New Head Chef for the Retro

The award-winning Retro Bistrot in Teddington, SW London welcomes a new Head Chef to the team.

 

With a name like Francois Fayd’Herbe de Maudave he was destined to work his culinary magic in a fine French restaurant. Francois has joined the award-winning Retro Bistrot in Teddington, SW London as Head Chef, working alongside the owner and maitre d’, flamboyant Frenchman, Vincent Gerbeau.

 

Francois’s professional background includes working at England oldest French restaurant, the Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden, as well as upmarket establishments The Park Lane Hotel, The Grosvenor House Hotel and The Savoy. Specialising in French-style cuisine Francois has also cooked for demanding clients in Dubai, Madagascar, Australia, France and the exclusive ski resort of Courchevel.

 

“Vincent’s invitation to join the Retro was irresistible,” says Francois. “Working with a small independent restaurant with such a good reputation allows me to build on its success by implementing new ideas and new tastes. I love creating exciting combinations of flavours and this is a great opportunity to impress the taste buds of the Retro customers.”

 

The Retro Bistrot won the Good Food Guide London Restaurant of the Year in 2012, has two AA rosettes and a Michelin Two Forks. They also won Highly Commended Awards in the local Time & Leisure Food and Drinks Awards for both Best Service and Overall Restaurant of the Year 2013.

 

Vincent says, “We are delighted to have tempted Francois into the Retro and very excited about the potential to make a difference to the menu, without, of course, losing our customers’ favourite dishes.”

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Things To Do In & Around Teddington, Hampton & South West London

Apart from visiting us at the Retro Bistrot for a great meal, of course…!

There are a whole host of interesting and independent shops along the High Street in Teddington, selling everything from wedding gowns to gifts. They are well worth a wander around before or after your meal.

The Landmark Centre

Landmakr centreJust down the High Street from the Retro is The Landmark Centre is a vibrant part of the Teddington community based in a magnificent 19th century Grade II* listed building, a former church.

They have a lively programme of arts events ranging from concerts by nationally known performers to a rich mix of other local arts and educational projects. Well worth checking out before or after eating with us.

 

Teddington Lock

0300303a River Thames Teddington LockCross the road from the Landmark Centre and you’ll get to Teddington Lock on the River Thames. Known as the gateway to the non-tidal Thames, Teddington Lock is a lovely place to visit. If you are looking walk off one of our fabulous lunches then there’s an excellent walk from here right into Richmond town centre… or you can simply sit on a bench and enjoy the river views.

 

Bushy Park

Autumn weatherA fifteen minute walk from the Retro, or a very short drive away, is the beautiful Bushy Park, the secondest largest of London’s eight royal parks. This is a great area for walking, running, cycling, deer-spotting or just soaking up nature with its collection of woods, gardens, ponds and grassland.

 

Hampton Court

hamptoncourtDrive – or walk – across Bushy Park and you’ll find yourself at Hampton Court, one of Britain’s most famous royal palaces, former home to Cardinal Wolsey and one of King Henry VIII’s sumptuous homes. You can wander in the fabulous gardens, get a history lesson inside the palace or enjoy getting lost in the Hampton Court maze.

 

Twickenham

TwickenhamThe neighbouring borough of Twickenham is, of course, home to the Twickenham Stadium, which in turn is home to England Rugby.

Seating an impressive 82,000 spectators, Twickenham is the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world. It has also become a destination for fans around the world to experience the excitement of a match day, sample the history of a stadium tour, visit the superb World Rugby Museum, or watch some of the biggest names in music perform.

On a match day we have a fantastic atmosphere at the Retro which is a popular venue for many fans who come to eat before kick off. We open all day during big matches to ensure you’ve got time to fill your stomachs before heading off the match. Be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment!

 All this and more is a stone’s throw from the Retro Bistrot. Just ask us when you visit for more information and let us know if you need transport and we can sort taxis or advise on public transport.

Book now on 0208 977 2239 or online via our Reservations page.

 

‘Summer near the City’ – What To Do In & Around Teddington

‘Summer near the city’

summer-in-city

Here at the Retro Bistrot we can’t get enough of this great summer sunshine, and it got us thinking about things to do around Teddington, Hampton and the rest of South West London during the summer. If you’re looking to get out and about this season then look no further than the delights of our local area; Teddington, Twickenham and Richmond offer some fabulous things to do. Why not hire a boat on the River Thames or take a cycle ride in Richmond Park? (. . . Go on, you know you’ve wanted to for ages!).

