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:

Takeaways from Eat Drink Blog 3

The SA Tourism Minister Gail Gago talks to food bloggers.

Who’d have thought it? The South Australian Minister for Tourism Hon Gail Gago speaking to 90 or so food bloggers at Eat Drink Blog 3 conference. Mind you I was also surprised by Meat and Livestock’s sponsorship and more particularly their invitation to anyone who wanted to to visit a beef feedlot – I certainly plan to take up that offer.

And let’s not mention the food writer who referred to Gago as “hon” most of the night.

It was an amazing effort from local bloggers Christina Soong-Kroeger and Amanda McInerney and their team.

There was a lot to learn from the conference although for me it was also a great opportunity to see many bloggers I hadn’t seen in a while and to also catch up with many new ones who I wanted to meet. I’ve been a bad blogger the past few years as I haven’t engaged with people through comments and Twitter like I used to. But the conference reignited my passion.

I suspect we can all remember the community aspect as we get back to commenting and linking between each other.

Simon Leong’s, from Simon’s Food Favourites, video of Eat Drink Blog 2012.

In no particular order:

1. Food blogging as with all social media is about participating in and building a community. Half the work in terms of hours is writing the post. The other half is promoting that post (not forgetting keyword analysis if you are into that kind of thing). It’s about passion and nowadays (unlike when I started) about finding a compelling niche.

2. In recipe writing, list the order of ingredients in the order that you use them. Ensure none are left out or left unused.

3. Natural light is the best way to take great food photos. You don’t even need a tripod, let alone a light box thingy.

4. Use simple sheets of paper as a backdrop and shoot from the side rather than on top. You don’t need a warehouse full of props.

5. Use depth of field which gives a blur effect in the back of a picture.

6. The rules of blog design are quite simple. People look top left of a site first so whatever you want them to do put it there. If you want email sign-ups make it big and at the top left.

7. A website must be easy to read. That means a large font size, 16pt as a minimum (and don’t forget to set your leading correctly – the space between lines). Narrower columns are easier to read as is type on a white background. Simple fonts are best, particularly san serif.

8. Bold lists to draw people in.

9. Images are essential.

10. Put a search box at the top of your page.

11. Make it easy to share content across the key social media platforms even if you aren’t present on them.

12. Popups are annoying but powerful. Try the pop-up domination plugin.

13. Don’t use social media buttons to feed out to the web. Use social media to feed into your website.

14. Don’t forget smartphone and tablet compatibility.

15. Check out the long tail of keywords through Google Adwords keyword tool to find traffic building opportunities. Apparently wine blogs Australia is low competition as are Asian snack recipes, best Australian recipes and Australian seafood.

16. Competing with the most popular keywords isn’t worth the effort most probably.

17. I missed Diane Jacob’s workshop on writing. But I heard her mention something on adjectives. I’m guessing she was probably saying you shouldn’t use them. My own advice is to describe the food, what it looks like, it’s flavours, texture, temperature and ingredients. It’s not good enough to say it was delicious – you need to build an argument for what you are saying.

18. On the whole food bloggers are more ethical than many food and wine writers, declaring far more free meals and trips.

19. It is possible to work with PRs but don’t become a slave to free stuff and events as you’ll cheat your readers.

20. Create a page for PRs where you set out what you do and don’t want. For instance, if you don’t want to be sent a lot of free stuff in lots of packaging say so.

21. Chef Simon Bryant mande many sensible comments about reviewing restaurants that care about produce. If a chef really sources local, ethically sourced produce he will sometimes have produce that isn’t quite up to scratch – for instance beef suffers when lack of rain affects grass growth. If he or she is committed to produce a lot of items may be off menu. Cut them some slack.