Ben Goldacre: Battling Bad Science

Have you ever come across one of those articles in your morning paper which says that claims eating more of something cause cancer whilst drinking something else can prevent it?  Have you noticed that there’s always a scientific study that backs it up?
Headlines like, ‘Carrots may ward off cancer‘, ‘Why doughnuts can make you depressed…‘ and ‘Bacon and sausages increases heart disease‘ are in liberal and conservative newspapers alike.

When you read something that appears too good to be true or totally scary and it’s backed by science, you do start believing because science gives it credibility.  But before you start drinking gallons of tea and reaching for that bar of chocolate, watch this witty TED talk by Ben Goldacre who educates us on the sensational nutrition claims that may have been stretched that little bit too far.

 

 

For me, this is an example of bad PR practice where the pharmaceutical PR professionals would dress up their press releases in order to entice that journalist who’s looking for interesting content or a government body who’s trying to push forward a policy.  I think this is a real shame that despite the talk of corporate social responsibilty and political transparency, Dr Goldacre has just shown us that we are still very far from reaching this.

Have you come across examples of these types of  ‘miracle’ or ‘scary’ food stories in the press? Share them here!


The Blind Tiger, Clapham

The Blind Tiger Afternoon tea

My bargain specialist friend Ead had a voucher to the Blind Tiger and I was lucky to be her plus one. I arrived at the discreet black door, pressed on the intercom and waited for a head to appear in the sliding hatch to grant me entrance.

And so the ‘illicit dining and prohibited beverages’ experience began.

Le Fooding

The Blind Tiger mixes some mean cocktails. The bright pink Bellini with its fruity sweet flavour was so lovely that Ead ordered a second one before we left. I chose the oldest cocktail I could find: the Georgia Mint Julep, documented in print in 1790 as a medication against malaria. It was one stiff drink – I imagined the gentleman back in the day with his thick bushy moustache that would’ve drank this.

The teas were supplied by Teapigs. Their silver tips white tea was really clear and refreshing which complemented the food well. E ordered the English Breakfast which gave that warm, golden brown post-milk pour as any decent English Breakfast should give.

The delectable sandwiches were well presented but some were deceivingly difficult to eat without looking uncouth. The roast beef, horseradish and watercress – my favourite – was guilty of this, forcing me to tear that piece of meat apart like a famished lion.

The cheese and pickle and duck liver pafait with its damson cheese both played the sucré salé very well. The wafer thin cucumber slices needed extra layers to make the sandwich more remarkable but delicious all the same. The smoked salmon and dill on a thick slice of poppy seed bread was a not-so-easy-to-eat blini like its roast beef counterpart.

With any afternoon tea, I look forward to the patisseries the most but was let down by their offering.  The cupcake was dry and was only rescued by its velvety buttercream whilst this banana flavoured slice with a layer of custard was rubbery.  Luckily they were rescued by a plain, rich buttery biscuit, slightly crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle and the scones. Oh the scones! The lightest, airiest scones I’ve ever had.

Le Branding

With their strapline ‘illicit dining and forbidden beverages’ and promotion of the idea of ‘a secret hideaway’, you’d expect The Blind Tiger wants to keep itself discreet. Just like a real speakeasy back in the prohibition days. Yet as one or two people have already noted, this is far from the case – it seems like the place has potentially missed a trick in its branding.  Still, the staff’s dress, the choice of cocktails, the décor and the music pays a lovely tribute to the era.

And with that, I leave you with the rich, smooth musical tones of Steve Morrison who, for me, created the real old American speakeasy atmosphere.

Steve Morrison with his train whistle

Meatballs in London Farringdon


Meatballs courgette balls in mild curry sauce

Oh my! It’s my first blog post and what a great little restaurant to start our food journey on.

Le Monsieur and I went to a newly opened restaurant called Meatballs that took over the Victorian establishment The Quality Chop House who served food to the local working class back in the 1870s.   I feel Meatballs stayed true to the concept of the original Chop House where I imagine the restaurant’s ancestors also served similar affordable and uncomplicated fayre.  The only difference today is its modern clientele will more likely to be dressed in suits than labourer clothes.

The Fooding

We received a warm, friendly welcome and despite only having done one or two practice runs before the big opening, the young, friendly staff were knowledgeable about the menu.  I took the courgette balls in its mild curry sauce with a side of risotto and Le Monsieur asked for the classic beef meatballs in its tomato sauce a plate of spaghetti plus a serving of honeyed carrots to share.

The use of fresh ingredients were instantly recognisable to the palette and I loved the way my bundles of courgette loosened into thin ribbons when I cut them apart. The tomato and cheesy risotto was at the correct chewy consistency for me.  The classic beef meatballs with its spaghetti gave the heartwarming vibe of a home cooked meal.  We didn’t order any desserts but Le Monsieur tested their malted milkshakes instead. What lacked in its thick consistency was compensated by its fragrant vanilla sweetness so he gave it a big thumbs up.

Meatballs QR code

The Branding

The balance between history and modernity is nicely tuned at Meatballs and there’s no better example of this than through the restaurant’s marketing activity.*   The chalkboarded wine list displays a QR code linking customers back to their website where you can also join their Facebook page and Twitter account.  These have a relatively good following considering its new existence.  To encourage the numbers, maybe they could make these visible in the restaurant so that people can join up more quickly.

The manager made a start on their blog and if they could keep this up, I’m sure there would be no problem in drawing a big tourist crowd in – and maybe a hungry, amateur historian or two.  The abrupt silence after a few entries is unfortunate as it risks becoming another neglected company blog; hopefully Meatballs can pick it back up as the existing content is very interesting and adds to the restaurant’s personal story.

Here are some five simple blogging ideas that I would suggest:

  • Introduce the staff – this would be a lovely way for the customers to connect to the servers and adds to the human face of the business
  • Introduce the ‘guest meatball’ – this will cause intrigue before each launch and encourage customers to come and try them out
  • Introduce the food suppliers – this will create more trust and reinforce the restaurant’s image as local and friendly
  • Dig up more history on the restaurant’s and the surrounding area – this does require some more effort but it will be worth it
  • Topical issues – examples could include British farming and affordable dining

Overall we had a lovely evening at Meatballs, where we  spent around £30 for our meatballs and their sides plus drinks.  So with quality food matched by affordable prices, no doubt Meatballs will be successful – all that’s left for this newcomer to do is to be more active in spreading the word and maintain its current fans.

* My impressions on the restaurant’s marketing are entirely my own opinion and should be treated as if I am doing a case study for school and an exercise to test my analytical and creative thinking.  Please pitch in your thoughts  – comments on the food also welcome!

Meatballs at The Quality Chop House

92 – 94 Farringdon Road,

London, EC1R 3EA

T: 020 3490 6228

Website: http://www.meatballs.co.uk

Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 11:30am – 11pm, Sunday 12pm – 10pm

Meal for two with drinks and service around £30