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Manchester Confidential's Food Reviews: The Truth

Jonathan Schofield, the editor, on the review policy for Confidential

Published on May 27th 2014.


Manchester Confidential's Food Reviews: The Truth
 

This article has been updated in May 2014.

IT happens once a week.

Usually it comes from someone in PR. Or other media people. Or restaurants to which we’ve given bad reviews.

It goes like this: “Everyone knows that Manchester Confidential’s restaurant reviews can be bought”.

That’s simply not true.

By being brave the commercial media doesn’t have to suck up to advertisers, it can make itself so indispensible that advertisers want to be part of the brand instead. 

Any food or drink review on these pages which is followed by a rating out of 20 is completely impartial. We pay for it and we judge it, without any restaurant owners leaning over our shoulders with a red marker pen saying, “You can’t put that”.

All these rated reviews are the opinion of the writer based on the experience during the review visit. They are not the opinions of the marketing team of the restaurant, nor for that matter of the publisher who has mates working there, nor of the Confidential sales force who are desperate to close a sale.

Perhaps the BBC is the problem here.

At Confidential we love Auntie and would never want her to change. But in Britain the BBC’s Olympian detachment, supported by a tax, is the benchmark for the perception of the media in the public view. But the truth is that the BBC can afford to be impartial because their staff will be paid anyway.

Because of this it would appear that many Brits think the media that is ‘tainted’ by advertising must always be up for sale and can be always bought. That’s not the case, of course.

By being brave the commercial media doesn’t have to suck up to advertisers, it can make itself so indispensible that advertisers want to be part of the brand instead. In fact we think that being impartial over food reviews, entertainment and cultural comment, over news and politics has, along with our sparkling offers and competitions, resulted in the large readership we have today.

Of course if restaurants decide to give complimentary meals for our guests or to writers then that’s fine. But it will be made clear to them that a review will never result from this. At the same time we won’t go out of our way to be nasty to advertisers. That would be stupid. But we won’t give them a good review if they don’t deserve it. Places have to earn positive comment, they can’t buy it. Hosted visits will always be stated as such in the articles.

We will write nice things about the promotional meals and food deals we offer though. Of course we will. But we will never score them out of twenty. Instead we'll put from 27 May 2014: 'This is a promotional article produced in association with...and in line with Confidential policy.

We want people to enjoy good food so for instance we were the first magazine, in print or online, to review 63 Degrees on Church Street a while ago, or more recently Reds True Barbecue on Albert Square. We've worked with both to get readers a deal and so they can sample the food and we can make some money. While we're doing this we’ll showcase their food but we’ll never rate it. 

So let’s reiterate, when it comes to scored, rated and marked reviews we’ll say it as we see it. And we’ll let you comment on the way you see things at that restaurant as well.

There’s a commonplace phrase which goes, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That, dear readers, is not our way.

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95 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2012.

Old ground this, reviews can't be bought but can all the other site content? Often on Man con I'll read an article thinking its a review but only when I get to the bottom and see there is no score do I realise it may well be advertorial.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
EditorialAugust 13th 2012.

All food reviews will have the word review in the title and scoring at the end.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2012.

Isn't that a little bit subtle?

CharlotteMay 27th 2014.

"Review" in the title? Christ, what more do you want?!

AnonymousAugust 13th 2012.

BBC unbiased? Not so sure about that.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2012.

I think the infamous "disappearing Browns review" raised many eyebrows - plus the fact that you must be the only people never to receive rude-to-the-point-of-leaving service at San Carlo (statistically they must have been rude to 17% of the earth's population, or thereabouts!)

Bottom line is that most of you are KNOWN to the major venues so impartiality/fairness is impossible as preferential treatment may be involved. If you get an invite-only "menu test" one week, the integrity of a "normal" review a short time later is clearly threatened. If said venue then advertises heavily on Mancon then the eyebrows will just be raised to higher levels!

These sort of issues make it hard to have trust in certain reviews - I try to stay open-minded and have visited places based on a Mancon review - but only when it tallied with 3rd party comments, and only with lower-profile establishments who don't seem to offer the same "inducements".

8 Responses: Reply To This...
James KayAugust 13th 2012.

The Browns review is still on here.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2012.

What do you want them to do, employ new staff every week?

