The wisdom of crowds is great, but experts hit the spot - as one prolific TripAdvisor reviewer proves

Hats off to Phil Blackett, who selflessly put on two stone this year for his art


The conceptual artist Grayson Perry entitled the first instalment in his Reith Lecture series “Democracy Has Bad Taste”. This was a provocation based on the idea that popularity and stylistic excellence can be mutually exclusive. The people may not know what's good for them. It is directly anantithetical to the wisdom of crowds, a theory first aired a decade ago which proposed that collective decisions are more reliable than those made by individuals. In other words, democracy has good taste.

The Internet has been the most important democratising force in our lifetime, to such an extent that the taste-makers of today are not necessarily the practised and experienced critics, but the ordinary person with a computer and an opinion. For instance, who's the best judge of the quality of a restaurant? An established critic who has had more haute cuisine than you've had hot dinners, or you and me, who spend our own hard-earned money and expect a good time? A A Gill or Phil Blackett? Phil who? He's a round-faced Geordie (the reason for his portliness will become immediately apparent) who is the most prolific restaurant reviewer on TripAdvisor, having posted 708 reviews from around the world, assessing venues as diverse as Pizza Hut and La Coupole in Paris.

Of course, the question is: just because he eats out every day (or so it would seem), does he know what he's talking about? Does he know his anise from his endive? Judging from his reviews - he's long on opinions but short on adjectives - he shows an appreciation of what makes a good restaurant, and it's not always the food. His pet hates include coloured crockery - he says plates should always be white or cream, but omitted to say that they should always be round, too - and inappropriate music. “At an Indian restaurant,” he says, “I want to listen to Indian music, not Radio 1”.

He could have gone further, and flambéed those restaurants where, once you've ordered a bottle of wine, pour a glass and then take the bottle away from the table. How do they know how quickly we drink? And what about waiters who don't write down your order. He or she may have a perfect memory, but it makes the diner anxious up until the moment the food arrives. In such circumstances, I can hear my inner Michael Winner shouting: “Write it down, dear!”

Anyway, I doff my cap to Mr Blackett, who has selflessly put on two stone this year in the course of his endeavours this year, and is prepared to bring us despatches from the frontline of fast food as well as from Michelin-starred establishments. TripAdvisor is the wisdom of crowds made flesh, so to speak, and judgement in the court of public opinion can make or break a restaurant. But I would argue that the open forum of cyberspace, which brings a tide of different viewpoints, and many anonymously, only serves to make the expert analysis a more valuable commodity. A trusted source, an experienced practitioner, someone who can express themselves effectively and is prepared to stand by their opinion: I'll have saddle of Gill with a Coren jus and a pithivier of MacLeod, please.

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