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”.  

Rayner wondered aloud if it was fair to be there at all, ultimately reasoning that “if the restaurant has decided to be open then it is OK for me [him] to eat there”.

His puzzled disappointment at not finding any of the dinner dishes he had spotted on the restaurant website menu did not dissuade the intrepid critic from mixing and matching from the extremely limited prix-fixe lunch and bar menus and then writing a scathing review based on a small and not entirely unpleasant sampling of two mains and two desserts.

On twitter I questioned the fairness of his writing such a review without making a return visit, setting off this [uncorrected] exchange between Rayner (his tweets are in blue-bordered box) and myself:


@youngandfoodish I dunno. After 11 years in this gig I suppose I think I know how restaurant reviewing works. Terribly arrogant of me.Sun Jul 04 15:43:48 via UberTwitter



@jayrayner1 11 years? an intern days out of journalism would have at the very least called the restauant afterwards to get the lowdown.Sun Jul 04 16:32:08 via Twitter for iPhone



@youngandfoodish if a restaurant is open and serving its there to be reviewed.Sun Jul 04 16:38:28 via web

Based on my experience as restaurant critic for The New York Daily News that sounded to me like a justification for lazy if not unprofessional behaviour. I decided to do what Rayner did not: call the restaurant to learn if there were extenuating circumstances to partly explain why Obsidian was so unprepared.

The fact that Monday lunches are notoriously slow, as they are at many Manchester restaurants, is no excuse. Rayner is right: if you’re open for business you’re open for criticism. But there were other conditions not communicated to The Observer readers that made this an inopportune day to be visiting Obsidian and passing judgement on it for a national newspaper.

Obsidian in June was a restaurant in transition. The new chef, Steve Waters, worked his first service on the 11th of June – four days AFTER Rayner’s visit. The new manager, Neil Woodward, began work on the 5th of July, one day AFTER Rayner’s review was published. Trust me, Wayne Rooney is no longer the most miserable man in Manchester.

Put the unfortunate timing of Rayner’s lunch down to bad luck. What’s regrettable is that he did not bother to do a little reporting and thereby explain to his readers, as I am doing here to mine, that Obsidian had hired a new chef who was in the process of implementing an entirely new menu. Those dishes from the outdated website were no longer available to Rayner because the chef behind them had already departed.

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish

Comments

  1. Ian Fenn says:

    I think I agree with you. If the menu differed from the one on the website, I’d personally have asked why.

  2. Kanga_Rue says:

    A nice bit of balance. Sure, it’s OK to critique a restaurant, but a bit of background is always good. My last dining disaster, ended with it being closed for health reasons, so I feel fully justified (http://kangarue-silverlinings.blogspot.com/2010/06/londons-best-african-restaurant.html)

  3. Sarah says:

    I think if a restaurant is open it is certainly there to be reviewed. However the purpose of a review is to inform readers of whether they might want to go there. As there is now a new chef and manager the review is now irrelevant.

  4. Kavey says:

    So glad you did a little basic investigation to reveal the situation. I too agree that if a restaurant is open it’s fair to assess it but it is rather slapdash to publish a review which is essentially out of date virtually by the time it’s printed!
    Even if Rayner had said exactly what he did, with an addendum about the new manager and chef, it would have been a more useful piece to his readers.

  5. Gail Haslam says:

    I actually snorted out loud at that comment about the manager being more miserable than Wayne Rooney, but point taken. Here’s hoping the chef and management still have enough confidence to press on with their new menu.

  6. Dan says:

    Gail – I would think it’s the new chef that tops the Manchester misery list. Rooney is at best third.

    Kavey – He missed an opportunity for a more candid and, yes, useful review illuminating pitfalls faced by critic, restaurant and unsuspecting diner.

    Sarah – That’s the upshot. As written and published this review served no purpose, other than providing a slot for a good line comparing an unprepared restaurant to an unshaven transvestite.

    Kanga_Rue – If a critic’s exposure to a restaurant is limited to a single meal with a single companion, as it seems to be for many UK reviewers, then it is especially helpful to assemble as much background information as possible.

    Iann – In fairness to Rayner he wasn’t gaining much traction with his confused waitress.

  7. Chef Hermes says:

    We read the original from Jay Rayner, thankfully he isn’t Giles Coren and has an some knowledge about food & restaurants.

    We also followed the exchange on Twitter as well, bravo for standing up for the restaurant.