Critics become known. Everyone knows that. If they stroll into a restaurant, unreserved, then there isn't much a restaurant can do about it. Their experience won't be far from the norm.

AnonymousAugust 14th 2012.

I don't know what you are on about. In the archive it's easy enough to find a Browns clearly marked 'Preview' in January 2011 and in March 2011 there was a pretty brutal review. I also see from the archive there was some advertising from Brown's but that wasn't until February 2012. So there goes your theory, Anon.

Secondly, I happened to work for a PR firm who's client was advertising on ManCon. Either Schofield or Garner went in and the food and service were terrible. The day before the review was posted, I got a call from one of the sales team saying there was a negative review coming out the following day. When I said I would pull the advertising from the site, I was told that the review would stand even if it meant losing the account because the intergrity of the reviews for the readers was more important. Of course I was livid at the time and I did have the account pulled, but now that some time has passed (and we no longer work with that account) I respect the honesty of the review and that ManCon would rather lose money than bow to the pressure we put on them to pull or ammend the review.

As for the scoring, I find Schofield puts far too much weight on the interior of a place...maybe because he's a tour guide and feels he has to comment on everything he sees in front of him and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what he will like and dislike since he contradicts himself in so many reviews. Stick to the food and service more, please.

GordoAugust 14th 2012.

Jay Raynor said it all about that old chestnut regarding famous critics; "I've never known a bad restaurant become good just because I walked in through the door". The truth is, when I walk through the door it seems the to makes idiots even bloody worse. And if they start fawning I can spot that a mile away and mark down because of it. Why am I replying to this? Have I gone mental? <buries head in hands and goes for the eight sodding beefburger in four days...>

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 15th 2012.

Re 'the infamous disappearing Brown's review' I simply have no idea what Anon is talking about.

AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

One of the reasons I go to San Carlo is the service... Rude to the point of leaving??? To my mind it has the best service of its type in Manchester. And no I don't own half of Spinningfields or play for Utd - maybe they just prefer customers with a something about them? It's a flash and brash Italian and sometimes that's a good thing...

AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

I've always enjoyed reading the reviews on mancon. Obviously ppl will ave different views and obviously the reviews given wont always be right. The two big misleading reviews that come to my mind are l'entrecote. I think enough comments have been posted on here to prove that point. I still miss it. The other is San Carlo. I used to enjoy visiting there at first. However, since its popularity has surged, I do agree that whilst the food is still good, the service is impersonal, rushed and yes, somewhat rude. The defining moment that stopped us going was when one of our party was actually shoved out of the way by a waiter on her way back to our table. I did spot the head waiter have a word with said rude waiter. However, no-one came to apologise to us.

CharlotteMay 27th 2014.

A restaurant and it's food doesn't just become good when a critic walks unannounced through the door. Think Jay Rayner said that and he's got a bloody good point.

RobbsyAugust 13th 2012.

James - the original Browns review appeared - then vanished shortly after - it was the most scathing review I'd seen on Mancon - the version that replaced it some time later was a little less vehement

NB I was "anonymous" above as Mancon's login wasn't playing ball!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
James KayAugust 13th 2012.

Aah I see... there's still a fairly derogatory one on here, but I'm sorry I missed the first one now!

GordoAugust 14th 2012.

Robbsy, that simply isn't the case. End of.

Matthew MeadowsAugust 13th 2012.

god, who cares, just change the scoring system. who care's about ambience or service?! I want a tasty meal at a good price.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Matthew MeadowsAugust 13th 2012.

*cares

JohnthebriefAugust 13th 2012.

As someone who has taken part in a fairly negative review of a major advertiser, I can say from experience that ManCon reviews are impartial.

And not all the ManCon reviewers are well known. Gordo and Schofield for sure, but there are several others with a much lower profile.

David AddisonAugust 14th 2012.

I've never ever had bad or rude service at San Carlo, I go most weeks on a Sunday and all the staff are friendly ,welcoming and attentive. Ithink if you respect and talk to people politely they will respond better, some of the drunken braying hoorays who go out on a Saturday would do well to try and remember that waiters are human too.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

Unfortunately lots of ppl have had bad experiences. I think it's wrong to assume its their fault. I've been to many restaurants, some better some worse in terms of quality of food. Service and friendliness has nose dived though at San Carlo. I'm glad you haven't received such poor service but don't assume your experience is absolute, especially when SO MANY other comments state the opposite..

slouchMay 28th 2014.

