What a pity Jay Rayner will not be judging this year’s Eat Out Awards. He’s been my favourite UK food writer since Adrian Gill disappeared behind Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times pay-to-view wall. Especially after that memorable full body wax back in 2009, below. I was so moved, I completely forgot to file a review of his 2008 opus The Man Who Ate The World. Re-reading my review three years later, it’s clear he would have been just the man for the Eat Out gig. Pity!
The Man Who Ate The World: in search of the perfect dinner by Jay Rayner, Headline, 2008, pp. 344, R244
It’s always best to keep a bottle of Gaviscon handy when you perve gastroporn and this year-in-the-life-of The Observer’s deep-throat Jay Rayner, requires a jumbo pack. While sexual pornography is all about violence and exploitation, this is all about money. For Jay is that most ubiquitous kind of foodie – the food snob.
If you really want to find the perfect dinner would you really start in Las Vegas and then go to Moscow where food is emasculated of all spices by way of Dubai where only Halaal meat may be served that has been drained of all blood and flavour (and don’t mention the P-word)? Italy is ignored and Spain skipped – in spite of being casa to the world’s best restaurant for three years in a row, El Bulli. The whole southern hemisphere is given the flick and Tokyo must do for the whole of Asia.
The main lesson learnt from this year-long sojourn among the fleshpots of the Northern hemisphere is that “every night in the great food cities of the new millennium there were terrific restaurants filled with horrible people who were there because they could afford them or, through status, gain access to them, and who were having a much nicer time than they could possibly ever deserve.” Many of them readers of his Observer column, perhaps.
The cynicism is all-embracing. Bookings are made through restaurant PR’s and most of the obscenely expensive meals featured are blagged. Arrangements in Moscow are secured by reviewing a London restaurant owned by an oligarch – an admission that will hopefully not prejudice his berth at The Observer.
But at least he’s an honest snob and a medium-rare wordsmith. As he cheerfully admits “as a food writer, I know I am meant to be in touch with my inner snaggle-toothed peasant; as a restaurant critic, I have long suspected I am actually in touch with my inner pearly-toothed plutocrat.” Or again “sometimes, in my hungriest moments, I felt I wasn’t really a connoisseur at all, just a greedy man with an expense account.”
The book ends on a cheeky note. The last lunch comes with a bill for €855 and Jay says if you stole or borrowed this book “go out and buy a copy, if only to give as a gift to a friend.”