Alternatively, on Saturday 19th July our local Teddington tennis club (NPL) is taking part in the Great British Tennis Weekend, they are situated in beautiful Bushy Park and offer both astro-turf and grass courts. The weekend provides an opportunity for free coaching and taster sessions for all ages, so to find out more or to book a slot, visit their website http://www.npltennis.co.uk/

Also this summer ‘Twickenham Alive’ hosts the Strawberry Hill Music & Fun Day on Sunday 20th July 2014. This fundraising fun day features live music and Shetland pony rides in support of Strawberry Hill House; it takes place at Waldegrave Road, Twickenham TW1 4SX. For more information see http://www.twickenhamalive.com/SHM&FD14.html

However, another great idea would be to join us for lunch and then go and enjoy an outdoor film at Hampton Court as part of the fabulous open air cinema at the Palace that takes place this August. They are showing old favourites, Dirty Dancing (12) on the 9th August, and Casablanca (U) on the 10th August. For more information see their webpage http://www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/WhatsOn/hamptoncourtopenaircinema#sthash.fkXi8cJj.dpuf

If you decide to pop in and join us at the Retro Bistrot, our 3 course £15.50 set menu choices for a special summer lunch with friends and family would include:

  • Mixed Beetroot Salad, Goats Cheese, Salted Almonds (we think this dish is as attractive as it is appetising)
  • Grilled Whole Mackerel, Sauce Vierge (fresh and tasty in the sunshine)
  • Strawberry Sorbet, Strawberry Mint Salad (. . . for that true Wimbledon final!)

However as we know our customers like variety alongside their favourites we change the menu every two weeks. To see out latest offerings see our menu here http://www.retrobistrot.co.uk/menu/

Finally, this summer our local area is host to the fabulous Rugby 7’s tournament at Twickenham which takes place on the 16th – 17th August. This tournament sees 12 of the best teams in the world compete against one another to be crowned the World Club 7’s champions, for more information see their website http://www.worldclub7srugby.com/news/index.php.

Our popular jazz evenings are also the final Tuesday of every month, if you like music and a sense of communal entertainment. Drop in, phone or book ahead via our reservations page: http://www.retrobistrot.co.uk/reservations/

We look forward to seeing you out and about this summer!

 

 

“Will You Be Dining Alone?”

Many of us feel it’s still a taboo to dine out alone in the UK, but in this age of computerised gadgets, when people only ever half listen to a conversation often while looking at a screen, could this still be true?

dining-aloneMost people do usually have friends they could ask, although this is probably where the taboo started, the awkward fear someone appears lonely. However nowadays this could often not be further from the truth. Many people would love to escape to a communication free zone, for just a couple of hours, where nobody expects anything of you, and you can simply enjoy a meal and the ambiance of your surroundings. If it works for train carriages then why not restaurants?!

With this in mind, a new solo eatery in Amsterdam recently opened up specifically for this purpose; no Wi-Fi connection and with only single tables and chairs for solitary dining. Eenmaal is a temporary restaurant in Amsterdam that claims to be the world’s first restaurant catering purely to solo diners. No couples, no families, no groups of chattering friends allowed. It may be the first of many new restaurants of this nature, and a revolution in the dining experience.

There are many that think it’s a trend following on from ‘no reservation dining’ establishments that has led to this spur in dining alone, and while this could be partly true, it’s also a reflection on the contemporary make-up of our lives, and it is after all the demands of our lifestyles which make these changes happen.

Our busy lives never allow us just to stop for a minute, and take stock for ourselves, to tune out and tune in to just the here and now can be so refreshing.

Restaurateur Russell Norman speaking to the Independent in April stated “I think more and more places are welcoming solo diners because they make up a very significant percentage of the restaurant-going public,” says the restaurateur behind London’s Polpo . . . “The stigma that used to be attached to dining alone has now gone and we are comfortable in our own company or with a newspaper or a novel.. We positively encourage people to come in solo.” 

While a recent review on trip adviser for the Retro Bistrot says it all really.

‘I attended on my own for a jazz dinner and was warmly welcomed by both the staff and band coordinator. Without writing lots of superlatives I simply had an amazing evening of sublime music, beautiful cuisine and caring service. I will without doubt return and recommend you try the cuisine at the very least if not a jazz dinner. . .Simply sublime’ 5 of 5 stars.

