Friday, 29 May 2015

There’s no Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Do Bloggers Have Integrity?


source:pexels.com

I enjoy going to Jim Carroll’s food related Banter discussions and feel like I’ve been stalking him lately. The last one I attended a few days ago was on social media and Internet reviews with Niall Harbison (Lovin Dublin), Leo Molloy (social media manager at 777, SMS, Dillingers & The Butcher Grill) and Emily Cunnane (Yelp community manager in Dublin) on part of the panel.

The discussion was interesting and of course food bloggers were mentioned a few times with the question of them getting freebies or money in exchange for a review being raised. A woman in the audience asked a question to the panel and sounded like she firmly believed food bloggers were getting paid for reviewing restaurants. I was a member of the audience so I didn’t say anything but it’s a subject I’ve always wanted to write about.

I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years now and I’ve never been paid for writing a review on this blog. It may sound like I have a strange hobby but it is the truth. Food is a very big part of my life and I enjoy eating out and sharing my experiences the same way some people write reviews on Trip Advisor or Yelp except than I prefer to have my own personal space on the Internet. When I started blogging I did it after a spontaneous decision one evening and didn’t think it would last. At the time I had many expat friends who gave out about Irish food, I wanted to prove them wrong and record my experiences. It was also for me to have a diary of my meals out and share pictures of food, as simple as that.

I have a disclosure policy in my ‘about’ section but I’m not sure if people ever read it. Basically, I always pay for my food in restaurants and cafes and if I ever blog about free stuff I put a disclaimer at the end of the post. I never announce on social media that I’m going to a place because then I think it looks like I’m looking for some freebies or special treatment. Sometimes I’d love to tell the owner of the place how I love what they do but I never do as I’m scared they might think I’m looking for something in return.

I actually stopped entering Twitter competitions under my FFID Twitter account because if I win it looks dodgy or it looks like all I want is free food ‘because I’m a blogger’.

Brands & Bloggers

I do often get invited to press events or launches but I only accept if they sound exciting (i.e. might be interesting to those who read my blog) and are organised by brands or businesses I like. Very importantly, I just RSVP and show up, there is never an agreement in advance to write about anything. I rarely blog about press events but if I do I put a disclaimer at the end in order to be completely transparent.

When I was starting out as a blogger I sometimes got carried away with the excitement and tweeted or Instagrammed at events a bit too much. But this is often why bloggers are invited, to tweet/Instagram/Facebook the hell out of everything. The first time I got an ice-cream delivery by courier to my place I got so excited that I put the picture everywhere which is a bit ridiculous when I think about it now, a few years on.

Some brands and businesses see bloggers as free marketing tools. I receive products sometimes in the post, they never make it to the blog and or my social media platforms but it’s tricky because you feel like you have to thank them and you see everyone (including journalists) doing it on social media. I was recently flown to the UK by a big brand with a group of journalists to attend an event. I didn’t agree to write about it and I wasn’t paid for it. Does that mean I don’t have any integrity? I don’t think so. I probably will write about it as it fits on my blog and I loved the concept. Of course I will put a disclaimer and say it was free. Envious people will think I sold out but I hope my core readers will be happy to hear about my experience and won’t overthink my motives.


source: ppexels.com

Freebies

You’d be surprised on how people want to offer me free meals, want to send me free products and how many things I decline. I actually have a separate folder in my inbox where I put all the emails of people who start by saying ‘I love your blog’ and finish by asking me to promote their business in a way that is ‘mutually beneficial’. Yeah right.

I have occasionally accepted invitations to supper clubs but never agreed to write a review and I’ve only ever shared my experience when I enjoyed the event and felt %100 comfortable recommending it to my readers. I do of course put a disclaimer in this case. What I personally think is even though I get a supper club meal for free, as it’s a communal experience and everyone is sitting at the same table I don’t get extra stuff. I ask myself if I would have been happy to pay the full price and if my readers would be happy to do so too. It is a tricky one but most of the supper clubs I attended for free so far were organised by young entrepreneurs and passionate food people who are very good at what they do and I was totally happy to recommend them on my blog. 

Once (a while back) I accepted to review a hotel stay but had complete editorial control, wasn’t paid and put the disclaimer at the end of course. I don’t have ads on my blog and I have never written sponsored content but who knows maybe one day I will because I have to pay (restaurant) bills. If I ever do I would be careful and of course be transparent but this isn’t something I’m doing right now.

