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11 September 2008

My dirty secret: Square Meal

I'm not sure why it's dirty and why it's secret, but to me my reliance on Square Meal has always seemed a bit sordid. I feel like I shouldn't be relying on a corporate-focused restaurant guide as my primary source of restaurant recommendations.

I'm sure I should be eating out solely based on the reputations of my friends in the industry, or the gossip I hear on private food forums.  At worst, maybe I should be trying out the recommendations by a restaurant reviewer I rate, or even better, a blogger I rate.  But all too often, when I'm stuck for inspiration, my first port of call is Square Meal.

Founded as a restaurant guide for the City, it has now morphed into a very decent website. I trust their reviews, although I don't have a scooby who the author(s) is/are. I like the relatively brief reviews and the detailed information (address, phone, website, map etc) about each restaurant. I also love their search function, you can look-up restaurants by name, by area (with a handy map plotting each venue), by landmark, even by type of meal (e.g. breakfast and al fresco).

Why this confessional? Well, I feel duty bound to be honest.

I was also intrigued to see today that they are going a bit TrustedPlaces and allowing users to setup their own profiles and comment on restaurants. I appreciate this has a lot of upside for SM - free content for a start - but that is a common feature of the online food world (TrustedPlaces, Chow, Mouthfuls and the rest).

What makes this interesting, is that it seems to combine what can be random vox populis with the reliable SM reviews, it reminds me a bit of the well informed Opinionated About Fine Dining Guide. True, it's not that different to people leaving comments below Fay Maschler's latest jottings, except for the fact that virtually nobody uses the opportunity.

So the combination of a bit of user generated content with Square Meal reviews could make my filthy, despicable but oh so joyous habit even harder to break.


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Oh, now, that's interesting! I'd always assumed Square Meal was just another one of those restaurant-booking sites that only has reviews to pull in the Google hits, and never wants to publish anything unfavourable. I might pay them a bit more attention in future!

Just wanted to pop back and say you were right about Square Meal — I do a lot of restaurant searches and I've started clicking on it in the Google results and it is indeed worth reading. I've also gleaned some useful background info from it for the research I've been doing for Freebase. (freebase.com — it's a sort of structured version of Wikipedia. I've been adding the Michelin star data to it, which led to adding chef/restaurant data, and Square Meal often has an interesting little tidbit that leads me on to find more data.)

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