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Is Jay Rayner the best UK restaurant critic?


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(I believe JR used to follow these forums before I registered, but not any longer: anyway Mr Rayner, if you are still around, please look away now; I know you are shy).

Is it just me, or is the landscape of restaurant reviewers in this country mildly depressing? (I know it's not a nationalistic thing as I find those in Italy as poor or worse with, as a bonus, a tendency to be fundamentally corrupt. Allegedly. Jokingly.)

I understand that, unlike bloggers, critics have to show or pretend to be real writers, so that reading their reviews invariably requires a crap-ignoral effort of varying entity, attaining monumental with AA Gill.

But even so, they range from embarrassing (like that guy who used to scribble on the Guardian, the unbearable Norman Matthew or whatever his name is) to irrelevantly grotesque to evanescently bland, with several variations in between.

I used to like Matthew Fort, but the only one who seems to me nowadays to serve reasonably informative, sufficiently muscular, and by and large reliable write-ups is JR, somebody on the strength of whose words I might risk yet more the contents of my detumescent wallet. And "G9 chefs have made the terrible mistake of thinking anybody really gives a damn what they think" this year was quite memorable.

(I also used to like Marina O'Loughlin and her approach, till I stopped reading her when she dared give a low score to Koffmann).

Which 'official' critics do you rely on? Am I missing some hidden gem?

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I think restaurant reviewers are very much a personal thing. Personally I'm a big fan of Jay, less so of AA Gill. That might have something to do with the rest of AA Gill's writings clouding my judgement though.

One thing about Jay's reviews is that he seems to spend more time writing about the food than puffing out his word count by recounting a story. Then other reviewers seem to spend as much time talking about their company as they do the food.

I realise there is a balance to be struck - a few food pictures along with brief descriptions of what they taste like do not really fit well with a newspaper, but I think on the whole Jay generally gets things spot on. And I can't think of many times where I have been disappointed with one of his recommendations.

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I reckon Jay Rayner is pretty much on the money. Best of the lot. Speaking personally, following a review we had by him, we subsequently enjoyed a years worth of solid business from the article. This was about four years ago now and folk still sometimes mention it, only the other day a customer was saying just that. It was great, as good, if not better than any accolade we have won before or since.

As for the rest of them, well Gill I don't ever bother reading, as the review seems to be always more about him and the 'blonde'. The other reviewer I can't abide is the silly so and so from the Telegraph...whats her name, Z.W'ams, useless, not a clue. Had a review from her once and it wasn't bad, just all over the place. She took a dislike to a carrot cappacino soup.....never made such a thing in my life and of course there was no right of reply. Very patronising style of writing to boot. At the end of the day most of em are just journos, with little clue of food etc but are there to sell papers.

Happy new year everyone.

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In my eyes....Very very annoying people who can do a lot of damage to hard working restaurants based purely on their own personal tastes....The world would be a much better place without them.One only has to look at their pompous, `up their own arses` facial expressions when the food lands on the table on the Masterchef programmes...they can barely raise a smile when those nervous contestants walk in with their plates of food.For example...Take that critic that looks like Klebb off James Bond..she`d pop the knife out from her shoe given half a chance.I`ve never seen a more miserable woman on any cookery programme.

Charles Campion...Well he`s just a joke. They all need to take a leaf out of Michel Roux`s book....Constructive criticism in a nice way , he puts no one down , doesn`t kick their feet from under them....Probably the nicest guy in the industry...Anyways , i`ll stop now and wish you all a very happy and healthy 2012.Ill look forward to reading all your messages and looking at your lovely foodie photos over the year.Cheers , Alan ( cumbriafoodie )

CumbriafoodieCumbriafoodie
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The UK style of food criticism seems to be unduly harsh to this Yank. Most critics go for the glib put-down too eagerly. Seems mean and selfish more than helpful. After all, how many truly horrible things could they have been served at the joints that they take the time to review?

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I`ve never seen a more miserable woman on any cookery programme.

Bear in mind that they are being paid to act out their script. Which consists of the usual glib soundbite tosh which we expect from Masterchef. After all, writing a Masterchef script doesnt get tougher than this. Innit.

John Hartley

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but only a jay review is on my kitchen wall ;)

Blimey. You don't mean he actually schlepped up to Yorkshire to do you? :raz:

He was well fed as a reward, even if he had to endure some strange customs of non-Londonlandia:

"And like so many restaurants outside London, their tables are blighted by unnecessary side dishes of vegetables."