One day I posted something on Instagram and got a comment about ‘a commission I must be getting’ and another day I was told by someone that a lady she was talking to said I must be paid for writing all the reviews on my blog. Some people can be very judgmental, but I like to think that good people know how to spot if someone is acting with integrity or not.

I can see the number of people reading the blog every month so I feel that I have a responsibility but also I think it’s important to keep my integrity. I don’t believe that free food tastes better, I don’t want to look cheap and think it’s important to maintain high standards for this blog. I hope that people who regularly read my words trust me and know that I am honest.

Sometimes when I meet people in real life and they know I have a blog they assume that I eat for free everywhere and I have to kind of justify myself and tell them ‘No actually I pay for my meals, read my disclosure policy!’. There is no magical link on FFID that sends me a commission each time someone goes to a restaurant I recommend.

After paying for my bills pretty much all my money go into food and drinks, for cooking or eating out and I don’t have much left for anything else because my life revolves around food, but this is the lifestyle I chose. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a car, don’t own a house, can’t afford a big Irish wedding and I don’t wear designer clothes but I’m happy to eat delicious food and holiday at my parents’ place in the French countryside twice a year. I don’t blog much about fine dining places, I write mostly about cafes or restaurants that I believe are good value for money. I don’t go to places to review them, I go to have a good time with Mr. FFID or catch up with a friend over lunch and afterwards I decide if I want to share it or not.


source: pexels.com

Transparency is the key

Some of my favourite blogs are actually written by ‘professional bloggers’, girls like The Londoner, The Cherry Blossom Girl or What Olivia Did, live from their blogs and I don’t really mind if they have sponsored content or ads as I enjoy reading them. I don’t question their integrity, I know they spend so much time blogging and work with brands to make a living but I don’t judge them, in some ways I admire them for it. I’m happy to read about their luxurious lifestyle that I will probably never have and I’m not bitter about it because I like their voice, pictures and enjoy their blog.

Of course there are bad practice, ‘cheap bloggers’ criticised for their lack of integrity or who don’t tell their readers when they get money or free stuff. There are also cheeky brands and businesses who want to take advantage of them too; bloggers aren’t the only one to blame. Wanting to blog for freebies isn’t a good reason to start out I doubt those people end up with successful blogs in the long run as the the majority of people sniff out their true motive. On the other hand, if you sometimes receive products or go to events for free it doesn’t make you a bad blogger (or bad person) you just have to be clear about it and just be honest.

Very little if any food bloggers live from their actual blog but do make a living from working opportunities that come along with it, such as cookbooks, food writing and food photography.

Blogging changed my life and I decided to start working freelance thanks to it, created my own job. It’s not easy and I earn less than I used to when I was doing a crappy office job but I do what I love and I am much happier now. I write elsewhere, give talks, do ghost social media management, give workshops, run tours and I also recently started a part-time job in the food industry too. The reviews on FFID aren’t a source of income and they will never be.

I have big plans and I’m working (very hard) towards my dreams. A few times I have actually wondered why I kept reviewing places as I’m doing a big amount of ‘work’ on this blog. I’m my own editor, photographer, social media manager, marketing person and actually promote places who possibly get some business thanks to me when I don’t get anything from it. It’s a lot of ‘free’ work but the blog has also brought me so much in term of opportunities, encounters and personal development.

Most of all, each time I receive a lovely email from a stranger, get a comment or a genuinely nice tweet from someone who trust and appreciate my recommendations I am reminded of why I keep blogging and why I love it.



Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pub Grub at 57 The Headline



I'm a bit jealous of a friend of mine who lives in Dublin 8 near many of Dublin's great spots.  57 The Headline is actually her local and having visited a few times I can definitely say that I like it.

It's a pub and a restaurant located on Clanbrassil Street Lower which used to be a smelly old man pub but was transformed in 2013 into an Irish craft beer pub.


No hipster fanciness there, it looks very much like a regular pub, spacious with plenty of tables and a cosiness that make you want to stay.


They have a great selection of craft beer with 24 taps dedicated to Irish and international craft beer.  They also do craft beer and whiskey tasting trays. There is restaurant on the upper floor called Upstairs @57 with a menu that seems interesting and reasonably priced but on my latest visit I was looking for some good pub grub so we went for their bar menu.

