8 of the biggest restaurant review takedowns ever

8 of the biggest restaurant review takedowns ever

This week a review of a TV chef’s restaurant in the New York Times went viral after a slamming from critic Pete Wells (below). These kind of reviews are as much about entertainment, especially coming from UK-based critics such as A.A. Gill, as a service to the public. Here are eight of my top scathing reviews. Please feel free to add links to worse ones in comments.

Pete Wells in The New York times on Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar:

“How, for example, did Rhode Island’s supremely unhealthy and awesomely good fried calamari — dressed with garlic butter and pickled hot peppers — end up in your restaurant as a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice?
How did Louisiana’s blackened, Cajun-spiced treatment turn into the ghostly nubs of unblackened, unspiced white meat in your Cajun Chicken Alfredo?
How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey?”

A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair, L’Ami Louis PAris:

“What you actually find when you arrive at L’Ami Louis is singularly unprepossessing. It’s a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It’s painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.”

John Lethlean in The Age on The Lobster Cave (9/20):

“Inside, colour is important to the Cave’s design motif, too. Swirly carpets; terracotta and blue walls; coloured glass panels; a leadlight of a sea creature; brass ship’s bells; flickering “stars” in the ceiling.
Yes, there is plenty to entertain the eye at the Cave, which appears to exclude the latest trends in design, cooking, and drinking.
In fact, Lobster Cave might be proof of some kind of parallel universe. Except for the prices, which are hyper-contemporary, things happen here in a manner rarely seen these days…
…You can afford to laugh about these things only if someone else is paying. At these prices, service is so far below par as not to be funny.”

Jay Rayner on Le Caprice, London in The London Magazine:

“Menus arrived and with them a waiter who was to warmth and charm what Burma is to democracy. He was brusque, distracted and at one point managed to break off from taking our order to have a sharp exchange of words over our heads with a junior colleague. We asked him for more butter to go with the bread we were scoffing to fend off hunger. The butter never arrived. We had to ask again. The menu at Le Caprice is long and slightly odd. There are comfort food items here – fishcakes with sorrel sauce for example, or fish and chips with crushed peas – alongside offerings of sashimi, duck salad with shiso or Thai-baked sea bass. It is as if they are trying to cater for people with self-consciously cosmopolitan tastes who can’t be fagged to go out and find the real thing.”

Jay Rayner on Brian Turner, London:

Maybe I am not far off the mark, for the first part of Brian Turner Mayfair, the bar, might well be what Dante had in mind when he imagined the seventh circle of hell. It’s like a 70s Spanish gay disco, but with none of the erotic charge: blank walls, fierce pin-prick lighting, dismally grating house music and a bloody barman who has no idea what a kir is, let alone how to mix a good one. Thank God he had a friend to show him. I can’t for a moment imagine a mature chap like Brian Turner wishing to drink in this bar and that’s the problem. It is in no way a reflection of the man upon whom it is all being sold.

John Lethlean in The Australian on Grossi Florentino, Melbourne:

“Standing for five minutes while waiting for staff to retrieve jackets, I finally decided the expectation/delivery equation was way out of symmetry. But frankly, the food manages that all on its own.
Ah, the food. Not bad; just lacklustre and, occasionally, faulty. Hard-shelled, undercooked (and therefore doughy) dinner rolls; an overcooked half quail egg that comes rolled in “Grossi spices” (staff here remain on-message with the Grossi brand throughout the night) with a thimble of ham hock terrine and salsa verde as an amuse-bouche; seriously oversalted pieces of dry and tough pheasant leg – powdery at the extremes – stuffed with a glutinous date and sage stuffing the texture of warm Play-Doh. Calamari “cleaned” so that a slimy inner-cavity membrane is still evident. Pigeon ravioli pasta that has separated at the edges during cooking, tepid and waxy on the pre-warmed plate. And that wet, pudding-ish soufflé.”

Leo Schofield on the Blue Angel Sydney, which resulted in a defamation case that famously tamed critics in Australia for years:

“That should have really sent the balloon up for us. Even Godzilla boiled for 45 minutes would be appallingly overcooked. Which is what our grilled lobster most certainly was, cooked until every drop of juice and joy in the thing had been successfully eliminated, leaving a charred husk of a shell containing meat that might have been albino walrus.[2]
The “carbonised claws” of the lobster “contained only a kind of white powder” and the treatment of the $25 a kilo meat was “close to culinary crime”. The prawns and sole “suffered from the same exposure to heat, the former converted into chewy little shapes without a lot of flavour and the latter a slab of overcooked fish slimy with oil.”

Matthew Evans on Coco Roco in Sydney, where the defamation battle dragged-on for half a decade:

“Coco Roco is the swank new eatery at King Street Wharf. The opening was touted as “Sydney’s most glamorous restaurant”. If glamour peaked at about 1985, then perhaps they’re right. Something about the polished stainless steel around the open kitchen and the black reflector tiles in the bathroom make me feel I should be wearing a pink shirt and a thin leather tie. Maybe it’s just me…
…Next up, the carpaccio of beef ($22) comes with a dreary roast almond paste underneath and far too many yellowing rocket leaves on top. The meat itself is fine, although the parmesan cheese strips taste tired.

Small Queensland scallops ($24) on jagged shells with cauliflower and vanilla nearly work but are uninteresting.

Why anyone would put apricots in a sherry-scented white sauce with a prime rib steak is beyond me. A generous chock of meat comes perfectly rested, medium as ordered. But the halves of apricot are rubbery and tasteless (which is probably a good thing). I scrape the whole wretched garnish to one side. The meat has a good length of flavour and is a damned fine steak, even if it is $52. I can’t help but think at this price I could be dining at Rockpool.”

Finally, here is Buzzfeed’s American- centric top ten:


  1. They missed one of my favourite reviews from repeat offender Jay Rayner -“And so my advice to you. Don’t go to Novikov. Keep not going. Keep not going a lot. In a city with a talent for opening hateful and tasteless restaurants, Novikov marks a special new low. That’s its real achievement”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/19/jay-rayner-restaurant-review-novikov

  2. I believe you missed the best line from Lethlean’s slaying of Grossi’s…

    “I am still in sphincteral recoil over an $80 veal cutlet, although it does come with “Italian potato salad”