HERE’S what is odd about reading a restaurant review – likely as not, you’ll never eat the food so fully described, whether the critic leaves the table with a happy strained belt or a bad case of dyspepsia.
Still, I do read about those uneaten meals. My favourite critic is Marina O’Loughlin in the Guardian Weekend supplement. Never shared a mouthful, but her words go down nicely. Having said that, my mother went to the Con Club in Altrincham on the strength of a rave review in Marina’s column, and didn’t like the place much at all.
Jay Rayner in the Observer Magazine – I’ll read him too, even if sometimes he goes out of his way to be annoying. Although his BBC Radio 4 food prog The Kitchen Cabinet is good fun and he makes for an amusing host.
But I did read his latest review, word for word. Jay was in York and I’d been to the restaurant. The food going into his mouth had been into mine, as it were. He reviewed Mr P’s Curious Tavern, which is a spin-off from Andrew Pern, of the Star Inn in Harome and the Star Inn the City in York, and the newly opened Star Inn The Harbour at Whitby.
And Jay was not ‘inn’ a particularly good mood – not at his carping worst, but he didn’t much enjoy the meal. He said the place was trying too hard to be zany and different.
As he pointed out in the review, Jay has form with Pern, having written an unenthusiastic review of the other York joint, where he complained about being served food in a flat cap. I wouldn’t disagree with him there, as plates are a fine invention.
Jay was suspicious of the theme for Mr P’s Curious Tavern, distrusting the phrase “Yorkshire tapas” – “I searched deep inside myself for the Spaniard by way of Heckmonwike. He wasn’t there.”
I searched deep inside myself for a reason for a reason not to like this place, and found none. Don’t eat out a lot, but my friend Robert – who is kind enough to indulge these laptop meanderings – took me there for lunch recently. I didn’t recognise everything Jay ate, although the boudin noir bonbons seemed familiar. And I did have the same pud – the chocolate mousse with orange sorbet, served in a hollowed-out orange. Very nice it was, too.
It’s a quirky place this tavern, eccentrically decorated, with columns of books on the bar, but I felt at home, even with a beer-dulled head on a hot afternoon, two treats having queued up on subsequent days.
We were greeted by a friend of my daughter, who is away in Australia, where the friend’s sister lives, so there was a bit of chat. Then I chatted to Robert and ate three good courses, plus that orange, and one modest glass of white wine, an Albarino if memory serves.
Other friends thought the place good but pricey – hinting that you didn’t exactly leave over-burdened in the stomach department. I left happily full for a lunchtime, and would return, although saying that I never saw the bill.
Back in March, Jay Rayner gave a rave review to another York restaurant, Skosh in Micklegate. He listed the travelling times to York from various other cities, then said: “All of these (and more) are entirely reasonable journey times to experience Neil Bentinck’s clever, delicious and often brilliant cooking at a price that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been a willing accomplice in your own mugging.”
Critics give and they take. Skosh sounds great. My teacher son went there shortly after it opened and raved about the place also. Perhaps one day I’ll get there, although Jay has made that harder.
I have been to Partisan a few doors up the street and liked that. Last week we took our other son and his girlfriend to Source in Castlegate, where the food was pretty good, although Jay might not appreciate his meal served straight on a tray.
That’s quite enough places mentioned for someone who mostly eats at home, where I read also about meals I will never probably never get around to cooking, even though we do experiment sometimes by following recipes in the weekend supplements.
In my days at the Press, I even passed on a few recipes, many of them for bread. Incidentally, restaurant reviews were removed from that paper years ago, due to cost-cutting and complaints from the advertising department – “You can’t say that meal belonged in the bin, they’ve just paid for a month’s worth of adverts.”
Now the reviews are back and they seem to be popular. I try not to take an unhealthy interest in my past, but I was glad to see those reviews return. The expenses would probably cover Jay Rayner’s pudding bill, but it’s a start. If not a starter – and I suspect the drinks are on the reviewer, too.
As for York, this city seems hellbent on giving Jay Rayner plenty more places to visit, with everywhere turning into bars and restaurants. The poor man will be on his knees by the time York has finished with him.