The attitude of the staff in San Carlo can be horrendous. I've walked out after my wife was berated by the head waiter for asking that her incorrect starter be replaced with the one she'd ordered. We're are always polite, (having friends that are hoteliers and restaurateurs), not drunk and abusive, and good paying customers.

Peter CoppingMay 31st 2014.

I'm never going back ever.

MarnieJune 3rd 2014.

I have been to San Carlo several times, work and social, and service is hit and miss to say the least. Business lunches/dinners - great because they know you will be spending the money and not arguing over the bill. I once went at a weekend intending on spending a fair wedge and was treated so appallingly, I left before I got the starter.

AnonymousAugust 14th 2012.

What happened to the 63Degrees offer after the poor review by the Guardian?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
yet another conspiricyAugust 14th 2012.

oooh, anon, there must be something very sinister about this; are you covering your bedroom walls in silver foil?

AnonymousAugust 17th 2012.

Anon there is an offer for 63 Degrees on the site right now. If you're going to be a troll, at least be a troll who is on top of their game....do some research to be sure you aren't making a fool of yourself before spitting your venom.

bigearsAugust 14th 2012.

change nothing Gordo, you do your job the way it should be done! Just coz you advertise on here doesn't mean anything, if food shite you say it is. Moaning gets!

AnonymousAugust 14th 2012.

Man Con are crap at reviewing anything that isn't meat related. End.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
JugularAugust 14th 2012.

I smell a dirty veggie...

CharlotteMay 27th 2014.

Disagree. See: Earle by Simon Rimmer

JonathanMay 28th 2014.

I think you mean Simon Rimmer's other gaff 'Greens' in West Dids dear....

NorthernGeezerAugust 14th 2012.

I agree with the comment regarding 3rd party reviews.
I tend to only spend my hard earned wonga if its supported by my fellow ranters.
Oh yeah, BTW....................the attitude of San Carlo staff IS shyte, unless of course you are what they consider to be a 'celeb'

5 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldAugust 15th 2012.

Honestly Northerngeezer I know loads of people who are celebs who haven't complained about the service but liked the experience. Just been to Venice, service wasn't particularly good there in the restaurants - and the prices were extortionate - again though the overall experience was grand.

pollolocoAugust 15th 2012.

Have to agree with Northern on this one......rude twats at San Carlo, won't ever get my business again.

JimAugust 15th 2012.

Never had a problem with the service at San Carlo, i'm not a "celeb" and they couldn't be nicer or offer a better level of service.

Personally I don't think the food is fantastic but its better than average and we always have a good night there.

AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

Maybe ppl just define 'friendly, good service' differently... I personally wouldn't go to San Carlo based on their poor service which really does impact on the whole experience. There's many other restaurants that provide better food and service. But.. Each to their own.

Peter CoppingMay 31st 2014.

oh my Jon ripped off in Venice insulted by the service, and calmed by the Chef. And the wine?

Henry VMay 27th 2014.

Ed, bloody hell, this is about your editorial policy not San Carlo, whatever anyone thinks about them... Remove!

JimMay 27th 2014.

Has this been updated because of that blog that is doing the rounds? I read that and thought the author was just a bit bitter. It's always been patently obvious what is an impartial review and what is a "restaurants freebie" write up

AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

At the end of the day, this whole issue comes down to transparency. For the sake of one word at the top of an article are Mancon and Gordo prepared to be honest with its readership? It seems not, the main point here is should it be deciding itself what it's readers think. Perhaps it should be open and honest enough to put the word advertorial at the top of such reviews. Kudos to Jules and Bailey for raising this as an issue and it would seem mightily convenient that gordo would turn up at their stall or indeed very near their stall to berate them following them raising a worthwhile question. Please note that I haven't personally met or interacted with good gobble other than reading their fine blog

Hero
James CunninghamMay 27th 2014.

I advertised for several years on ManCon in a previous role and saw the benefit for quite some time of working with Gordo and the team. I can also say we had some very good things written about us under the guise of invited meals etc. But.. on the time Gordo came in to actually score the place - there were some f**k ups - and he wrote about them. You really cannot say fairer than that.

AnonymousMay 27th 2014.

It's just one word to be fair, open, honest and transparent. Advertorial - why are they so afraid of the term?

