The Nasty Food Critic
Mean Food Critics
There's something about a meal that displeases that provokes a violent response. Perhaps this is because , as English wit Frank Muir once remarked in reference to food criticism. 'it's hard to be detached about something you shove in your mouth and swallow'. For professional food writers, it seems a certain amount of acid reflux is almost mandatory and the profession has a long tradition of serving up inflamed tongue, with a flagon of extra vitriol on the side. Consider, for example, this Daily Mirror excerpt from 1933 which features a scathing attack on the long-suffering turkey:
What a shocking fraud turkey is. In life preposterous, insulting – that foolish noise they make to scare you away! In death -unpalatable. The turkey has practically no taste except a dry fibrous flavour reminiscent of a mixture of warmed up plaster-of-paris and horsehair. The texture is like wet sawdust and the whole vast feathered swindle has the piquancy of a boiled mattress
It seems no meat or vegetable is safe from the acid wit of the critics and even Mark Twain was once moved to remark that the 'pretentious' cauliflower was 'no more than a cabbage with a college education'. So with all this in mind, it was no surprise to read a merciless attack in the Observer Online directed at a London, Ukranian-style restaurant called Divo, by food critic Jay Raynor:
A little over a century ago my Jewish forebears fled that part of Eastern Europe then known as the Pale of Settlement. Having eaten at Divo, described as London's first luxury Ukrainian restaurant, I now know why. It was to escape the cooking.
Even before the fist line or two has receded the reader knows this restaurant is about to be annihilated and to read on would be akin to watching a nasty boy pull the wing off a defenceless fly – yet read on we must, if only to see just how awful it's going to be:
The decor is a mixture of overblown kitsch - swirly carpets and drapes that Middle Eastern dignitaries might favour for photo opportunities - and a down home babushka, cottage look
Uh oh, it's bad...but what about the food...?
Top of the list is the Cossack Pork Sausage. Any comedic value obtained from the innuendo in that name was completely trounced by the appearance of the dish itself. The lengths of gnarled, under-seasoned gristly sausage arrived atop a lattice covering a ceramic bowl, which held a reservoir of burning liquor....
We finished - and I use that term loosely, for we did not finish anything - with a grim slice of cherry cheesecake with a jelly topping so solid you could have used it to culture bacteria in a petri dish. The other dessert was a curl of cold pancake, buried beneath more sodden cherries. The pancake tasted like it had been made earlier in the day. In short, a load of old crepe.
Terminal..and the attack continues, the result being that the poor fly not only has both wings ripped off but is crushed viciously into the ground until only a crumb of its former insect self remains. Raynor's review was a couple of years old but I wonder if Divo hasn't already fallen into receivership?
The interesting thing about food critics, is the crueler they are, the more highly regarded and I'm not sure what this says about their readership. Presumably food reviews are for a) people who can afford to go to restaurants and prefer to be relieved from the agonies of self-- discovery and/or b) enjoy a little tart relish with their articles. Of course I'm sure food writers can produce delightfully nice reviews and lather on for paragraphs about the virtues of a particularly fresh peach melba, but the whole identity of the food critic does seem to depend on the sourest flavouring. I guess those who can, cook...those who can't, masticate.
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