Those of us fortunate enough to have achieved some measure of success as restaurateurs are here to tell you: This is a great business. You get to eat out all the time, and you can travel the world for inspiration. And I love doing that, but one of my keenest pleasures comes from reading critical, and not-so-critical, reviews of restaurants from world culinary capitals.
Although I never followed Craig Claiborne, I think I started following Bryan Miller of the New York Times in the early nineties and have continued on with William Grimes, Frank Bruni, and Sam Sifton, right through to Pete Wells.
I also like Adam Platt of New York magazine, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post and Jay Rayner of the Guardian in London. Our own Rick Nelson of the Star-Tribune also belongs in their company.
And while these are all entertaining and accomplished, knowledgeable writers, the one who made me laugh out loud was A.A. GILL, the revered and feared critic…. from the London Sunday Times – “the witty wielder of the hatchet.”
Gill died a little over two years ago. But a few days ago I came upon one of his pieces and laughed ‘til I cried. So, I thought I would share some of his dazzling and fearless writing.
First I’ll share the positive reviews. Not surprisingly, with one exception, his favorite restaurants match up with mine.
THE WOLSELEY, London: ”…a cross between the traditional robustness of the Parisian brasserie and the gloriously grand, but cozy, Viennese café.”
ELYSTAN STREET, Chelsea, London: ”Pure food joy.”
CLUB GASCON, London: ”Frankly, I cannot think of a higher recommend.”
BRASSERIE ZEDEL, Piccadilly, London: “Along with the Brasserie, the Grande Café combines an opulent setting exclusively for everyman. Zedel is such a place.”
CHUTNEY MARY, St. James Street, London: “Chutney isn’t a verb or an adjective. Maybe we should make one up. Cat got your chutney? It’s the dog’s chutnies. It’s a red card! He was chutnied!!!!”
Then there’s GAUTHIER in Soho, London. Joanne and I LOVED it; Gill HATED it, and wrote, ”We ate everything…including beans arranged around a mash of something that might have been peas, but also might have been GOAT’S EARWAX.”
The Atlantic magazine said of Gill, “He was willing to say that something tastes like crap, no matter who the chef or what the price.”
So here goes….
Gordon Ramsey’s AUBERGINE in Chelsea (where he and Joan Collins were thrown out): ”The Gruyere and goat cheese toasted sandwich boasted more grease than a lube job.”…“The frogs legs tasted like something sour and slimy that had been fished out of a heron’s throat.”
At an unknown restaurant, he wrote, “I had a jelly that involved Campari and fennel. It was a pretty color, but tasted exactly as I’ve always imagined suicide capsules would – fantastically bitter and fraudulently medicinal.”
Unrepentant, he was reported for violations on two occasions to England’s Commission on Racial Equality.
Describing the Welsh, he wrote, “Loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly pugnacious little trolls…WAIT A SEC!…I’M PART WELSH!”
Offering his view of The Isle of Man: “Citizens fall into two types – hopeless inbred mouth-breathers and retired small-arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures.”
Celebrity chef Jean-George Vongorichten opened a “Chinese-ish” spot a few years back on Church in New York, called simply 66. Joanne and I ate there and didn’t hate it, but didn’t like it enough to return.
Gill, on the other hand…well, read on:
Upon his arrival, “We were treated at the door like social scurvy with contagious halitosis…The greet and seat procedure is modeled on the aliens line at Immigration, just after the Friday-night flight from Khartoum has landed.”
He was further annoyed by the server at 66 who said, “Do you know how this works?” Gill replied, “WHAT? I order. You serve. I eat. I pay. You give me my coat back.” To which the server replied, ”NO, NO, NO, we bring the food when and in the order it’s prepared.” To which Gill wrote in his column, “The rest of the meal slid into a long, bland, watery compost that could barely incite flatulence.”
There’s more. He wrote that the Shrimp-Foie Gras dumplings were “properly vile, and tasted like fishy, liver-filled condoms with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as a swab in an animal hospital.”
And finally, “We spit in your soy sauce. And the dim sum is incubated in our chef’s jock strap.”
Probably not a good idea to piss him off…
Gill did not confine his acrimony to restaurateurs and the Welsh…..and did not spare the singer, musician and songwriter….Morrisey. “Morrisey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whining, self-martyred human being whoever took a breath. And those are just his good qualities.”
And lastly, the Anglophile Mecca in Paris…the bistro that screws over Americans…the grotesquely overpriced restaurant where Joanne and I were treated rudely (really rudely) yet for all those abuses remains a magnet to Americans….
L’AMI LOUIS..in the 3rd on Rue du Vertbois.
Gill begins his piece. “It feels like a 2nd class railway station…painted in a shiny, distressed dung brown and staffed by paunchy, combative surly men who exude a pantomime insolence, an existential…Le ‘FUG YOUSE.’”
“The crowded tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be the suppository”…and “In the middle there is a stubby little stove that looks vaguely proctotorial…”
And we’re just now getting to the food…
Foie Gras: “…comes as a pair of intimidatingly gross flabs of chilly paté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat that tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction.”
“Veal Kidneys en Brochette: “…could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor.”
He concludes the disemboweling of L’Ami Louis with, “It’s undeniable that L’Ami Louis is really special and apart. It has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, THE WORST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.”
A.A. GILL, was, in my opinion…the BEST RESTAURANT CRITIC IN THE WORLD.
In his Sunday column, shortly before he died, he summed up his career as follows: “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you watch television, eat good food and travel and then write about it?’ Gill responded, “As lives go, that’s pretty good.”