Mark McGinnMay 28th 2014.

Just read the "good gobble" blog and I think it raises some fair points. Jonathan Schofield says in the post that all reviews are impartial, but I think objectivity will be virtually impossible to maintain after an opening where you have enjoyed copious free food and hospitality. Then a deal is made to advertise and they are now effectively your clients. You only have to see the strange "photo articles" you do after parties, e.g, the almost famous one, to realise that you are so part of the "scene" that it would be virtually impossible to make totally honest judgements about people who are effectively your friends.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

Not sure why Mancon felt the need to even justify themselves. They're not the BBC with our compliance regs so really the Good Gobble blog which must have been great for their reads - hope that or simple mischievousness wasn't the reason for writing it - is neither here nor there. It's a private company so I suggest we read it because we like or are entertained my it or we don't.

Jessica MyersMay 28th 2014.

When blackdog news was reviewed the first few comments were negative so the ability to comment was removed. We all know how much they advertise with mancon!

6 Responses: Reply To This...
Mark McGinnMay 28th 2014.

Exactly the same thing happened on the photo-feature on the almost famous party.

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

Why do you people care so much? It's weird. Just don't read Mancon if you don't like it. And what about all the other good work Mancon does on city issues and buildings and so on? Would you rather it didn't exist?

Mark McGinnMay 28th 2014.

Its weird to have an opinion? I agree that the stuff Jonathan Schofield does on architecture, which I really enjoy, is great. However, the posturing, self-aggrandising stuff produced by the likes of Gordo is really annoying. A legend in his own mind.

Cute as PieMay 28th 2014.

McGginn, are you applying for the position of Gordo's Troll? He's got quite a few who mostly are a deal better at calling him an arse than it seems you are. Or do you just have a small one?

Mark McGinnMay 28th 2014.

One comment about him makes me a troll? A bit hyper- sensitive cutie pie. Are you one of his posse?

Cute as PieMay 28th 2014.

pussy ;-)

Jessica MyersMay 28th 2014.

Should be blackdog NWS

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

Editorial Comment: I'm going to remove these comments because it will be amusing to do so given the stupidity inherent within them and also the last of them is clearly by the same person and offensive to the disabled. Very naughty. Jonathan Schofield

9 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

Offensive to the disabled? I was taking the p*** out of the expensive cars that park in the area because there seems to be a disproportionate number of expensive car drivers that display disabled stickers in the windows. Naughty Jonathan.

Jonathan SchofieldMay 29th 2014.

And you know for a fact these people are frauds which is your implication? And you know that because you've asked them all whether or not they're disabled have you? And you imply this slander yet remain anonymous? Cowardly more than naughty, I was wrong.

AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

I drive an expensive car and disabled with a blue badge and have had for over 14 years, disability does not discriminate wealth, if the moaner would like to take my disability and Big C then I'd gladly give him my badge

AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

@JS It's a scientific fact that the flash types that park on the street there and behind Kendals are frauds. Frauds to themselves and mankind.

Jonathan SchofieldMay 29th 2014.

It's a scientific fact that people who assert such things remain Anonymous. Why not be brave enough to name yourself?

AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

Would using a real name make you feel better?

Jonathan SchofieldMay 30th 2014.

Massively so

AnonymousMay 30th 2014.

Still forbidden to criticise San Carlo, I see. Even in Stalinist Russia, it was possible to criticise an eatery!

AnonymousMay 30th 2014.

Well, yes, but Stalinist Russia was a state, not a news and reviews site.

Alan WharrierMay 28th 2014.

Is this article in response to all the chatter directed at Gordo on twitter oover the last couple of days??? ... Jay Rayner even put in his two peneth! Surprised your quoting him today!!!???

Andrew JonesMay 28th 2014.

I've never doubted the independence of ManCon, though I have also doubted that they get the "proper" food and service given to your standard customer, particularly for big new places, as some of the reviews seem simply bloody wrong e.g. the widely derided Artisan.

Andrew JonesMay 28th 2014.

Also wish you'd "out" places that try to bribe or interfere too, like the hilarious Annie's review!

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

My main issue with certain manchester confidential staff, Viva girls and press members of MUFC/ MCFC is when I enter a competition such as V.I.P launch night for dogbowl opening and many others, you often find the above mentioned are the ONLY winners. Thats when it isn't fair. You 'lot' get your own oportunities so why are competitions made to look open to everyone when it ends up as a big lovie night out for corporate types.