The pub menu features the obligatory chicken wings (theirs are glazed with lemon, honey, black pepper and thyme), beef burger (topped with smoked Gubbeen cheese, red pepper salsa, rocket leaves, crispy shallots) but also includes some dishes you wouldn't expect in a pub. The pork belly banh mi, their interpretation of the Vietnamese sandwich sounded very appealing but on this occasion Mr. FFID and I went for one of the specials: the lamb kofta burger with mint yogurt sauce, red onion, pickled peppers, aubergine caviar and rocket and spinach leaves (€13).


It was a very decent burger with a lovely onion bun which wasn't out of a pack, it was good proper bread. The burger was perfectly seasoned, could have been a little spicier but had great flavours.


Now I have to say the chips were some of the best I've ever had, chunky, golden and just perfectly crisp outside and slightly fluffy inside.


This lovely grub was all washed down with a a pint of Metalman Pale Ale for himself while I had a little glass of Rascal's Big Hop Red.


I let Mr. FFID choose my drink but they also have craft beer pairing suggestions on their food menu which I think is a great idea.

With its warm atmosphere and friendly staff 57 The Headline is a good spot for drinks and the food is well worth a try too.


57 The Headline
57 Clanbrassil Street Lower
Dublin 8
Website



Monday, 25 May 2015

A Little Piece of Lisbon in Paris: Comme à Lisbonne


Comme à Lisbonne, meaning 'like in Lisbon' is basically a little piece of Portugal in Paris's Marais district. It's a gorgeous place which manages to transport you to the Portuguese capital with its bricked walls and blue and white tiles.

There is a grocery section with pretty tins of sardines, portuguese honey, olive oils and other  beautifully packaged products and there is the cafe section where you can enjoy a hot drink and cakes.

Comme à Lisbonne specialises in the famous pastéis de nata, those delicious custard tartlets that are originally from Belem in Portugal. They're baked onsite, served warm, sprinkled with cinnamon and are absolutely moreish. You can buy one or two to enjoy on-site or buy a box to take-away. Try them when in Paris, it's the perfect little sweet treat.




Comme à Lisbonne
37 rue du Roi de Sicile
75004 Paris
Website

Friday, 22 May 2015

Las Tapas de Lola and Yes to Love


Mr. FFID felt like doing something nice... on a Tuesday... so we decided to head to Las Tapas de Lola.

It's a tapas restaurant located on Wexford Street and co-owned by Dubliner Vanessa and Barcelona native Anna. It opened a few years ago and it always seems busy, even during weekdays.

There is a covered outdoor area and a lovely piece of street art out the front and the dining room inside is welcoming and simply decorated. Bistro style chairs and tables, green tiles, black boards and red cushions, it actually feels like you could be in Barcelona.


We were brought to the table by one of the owners and then warmly, it couldn't be warmer to be honest, greeted by a Spanish man. A complimentary glass of tinto verano was brought to our table, a refreshing drink of red wine and soda.


The tapas menu is extensive, almost overwhelming. It's divided into several sections: meat, fish and shellfish, boards, salads, vegetarian dishes and desserts. Prices are very reasonable and while you have the classics you'll find in any tapas restaurants there are also plenty of lesser known options.


Before our plates arrived a little amuse bouche of mussels in a tomato sauce was served to open our appetite, I like little touches like this.


Our patatas bravas were lovely cubes of fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce and aioli sauce (€4.25).


The fried chorizo and Spanish black pudding (€6.50) was served with slivers of bread, quite greasy and not for the heart-fainted but totally delicious.

We also had lamb sweetbreads (€6.50) which were sautéed in sherry with garlic (lots of it) and parsley, the portion was very generous. It didn't photograph very well though, hence the lack of a picture.


Because we have a good (maybe too good) appetite we also had a mixed platter of cheese and meat (€17.50). It was my favourite part of the meal, you could tell it was quality. There was lomo (cured pork), chorizo, salchichon (cured sausage) and a good selection of cheese (Manchego, Tetilla, a goat cheese and a French Comté).



And what's not to love about a restaurant where you're given love hearts at the end of your meal? What I didn't tell you at the start is that Anna and Vanessa are more than business partners, they're a couple, they love each other and you can feel that love in their restaurant. I thought today was the perfect timing to post my review considering the Irish people are going to vote today in the marriage equality referendum.

I don't have Irish citizenship and unfortunately I won't be able to vote but I sincerely hope most of Irish people will vote yes. There is nothing more beautiful than wanting to spend the rest of your life with the person you love, everyone deserves this right.

Yes to equality, love and happiness.

