As I mention, food blogging is a hobby, and we are free, for the most part, from the ethical issues that may affect some paid journalists and food writers when posting. But this doesn't of course mean that we are somehow more impartial than the Jay Rayners or Matthew Normans. In fact, it is just as likely to work the other way - if Jay Rayner got taken out for a slap-up meal at a new restaurant, given a tour of the kitchens and plied with free booze and then had the bill comped at the end, and subsequently gave it 10/10 in the next Sunday's Observer, chances are he would be rumbled quickly and his readership would quite rightly be outraged. But if I was put in the same situation, given my largely anonymous public profile and much smaller but more targeted readership, there's every chance I would get away with it, and a glowing post on my website would stand for eternity, cropping up on Google Searches and social networking sites and more than repaying said institution's outlay on buttering up (if you'll excuse the expression) a pathetically grateful foodie for an evening.
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that because it's so much easier for food bloggers to appear impartial, the temptation is that much greater not to be. And whether it's Australian bloggers being asked to go undercover and big up cat food, or the cult of celebrity blinding one hapless forum moderator to mediocre pizza, temptation is everywhere. So in fairness to foodethics.wordpress.com, although I could pick apart the hideous flaws in much of what they've written and have great fun into the bargain, instead I'll just repeat the one point that I believe they have spot on:
- If we receive an item for free or if we are recognized during our reviewing process, we will mention so in our review.
And with that in mind, let me tell you about a lovely evening I had eating free food at Byron Hamburger on Kings Road.
Tom Byng, the manager of Byron, had invited a small group of eager foodies along to their Chelsea branch to sample their menu and chat about burgers. The Quest for the Best Burger in London had brought me far and wide, but it's surprising it had taken so long to get here - after all, they are proud winners of the 2009 Observer Food Monthly Awards (Best Cheap Eat) and are the only really decent competitor to Haché in this price bracket. The Hawksmoor burger may be a work of genius, but at £15 it's a work of genius that comes with a corresponding price tag - the Byron burgers range from just under £6 to £8 for one with cheese and bacon, and so you can get away with a whole meal for around £10.
Much like the aforementioned Mr. Creosote, except of a much slimmer build, Tom started off the evening by instructing the waitress to bring us "one of everything". So along with our burgers arrived such treats as delicious Cerignola olives, a very impressive Caesar salad and a lovely pot of macaroni cheese, which at £2.75 was a very generous portion and counts as a bit of a bargain in my book.
All of which would have been to naught if the burgers were no good, but fortunately a great deal of care and attention has gone into the patty side of things too. Tom explained that they didn't have the luxury of resources to throw into burger production that places like Hawksmoor did, and so their formula for a successful restaurant was to carefully and intelligently source good beef (the precise mixture of rump, chuck and brisket is ground into patties at a special butchers off-site but still in London and then shipped to the restaurants) but keep the cooking method as easy and possible. I've made clear before my thoughts on Aberdeen Angus beef in steaks (mass-produced, inoffensive but dull), but it makes perfect sense to use a reliable breed in burgers to maintain consistency across a small chain of restaurants.
And these burgers were very good - cooked perfectly, dripping gorgeous bloody juices and not too thick. My one complaint was with the bread, which although apparently delivered daily by a small East-End baker, was too heavily floured and dry for my liking. It came, as well, with a lovely sweet and crunchy pickle (quite an interesting idea leaving it up to the customer whether to pop it in the bun or eat it separately) and good tangy cheese. My favourite of the array of sauces was the spicy BBQ sauce, which had a great note of liquid smoke and fresh tang of vinegar. They apparently make it themselves - it's not bought in. And you can tell.
After working our way through literally the whole menu, we reached the desserts, and found a little room to try an impressive Knickerbocker Glory, complete with Cherry On Top. I should probably also mention the wines, which are organised on the stripped-down menu into categories such as "Good", "Better" and "Best" and included a lovely Californian Pinot Noir called Jargon, and if beer's more your thing, they sell the peerless Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The one section of the menu I didn't get a try of was the milkshakes - they do one with Oreo biscuits in for £3.75, so that has to be worth a pop.
I honestly believe that anyone would enjoy the burgers at Byron. Whether it's better than Haché, well, I'll leave that particular can of worms alone for now, but suffice to say I can think of worse burgers to be had in London for £10 and no better ones. So yes, it was a free meal and I'm bound to be quite well disposed to it after a chat with the owner and a bottle of Californian red, but, well, at least I've been honest and told you. My Food Ethics, for the moment, remain untarnished.