I intended on watching this unfold without adding my thoughts to the mix, mostly to see what the public thought of both arguments. In defense of both bloggers and chefs though, I feel like adding something. I totally agree that a bad review on TripAdvisor can ruin a restaurant, but in the same way that reviewing a restaurant you have connections to is despicable, abusing people who leave average reviews of your Michelin 2 star pride and joy is equally reprehensible.
If a chef knows you're coming, I think writing a 'review' of the restaurant is wrong. By all means write something about the experience, but make the circumstances very clear. Mention if the restaurant knew you were going, whether they sent out freebies, any discussions you had with the chef if you were invited to do so. The point of reviewing is to give people as accurate an idea as possible of the restaurant. Agreed - amusing, brutal or personal insights make them more fun to read, but you have a responsibility to be faithful to the experience. A private dining at the chef's invitation is not the regular table most people will take, and it shouldn't be passed off as one. Quite what Isherwood's visit included and what he paid is unclear, but the review on his website makes no mention of him talking to Bosi after the meal or what came out free, if anything. Other reviews on his site (Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley) suggest that standard procedure is call up, announce his presence as a food blogger and write the review. It's disingenuous. You cannot on one hand argue that you're an amateur and blog about food for the love of it and on the other hand treat chefs, restaurants and reviewing like a seasoned food writer. Pick one camp.
Personally, I will not tell a restaurant I'm a blogger when booking, ordering or answering questions unless they directly ask if I blog. I have left links to here and foodit. Twitter page on napkins before, but stopped as it was more lady-of-the-night than thief-in-the-night. Amuse-geules that come to everyone will be mentioned and reviewed as any other dish. I've never been invited into the kitchen of any restaurant I've eaten in and if I know the chef, I don't flaunt it. A retrospective thanks online or through email linked to my review is modus operandi now. In the same way that I appreciate discretion from staff but am happy to engage them if they offer something, I don't want to drag them into conversation when other tables need serving, clearing and relaying, food's waiting on the pass in the kitchen and they need to run to the bar and get that drink order. Especially if that conversation is to satisfy my ego more than my stomach.
Sometimes I can't help thinking restaurants could do worse than employ PR staff to sort things like reviews, special bookings and features, press releases and generally make the public concept of the restaurant that which the chef and owners want. I'm not suggesting hospitality is the next place for spin doctors, but if it lets Bosi push on in the kitchen without distraction from the mass-media and bloggers, so much the better. People like Isherwood can either reserve and eat (or not reserve, if they happen to be eating in London and aren't 8 people) or get onto the place's PR people and beg shamelessly for something special as part of a one-off feature for their blog. Until then, cook properly, eat well, review honestly and accept that just because the industry rests on advertising and reviewing, the industry shouldn't censor that.
Isherwood also Tweeted 'I don't see anyone ganging up on Giles Coren this way.