Takeaways from Eat Drink Blog 3

The SA Tourism Minister Gail Gago talks to food bloggers.

Who’d have thought it? The South Australian Minister for Tourism Hon Gail Gago speaking to 90 or so food bloggers at Eat Drink Blog 3 conference. Mind you I was also surprised by Meat and Livestock’s sponsorship and more particularly their invitation to anyone who wanted to to visit a beef feedlot – I certainly plan to take up that offer.

And let’s not mention the food writer who referred to Gago as “hon” most of the night.

It was an amazing effort from local bloggers Christina Soong-Kroeger and Amanda McInerney and their team.

There was a lot to learn from the conference although for me it was also a great opportunity to see many bloggers I hadn’t seen in a while and to also catch up with many new ones who I wanted to meet. I’ve been a bad blogger the past few years as I haven’t engaged with people through comments and Twitter like I used to. But the conference reignited my passion.

I suspect we can all remember the community aspect as we get back to commenting and linking between each other.

Simon Leong’s, from Simon’s Food Favourites, video of Eat Drink Blog 2012.

In no particular order:

1. Food blogging as with all social media is about participating in and building a community. Half the work in terms of hours is writing the post. The other half is promoting that post (not forgetting keyword analysis if you are into that kind of thing). It’s about passion and nowadays (unlike when I started) about finding a compelling niche.

2. In recipe writing, list the order of ingredients in the order that you use them. Ensure none are left out or left unused.

3. Natural light is the best way to take great food photos. You don’t even need a tripod, let alone a light box thingy.

4. Use simple sheets of paper as a backdrop and shoot from the side rather than on top. You don’t need a warehouse full of props.

5. Use depth of field which gives a blur effect in the back of a picture.

6. The rules of blog design are quite simple. People look top left of a site first so whatever you want them to do put it there. If you want email sign-ups make it big and at the top left.

7. A website must be easy to read. That means a large font size, 16pt as a minimum (and don’t forget to set your leading correctly – the space between lines). Narrower columns are easier to read as is type on a white background. Simple fonts are best, particularly san serif.

8. Bold lists to draw people in.

9. Images are essential.

10. Put a search box at the top of your page.

11. Make it easy to share content across the key social media platforms even if you aren’t present on them.

12. Popups are annoying but powerful. Try the pop-up domination plugin.

13. Don’t use social media buttons to feed out to the web. Use social media to feed into your website.

14. Don’t forget smartphone and tablet compatibility.

15. Check out the long tail of keywords through Google Adwords keyword tool to find traffic building opportunities. Apparently wine blogs Australia is low competition as are Asian snack recipes, best Australian recipes and Australian seafood.

16. Competing with the most popular keywords isn’t worth the effort most probably.

17. I missed Diane Jacob’s workshop on writing. But I heard her mention something on adjectives. I’m guessing she was probably saying you shouldn’t use them. My own advice is to describe the food, what it looks like, it’s flavours, texture, temperature and ingredients. It’s not good enough to say it was delicious – you need to build an argument for what you are saying.

18. On the whole food bloggers are more ethical than many food and wine writers, declaring far more free meals and trips.

19. It is possible to work with PRs but don’t become a slave to free stuff and events as you’ll cheat your readers.

20. Create a page for PRs where you set out what you do and don’t want. For instance, if you don’t want to be sent a lot of free stuff in lots of packaging say so.

21. Chef Simon Bryant mande many sensible comments about reviewing restaurants that care about produce. If a chef really sources local, ethically sourced produce he will sometimes have produce that isn’t quite up to scratch – for instance beef suffers when lack of rain affects grass growth. If he or she is committed to produce a lot of items may be off menu. Cut them some slack.

A Mexican Table fights for Fitzroy St

There I am, sitting opposite someone who has had more botox than expected and a smooth, smooth forehead. It’s the polar opposite to the chef to my left who has the hairline of Mel Gibson, the intensity of Russell Crowe and a brow so furrowed with concentration that it makes Gordon Ramsay look baby-faced.

We’re in the St Kilda combat zone of Fitzroy Street, defined on the North by Grey St and the South by Acland St. It’s not a pretty place with some blaming the residents of the notorious Gatwick Hotel boarding house for dragging the area down. Certainly the wrong sort of crowd is attracted to this strip of dubious late night bars that are the drinking holes of last resort, that may or may not have something to do with the blood I’ve frequently seen being scrubbed off the street on Monday mornings.

This strip isn’t a happy place to be for many a restaurateur. If fact St Kilda isn’t a happy place for all but a few operators, having lost its status as a destination to the Melbourne CBD and arriviste suburbs such Fitzroy and Collingwood. In fact you could argue St Kilda is broken bad with a council distracted by the future of the Triangle and festivals.

Amid this chaos, a few years back, chef owner James Blackman opened The Table not too far up the street from Di Stasio (which is about to open a next door bar) and a planned Asian bar concept from David Zhou, the owner of the Oriental Tea Houses and David’s in Prahran.

Blackman slowly has been building a reputation for Mexican-style food. It’s largely been ignored by the established paper-based food guides and reviews (probably because of the lamentable service) but has a health 82% score on Urbanspoon at the time of writing (despite the negative reviews generated by Scoopon deals).

So what do you get for your money?

The wine list is a handful of whites and reds and a single rosé, not inspiring but perfectly quaffable (as are the margaritas which I moved to).

In terms of dollar per hour a lot and that’s because the service is slow, very slow. But once the food arrives it is a terrific surprise.

We began with the Oyster Shooter Tomato & Mezcal Consommé, Cream Fraiche Ice Cream & Manchego Tuile ($9.5). The oyster itself looks like an alien floating in a shot glass of warm tequila. We opted to eat the tuile first but reckon it could be better after the shot.

Then the tacos, which are available as a platter for groups of four. We opted for the Poached Scampi in Agave & Tequila with Avocado Panna Cotta & Radish ($8), Braised Beef Cheek in Mole & Fried Plantain with White Bean Puree & Coriander ($6.5), Confit Duck with Smoked Chipotle, Roasted Tomato & Savoy Cabbage ($6.5) and Wild Mushroom with Smoked Manchego Saganaki, Smokey Chipotle Salsa & Porcini Tortilla ($6.5).

Slam! These were good, complex and packed with flavour – easily a match to other St Kilda Mexicans such as The Newmarket, Radio Mexico and Bluecorn – even Mamasita I’d say.

The same goes for the ceviche – King Prawn with Roasted Baby Beets, Golden Beet Crisps & Tequila & Blood Orange ($16.5). And the entree of Crispy Skinned Chili Quail, White Bean & Chorizo Cassoulet, Snow Pea Salad (19).

Where this place wins is the food, prepared by an owner operator with passion and brow furrowing intensity and care.

Where it loses out to the likes of The Newmarket and Radio Mexico is the service. Sure, it’s friendly enough. But it’s unpolished and chaotic. And slow.

The Table Restaurant on Urbanspoon