English restaurant critics deliver scathing reviews like no one else.
They’re brutal and bloody, as if revenge for Viking Ragnar Lothbrok’s raids on England. The late A.A. Gill’s was a master of “snuff reviews” from 2002’s take on a London restaurant that began “Why is there never a Palestinian suicide bomber when you need one?” to 2011’s disemboweling of L’Ami Louis in Paris for Vanity Fair.
Giles Coren of The Times called London’s Balthazar “the worst food in Europe” and gave it a score of zero, not to mention heading to west Belfast to review Goodfellas, which was the centre of a defamation case. “I’d have guessed I was eating thin strips of mole poached in Ovaltine. It is revolting. It is ill-conceived, incompetent, indescribably awful,” he said of the chicken marsala.
In nearly two decades of eating out, The Guardian’s Jay Rayner has had some memorably awful moments, but yesterday he declared his €600 ($AU850) meal at Le Cinq at the George V Hotel in Paris the worst of his career.
“There is only one thing worse than being served a terrible meal: being served a terrible meal by earnest waiters who have no idea just how awful the things they are doing to you are,” he begins.
The restaurant has three Michelin stars. It does not feature on the recently announced Worlds 50 Best list.
The critic describes a room of “thick carpets to muffle the screams”.
“It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you. There’s a little gilt here and there, to remind us that this is a room designed for people for whom guilt is unfamiliar. It shouts money much as football fans shout at the ref,” Rayner continues.
He chose Le Cinq because the chef was chosen by his peers as the industry’s best last year and imagined “moments of joy and bliss, of the sort only stupid amounts of cash can buy”.
“I assumed it would be whimsical, and perhaps outrageous. Never did I think the shamefully terrible cooking would slacken my jaw from the rest of my head,” he said.
From there Rayner descends into the depths of culinary hell on a menu where the dishes are priced between $99 and $198, whether entree or main.
Here’s an excerpt:
Other things are the stuff of therapy. The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon. It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a “spherification”, a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger.
My companion winces. “It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s,” she says. Spherifications of various kinds – bursting, popping, deflating, always ill-advised – turn up on many dishes.
It’s their trick, their shtick, their big idea. It’s all they have. Another canapé, tuile enclosing scallop mush, introduces us to the kitchen’s love of acidity. Not bright, light aromatic acidity of the sort provided by, say, yuzu. This is blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dulled brass coins.
The cheapest entree is gratinated onions for €70 ($AU99) that “is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party”.
The dish ultimately becomes a subplot to the review after the restaurant refused to let a photographer shoot the food and insisted on supplying the images.
In his review, Rayner says “Pictures of plates are snapped. Mind you I also take pictures, but mine are shot in the manner of a scene of crime officer working methodically”. He posted on his own website the difference between the supplied shot of the onions and the photo he took on his iPhone.
Here they are:
Jayner concludes that he’s spent large amounts at restaurants and loved them. His paper picked up around half his bill – his dining companion paid her own way.
He concludes: “We each of us build our best memories in different ways, and some of mine involve expensive restaurants. But they have to be good. This one will also leave me with memories. They are bleak and troubling. If I work hard, one day, with luck, I may be able to forget.”
Read the full review here.
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