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Giles Coren


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Did anyone else catch Giles Coren's column in the Times supp on Saturday?

It was a bizarre piece in which he pretty much confessed he was desperately trying to fill space and then ranted in the weirdest way about reviewers who try to remain anonymous.

What the hell was that all about?

It read as such a rant it seemed there must be some history to it. Any ideas?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Article here.

Doubt there's any history there, to be honest. He's always written with the tone of a rogue pen among the cookererati, and seems to enjoy sounding off against the facile nature of being a critic. (One recent food column, in which he explained why being a newspaper columnist is humanity at its lowest ebb, was posted on the Times office noticeboard for a few weeks, relevant paragraphs highlighted for the benefit of his colleagues.)

I'd say that the (mostly accurate) rant against Ruth Reichl and her London acolytes for their "smug, worthy, self-aggrandising horseshit" fits neatly into his canon.

Edited by naebody (log)
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He's always written with the tone of a rogue pen among the cookererati, and seems to enjoy sounding off against the facile nature of being a critic.

... which (immaculately expressed) observation begs the question "Then why doesn't he F off and leave the job to someone else".

Does he hate being a journalist because his Dad and his sister are actually good at it?

Did they force him to do it at gunpoint?

Does he secretly harbour ambitions to be an estate agent or a freelance car clamper - callings to which he would be infinitely better suited?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I don't get why Coren's article gives the impression he doesn't like being a critic or a journalist. He's entitled to his views about what makes a good critic.

This goes back to the age old issue, on eg anyway, why one reads restaurant reviews. Is it purely for the info they impart, is it for entertainment, do you assume you will get the same service, should you assume you get the same service and so on.

Just for clarity, it should be noted that he's not arguing reviewers should phone up a restaurant saying they're a critic and expecting special treatment. His point is, go in incognito, false name, phone number etc, but don't bother with the make-up. I don't see how that's a dig at Marina (O'Loughlin btw), he makes very clear he's having a go at Reichl and her vanity, as he sees it.

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Article here.

the (mostly accurate) rant against Ruth Reichl and her London acolytes for their "smug, worthy, self-aggrandising horseshit"

I thought the stab at Reichl raised some interesting questions. I haven't read Garlic and Sapphires yet. I found the first two in the trilogy entertaining but, towards the end I was starting to question if life wasn't too short to read about the custody battle and the endless trivia of her love life. In short, it seemed a little starry for a restaurant critic to assume we were interested in those minutiae of her life which weren't relevant to her writing.

(As it happens I feel the opposite way about Nigel Slater's 'Toast'. He writes beautifuly about his life as it relates to his work yet the coy avoidance of any mention of his lovelife makes the whole thing a little false).

OTOH, she was one of the most important critics in the States at the time of a restaurant renaissance which dwarfs our own. Her opinion, syndicated to vast audiences, could really have an effect in a way that even our most important critics could only dream of. Is it any wonder she got a bit up herself?

(BTW. Can anyone fill me in on who the 'London acolytes' were?)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I find Giles very, very amusing. I can understand that many people might find him a bit strange, but he *does* have a way with words.

Which raises (not "begs", Giles would be quite irate) the question whether restaurant reviews that make you chuckle can be "serious"...

Charles Milton Ling

Vienna, Austria

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Just for clarity, it should be noted that he's not arguing reviewers should phone up a restaurant saying they're a critic and expecting special treatment.  His point is, go in incognito, false name, phone number etc, but don't bother with the make-up.  I don't see how that's a dig at Marina (O'Loughlin btw), he makes very clear he's having a go at Reichl and her vanity, as he sees it.

When he referred to British critics who retain anonymity he said

But the thing is that there are critics here in Britain who make a bit of a song and dance about anonymity, too. Going beyond what the rest of us happily do (which in my case is to book with a fake name and phone number, to dress like crap, make my guest announce our arrival, and to sit facing the wall), these few go by-lineless in their reviews (no doubt enjoying the same frisson the Lone Ranger enjoyed each time he donned his mask), and even when contributing to dull features in trade mags insist on appearing as blacked-out silhouettes, as if they were embedded in an FBI witness-protection scheme, rather than just being dumpy hacks who differ from every other flabby ink-pisser on the Street only in that when they claim lunch on expenses they don’t have to pretend they got a “story” from a “contact”.

I took the reference to silhouettes as a reference to recent articles on Marina where she has appeared as a silhouette.

Apologies for the earlier spelling :rolleyes:

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I have had the fortune (and misfortune, no names mentioned) to meet and be reviewed by most of the "big" restaurant critics, and have seen the shannanigans of the booking process they use first hand.

What i found most interesting was that the "least known", Marina, was easily the most powerful in London, in terms of affect in bookings. It's also interesting to note that she is the one who is truly least known. No TV shows, no pictures and above all, a column entirely devoted to her actual dining experience.

