No Happy Monday in Manchester for Jay Rayner

When Jay Rayner arrived for lunch at Obsidian on a damp Manchester Monday he found a restaurant unprepared to serve any punter, much less the restaurant critic of The Observer.

“A restaurant trading outside of its most appropriate hours”, mused Rayner in his 4th of July review, “is like a transvestite who hasn’t shaved”.   [Read more...]

A critic’s revelation: not all dishes are to all tastes

Japanese breakfast boxFew clichés in food criticism are as vacuous as this observation commonly applied to exotic cuisines:

Not all dishes will be to all tastes…

The last to use it was Matthew Norman of The Guardian in his Weekend magazine review of the London Szechuan restaurant My Old Place.

I challenge him or anyone else who’s ever shared this revelation to name 20 restaurants – no, make it 1 restaurant – where all dishes will in fact be to all tastes.

Guardian says Chinese disrespect veg

While many attack the Chinese for repressing human rights or restraining the value of their currency, The Guardian Weekend magazine‘s Matthew Norman may be the first opinion writer for a major national newspaper to call them out en masse for undervaluing their vegetables. In his slapdash review on Saturday, 16th January of My Old Place (not the original of this London Szechuan restaurant – aka Gourmet San – on Bethnal Green Road but its spinoff near London’s Liverpool Street Station), the restaurant critic writes that “the last thing you expect from even the finest Chinese chef is the showing of respect to the veg.”

Oh, really? [Read more...]

Food critic likens lamp to surrealist muse

fur cup saucer spoon by Meret OppenheimThe typical tasks of a restaurant reviewer may not be sufficiently challenging for Marina O’Loughlin, food critic of the London free paper Metro. To keep her mind agile during disastrously dull dinners, O’Loughlin imagines herself a quick-witted panellist on a BBC Radio 4 comedy programme, responding with aplomb to any verbal knot the host tosses her way. Ask her to discreetly drop the name of a Swiss surrealist into the middle of a restaurant review and O’Loughlin’s mind clicks as surely and silently as the shutter on a Leica M6 [Read more...]

Quelle surprise: AA Gill likes award-winning smoked salmon

If Times reviewer AA Gill knew he would be basing his judgment of the kitchen at Lutyens on a handful of dishes, it probably wasn’t a good idea to make one of those choices a plate of Sally Barnes wild smoked salmon. He could have guessed that award-winning smoked salmon from Woodcock Smokery was “unimpeachably excellent and well sourced” without having set foot in the restaurant. Ordering the bourride de lotte or rognons de veau with sauce diable instead would have given his readers more useful information – such as the missing observation that this new Terence Conran dining spot in the former Reuters building on London’s Fleet Street is largely a French restaurant.

Guardian critic likens squid to a Durex

In his review of The Wine Theatre on London’s South Bank, the Guardian’s Matthew Norman quotes the expert opinion of his dining companion, who says the squid salad “was like eating a well lubricated Durex.”

Is Norman overestimating his readers? The analogy is of limited value to those lacking the worldly knowledge of his companion, a music critic with 30 years of experience under his belt. I, for one, have never tasted a Durex, lubricated or otherwise, nor has my tongue ever met latex. Come to think of it there was that one night in Madrid….

What the duck, Zoe?

In her Telegraph review of Min Jiang in London’s Royal Garden Hotel, Zoe Williams does not telegraph the identity of the “star dish” with a “wow factor” that “blew us [she and her mother] away.”  She doesn’t even name it, instead employing 237 words to describe the pièce de résistance but not a full 4 to actually identify it: wood+fired+Beijing+duck. She calls it “the duck” and leaves it at that.

Perhaps Williams believes the type of duck will become apparent to readers and thus she needn’t bother to state the obvious. That may explain why she doesn’t even bother to tell us Min Jiang is a Chinese restaurant.

The perils of trickle-down gastronomics

Subsequent to the naming of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, awards judge and Guardian food critic Jay Rayner makes a courageous case for haute cuisine in down times:

…just as with the very highest of high fashion, the highest of haute gastronomy eventually filters down to what we all eat on a regular basis and we all benefit from it.

My concern with trickle-down gastronomics (my term, not his) is that the great influence of innovative masters like Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, the chefs at the restaurants named best (elBulli) and second best (The Fat Duck) in the world, often results in overly ambitious homages with disastrous consequences in all the wrong places. Architecture provides a parallel. From the modern masterpieces of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe came the nightmarish tower blocks of Glasgow and the hellish projects of Baltimore.

Fortunately, a badly conceived meal does not last as long as a badly conceived building.