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Amended: The hype behind Dabbous

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Note: The text below has been read by some people as in some way an attack on Fay Maschler’s integrity, or, even more implausibly, that we were suggesting some sort of conspiracy.

The problem seems to be that people have worked backwards from our suggestion that Fay Maschler’s review carried a lot of weight – which we do not suggest is a crime! – to an insinuation that there was something improper about the review itself. That doesn’t follow, either in logic or in our belief. We imagine Ms M was solely focussed – as we are when we write a review – on getting to the right answer.

We recently had an extremely disappointing meal at Dabbous. Following our review, it has become apparent that a number of repeat visitors to the restaurant have suggested it has ‘gone off’ since its incredibly successful launch, which may begin to explain the disparity between the earlier reviews and our own experience.

We still do not think it improper, however, to have explored whether the restaurant's investment in a cleverly calculated campaign by Jori White PR may

possibly have – to some extent – worked! That is not to say we’re suggesting any particular individual(s) was/were influenced by it. How could anyone possibly know?

- - - -

Last Friday we published a review of Dabbous (The Editors’ review of Dabbous), the mega-trendy Fitzrovia newcomer, already booking into 2013. It inspired much feedback on Twitter – we’re still mulling on some of it, and more thoughts may follow.

One issue, though, was starkly illustrated. It was the role hype played in the promotion of Dabbous. Hype may be said to be a pejorative word, but let’s look at the account Jori White PR gave of the measures they took to ‘promote’ Dabbous. It became apparent on Friday that a summary of this activity had been published on the PR firm’s website. We’re not aware that a campaign of this subtlety has ever before been put so clearly into the public domain. We also suspect that, for a previously unknown name, the campaign itself was probably unprecedented.

“STRATEGY: The pre-opening campaign focussed on pitching Ollie as the one to watch and was spearheaded by a dinner for the UK’s top foodies prepared by Ollie in Jori White ́s home. Early coverage appeared in Waitrose, the Independent, Olive and GQ. In keeping with the venue’s low key theme, a small launch event was organised, attended by leading media and Ollie's mentor, Raymond Blanc. Blanc penned a glowing review of Dabbous that was used for press purposes. To sustain momentum, only select reviews and interviews were organised during the early part of the launch period, concentrating on national newspapers and key glossies such as GQ, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar. A campaign for the bar has run simultaneously, with coverage in MSN, Stylist, the Evening Standard etc. Broadcast has also been a target, with interviews with Ollie and Oskar placed on BBC America and Monocle Radio

RESULTS: Early reviews were outstanding, with Fay Maschler giving Dabbous an almost unprecedented 5 stars and describing it as a ‘game changer’. Time Out also gave Dabbous 5 stars. Tables are currently booked solid for the next 4 months. Ollie is being positioned as the next big thing, with a screen test for a new Channel 4 series confirmed and an appearance on Saturday Kitchen in discussion.”

So, did all these efforts on Jori White’s part work? We have no idea who these “top foodies” were, so we can’t look for direct follow-through in their public comments.

Note, however, that the only immediate “RESULTS” Jori White claims for the campaign are Fay Mascher’s review in the Evening Standard and Guy Dimond’s for Time Out. When Fay Maschler, in particular, proclaims a restaurant a “game-changer”, everyone listens, and her critique kicked off a season of adulatory reviews, the like of which has not been known in London since Dinner (backed by the world-famous Heston Blumenthal).

Fay Maschler’s review was therefore key. Was she – seasoned professional though she may be – influenced by Jori’s campaign? Was she swayed by Raymond's so-charming greeting and glad-handing over how great Dabbous is (witnessed first hand in the queue to enter the launch of the new Cordon Bleu cookery school). And even if Fay would have written the same review come what may, let’s still credit Jori’s careful positioning with helping Dabbous suddenly bursting into the perception of foodies everywhere.

To end, a footnote on that key “glowing” Blanc review (“The First Review of Dabbous Restaurant”, as it styles itself) which pre-started the Dabbous ball rolling, even before Ms Maschler arrived on the scene. What is most obviously missing from the review is any disclosure that Blanc has a personal financial interest in Dabbous (even though it has been reported in at least two media, including the Evening Standard, that he has). Was this possibily omitted because, if he had admitted he was puffing his ‘own’ restaurant, no one would have placed any weight at all on his opinion?

To review a restaurant in which you have an interest without in some degree being pre-disposed to find it good would, after all, be to approach sainthood. And even Raymond’s keenest fans, surely, wouldn’t claim that for him?

Comments (1)

Derek Guth 20 Sep 12, 5:20pm
I may be wrong about this but I remember reading the Raymond Blanc piece - it wasn't a review as such, it was a diary, complementing a former employee who was doing well. It was a perfectly acceptable part of the 'hype' you are describing here, but reading it in a newspaper came across as perfectly acceptable. This attack on PR is quite illuminating. You don't like them do you?

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