Happy New Year everybody! I hope that you’re keeping your resolutions, if you made any, and that you’re being kind to yourself if you’ve broken them. To be honest, in 2021, with things as they are, you could do a lot worse than giving yourself a year off borderline impossible targets for arbitrary self-improvement: most people, after all, get quite enough of that sort of thing in the workplace.
Personally I’m aiming to follow the excellent example set by my friend Dave who succinctly said “New Year’s Resolution: stay alive”. That’s as ambitious as I plan to be this year, and anything beyond that is a bonus. That said, I did tell myself I would try and write something this year, especially in this third lockdown when we all have plenty of time on our hands – enough, who knows, that you might even fancy reading a weekly blog post from me.
I did wonder about several different options. I briefly thought about bringing back last year’s series of interviews – there are plenty of interesting people in Reading’s food and drink scene (and beyond) that I never got round to quizzing. And I did wonder about doing another series of diaries, but I think they were probably a little niche by the end. Besides, there are only so many times (and only so many different ways) that you can ponder the eternal verities while shuffling round the Harris Garden for the three hundredth time.
I also considered doing a series of short pieces in praise of particular aspects of Reading and Reading life – you know, to provide the unrelenting positivity with which I am so strongly associated. I even got as far as drawing up a list of candidates for that one: perhaps another time.
But really, that would be like turning up to a gig and playing nothing but songs off the new album that hasn’t come out yet, when everybody wants to hear the hits: the overwhelming response on social media has been that people want me to review Reading’s takeaway options, so takeaway reviews you shall have. The first one will go up at half-eleven next Friday, and I’ll try and put one up every week until the lockdown is over, everybody has lost interest or I’ve contracted botulism, whichever happens first.
Early in the first lockdown, I decided against reviewing takeaways. I said that it wasn’t a level playing field to compare them against eat in restaurants, and that I would feel bad about writing negative reviews. The best part of a year later, I think the landscape has changed enough that it’s worth a go. Takeaways and deliveries have become a big part of most restaurants’ revenue streams over the last twelve months, and they’ve had plenty of time to get good at it, pick a delivery partner or build their own ordering and fulfilment capability.
And actually, I think the point of reviews is as important as ever: you want to know whether a restaurant constitutes a good use of your money. I still believe that we should be protecting the independents we want to survive, but it seems unfair to draw a line at the start of the pandemic and say that none of the restaurants that has opened since should be supported. It’s very brave to open a new business in times like these: those restaurants deserve consideration, too.
So, here are the general principles. I’ll review a different restaurant each week, and I will try and use a range of different delivery providers – so a mixture of ordering through Deliveroo, JustEat, Uber Eats and (where possible) direct via the restaurant. I’ll only review deliveries, not collection takeaways: mainly because a delivery service that can deliver to me is more likely to be able to deliver to you too, whereas if I traipsed over to e.g. Finn’s to pick up some fish and chips it’s quite possible that lots of people reading wouldn’t be close enough to have the same luxury.
I know geography will be a problem, and that some restaurants I review won’t necessarily deliver to you, depending on where you’re reading from: that is, I’m afraid, the nature of the beast.
In the majority of cases, I’ll try and review places that haven’t previously been reviewed on the blog. The emphasis on deliveries also opens up some options I couldn’t have previously reviewed – whether that’s the Caversham Park Village Association delivering Caribbean food every Friday and Saturday, or Flavours Of Mauritius which is currently delivery only, or even somewhere like Rizouq down the Wokingham Road which is just too small to eat in anyway.
I will try to prioritise independent businesses, although I may well also want to try some chain options which come out of dark kitchens, like Shake Shack and Burger & Lobster. And further down the line I don’t rule out trying heat at home meals (as offered by Clay’s, and numerous other high profile national restaurants), although for the time being I’ll be prioritising local restaurants because I want to try and keep my money in the local economy where possible. Let’s see how we go, and how long this lockdown lasts.
My takeaway reviews won’t operate on the same rating scale as the restaurant reviews, because you’re not comparing apples with apples. I’m still making up my mind whether to use ratings at all, but whether I do or not I will try and make sure the review covers things like how long it takes to get to me, whether it’s hot (the most crucial thing of all, obviously) and whether the packaging is wasteful or efficient, recyclable and so on. Sometimes when a delivery meal is disappointing it’s hard to know whether that’s the fault of, for example, the restaurant or the Deliveroo driver: so things won’t always be cut and dried but, as always, I’ll try to be fair.
I’ve had a brilliant response on social media when I put out feelers about reviewing takeaways, and as a result I’ve had plenty of great suggestions and am building up a pretty good to do list that will easily keep me occupied for the rest of lockdown. But I’m always open to more, so if you have any places you’d like to see reviewed please feel free to comment here, or on Twitter or Facebook, or just by dropping me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does that sound like a plan to you? Excellent. See you back here next week for the first review.