Vegetables on the side, what has the world come to.

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Oh, you knew eventually I wouldn't be able to resist. Thanks for the kind words. Gary, the white oval side dish of over-cooked vegetables is still a curse.

@sped98 - you are of course entitled to dislike me. But I do have to ask a) did you watch this series of Masterchef Pro - and hear what I said about some of the contestants? Hell, I offered to marry Ollie his cooking was so good. b) I don't want to sound patronising so I'll just assume you understand that we film each of those for six hours and then the editors take over. They grab the faces - just as they do Monica's during the skills test - because that's what telly does.

@Harters - not sure what you mean about us being paid to act out a script. We are given no direction whatsoever. As to the 'going up to Yorkshire' line, you know full well that charge can't be levelled at me. Indeed, my second review of 2012 will be from Leeds. And it ain't the Flinn's new ribs venture.

But for all the other nice words, thank you

Jay

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not sure what you mean about us being paid to act out a script.

You're put up by the show as being the "bad guys". And the way it is edited into quite trite soundbites means that's how the critics come across. IMO, of course.

Nice review of San Carlo Cicchetti, the other week, by the way.

John

John Hartley

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I always liked Terry Durack.

He and Jill have come back to live in Sydney. He's still doing wonderful reviews, but of our restaurants here.

I much prefer Simon Thomsen to Durack. Thomsen still comes across as enthusiastic and passionate, whereas Durack seems to be quite harsh on young chefs trying new things, and comes across as too cynical.

His review of Becasse is a good example of what I mean. While overall positive, contained a few snarky comments about trying too hard and basically calling it derivative of Noma and Alinea, like the restaurant was claiming to be the first to use smoke or faux soil in a dish.

I think a sense of child-like wonder in a critic is a good thing. Jaded and cynical, not so much.

James.

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Oh, you knew eventually I wouldn't be able to resist. Thanks for the kind words. Gary, the white oval side dish of over-cooked vegetables is still a curse.

@sped98 - you are of course entitled to dislike me. But I do have to ask a) did you watch this series of Masterchef Pro - and hear what I said about some of the contestants? Hell, I offered to marry Ollie his cooking was so good. b) I don't want to sound patronising so I'll just assume you understand that we film each of those for six hours and then the editors take over. They grab the faces - just as they do Monica's during the skills test - because that's what telly does.

@Harters - not sure what you mean about us being paid to act out a script. We are given no direction whatsoever. As to the 'going up to Yorkshire' line, you know full well that charge can't be levelled at me. Indeed, my second review of 2012 will be from Leeds. And it ain't the Flinn's new ribs venture.

But for all the other nice words, thank you

I just wanted to say that my Kressi vinegar addiction is all your fault.

Seriously though, The Man Who Ate The World has accompanied me on every overseas journey I've taken since I bought it a few years back. It's a great read, so thanks for killing my boredom on more than several occasions.

James.

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I always liked Terry Durack.

He and Jill have come back to live in Sydney. He's still doing wonderful reviews, but of our restaurants here.

I much prefer Simon Thomsen to Durack. Thomsen still comes across as enthusiastic and passionate, whereas Durack seems to be quite harsh on young chefs trying new things, and comes across as too cynical.

His review of Becasse is a good example of what I mean. While overall positive, contained a few snarky comments about trying too hard and basically calling it derivative of Noma and Alinea, like the restaurant was claiming to be the first to use smoke or faux soil in a dish.

I think a sense of child-like wonder in a critic is a good thing. Jaded and cynical, not so much.

I'm afraid I can't call Justin a young chef, he is (or should be) at the top of his game.

Having eaten at Becasse in the last month, I think the review was fair. At the top end in this class of cooking, basically they are all very similar anyway. To add to Terry's comments, many chefs should acknowledge the influence of Michel Bras on their plating and the food at Becasse is no exception. I loved Justin's food, and it is visually spectacular, but in our experience the wine matching was very poor. I've passed this feedback to Becasse via one of the managers and sincerely hope it picks up because it really is worth a return visit for his food.

On the other hand, I take Simon Thomsen's reviews with a hefty grain of salt.

To come back on to the point of this thread, it is like listening to movie critics: I really think one should read the reviews, try out some of what they talk about yourself, compare your experience to theirs, and pick a reviewer that echoes your tastes. On this basis I'll stick with Terry.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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ps. Nice to see you lurking Jay, I really like your reviews and comments. Even for those who are not able to physically visit the restaurants, it gives us a good idea of what the experience is like.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I always liked Terry Durack.