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

My main issue with certain manchester confidential staff, Viva girls and press members of MUFC/ MCFC is when I enter a competition such as V.I.P launch night for dogbowl opening and many others, you often find the above mentioned are the ONLY winners. Thats when it isn't fair. You 'lot' get your own oportunities so why are competitions made to look open to everyone when it ends up as a big lovie night out for corporate types.

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

I dined in San Carlo with a well known face off tv, was our first date and would be very reluctant to visit there again. Due to the fact a fellow diner was practically sat on my lap I ended up literally with her drink down my leg. The staff didn't give a monkeys

1 Response: Reply To This...
Barry MaginnMay 30th 2014.

#humblebrag

Andrew JonesMay 28th 2014.

Actually I have just read the Kukoos "advertorial"/"non review" that Gobble is referring too and do agree it is misleading. Reading that I would think it is the same honest critique as a proper review, and at least Mancon's views even if not a proper full review, and not something paid for that ManCon does not believe. I'm not sure adding a vague footer will help with that to be honest.

CoryBMay 28th 2014.

I do think everyone's going a bit OTT on this, surely if you don't agree with what the Mancon guys say about a venue, you're either going to go not bother going, or go to the restaurant to prove them wrong... I like to read the content they produce, but it doesn't set in stone where i dine or drink. The reviews are opinion based and editorials should only be seen as an insight into a venue and what it has to offer. I don't get time to read every single article the Mancon guys produce, but the ones i do, i enjoy. We shouldn't be so critical of content produced from sites like Mancon, i know a number of cities who have loads of restaurants and nothing of the kind, resulting in the residents being clueless as to what they're walking into when they go out. Mancon is an insight into the cities venues, before you go an spend your own cash there yourself, how anyone can complain about that baffles me!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

That's not an unreasonable point, however this has now become as much about the publisher of this site allegedly making threats about damaging someone's business for raising the issue.

HoopdehoopMay 28th 2014.

"If you don't agree with what the Mancon guys say about a venue, you're either going to go not bother going, or go to the restaurant to prove them wrong." I don't think you understand the point of food reviews old bean. How can someone have an opinion of a venue until they've been there? That's what Man Con's reviews are meant to be for. So we should be able to rely on them to be honest and accurate.

AnonymousMay 28th 2014.

I never tire of talking about this topic. I'm so pleased ManCon's reviews can't be bought. Viva la revolution.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMay 28th 2014.

So Thursday 29 May on Manchester Confidential we have an exclusive interview with Sir Richard Leese about how the City of Manchester has become completely Labour with not a single other party represented in the council: also a profile of how an inner city area, Grove, has re-invented itself plus news about developments within the University of Manchester and a review of Avenue Q at The Palace Theatre and probably three or four other articles about how Manchester is now.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AVOMay 28th 2014.

Will Sir Richard Leese be scored?

AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

SkellingtonMay 29th 2014.

JS please arrange for the ubiquitous David to be in the room.

AnonymousMay 29th 2014.

If Richard is not scored do we have to presume that he has taken out a paid for Advertorial ?

Peter CoppingMay 31st 2014.

and will there be a good offer from him with the ad that accompanies the advertorial?

Barry MaginnMay 30th 2014.

I made the point that advertorial needs to be legally declared in the Dogs N' Dough advertorial and was roundly criticised by Gordo. It was clear he didn't even no what constitutes www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/Dogs-N-Dough-New-Menu-Examined-Manchester…. The simple fact is this: if people read that something is good, they expect that to be an impartial opinion. The paid for content, reviews, advertorials, whatever, are deliberately confusing. They appears to favourably describe the product on offer. So what if they don't give a score - are you saying we should ignore all the content on the page then?

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Henry VMay 31st 2014.

*Yawn* get a life

Barry MaginnMay 31st 2014.

Don't really see how this relates to having a life or not.

AnonymousJune 2nd 2014.

Oh yeah, I remembered that comment thread when the whole thing kicked off, because GG were told they were like, the only people ever to be confused this.

AnonymousJune 2nd 2014.

*by this.

Tony DoyleMay 31st 2014.

Does the panel agree that any publicity is good publicity ? *round of applause from audience

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