Trip adviser has recommendations for dining alone in London so why not give it a go.

And of course we will welcome you with open arms at Retro Bistrot at any time of the day or evening. Our popular jazz evenings are on the final Tuesday of every month if you like music and a sense of communal entertainment.

Drop in, phone or book ahead via our reservations page: http://www.retrobistrot.co.uk/reservations/

We look forward to seeing you soon.

The Retro Team

PS:  Naturally we don’t discriminate against anyone wanting to bring a friend or five…!!

Teenage Masterchef Winner Feels the Heat in the Retro Kitchen!

March 2014

Local schoolboy Nico Takhar found himself feeling the heat when he took up his prize of a masterclass from head chef Michael Collins at Teddington’s award-winning Retro Bistrot restaurant this week.

Nico-at-Retro“I needed first aid within the first five minutes of starting work!” says Nico, referring to a minor injury from wielding a sharp knife. “But it was brilliant to play a part in preparing dishes for paying customers – and Mikey even let me plate up!” Nico’s first job in the kitchen was making one of the Retro’s favourite deserts, a dark chocolate mousse with candied pecans.

15 year old Nico fought off many contenders, including school staff, in the recent Hinchley Wood School/Retro Bistrot Masterchef Challenge with his excellent menu of Pan Fried Venison on a bed of mash and white wine jus, followed by Apple Crumble with Crème Anglais.

Nico’s masterclass took place in the Retro kitchens on Saturday March 1st and with Saturday being one of the restaurant’s busiest days he certainly got to see the reality of a working kitchen.


Proprietor and maitre d’ of the Retro,Vincent Gerbeau says, “Having Nico in the kitchen on a busy Saturday was a real pleasure. It’s so important to help youngsters find a role in life and everyone at the Retro was pleased to have played a part in supporting Nico’s passion for cooking.”

Nico says he was first inspired to cook by his grandmother who had a particular fondness for oriental dishes. His mother is pleased to report that Nico now contributes to cooking family meals! 

Vincent was judge alongside his Head Chef at the masterchef finals back in November. The Retro Bistrot is winner itself of several awards including the Good Food Guide Local Restaurant of the Year 2012. Head Chef Michael has worked with the likes of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and Vincent trained with Gary Rhodes so the standards expected in the competition were high!

Nico-in-kitchen

 

Eat Well, Live Well – The Big Fat Sugar debate

 Eat Well, Live Well – The Big Fat Sugar debate

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 Food feeds our bodies but bad food can cause us damage. Scientific research shows that an excess of the wrong food can lead to a range of debilitating and sometimes fatal illness such as diabetes, obesity and heart problems. Apart from which good food also feeds our souls – enjoying a succulent taste sensation is one of life’s great pleasures.

As purveyors of good food, made with natural ingredients we are passionate not only about serving a positive experience at our restaurant but also about serving good food that will enhance your health.

Naturally produced food is good for us. Processed food, manufactured with profit rather than health in mind, can be bad for us. So an easy choice for you to make, right?

Not, it seems, when the bad food creates what amounts to an addiction – or at least a habit.  Fat has long been seen as the baddie in our diets and now sugar hits the headlines.

The sugar vs fat debate rages on, with a recent BBC2 Horizon documentary based on twins taking on the different diet challenges of cutting carbohydrates (which transform into sugars in the body) or cutting fat from their daily lives. They both found it hard and both had different side effects. It appears we are in an all or nothing world, where we now have to exclude things totally to bring discipline to our lifestyle choices.

However, as far as we can see it doesn’t really need to be that deliberate. If we were all honest with ourselves we know that any kind of ‘processed’ food or drinks are not going to be as good for us as homemade, wholesome, basic ingredients. Personally, we understand when we’re eating a chocolate bar that it will contain a lot of sugar, and therefore know it is not a healthy choice. However, the amount of sugar found in processed ‘savoury’ foods such as tomato soup is quite shocking. According to the Telegraph newspaper ‘A can of Heinz tomato soup contains the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar’ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10559671/Sugar-is-as-dangerous-as-alcohol-and-tobacco-warn-health-experts.html). Therefore, limiting the amount of sugar in certain processed foods may be a good idea in the long run for the health of the nation.

In our opinion we are probably now at a time in the UK where most people do understand what they should be eating, however maybe we need to talk more about the wonders of specific wholesome ingredients and snacks that people could eat instead of other choices, rather than simply telling them what they can’t eat.