I do genuinely like Giles Coren's reviews as i don't think he takes it as seriously as some do, at the end of the day it is a meal in a restaurant. Garlic and Saphires is a really crap book about really uninteresting experiences.

In my mind a critic should judge on what experience they recieve, if they choose to be famous for that, then they must understand that their review will never, ever be a true reflection on what i as a member of the public will experience.

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Personally I find the article written by Coren rather irritating. I think to be a food critic a level of anonymity is required, going on the F word as Coren recently did has made him instantly recognisable. I would be hard pushed to believe that he doesn't get special treatment when he visits a restaurant despite the nonsense he says about sitting with his back towards the wall, he's not exactly the most unassuming of characters.

Whatever one might think of Reichl, her recent book Garlic and Saphires exposes the disparities between the way plebs are treated and those that restaurants percieve to be important critics/celebs.

Personally I applaud her efforts

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What i found most interesting was that the "least known", Marina, was easily the most powerful in London, in terms of affect in bookings. It's also interesting to note that she is the one who is truly least known. No TV shows, no pictures and above all, a column entirely devoted to her actual dining experience.

How much of that is down to the quality of her reviews or the fact that the Metro probably has a larger and more general readership (and it's a wee bit slimmer than other papers, so bored commuters, who might not normally be interested in restaurants, are more likely to end up reading it)? I have no idea as I don't read the Metro - besides if her reviews are just in the London edition then I wouldn't see them even if I did read it.

PS

Edinburgh

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How much of that is down to the quality of her reviews or the fact that the Metro probably has a larger and more general readership (and it's a wee bit slimmer than other papers, so bored commuters, who might not normally be interested in restaurants, are more likely to end up reading it)? I have no idea as I don't read the Metro - besides if her reviews are just in the London edition then I wouldn't see them even if I did read it.

Without coming over too League of Gentlemen, I'd note that The Metro is a local paper for local people. Its reviews have to serve an entirely different purpose to those in the nationals.

How many readers of AA Gill or Mr Coren will actually have the opportunity, or inclination, to eat in the restaurants up for review? I'd imagine it'd be very few, proportionately speaking, given the difference between the catchment area of a newspaper and that of a restaurant. Therefore, the primary remit is to entertain a broad readership through any means necessary.

Meanwhile, with a local paper, the primary goal is to inform rather than entertain. The first duty of Fay Maschler and Circplum, when they sit down to dinner, is to tell other potential customers whether a specific kitchen will provide beatitude or botulism. I'd view it as the difference between giving someone an opinion and telling them a joke. There's no reason why your opinion can't also be funny, or that your joke can't also be informative. It's just a question of adjusting the ratios to suit your audience.

The local writers, if they get the ratios right, will inevitably have a bigger effect on bookings even though they boast smaller readerships and lower status.

That's why, even after some fair write-ups in the nationals, I have avoided Taman Gang in Chelsea on the basis of a brilliantly damning Metro review. It's why La Maschler still wields the power to make or break a kitchen every Wednesday, despite the writing style of a sedated accountant. It's why Hugo Young, while sharing a readership with Maschler and carrying a sharper pen, still couldn't break wind in a Tex Mex. And it's why Michael Winner continues to have a weekly national column that is obstensibly about restaurants, but is really only about what a crashing waste of everyone's time it is to be Michael Winner.

(Incidentally, I guess you could argue that the information-first remit means local reviewers, such as one on a New York paper, have a much stronger justification to go about their business incognito than some minor 'sleb on a British broadsheet. Which is, I think, where we came in ...)

Edited by naebody (log)
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Without coming over too League of Gentlemen, I'd note that The Metro is a local paper for local people. Its reviews have to serve an entirely different purpose to those in the nationals.

<snip>

... with a local paper, the primary goal is to inform rather than entertain. The first duty of Fay Maschler and Circplum, when they sit down to dinner, is to tell other potential customers whether a specific kitchen will provide beatitude or botulism. I'd view it as the difference between giving someone an opinion and telling them a joke. There's no reason why your opinion can't also be funny, or that your joke can't also be informative. It's just a question of adjusting the ratios to suit your audience.

The local writers, if they get the ratios right, will inevitably have a bigger effect on bookings even though they boast smaller readerships and lower status.

<snip>

(Incidentally, I guess you could argue that the information-first remit means local reviewers, such as one on a New York paper, have a much stronger justification to go about their business incognito than some minor 'sleb on a British broadsheet. Which is, I think, where we came in ...)

All very pertinent I think. As a Metro reviewer I've been given only one short brief: "put lots about what the food was like" - and that's what i try and keep to. Feedback suggests some strong impact - though I didn't place much credence in the recent complaint from a restaurant at 4pm on the day of publication that trade had dried up following my luke warm review. If I only had that power...

