Introducing Vittles Restaurants
A new publication. Plus Vittles Projects, and more of the Vittles Extended Universe
Good morning and welcome to Vittles!
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Introducing Vittles Restaurants — A New Publication
When I started Vittles in March 2020, the last thing on my mind was restaurants. Or rather, the absence of restaurants was the first thing on my mind. I was months into a large project for Eater London on the subject of Chinatowns, which I was developing with Angela Hui. Our thesis was that there were six Chinatowns, or at least six significant areas of Chinese settlement within London, and we wanted to look at how history, migration, urbanism, displacement and the flow of capital were shaping the type of restaurants opening in these areas. As the first weeks of March rumbled on, it quickly became apparent that every bit of research, every bit of food we’d eaten, every bit of money spent, even the whole premise of the project, was completely redundant. Writing about where to eat no longer made any sense, and this realisation is what gave me the impetus to start Vittles.
Even though Vittles has since become synonymous with a certain type of restaurant writing and a certain kind of restaurant, I’ve never seen this as being at the core of what we do. The restaurant coverage I’ve written personally has always been piecemeal and irregular: a sandwich guide here, a lunchtime guide there, long discursive walks along busy A-roads. A few things have happened in the last few months that changed my mind on what Vittles is and can be. The most significant of these is the death of Eater London. Eater was, for the short five years of its life, the only publication that covered restaurants in this city with the seriousness and irreverence that they deserved. It was the only restaurant publication that never presupposed its audience was from a certain demographic, or that they wouldn’t be interested in cuisines that other publications treated like particularly challenging Café Oto recitals. Under its editorship by Adam Coghlan, so many new writers – myself included – were given chances to share and sketch out their own versions of the city. I always knew that when I had an idea for a piece that no other outlet in London would take on, Eater London always would. Even after I started Vittles, I would pitch my best ideas to Adam and the pieces that resulted from this are the ones I’m most proud of writing.
Since Eater stopped publishing, London is in a strange position where it has more worthwhile restaurants to visit than ever before, more people who want to write about them than ever before and more people who want to read about them than ever before, and yet fewer publications dedicated to them than at any point in the last 50 years. The pool of critics may have contracted, but more alarming than that is the death of insurgent and alternative media, which has always been able to offer a corrective. The best you can say is that the energy and inquisitiveness of those publications have migrated over to YouTube and social media. The worst is that many of them are either gone or a shadow of themselves, lazily publishing lists of restaurants meant more for SEO engines than actual readers.
London deserves better than this. Going forward, we are going to put London restaurant coverage at the heart of what we do. To do this, I’m very excited to announce that I will be co-editing a new publication on Vittles dedicated to restaurants with Adam Coghlan. We have a very short mission statement: over the next few weeks, months, years, as long as we do this, we are going to make the way you eat tangibly better.
Next week, we will start our first regular restaurant column: Six of One. The premise of this is very simple: every fortnight, we will give you six recommendations for London restaurants you may or may not have heard of, written by a different group of writers each week. The writing we want to publish will hopefully change the way you conceive of and interact with London, challenging assumptions about what is possible in a city that – superficially, at least – is homogenising.
Adam, a little like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, built two great teams at Eater London, who will be supplying some of these recommendations. But we also want to prioritise the development of new writers, those new to food writing or those who have never written, or been published before. We don’t believe experience of writing is necessary to good food writing – what we are looking for are people with the experience of eating, of London, and those who feel they have something interesting to say. Stylistically, we prefer knowledgeable irreverence over sweeping judgements or self-seriousness, but most of all we want you to write like you.
We will be paying £60 for 150-word reviews, plus a stipend of £40 to cover any additional eating you need to undertake. To pitch, please email email@example.com with the name of the restaurant you would like to write about and why, and we will get back to you. We are not accepting pitches for restaurants that have PR, have had national reviews, or have featured in previous editions of Vittles or Eater London.
At the moment we are limiting these reviews to London, but if we decide to expand the remit to the rest of the UK then we have an obvious name ready.
In addition to Six of One, we will be updating and retconning some of the Vittles guides from the past and making the website more navigable so they’re easy to find. The first guide we’re updating is the 99 Great Value Places To Eat Near Oxford Circus That Aren’t Pret, which was made to ameliorate lunch work breaks. Now people are back in offices, we will release a new version and also add two more guides: the first will cover Clerkenwell, Holborn, Bloomsbury and Covent Garden; the other will focus on the City, Farringdon and Shoreditch.
