We have written about six issues of Crush! since it was launched a year ago, and the initial excitement of opening a new copy of the digital food and wine magazine edited by Michael Olivier has faded, to such an extent that three issues of Crush! were sitting unopened in the Inbox.  The magazine appears to have developed a rythym, and regular features can be expected in each magazine, with few new surprises in it.  After reading Crush! 7, Crush! 8, and Crush! 9, and looking back at the pevious Crush! issues, our evaluation is that Crush! has settled down, that it knows where it is going, and that it has mastered most of its technical and design problems highlighted initially.  But its quality remains inconsistent:

1.   The design flashes have been largely removed, having been irritating in initial issues. Yet they remain in the focus on a personality (Squashed Tomato’s Linda Harding in Crush! 7; I’m no Jamie Oliver’s Matt Allisson – nice that the five point overview is about his lifestyle of food writer, stay-at-home father, and avid vegetable gardener – in Crush! 8; and Norman McFarlane in Crush! 9), distracting one in reading the content.

2.  The covers don’t need to sell a magazine as the print equivalent have to, but it was disappointing to note how the cover photograph choice in the last three issues was far more unattractive than those of some earlier issues.  The cover pic is usually one of four recipes developed by Sophia Lindop and beautifully photographed by Russel Wasserfall.  The problem lies in the choice of photograph for the cover, and the placement of text on the pics, often making the text unreadable.  Most front-cover flashes have been removed.  The Crush! design and publishing team has no print magazine experience, and it still shows!

3.  It is easier to navigate the magazine now, with clearer instructions of how to continue reading a story, but one does make the odd mistake in jumping to a next page, and not finishing a story.

4.    A problem that continues is that pack shots in the ‘Essentials’, ‘High Five’ and ‘Quaff Now’ features are too small to allow pack recognition, bad news for the marketers of these products, no doubt paying a placement fee. It was odd to see a sunhat in an ‘Essentials for the kitchen’ collection, in Crush! 9!

5.  Advertising support remains poor, and the state of the economy must be making itself felt at Crush! too, with the last two issues reduced to 42 pages, and carrying very few advertisements – only Old Mutual and Fairview having been regular advertisers.  Insurer 1st for Women started advertising, and Le Creuset and Tokara olive oils have had once-off ads.

6.  The contribution by ‘The Foodie’ blogger David Cope has changed dramatically – from initally having messy looking red-and-white check pages reflecting his blog design, the design linkage has been dropped in the past two issues.  This has been replaced by far smarter looking features, but they have no credibility, as the pot and the knife features have the Chef’s Warehouse branding on them, almost hidden in a corner, and Cope does not declare that he does the Public Relations for the Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School!   The photography however is excellent, probably the best ever seen in any issue of Crush!

7.   The main features vary in their quality, and there has never been consistency in their design and quality - the Hermanuspietersfontein feature looks fantastic, with many beautiful photographs.  The Glen Carlou and Hidden Valley features look less attractive due to black and white photographs on the first page of the features.  It seems as if Oliver has run out of material to write about, in featuring Hidden Valley, and Overture’s Bertus Basson, twice in the first year.

8.   Re-opened Massimo’s Pizza Club in Hout Bay is featured in Crush! 9, but does not have enough pizza photographs to create appetite appeal.  The oddest restaurant feature, a six page story by David Cope on Le Quartier Français’ The Tasting Room, does not contain a single photograph, and it takes Cope three pages to start writing about the Tasting Room, via a profile on Spanish chef Ferran Adria!  Cope did not make notes of his nine-course meal, and therefore he is quite vague about what he ate there!

9.  Recipe features do not interest me generally, but the most stunning feature ever is that of soups paired with Monis products in Crush! 9, including the lesser known Monis Muscadel and Port.  The photographs are outstanding, and one wonders why all the photography used for and design of Crush! cannot be of this quality. 

10.  The features on winemakers Morné Vrey of Delaire Graff and Russell Retief of Van Loveren, on charcuterier Richard Bosman, and on the Steenberg Hotel are ineffective, in being broken down into blocks, some profiles having as many as 27 blocks to click, a guarantee that one would lose interest to read it all.  Chef Christiaan Campbell of Delaire Graff, the Foodbarn, as well as the Vineyard Hotel are also featured.  However, none of the three issues contain a restaurant review anymore.

11.  The ‘Fine Print’ book page and ‘Crushifieds’ remain too busy, although the latter has improved greatly – ‘less is more’ should guide design in these features.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter:@Whale Cottage