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How much of that is down to the quality of her reviews or the fact that the Metro probably has a larger and more general readership (and it's a wee bit slimmer than other papers, so bored commuters, who might not normally be interested in restaurants, are more likely to end up reading it)? I have no idea as I don't read the Metro - besides if her reviews are just in the London edition then I wouldn't see them even if I did read it.

Without coming over too League of Gentlemen, I'd note that The Metro is a local paper for local people. Its reviews have to serve an entirely different purpose to those in the nationals.

How many readers of AA Gill or Mr Coren will actually have the opportunity, or inclination, to eat in the restaurants up for review? I'd imagine it'd be very few, proportionately speaking, given the difference between the catchment area of a newspaper and that of a restaurant. Therefore, the primary remit is to entertain a broad readership through any means necessary.

Meanwhile, with a local paper, the primary goal is to inform rather than entertain. The first duty of Fay Maschler and Circplum, when they sit down to dinner, is to tell other potential customers whether a specific kitchen will provide beatitude or botulism. I'd view it as the difference between giving someone an opinion and telling them a joke. There's no reason why your opinion can't also be funny, or that your joke can't also be informative. It's just a question of adjusting the ratios to suit your audience.

The local writers, if they get the ratios right, will inevitably have a bigger effect on bookings even though they boast smaller readerships and lower status.

That's why, even after some fair write-ups in the nationals, I have avoided Taman Gang in Chelsea on the basis of a brilliantly damning Metro review. It's why La Maschler still wields the power to make or break a kitchen every Wednesday, despite the writing style of a sedated accountant. It's why Hugo Young, while sharing a readership with Maschler and carrying a sharper pen, still couldn't break wind in a Tex Mex. And it's why Michael Winner continues to have a weekly national column that is obstensibly about restaurants, but is really only about what a crashing waste of everyone's time it is to be Michael Winner.

(Incidentally, I guess you could argue that the information-first remit means local reviewers, such as one on a New York paper, have a much stronger justification to go about their business incognito than some minor 'sleb on a British broadsheet. Which is, I think, where we came in ...)

I think that's all spot on save for one tiny detail. The late Hugo Young was a colossus of political commentary on the Guardian and should, in no way, be confused with the very much alive Toby Young on the Evening Standard. (Some might suggest that Hugo could do a better job dead, than Toby does alive; I couldn't possibly comment.)

Jay

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Alexis -- just curious-- how is Giles anti-American? I've been watching/reading him for a while and haven't really noticed it before...I think he might just be a bit grumpy in general...

I should say here that I'm half-American myself and was actually born in Texas...and I quite often cringe when I see UK pundits taking a swipe at the USA as if the country is one huge consensus of Bushland rather than the diverse and regional place I know...!

Elizabeth, AKA Izabel_blue

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  • 1 year later...

Giles Coren, who suffered terribly following the initial ruling on the Goodfellas libel case is so relieved to have his freedom of speech restored, he ventured to Belfast to check out Goodfellas for himself.

Then my pollo marsala arrives: an oval dish containing a chocolate coloured liquid and pale lumps of something. I eat a mouthful. The sweetness is, indeed, alarming. As is the consistency of the meat. Without the court papers to confirm what I had ordered, I’d have guessed I was eating thin strips of mole poached in Ovaltine.

His conclusion was that it is just horribly bad in the regular sense of the word and didn’t offer much potential for his newly sharpened pen. His lawyers may have been checking his copy, but the subs would do well to have a look too. He incorrectly refers (on six occasions) to the original Goodfellas article as having appeared in The Irish Times when it was in fact The Irish News.

But now he's on a mission.

You may notice that I have no review in today’s Magazine. This is because I have taken a couple of weeks off to steel myself for the most savage onslaught yet known on some far harder targets much closer to home. And the harder they come, the harder they will fall.

Good. I think more newspaper critics should be exposing what is simply unacceptable (neighbourhood ‘Italian’ restaurants being major offenders) and perhaps customers will start questioning the crap they are being served.

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But now he's on a mission.

You may notice that I have no review in today’s Magazine. This is because I have taken a couple of weeks off to steel myself for the most savage onslaught yet known on some far harder targets much closer to home. And the harder they come, the harder they will fall.

Good. I think more newspaper critics should be exposing what is simply unacceptable (neighbourhood ‘Italian’ restaurants being major offenders) and perhaps customers will start questioning the crap they are being served.

Yes yes but how soon before they get bored? Shooting fish in a barrel is like aiming at barn doors, it's no fun after a few goes. Leave the neighbourhood Italians to the neighbourhood papers, they aren't worth the big guns' ammunition.

Sounds actually more like he intends having a pop at some famous names. Hmm well, let's hope it's for a better reason than simply self-publicity and column inches. Maybe he's feeling Gill's getting too much praise (as he deserves) and feels a cheap stunt is in order.

