The Vittles Review of the Year 2023, part 1
Reviews and critics, Instagram Reels and TikTok, London and Los Angeles, Keith Lee and more
2023 has been a busy year for restaurant writing in London. At the start of the year, after nearly six years of publication, Eater London suddenly closed down. Six months later, we launched Vittles Restaurants, our first vertical dedicated solely to restaurant writing. Six months later still, here we are: Jonathan has entered the realm of restaurant criticism proper, with nine columns already under his ever tightening belt. Six of One debuted, with 97 restaurants (and counting), in easy-to-use mappable format. We have published an ice cream guide, a feature on the Punjabi dhabas of Birmingham, and a profile of the extraordinary brothers behind one singular London caff. And we’re just getting started, with much more planned for 2024.
Before we close out on 2023, my Vittles co-editor Jonathan Nunn and I sat down for a chat about the year we’re leaving behind, and consider what’s on the horizon, not just for restaurants but for food media itself. We talked about what’s exciting in the world of restaurant writing, the effect of TikTok and Instagram Reels on restaurants, Los Angeles and Paris food culture, the force that is the influencer Keith Lee, and our hopes for the London restaurant industry next year. Next week we will publish part two, which will look at the best and worst restaurants and moments in food (media) this year.
Before we get into it, we’d like to thank you all so much for reading and supporting Vittles and its contributors. It really is immensely appreciated.
We hope to see you all again, hungry as ever, in 2024. AC
Firstly, let’s talk about who you’ve been inspired by this year. Who are you reading and how have they influenced you?
Obviously a lot of restaurant criticism! I am increasingly reading the Americans, like Helen Rosner’s reviews for the New Yorker, Ryan Sutton’s Lo Times, Bill Addison, who just released the 101 Restaurants for the L.A. Times, the team at L.A. Taco, and also Pete Wells’s old reviews. British restaurant criticism and American restaurant criticism get binarised as ‘entertainment vs public service’, but I’m not sure I’ve read anything more gently savage, calibrated and thorough than his review of Peter Luger.
I’m also really enjoying old British restaurant reviews because it reminds me that we have a long tradition of reviewing that is very distinct from the American way, but also very distinct from the way it's practised now. Old Jonathan Meades reviews, old Fay Maschler reviews, old Charles Campion reviews – I still learn a lot about London from those writers. Also Chitra Ramaswamy up in Scotland — I love reading all these people even if I’m never going to try the food.
Most of all, I've been really inspired by Six of One and the writers who've been published in it, many for the first time. What we're trying to develop, and what we talked about at its inception with London Finds Itself, is to have people writing intimately about spaces that they know, rather than it coming only from the place of discovery. One of the pieces that I'm most proud we published this year is Gurpreet Jivan’s piece on Punjabi dhabas in Birmingham, which did that so well. It came from a place of knowledge and intimacy with those restaurants and those neighbourhood, and that's the kind of restaurant writing that I love to read.
I’ve also found it’s been vital in helping me interrogate my own biases. Of course, I have my own preconceptions and blind spots. I like to think that I see everything like a panopticon but, clearly, I don't. So Six of One – reading what the writers value and what they see as quality, where they're reviewing, introducing me to areas that I've neglected, cuisines that I neglect – has challenged the way I do things. I know that I have a huge blind spot with vegetarian food, for instance.
And Italian food!