For example, ingredients such as olives are actually high in calories and fat, but are one of the world’s healthiest foods. It is thought they may hold anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties, and they can reduce blood pressure. Another high fat food is almonds; however again they have wonderful benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and again blood pressure. Avocado is a high fat, low carb, low sugar food that promotes good heart health and helps to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. It also thought to have anti cancerous properties. While artichokes were used before the invention of some prescription drugs to successfully lower cholesterol, it is thought they may also help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

At Retro Bistrot we use these ingredients and more. For example, the Kale found in our duck dish is high in fibre, has 0% fat and is full of iron and is also considered to have anti-inflammatory properties. While the Puy lentils (named from the region of Le Puy in France) also in the dish, not only add a wonderful gastronomic quality, but are packed full of protein and can go towards one of your five fruit and vegetables a day.

These ‘super’ foods are really what we should be talking about more and trying to incorporate in our diet which is why we have them on our menu.

Come in and try one of our dishes – we would love to hear what you think.

CLICK HERE FOR RESERVATIONS

The Food of Love…

Un cuore nel cioccolatoAlmost everyone in the UK knows that the 14th February is Valentine’s Day (well apart from some who leave it too late each year!). However, I wonder how many of us actually know the roots of this celebration of love.

Saint Valentine’s Day itself has a relationship with the advent of Spring, as it’s thought that the date selected in mid-February came from the association with the time that birds and animals started to pair off for the mating season. That certainly has a certain logic to it!

However the Christian religious ‘feast day’ that is now celebrated across the world stems from the story of a martyred Saint, who was imprisoned for conducting wedding ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. The first association with cupid and romantic love emerged in England during the 18th century when Geoffrey Chaucer helped it became an occasion for lovers to express their affection for one another, by presenting flowers, confectionary and handwritten cards to the object of their desire.

In France, these cards are called ‘cartes d’amities’ and it’s rumoured that the Duke of Orleans who was held prisoner in the Tower of London after the battle of Agincourt in 1415 is meant to have started the craze to send love letters, after he wrote poetry to his wife in France during his incarceration. It’s also traditional for pilgrims to travel to the pretty village of St Valentin in Indre, France, as the village is named after the Saint, it plays host to events such as ceremonies to renew marriage vows.

However there was once a rather unusual Valentines custom in France, that’s now illegal, which was called ‘une loterie d’amour’ or ‘a lottery of love’. This ritual would put single men and women in opposite houses of a village, and then they would call to each other until they had paired off (rather like the birds of spring I suppose!). If a man was not happy with his chosen partner he could leave her for another. When the pairing off had finished, women who were left single built a large fire and burnt the images of men who had hurt them! Mercifully, these days the French celebrate Valentine’s day like many others, exchanging small gifts and cards; and of course a romantic meal for two. The Retro Bistrot would highly recommend their perfect meal for two, Chateaubriand steak with horseradish – but you won’t catch me sharing the hot chocolate fondant and red currants with vanilla ice cream with anyone…!

Of course we don’t believe that sharing good food with a loved one should be confined to one day of the year. That is something you can – and should – share as often as you can. We also understand the pressure put on the male population to ‘do the right thing’ – so our advice? Book now to avoid disappointment….

Vive La Difference – French Noel v British Christmas

French Christmas traditions vs British

Oh la la, we are merely divided by a small channel of water and as such you wouldn’t necessarily think our festivities at Christmas time would be very different, however you would be wrong! We set out to take a closer look at our British Christmas traditions vs Christmas a la Francais.

xmas paris

Christmas Eve plays a much larger role in the French festivities, while in Britain we all make sure our stockings are hung up by the fireplace, which stems from a legend that a poor widower whose daughters did not have enough money to marry hung up stockings to dry by the fireplace and St Nicholas who loved to give gifts secretly delivered gold coins in each stocking for all three daughters to marry. French children put wooden shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (Father Christmas) will fill them with gifts such as sweets, fruit and small toys.

French homes, like British ones, have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree; a German tradition from the 16th century and adopted by most of northern Europe in the 19th century. In Britain it was Queen Victoria in the 1840’s who started the trend, while in France it was introduced in the same period by the duchesse d’Orléans.