Picture by the lovely Natalie  and taken from Image.ie



Las Tapas de Lola
12 Wexford Street
Dublin 2
Website





Thursday, 21 May 2015

Litfest 2015


I don't think I understood what Ballymaloe was until I got the amazing chance to spend 3 months there. While the course was intense, being able to live there and learn from amazing people was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. It is really a place like no other, I was very lucky to be there.



When I was down there at the start of the year during one of the lectures Darina Allen said 'Sometimes, it's good to give back'. This stuck with me and I thought a small way to give back would be to volunteer at Litfest 2015, so I applied and convinced Mr. FFID to do the same. After all Ballymaloe took me away from him for 3 whole months and even if I don't think you can fully understand how special it is without having spent a little bit of time there I wanted to give him a little taste.



The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine has been running for the last 3 years now and seems to go from strength to strength. I was very sad to have missed it last year when Ottolenghi was there so there was no way I could miss this year. It's basically a celebration of well-known food and drink legends and cookbook authors. There are cookery demos, pop-ups, talks and tastings taking place across Ballymaloe cookery school and Ballymaloe house, as well as a fringe festival which is spread over the grounds of Ballymaloe House.



Amazing people like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse (she's the equivalent of Darina Allen in the States), April Bloomfield, Fuchsia Dunlop, Roger Philips were just some of the incredible people on this year's line-up.



We got to the school on Friday afternoon, it was so weird to be back 6 weeks after our farewell dinner. Jeni one of my classmates was there to volunteer in the kitchen and I saw a few of the teachers, it made me miss it all. I had a glimpse through the window of the demo room and saw the new group of students who are attending the 12 week course at the moment and kind of thought I'd do it over again if I could.


On Friday night after the volunteer meeting in the Carrigaun room of the Grainstore in Ballymaloe House, I headed to the opening night party in the Big Shed. 



There was a stage for live music and demos, a bar, plenty of food vendors and producers as well as the Kerrygold cookery demo kitchen led by brand ambassador Sophie Morris (who did the course a few years back). 



I was working in the welcome tent most of the weekend which was great as I got to say hello to many (like a crazy amount) of people I knew. It was also funny because many people asked me if I was French Foodie and gave me some lovely feedback on my blog which is always great to hear. I got to see some of my Ballymaloe classmates who all work in food now and it seemed like we all already missed that special place that is Ballymaloe.


I didn't get to see as many talks as I wanted but my highlight was listening to Jack Monroe from the blog 'A Girl Called Jack'. She spoke about her life and how she ended up losing pretty much everything and had to feed her son on a budget of £10 a week, a very inspirational and moving story indeed. I also attended two talks from blogger David Lebovitz an American living in Paris. To tell you the truth I wasn't sure if he liked French people by listening to him and he was quite different from how I imagined him. 



I also attended a discussion on what's happening in Irish food. The members of the panel were all men (Jp McMahon - Aniar and Cava Bodega, Alain Kerloch and Stephen Toman - OX Belfast, Kevin Thornton - Thornton's, Tim Magee and Tom Doorley in conversation with John McKenna) which caused a stir on social media. I absolutely loved listening to Kevin Thornton talking, he was the best speaker and I could have listened to him all day. 

One of my favourite events was Susan Boyle's show A Wine Goose Chase during which she tells the history of Irish wine as well as leading a wine tasting at the same time. She is an utterly charming performer and the show was excellent. I was also honoured to be asked by Jim Carrol to take part in Banter in the garden tent and shared my experience of the best meal I've ever had, which was fun!


Foodwise, everything I had onsite was delicious, I mean seriously. I wish all festivals had standards like this one.


  Gubbeen had the most amazing hot plates of BBQ food which would beat Bison in Dublin any day.

French man Laurent from Boeuf a La Lolo had scrumptious steak sandwiches, raclette and crepes. The salads from the Rocket Man (former Ballymaloe student) were wholesome and tasty. I had the most amazing marshmallows from Cloud, I mean come on, salted caramel marshmallow is like the best thing on earth! I loved the Indian street food stall from Angus Denoon, his chopping skills were pretty impressive and the snack was perfectly washed down with a cold Irish craft beer.


It's difficult to describe how the festival is but for any cookbook addicts or food lovers this is what heaven would look like. The grounds of Ballymaloe are stunning, you see legends roaming around, the food is top notch and the atmosphere is buzzing: it's Electric Picnic for the gourmands. See you there next year!


Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest
Website