It was Saturday afternoon and we were looking for a pub. We had arrived the night before in a small village in Suffolk that was so picturesque it looked like it had walked out of one of those Second World War propaganda posters – there were fields, there was a 13th-century church… And there were two pubs.
Now, the two pubs/one village formulation seems to be the thing in posh places, and you could tell this was posh as there were lots of Range Rovers roving about. We went to the first pub in the spirit of adventure that somehow comes when you swap city air for country or the other way around. Arrayed along the bar were the more committed members of the boozing community in the village.
They weren't bad old boys in that pub. But when we walked in they turned around as one and starred at us, as if they had never seen anyone but each other and so, as soon as we had ordered five pints of Guinness, we scuttled off as fast as our welly-shod feet would carry us to the front "beer patio". The desire for adventure seeped away like so much Guinness in the drip tray. What we needed was a bit of insight.
So, summoning all the phone signal I could get standing on the table outside, I found the second pub. Now, it is my theory that in two-pub villages, one will be horrible and one will be nice. I suppose the assumption comes from a sort of ambient, un-thought-out respect for the free market. We made for the other pub, which was painted in Farrow and Ball grey and loudly trumpeted the fact that it served continental lager. This was going to be the place for us, something emphasised by the glowing reviews given it on TripAdvisor – "friendly", "lovely", "good beer" were some of the descriptions.
Naturally, on entering they all turned around as well and duly refused us service – the 28-year-old woman I was with not having the proper ID. "Is it worth me getting a £10,000 fine for?" asked the man behind the bar, whose beard looked like it had be fashioned from a hamster. The chef and kitchen porter emerged to eye us up if we were wearing Kalashinikovs, not wax-jackets, and we stomped off. It was not what you would call a successful outing.
My two-pub theory was awry, clearly. But the whole scenario shines a brighter light on review sites themselves. You would have to be either mad, bad or in the pay of the landlord to describe that second pub as anything but dreadful. Were those reviews all that they seemed, I wonder?
This is why I can't help but think that the perennial chatter about the Michelin Guide – out this week – being obsolete is so much hot air. The Michelin Guide and The Good Food Guide may have their problems, but at least they offer a relatively uniform level of comparison. Yeah, Twitter and TripAdvisor and Yelp may be good at bringing the odd gem to wider attention, but that is about it, as we learnt.
Their wisdom may not be perfect but at least they put their credibility on the line with each review.
And besides, an imperfect wisdom is better than no wisdom at all.Reuse content