Pls Read The Most Vicious Food Review You’ll See In This Life Or The Next

Have you ever had a disappointing meal? Jay Rayner has. In fact, the food critique has had quite a few over an 18-year career reviewing restaurants. But none, it seems, have been quite so godforsaken awful as the €600 ($846) meal he recently had at Le Cinq, the Michelin three-star restaurant of the Four Season’s George V Hotel in Paris.

“I assumed it would be whimsical, and perhaps outrageous,” writes Rayner, in his widely-shared review for The Guardian. “Never did I think the shamefully terrible cooking would slacken my jaw from the rest of my head.”

If you’re the type of huge nerd to keep a notebook of clever phrases and witticisms for future inspiration, then this piece is poetry crack. A particularly disappointing canapé is described as looking like “a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant”, which his companion describes as like “eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s.” An amuse-bouche which misses the mark is so bitter, Rayner writes that his lips pursed “like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles“, while a dessert of frozen chocolate mousse cigars is perfectly adequate, “if you overlook the elastic flap of milk skin draped over it, like something that’s fallen off a burns victim.” 

The reader knows what they’re in for from the get-go, with this wonderful turn of prose to set the (murder) scene:

“The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with 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. There’s a stool for the lady’s handbag. Well, of course there is.”

As his review began picking up steam, Rayner took to his blog to shed a little more light on his most dreadful of experiences – in particular, the huge disparate between the pictures of the food and the descriptions.

It turns out there’s quite a simple explanation for that: unusually, Le Cinq didn’t allow The Guardian to take photos, instead insisting on supplying the restaurant’s own PR images. (Rayner notes that the restaurant’s reason behind this was that it would cost too much to recreate the dishes, and as the review was so negative, he felt he had no choice but to accept.) 

Le Cinq’s image of the gratinated onion dish…
… and Rayner’s.

“Here’s the thing,” he writes on his blog. “When I review a restaurant I book under a pseudonym. They do not know I’m coming until I’m there and sometimes still don’t clock me. I leave, I write my review, and then we send in a photographer to shoot pictures of all the things I ate. Why don’t I just shoot them on my phone at the time? For two reasons. Firstly it would draw attention to what I’m doing there and secondly, while an iPhone 7 camera is good, it’s not good enough for the needs of a quality newspaper and nor am I. We get a professional to do the job. Occasionally the food the photographer shoots looks slightly different to that which I’m writing about, but it’s never been a major difference. (Step inside these parentheses a moment. It’s worth adding that the Observer’s photographer has no idea whether the review they are illustrating is positive or negative and therefore they have no agenda. Many years ago I used to file my whole review to the picture desk, who would punt it on to the photographers. It transpired that the photographers were being hassled by the restaurant when they turned up to shoot as to what the review was like. The photographers didn’t like this and said they’d prefer not to know so they genuinely couldn’t answer. Now I just send a list of dishes.)”

As with anything that picks up steam on the internet, there was a bit of blowback to his piece, with Rayner taking to Twitter to defend himself and/or correct people’s grammar and/or both.

He even tweeted a photo of the bill, a.k.a. the single most horrifying thing to ever arrive at your table.

As for Le Cinq, the restaurant has stayed quiet as the grave.

You absolutely have to read Rayner’s full review here. Just do it, okay?

Photo: Jay Rayner.