In many French homes Christmas Eve is the main feast day, not Christmas Day. While we all tuck into our Turkey on the 25th December after spending the morning cooking the large roast lunch, the French home will spend all day on the 24th December preparing for festivities in the evening. As we British may pre-order our turkey, the French have often pre-ordered a Capon (a capon is a castrated rooster; which makes the meat tender and the bird larger).

In the early evening, French guests arrive for the celebrations, the first aperitif is often a glass of champagne, while for gentlemen, and it’s often a whiskey. The French meal begins with a plateau of seafood; smoked salmon and most importantly oysters (see previous blog post about French oysters!). Generally, it continues with foie gras (in the southwest of France I’m assured this is almost mandatory), this it’s often accompanied with bread and walnuts. The main course is often a Capon stuffed with chestnuts and served with vegetables and potato croquettes. There is then a Cheese platter and salad with bacon and slices of smoked duck.

The French dessert is usually a bûche de Noël (Yule log) while in Britain we have a Christmas pudding. The Yule Log is a glamorous sponge cake roulade and usually frosted with chocolate buttercream. The cake dates back to the 19th century and represents the burning of a large log in the medieval period to bring good luck. However our humble Christmas pudding, a boiled dried fruit desert with Brandy has been traditionally served on Christmas Day since early medieval times, and putting a silver coin in the pudding is said to bring good luck to the person who finds it.

The children in both countries are obviously excited for their gifts to arrive on Christmas Day, and while some families in both countries attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, both sides of the channel leave a little snack and a drink for a very important visitor and his reindeer.

The spirit of Christmas in both countries is still a delight to all who share in the magic. Speaking of which, taking a look at the Retro Bistrot menu this Christmas, it is a wonderful combination of the best of both worlds. It combines seasonal winter flavours from both sides of the channel, such as Walnut and Quince, with classic Fillet of Salmon and Roasted Turkey, and then a choice of Pot au Chocolat and Crème Chantilly with Hazelnut Biscotti or traditional Christmas pudding with Brandy Crème Anglaise. Retro Bistrot has provided an expert taste of France and fused it effortlessly with the traditional flavours of an English Christmas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas & Joyeux Noël to all

THE RETRO BLOG

 The Aphrodisiacal Oyster!

oysters-back_1373697cOysters – you love them or hate them. Either you tried your first oyster and immediately rushed to the bathroom to spit it out or swooned with delight at this new source of gastronomic pleasure. But have you ever stopped to think about oysters – not whether to order them or not but their history, culture, origins and farming?

Vincent’s lovely wife, Suzanne, mentions that the oyster was originally the poor man’s food and it seems she is right (of course! As Vincent will tell you – she’s always right!). A bit of digging around tells us that in the 19th century, the oyster had been a staple diet of the poor and eaten in great quantities. In 1860, the three oyster companies in Whitstable alone, employing more than 100 boats and over 500 people, sent 50 million tons of oysters to London. Most of them were eaten by the poorest folk. “Oysters and poverty always seem to go together,” as Pickwick’s Sam Weller remarked.

Beef and oyster pie was a classic Victorian dish – the poorer you were the more oysters you put in, meat being the ore expensive ingredient. Eventually the meat became costlier than the oyster and so it came about that the oyster became the rich man’s food.

Q: So what is an oyster?
A: A bivalve mollusc. And what’s one of them you ask? A mollusc with laterally compressed body enclosed by a shell in two hinged parts. And what’s a mollusc?

Oh never mind, let’s get back to food…

We use rock oysters here at the Retro – they are a good size, fresh and creamy in texture and we serve them in a traditional style with a touch of lemon zest. The key to serving a tasty oyster, apart from ensuring its freshness, is making full use of the oyster’s natural juices. Once the oysters are opened we remove the juice, and let it rest for a few minutes with the lemon zest before serving. Delicious.

To quote Suzanne, “love my oysters with their juice – it’s just a little bit of sea water – close your eyes and imagine yourself on the beach…”

Would we serve cooked oysters? We may be traditional is some senses but if a customer is squeamish about raw shellfish then we are happy to serve them cooked. After all eating should be a pleasure and rules are there to be broken when the diner desires!

Fascinating facts about Oysters

Pearl Oysters.  You won’t find yourself swallowing a pearl in the Retro. Pearl oysters are not closely related to true oysters, being members of a distinct family, the feathered oysters (Pteriidae). But did you know that almost all shell-bearing molluscs can secrete pearls – although most are not very valuable?

