Be wise to the not-so-subtle art of trolling
For a while there a few weeks ago, a certain poster on openrice.com was receiving an unusually large amount of feedback for her restaurant reviews. People were actually opening accounts just so they could post responses - often rude, sexist and vituperative - on the reviews by I Love Lubutin (ILL).
She was, arguably, provocative. Writing in grammatically incorrect English that was littered with misspellings and direct translations from Cantonese, she wrote as much about shopping for expensive clothing and shoes, her efforts to stay slim, and her 'sweet sweet boyfriend', as she did about food. Each of her 13 reviews contained comments about whether the restaurant provided a stool for her designer handbag.
Some of ILL's best (or worst) comments appeared on a blog (too rudely titled to print here) that gives 'a selection of some of the most hilarious Openrice reviews by people who really don't know what they are talking about', although they were removed within a few days.
Foodies were tweeting about ILL, poking fun at her English and declaring her a food ignoramus for her posts that included one expressing surprise that the sweetbreads she reluctantly tasted (because she doesn't eat carbohydrates after 3pm) did not taste like bread at all; they tasted a lot like meat.
The problem, of course, is that ILL was invented - an exaggerated composite of real posters on Openrice. It was good-natured trolling. The real ILL is a well-travelled, trilingual foodie friend of mine, and she knows her stuff. Those supposedly ignorant comments were meant to be a joke.
A few people beyond ILL's circle of friends began to realise this. Openrice slowly figured out that something was suspicious and finally stopped posting her reviews. And then last week, they erased history by removing the existing ones. If ILL's incessant criticisms about the non-availability of handbag stools didn't raise a red flag, her assertion that she wasn't a Hong Kong girl because she lived in Arkansas for two years should have.
But if you ignored ILL's language and overuse of emoticons, you could see that her restaurant assessments were accurate, according to her experience of the meal in question. In the parts where it really matters - quality of food and service - ILL's reviews were as valid as those by other posters.
Unlike some, ILL's were definitely not 'shills' (positive reviews by someone involved in a restaurant, trying to make their place sound better than it is).
In open review forums such as these, we need to take posts with a grain of salt. Some people might have hidden agendas - being overly critical because they have a grudge against a venue, or a restaurant owner praising his own place to raise its rating. Be wary of newbie posters, but after they've established their food cred, see if your assessment of a place matches up with theirs. If it does, you have similar tastes. But even then, keep an open mind.
All reviews, including mine, are not meant to be taken as gospel truth; they're subjective opinions of one meal, on one day. Your experience may differ.