Ár Nuacht | Our News...
The news is officially out: we're not cryptic critics anymore. We've joined the Sunday Times Ireland as restaurant reviewers, but what does that mean for Chip Paper? Plus, why that feels important.
Ár Nuacht. “Our News”. Did you grow up with this phrase in primary school, where you’d go around the room and celebrate the good news of the previous day or weekend? Maybe someone’s parents welcomed another child or a classmate was excited about upcoming holidays, or a granny or grandad wasn’t well and the class kept them in their thoughts? Everyone shared in the news and took time out of the day to hear and embrace it.
This feels a bit like that, because we do have news and we’d like to share it with you. We’ve recently been announced as the restaurant critics for the Sunday Times Ireland newspaper, and we’re absolutely thrilled –– but what does that mean for Chip Paper? We’re continuing reviews here, just in a different form: international only. So, focusing on all the wonderful places we might end up outside of the island of Ireland that we’d love to write about (and illustrate) for you.
We consciously held off on restaurant reviews for most of our food writing careers. Sure, we might have taken the notion to point out some little missteps here and there, but on the whole our content around restaurants overwhelmingly focused on visuals (photo, video) and refrained from proper critique. We felt we didn’t have a mandate, and since we didn’t make our name in restaurant critique, why start now? In fact, the longer we held back from it the harder it was to dive in. Instead, we focused on the produce used, the cuisine showcased and the stories behind the chef or the restaurant. Communicating what’s special and unique about a place, rather than picking apart each plate. But there were always opinions…
Then when we began Chip Paper earlier in 2022 we felt the time was right to start branching into that space. Having spent almost a decade writing we had amassed enough experience dining out - both at home and abroad - that we felt we had a command on the lay of the land. We knew when something wasn’t quite right, we spotted when something was particularly unique or unusual and we had a deep desire to delve into how to communicate the experience at the table to the reader and how to transport them there in-that-moment as best we could.
So when we began, by chance, to contribute as freelance journalists to the Sunday Times (Ireland Edition) recently, our Editor then propositioned us to take over the restaurant review column, as part of wider changes across its pages. Sat side-by-side, both looking at our Editor across the table, we didn’t need to turn to look at one another. In unison, with the same vigour and in tandem, we replied ‘yes’… and we kicked off almost instantly. We had already been doing the job under the cover of darkness for about three weeks before it was announced, which happened to be the day before the first review would be live. But now we’re in the motion and filing copy weekly. A little note, as there’s been one or two bits of confusion –– our paper is the Ireland edition of the UK-based Sunday Times, a solely Sunday paper, rather than the Irish Times which is a ‘weekend’ paper that comes out on Saturdays. Corinna Hardgrave is their critic, and she’s fabulous. Similarly fabulous, our predecessor Lise Hand –– who we have so much adoration and respect for, both as a person and as a writer.
Our remit, mostly self-imposed, is going to be all island. We’ve always taken a whole island approach to our work and our travels, and this role is no different. We’re not Dublin-based ourselves, which is quite unique as the majority of critics in the Republic seem to be based in and around the capital. So we’re looking forward to potentially balancing the scales a little more, as across the board food critique in Ireland continues to be overwhelmingly Dublin-centric. The capital has an exciting food scene, no doubt, and the surrounds bear so much fruit in terms of neighbourhood restaurants and in-the-know spots… but much of the truly exciting stuff is happening beyond Dublin and it kind of stretches coast to coast, so we want to be the eyes, ears and palates for readers as we road test on their behalf.
We’ve always been of the belief that restaurant reviews and restaurant critic pieces involve a bit of pantomime. The audience are always thirsty to gulp down when a disaster is uncovered or when everything goes wrong in a write-up, like the intense hit when you skull a can of freezing cold Coke. We say pantomime because it’s often a bit of “oh no, it isn’t!” and “he’s behind you!!” There’s an innate ‘performance’ to the job and the aim is to keep the reader continuously enticed and lingering on every next word and each subsequent review. However, our goal has always been to be fair, constructive, precise and celebrate achievement, rather than nit-pick details. If a dish completely doesn’t work, or something is inedible, of course it gets called out, but on the whole we vie to champion rather than criticise unnecessarily, or criticise for criticism sake.
Hospitality is turbulent at the best of times, and right now being one of the worst of times in memory it’s also an incredibly uncomfortable time to be a food critic. Not least beginning a job as a food critic and establishing your voice, viewpoint and authority. We know as much as anyone - if not more than some - about the struggles hospitality has faced, even before the panny D. Skills shortages, excruciating rents, utilities spikes, ingredient hikes, not to mention lockdowns, curfews, substantial meals, swabs, antigens, PCRs, PUP and green certs of the last three years. But with all that hospitality has faced, it hasn’t faced struggle exclusively. We’re all navigating difficulties, and, turbulent industry or not, it can’t necessarily be an excuse for poor food or bad service. If you’re feeling eager to argue the merit of poor food or bad service, in any circumstance or situation, we’d be happy to hear you out.
What’s the big deal?
Why is us joining a newspaper as critics so important and special? A joint restaurant review column by two gay men based outside of Dublin in their thirties who started as bloggers and somehow ended up as dreaded “influencers”? We’re so inexplicably proud to have, in a way, ascended from blog to national newspaper critic, we believe the first of our kind in Ireland and we certainly won’t be the last. Digital has always been our district, as writers. These are the streets we’ve navigated for a decade, it’s where we feel comfortable and we’ve built ourselves up from the tiniest seed: grafting, hustling and eking out spaces off our own bat, especially where we weren’t afforded them by others. We’ve been contributing here and there to newspapers for years, we’ve refined our style of recipe development and high quality visuals to an art, produced for countless brands, we’ve interviewed people for years on our podcast; but Chip Paper came about from semi-frustration that we hadn’t been “picked up” by traditional media in a more ongoing fashion. Long been correspondents, contributors, sometimes regulars, but never much in a consistent or meaningful way so that audiences know to expect us on a recurring basis. We’re never turning our back on digital, but having the kudos, credibility, structure and consistency of print at long last is so welcome.
For LGBTQI+ visibility, our new role is a step in a positive direction as queer voices are so often made ‘fringe’ when they’re not. Look, we’re a pair of white men so we absolutely do not fit the ‘diversity’ box, we’ll be the first to make that clear. But we’ve never tried to shy away from our sexuality, it’s right there in our catchy brand name –– but that has been a great blessing and an inescapable curse over the years. We’ve been profiled, harassed, targeted, stereotyped, undermined, looked down on, looked over, looked beyond, all while just going about our business being who we are, working hard and living our truth –– but being gay is only one aspect of our intertwined lives. There’s a much wider piece we’re working on about ‘queer voices’ in food writing, which is a huge topic, but it essentially comes down to this: being seen and heard is important.
It’s uncomfortable to position ourselves as “new” voices, because we aren’t ‘new’ and we aren’t under the radar or obscure. But we do believe we’re “fresh” voices. Even aside from the fact we’re in our early thirties. We don’t quite fall into the geriatric Millennial age range, but we’re the most geriatric-acting people our age we know. Having built a brand and being “known” by a significant audience, we may not be “new” or undiscovered, but just like Substack is changing the game and playing a part in the evolution of the media sphere, maybe we can play a small part in the evolution of restaurant writing. Another twist in this adventure has begun, we’re so excited about the path that’s unfolding…
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