BTW whatever happened to those frozen food ads Coren took the shilling for? Maybe the beard put people off the product? It is an advertising axiom that beards don't play well with the general public, especially when associated with food.

S

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Surely the 'idea' behind this story is the hilarious premise of sending a big city critic to this 'benighted shitole'. The idea that he's actually applying his critical faculties in any professional way is ridiculous so assessing it as a restaurant review is pointless.

It's a really funny piece of writing.

I laughed out loud 4 times. That's a better score than most columns in the Sundays that are billed as comic rather than reviews.

In a couple of years time when someone is putting together a 'best foodwriting of 2008' anthology this will be in it without doubt. I think it would also sit well in any anthology of comic journalism.

It doesn't get better than that.

People on the boards validate themselves by disagreeing with the findings of professional critics and I'm sure Coren has been 'wrong' on many counts but you can't detract from the fact that this is a brilliant piece of comic writing by any standard.

I wish I'd written it.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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As I have never eaten at Goodfellas and never will, I am unable to validate myself by disagreeing with Giles Coren. I will therefore attempt to validate myself by disagreeing with you:

"In his five star review of Giles Coren's 2/10 review of Goodfellas, Tim Hayward calls it "a brilliant piece of comic writing by any standard". While we wouldn't disagree that Coren can be marvelously witty, we feel that Hayward has slightly mislaid his critical faculties and allowed himself to slip into hyperboyle in his assessment of Coren's latest work. It was just aw-ight for us dude."

Gosh, do you know, I feel so much better for that. My previously mundane, pointless existance now has some, well, validity. Right - who else can I disagree with.

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When he was the Times restaurant critic Jonathan Meades gave one of the Harvester chain the funniest review I have ever read.

The review was written pre-internet so its beyond the reach of Google. My powers of recollection are sometimes a bit hazy (that's my defence in court sorted) but I think he scored it zero or one. I believe the piece is referenced in his book Incest and Morris Dancing: A Gastronomic Revolution.

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As I have never eaten at Goodfellas and never will, I am unable to validate myself by disagreeing with Giles Coren. I will therefore attempt to validate myself by disagreeing with you:

"In his five star review of Giles Coren's 2/10 review of Goodfellas, Tim Hayward calls it "a brilliant piece of comic writing by any standard". While we wouldn't disagree that Coren can be marvelously witty, we feel that Hayward has slightly mislaid his critical faculties and allowed himself to slip into hyperboyle in his assessment of Coren's latest work. It was just aw-ight for us dude."

Gosh, do you know, I feel so much better for that. My previously mundane, pointless existance now has some, well, validity. Right - who else can I disagree with.

Certainly there is much more to board life than endless bloody dissection of what a restaurant critic has said and, equally certainly, someone like yourself, who writes reviews for a living has no reason to seek validation.

What I meant was this...

You have to admit that one of the longest lasting and least edifying tropes on a food board is the endless thread which runs...

"Critic X said Y about Z. That's shit. I went there and it was brilliant/rubbish"

"You're a doodoohead. Critic X is brilliant"

....repeated on an endless cycle, adding precisely nothing to the sum of human good.

It's the nature of online communities... it's what happens when access to media is democratised... it's the whole bloody point of the thing - getting to disagree publicly with the traditional arbiters of taste.

Obviously you get paid for writing reviews, so you are one of the very few people to whom this doesn't apply but it makes precisely bugger all difference what anyone on a food board thinks about Coren or Gill's abilities as a critic; the fact remains that, until the glorious day when every last dead tree medium is shut down and the dining public go to eGullet for their restaurant recs, the journalist is getting paid for it and the poster isn't - and what they're getting paid for is their writing not their palate

Unfortunately, it all thunders along, in a pointless fury of insult and counter insult until it reaches the same inevitable conclusion every time. Restaurant reviewing is entirely subjective so the POV of the professional critic is only better than that of the amateur to the degree that it sells papers by being entertaining.

I'm utterly, ring-bleedingly bored of the same bloody 'debate'.

I read everyone's reviews out of professional requirement.

Some of them entertain me.

I don't regard any as an indication of how I'm going to feel about the restaurant.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Surely the 'idea' behind this story is the hilarious premise of sending a big city critic to this 'benighted shitole'. The idea that he's actually applying his critical faculties in any professional way is ridiculous so assessing it as a restaurant review is pointless.

It's a really funny piece of writing.

I laughed out loud 4 times. That's a better score than most columns in the Sundays that are billed as comic rather than reviews.

I thought it was a stroke of genius. It’s just a pity that every critic didn’t review it this weekend. That would have made a complete mockery of the whole libel thing.

It will be interesting to see what happens at the retrial on the case.

In the meantime, some best served cold bad reviews from the Grauniad here.

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