    Whilst we applaud your stance, when Jay Rayner said that the restaurant had courted his attention multiple time over 2 months, you’ve kinda got to think ‘what were they thinking?’. That a mainstream food journalist was going to applaud effort.

    Yes we agree the timing probably wasn’t the best and that just comes down to poor management on behalf of the restaurant. You cant court the press then not expect them to turn up.

    If Mr Rayner was to do another visit for the sake of balance in 6-9months after the new chef & manager have been installed, I’m sure it might be a different story. But I doubt he will.

    As we pointed out on Twitter, his job is to sell copy not necessarily to actually review a restaurant in any great depth.

  8. Dan says:

    Chef Hermes – Funny, I thought I was standing up for the reader. Even if the restaurant was asking for it, that doesn’t excuse Rayner for not getting to the bottom of this. Ultimately the reviewer has to decide what’s in the reader’s best interests. And beyond the entertainment imperative is the expectation of an honest assessment that is up-to-date. Last I heard The Observer was still a news-paper.

  9. Sig says:

    nice bit of investigative reporting there Daniel, agree with you, the reader has a right to know circumstances of the review…

  10. Rachel says:

    I complete agree with you Daniel. The restaurant may have courted Jay but he should have done some background research.
    I find the excuse that a restaurant critic’s job is to shift newspapers a redundant one. Rather like saying a news journalist has no need to investigate the truth in a story as long as the story is selling.

  11. Chef Hermes says:

    Whilst we understand that you are standing up for the reader & there may be underlying circumstances. Jay Rayner wrote what he experienced.

    Using the News paper analogy, so is the Daily Sport!

    Believe us ,we trying to put across amore multi-sided view of the review; Jay Rayner, The restaurant (& their staff, if they still have jobs) & the reader. Rather than a 1 sided effort.

    In reality, as well said before, the restaurant really shouldn’t court the media if you’re not ready for them.

  12. Dan says:

    Rachel, Sig and Chef Hermes – If Rayner’s visit came in response to pitches from Obsidian extending into its period of transition without a chef at the helm then it would be impossible to feel sympathy for a restaurant of such stupidity. If, however, Rayner just happened to be in the hood, recalled entreaties from weeks or possibly months back, dropped in for a quick review lunch and got stuck with a mess of zero compelling interest or use to readers then I might lament the restaurant’s rotten luck. Either way, Rayner did not inform his Observer readers about the circumstances of his visit. Even his bit about the restaurant repeatedly courting him came in a twitter response to this post and not in the review.

  13. stefan says:

    totally disagree with you danny boy. if they know the chef and/or the food isn’t up the scratch then they shouldn’t be open to the public. it’s pretty simple. arguing to the contrary is doing a diservice to your readers. it’s like a fairly typical – charge too much serve them rubbish type of establishment. why make excuses for them?

  14. Lucy says:

    What stefan said. If you know you’re not serving quality food and are in the process of getting a new chef in to rectify it, don’t bloody open. Rather than lazy journalism, I’d call it lazy restauranteurism. If that’s not a word it is now.

  15. Dan says:

    Lucy and Stefan – If you read Rayner’s review carefully you’ll see that his response to the food was rather mixed and much less negative than the overall tone.

  16. claire says:

    1/If a restaurant is open, it can be reviewed.
    2/Excuses are for idiots- “sorry the food was subpar, the dog ate my spatula”

  17. Dan says:

    Claire – If excuses are for idiots then you might want to include Jay “they-asked-for-it” Rayner, who used Obsidian’s ineptitude to justify his own pomposity and laziness.

  18. Joe says:

    What’s the problem?

    Restaurant reviewers have the best job in the world.

    My visits to restaurants are limited to occasional treats and special one-offs. It would be little comfort to me to know that I had wasted £18 on a fish dish, because they were between chefs!!! boo hoo. Dry your eyes. If it’s no good, they should have known it was no good and not opened. A restaurant review is a review of the food eaten in that restaurant on that day.
    Do you have a vested interest in this place or something?

  19. Lucy says:

    Dan – I read the review, thanks. He said the food was food and he ate it. He didn’t say that it was outstanding and worth the money.

  20. Lucy says:

    @Joe – I was wondering the same thing – shareholder perhaps?

  21. Eva says:

    I’ve been to Obsidian recently and had a good time, it wasn’t at all mind blowing but it is definately one of the better Manchester restaurants I’ve visited. That said I do agree that if a restaurant is open then it’s open to criticism regardless of excuses, it was thiee bad luck that Jay Rayner happened to walk in that day. You should always be at your best in the service industry.

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