We are also commissioning sprawling, investigative deep dives into things we consider to be Areas of Interest and are giving writers the time and budget to report as well as they can. I will be writing a London-wide biryani guide, while Ruby Tandoh is already 160 scoops into an ice cream guide that will be seen as a landmark piece in the history of ice cream journalism. We also have a nationwide knafeh/kunefe guide in the works, the London Bagel, Rugelach and Doner indexes and over the next year we aim to provide thorough, thoughtful, inclusive and entertaining guides to vegan (!) food, roast dinners, chicken, fish and chips, bakeries, coffee, Turkish food, Caribbean cuisine and the plurality of curries, to name but a few.
In the autumn, you can look forward to a non-definitively definitive Vittles Guide to London’s Best Restaurants.
If there is an extensive guide or deep dive you wish to pitch please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t give set rates on these, as each one will be different, but we will aim to keep close to the 40p word rate we have committed to elsewhere.
Lastly, even though I have gone to great lengths to avoid doing the very obvious thing, I think maybe it’s time that I write about London restaurants again. Along with providing Six of One columns, from June I have committed to doing a kind of longer, discursive writing – maybe you can even call it a review – every fortnight, which will cover a place serving food in London that I feel is doing something out of the ordinary. My aim will always be to convey why you too should care about that place.
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Some of you may have visited a recent exhibition at Raven Row which looked at the run of TV that the BBC’s Community Programme Unit put out for a decade from 1972 onwards, where different people could – temporarily at least – take editorial control of a half-hour programme and broadcast what they liked. This endeavour wasn’t without its problems. Some groups felt they didn’t have enough support, while others that they didn’t really have control and were censored. But for the most part, the shows that were born out of this experiment were astonishing in their form and scope, and demonstrated the possibilities of what could be made without having to pander to a mass audience. Most impressive about these shows was their assumption about who they considered to be their audience: although they were made to express an argument, to convince or provoke, they were mainly made by and for the people being discussed. Implicit in this was the idea that if the programming is primarily for those who know it intimately, then everyone else will follow.
Going to the exhibition clarified a few things I’ve been feeling since working on London Feeds Itself. The writing I want to publish most of all on Vittles should be by and for the communities being covered or, at the very least, recognised as truthful and accurate by them. So much of restaurant and food writing necessarily concentrates on what these communities can give other people – a dynamic about which I always feel runs the risk of feeling extractive, fetishistic, or both. There is little room for writing with no function except to tell the story of something extraordinary, or something ordinary that is dear to the writer.
In this spirit, I would like to give other writers the means and editorial control to publish their own projects about subjects which are dear to them. Vittles Projects will function as a package of articles, writer compilations, photostories, audio or even films that will focus on a single community, an area or a question, edited by different writers. My mission statement for this is what I wrote in London Finds Itself: ‘I would like to see a kind of restaurant writing that offers people a language to describe their own homes rather than one that simply tells them where to go; one that is embedded in place, history and community, and is written by and for the people being written about.’
The first of these will be titled ‘What is British Jewish food?’ edited by Molly Pepper Steemson. This project will focus on the Jewish communities of London and Manchester, and the shift in food over the last 50 years.
Right now, there are three other projects in various stages of planning. The first, on Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish-Cypriot identity in London, is edited by Melek Erdal; then, Sharanya Deepak will edit a South Asia-wide project on ‘Bad Foods’; finally, to bring it back full circle, Angela Hui is going to revive the Chinatowns project that was abandoned in March 2020, this time with a national remit. These projects will be completely free to view and we will be providing extensive restaurant guides alongside them that will be for subscribers only.
We realise that because we have so many different columns and seasons going, we have to restructure the website so everything we’ve published is easy to find and organised by theme. The Vittles Restaurants section will operate as an index for all past and future restaurant guides, while you can now find all Seasons, Columns and Normal Country articles arranged in one place.
Fridays will now be mainly reserved for Vittles Restaurants and Normal Country, which means we will slowly fade out our first columns: Incidental Eating, The 4th Meal and Hidden in Plain Sight. I’d like to thank Ruby Tandoh, Feroz Gajia and Yvonne Maxwell for some of the best writing we’ve published, and I hope the restructuring means Vittles will publish more, not less, of their writing outside of the straitjacket of a themed column.
A final special thanks to Liz Tray, who has sub-edited all of the Friday slot since the start, and will continue to do so for Vittles Restaurants and Projects going forward.
Vittles Projects will start in late-June. We will publish our first Six of One next Friday.