.

5.Who or what, do you think will be the next 3 big things to watch out for over the next 12 months?

People clumsily trying to ape Noma.  The supremacy of the grill and the deep-fryer over the Pacojet and the water bath.  Value for money.

Marina is a prolific tweeter describing herself as;

Restaurant critic for Metro and greedy traveller for @olivemagazine. This is my personal twitter, so don’t come here expecting any sense.

and interacts with her followers frequently. Her column in Metro is published generally on Wednesdays. Again as always we’d like to thank Marina for taking the time to take part in this edition of the 5Questions.

Post script to this story, Marina has been announced as the new restaurant critic at The Guardian newspaper as of today. I’d like to wish her all the best for the future.

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