A season for oysters?  Tradition says you should buy oysters only in months containing the letter ‘r’. This comes from pre refrigeration days but generally you avoid the spawning months when oysters become fatty, watery, soft, and less flavourful instead of having the more desirable lean, firm texture and bright seafood flavour of those harvested in cooler, non-spawning months. Needless to say there’s a whole discussion to be had about farmed oysters but that’s another story…

Types of Oyster.  There are five main species of oyster to be found namely Pacifics, Atlantics, Kumamoto (mostly cultivated in Japan), European flats and Olympia (the only oyster native to the west coast of USA).

How to eat them.  As far as we are concerned you can eat them any darn way you like! Oyster flesh has a lovely texture and, like any piece of meat, should be chewed. This also releases the full flavour, and the juice from the shell completes the experience. However some people insist on swallowing oysters in one. As we say – take your pick just make sure you enjoy them!

The French Connection
France is one of the best sources of the oyster; it has been estimated that around 90 per cent of Europe’s oyster production takes place in l’Hexagone, with the coastal areas of Brittany, the southern end of the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean and Corsica as hotspots for ostréiculture (oyster farming).

For centuries, oysters have been traditional food during the Christmas season. In France, 70 percent of oysters are eaten at Christmas and New Year, and it makes for a popular starter at the festive table.

The word “oyster” comes from Old French oistre, which in turn comes from the Latin for oyster Ostreum (or its feminine spelling ostrea).

So there you go – just a tiny tidbit of tantalising tips on oysters. But never mind the facts – just come on in and try them for yourself – best you call first to check they are on the menu. And if oysters don’t float your boat we’ve got snails and a whole host of tempting starters.

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Tripped Up By Trip Advisor

exotic_seafood-300x200Did you see the recent news reports about Oscar’s restaurant, described as “amazing” and “mind blowing” Michelin-stared food, built in the hull of an old fishing boat amid reefs and shipwrecks in Brixham, Devon? Staff in scuba gear will swim to catch whichever fish you desire, cook and serve it to you.

Yes there was a catch – it didn’t exist. Made up by a disgruntled businessman fed up with fake reviews on TripAdvisor.

You can read the full story here if you missed it. But therein lies the theme of our first blog –

 

 CAN YOU BELIEVE THE REVIEWS?

Trip Advisor logoReview sites – love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re here to stay.  Consumer power is one of the best things to have come out of the awesome resource that is the Internet.  If a product or service does not deliver its promise the consumer has the power to fight back with a few simple clicks online.  Sites such as Amazon, Yelp, eBay, TripAdvisor and TopTable allow you, the customer, to say your bit.

If you are looking into a new purchase, be it a TV, a holiday or booking a restaurant then chances are you’ll head for the internet to do your research before making a decision. According to a recent study* 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews (Survey of Customer Service).

You can see why online reviews have become so important to small independent business like us at the Retro Bistrot. In the cut-throat world of online marketing, where a competing product – or restaurant – is only a click away, what people say about us online can have a powerful impact. It’s no exaggeration to say that online reviews can make or break a small business.

But can you trust the reviews you read? Can we, the business owner, be confident that all reviews are genuine? Do those leaving reviews make an effort to be honest and fair in their judgment – a judgment that will most likely stay in print, online for a very long time, coming up every time someone clicks on that business name?

The original concept behind online reviews was, like many ideas in their infancy, pure and positively brilliant. But inevitably as the idea becomes reality the rot sets in. The freedom of the Internet also allows for misuse and abuse.  The press has been alive in recent months with stories of fake online reviews both here in Europe and in the USA.

 

Fake Reviews?

At the end of 2012 Amazon declared it was cracking down on thousands of fake book reviews.  Several mystery writers, including R. J. Ellory and John Locke, admitted to using various forms of manipulation, such as creating deceptive online identities.

Duncan Bannatyne

In 2011 TV Dragons Den star, Duncan Bannatyne, started a campaign against TripAdvisor, complaining that a “dishonest” review compared his Charlton House spa hotel in Somerset to Fawlty Towers and asked TripAdvisor to remove the posting. “They have tried to bully me, they have sent threatening letters and emails, they have urged me to shut up, but they won’t speak to me directly,” he said. He says publishing defamatory or fake reviews is a threat to hoteliers, who cannot fight back.