He and Jill have come back to live in Sydney. He's still doing wonderful reviews, but of our restaurants here.

I much prefer Simon Thomsen to Durack. Thomsen still comes across as enthusiastic and passionate, whereas Durack seems to be quite harsh on young chefs trying new things, and comes across as too cynical.

His review of Becasse is a good example of what I mean. While overall positive, contained a few snarky comments about trying too hard and basically calling it derivative of Noma and Alinea, like the restaurant was claiming to be the first to use smoke or faux soil in a dish.

I think a sense of child-like wonder in a critic is a good thing. Jaded and cynical, not so much.

I'm afraid I can't call Justin a young chef, he is (or should be) at the top of his game.

Having eaten at Becasse in the last month, I think the review was fair. At the top end in this class of cooking, basically they are all very similar anyway. To add to Terry's comments, many chefs should acknowledge the influence of Michel Bras on their plating and the food at Becasse is no exception. I loved Justin's food, and it is visually spectacular, but in our experience the wine matching was very poor. I've passed this feedback to Becasse via one of the managers and sincerely hope it picks up because it really is worth a return visit for his food.

On the other hand, I take Simon Thomsen's reviews with a hefty grain of salt.

To come back on to the point of this thread, it is like listening to movie critics: I really think one should read the reviews, try out some of what they talk about yourself, compare your experience to theirs, and pick a reviewer that echoes your tastes. On this basis I'll stick with Terry.

I thought some of the comments were pretty harsh, maybe it's just a writing style thing.

My last meal at Becasse surpassed anything I'd previously had in Sydney, and from what I remember the wine matching was well thought out. This was in July, so I assume both the menu and wine list have changed considerably.

I realise that Justin North isn't really a young chef, but his head chef, Monty Koludrovic is (he's a part of the TOYS group with Dan Hong and Darren Robertson).

James.

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Jay Rayner and Marina are both excellent critics. Its unsurprising that they are the two who post most here, as they are both foodies at heart (well I hope so, otherwise the research for Man Who Ate The World would have been a quite enormous drag).

However I suspect that outside of these rarified circles critics like Jay may come across as a bit to OTT about the food (I know that sounds like something of an oxymoron for a food critic). I however have no objections. I like to read about what the food on the plate is, where it comes from and why its there. Couldn't really give a fig for what the food critic was doing earlier that week, who with and why it is germane to the restaurant review.

Which of course leads on to the other category of "food critic" which are the AA Gills or Giles Coren of this world, which seem to treat a restaurant review as some sort of GCSE creative writing assignment. One, (call me an Aristotelian) but I sort of think a restaurant review should be about the restaurant rather than about how high the critics' GCSE creative writing score is. Two its a kick in the face to the people working night and day at the restaurant and in the industry to just treat it as a playground for their limited prose skills. Whenever I come across these scribblings (thankfully less now the Times has sequestered itself behind its firewall) I pay them the ultimate compliment of completely ignoring the page.

In between there are the various other critics, the Normans, Forts and (increasingly less so) the Fays of this world. They are all pretty decent and write about the food and I'd be happy to read them.

One reservation though for critics with large consultancy businesses (Nick Lander and Fay Maschler I'm looking at you) I do wish they would disclose how much (if any) overlap there is between the restaurants they gush about and the clients who pay them. Of course there may be no overlap but I think there should be disclosure here which is sorely lacking.

Finally I reserve a particular circle of hell for Amol Rajan, sometimes sports journo, "adviser to Evgeny Lebedev" and occasional restaurant critic of the Independent. His reviews are consistently error-riddled and show zero understanding of food and of how the industry works. When I read a national newspaper I expect a certain level of competence and expertise in exchange for my money. He displays neither.

And that's that.

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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I have to say that Jay is probably my favourite - I say "probably" only because I like his writing style and he is the only one I read regularly because that's the Sunday paper I buy. I used to hate Matthew Norman's reviews in the Guardian because he uses painfully long and complicated sentences, over using parentheses and side tracking at every opportunity - I had to read each sentence three or four times just to understand what he was on about ...

The food writers in the Liverpool Echo are toe-curlingly bad - using every cliche and non-word possible (eg. "flavoursome", "got the thumbs up from me", "washed down with", "fell off the bone"). And also every review starts with a little story/surprise, which they return to at the end - you can easily spot that they have been on a two-day "how to write a review" training course. Is this common with local newspapers?

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