An “online reputation services” company called KwikChex, acting on behalf of more than 1,000 hoteliers, said at the time that it estimated there were at least 27,000 legally defamatory comments on TripAdvisor

One of the business people involved in that action was Frank McCready, owner of the Old Brewery Guesthouse in North Yorkshire; he set up a website entitled ihateTripAdvisor.org.uk to raise awareness about the damage that misleading TripAdvisor reviews can cause. He says: “TripAdvisor’s successful business model appears to be based upon a minimum of checks, an arrogant disregard for accuracy and truthfulness, and a customer-service regime that is virtually non-existent. It is too easy for hotels to write their own reviews, or pay others to write them. It is too easy for reviewers to post untruthful or damaging reviews, or for hoteliers to ‘sabotage’ their competitors.”

Even TripAdvisor makes a tacit admission that you cannot trust all the reviews. A spokeswoman said: “Our advice to travellers is to throw out the anomalies that appear overly critical or overly complimentary. What is left is the collective wisdom of the community.”

 

Have you actually been there?

You don’t have to trawl the Internet for long to find others who’ve taken against the apparently arbitrary nature of TripAdvisor reviews. Tripadvisor-warning.com are a small group of people “that are tired of the way TripAdvisor chooses to conduct their business, mainly because of the total lack of consideration towards “owners” in the hospitality world.”

One of their biggest beefs against the site is the view that “TripAdvisor doesn’t feel the need to validate damaging reviews, they just post them, with absolutely no consideration about the consequences”.

“Is it fair,” they continue, “or even right that TripAdvisor posts reviews like “Hotel stinks” Owners Arrogant and rude” Sheets stank of urine” Mold on the walls” Rats in the room” Fleas in the bed”? If they are true, then YES we should be told, because places like this do not deserve your business. However seeing as TripAdvisor cannot assure the reviews are true and come from a validated user they should NOT be posted”.

Bob Cotton, the former chairman of the British Hospitality Association, says that at the very least, every effort must be made to ensure that reviewers have been to the hotel or restaurant they are damning or praising.  Such a stipulation has helped to make eBay the success it is – you can only comment on a provider with whom you have done business.

TripAdvisor’s response is to say that travellers would miss out on valuable customer service experiences, such as when a friend or family member pays for the room, or when a visit does not involve an overnight stay.

Simply making people register their details would be a start, but it would undoubtedly lead to a sharp fall in TripAdvisor’s user numbers and its revenue, so it is unlikely to be countenanced.

Cotton said: “Websites have a responsibility to ensure that [a reviewer] has actually stayed at the hotel. You can’t ban these online comments – that is like de-inventing the atom bomb. But common sense should prevail.”

ToptableToptable is an excellent example of a site that allows you to book online and to leave a review but you can only post a review if you have actually dined at that restaurant.

Interestingly enough the reviews of the Retro Bistrot posted on TopTable are more often positive but above all honest and based on a genuine experience.

 

Thin End of the Wedge…?

Our grumbles are just the tip of the iceberg, however.

Many business owners on TripAdvisor are seeing a worrying trend. Customers are threatening to write negative reviews unless they receive a refund, upgrade, freebies, or other request. Earlier this year TripAdvisor was obliged to launch a new feature as part of its management tools to help business owners who are being blackmailed.

It works both ways. Some businesses have also played dirty by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews.  Now there’s an even simpler approach – offering customers a refund in exchange for a positive write-up.  As a spokesperson for review site Yelp said, “The proliferation of fake reviews is a huge problem for e-commerce and recommendation sites that depend on user ratings. At the end of the day, if consumers don’t trust the content, then there is no value for anyone.”

TripAdvisor’s slogan used to be ” Reviews you can trust.” Strangely enough they no longer use that slogan…

 

Honesty is the Best Policy.

On a final note, we’ve been advised to “play the game” but our game is one of honesty and integrity. We work hard to deliver a positive experience, excellent food and wine in a welcoming environment with a sense of personality. We accept all feedback that helps us deliver the best and we welcome that feedback whether positive or negative – as long as it is honest and considered.

What do you think – as a local business yourself or as a customer? How much importance do you place on an online review? Can you trust the “collective wisdom” of the consumer? Do you stop and consider the fairness of your words before you press ‘publish’ on a negative review?  Does the vast and contradictory nature of online reviews leave you totally confused? We’d love to know, so please leave your comment.

Oh – and if you have the urge to say something positive about the Retro Bistrot then here’s your chance…!!

Retro Bistrot, Teddington on TripAdvisor

 

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