Jay Rayner’s scathing restaurant review of Paris restaurant Le Cinq has been the talk of the internet since the article appeared online on Sunday morning in the Guardian.
It went viral pretty instantly confirming that there is nothing that readers like more than a bashing particularly if this has colourful language and has made the writer angry. Jay Rayner’s website collapsed as visitors flocked to get the back story to the Guardian review. Readers on social media were urging their followers to read the article saying that this would be the best thing they read that day and the article instantly went viral. By the time of writing the article had over 2,700 comments on The Guardian.
When the restaurant critic termed this his worst experience ever readers got curious. They were amused with the colourful language. It was no wonder with gems like “never did I think the shamefully terrible cooking would slacken my jaw from the rest of my head,” or “my lips purse, like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles.”
Rayner speaks about a pigeon that was requested medium but which was served so pink ‘it just might fly again given a few volts.” There was also talk of a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant and ‘eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s’.
That review clearly won him plaudits among many but it even got him calls from chaps in Paris who he said ‘told me to go and eat fish and chips because…because….yknow…English an that..’.
Rayner explained that he went to the three Michelin star restaurant of the George V Hotel in Paris not to review but rather to observe and have moments of joy and bliss of the sort only stupid amounts of cash can buy. The price was such that the newspaper only paid part of the bill while his dining companion paid her share of the bill.
What followed, however, was the mother of all disasters. It is not often that you read such a negative review of a restaurant and it is all the more surprising particularly when Elizabeth Auerbach of Elizabeth on Food who is an independent reviewer and who has lots of experience judging such restaurants gave the restaurant a near perfect score when she ate there in 2016.
But might this be a case of perceptions and expectations. Sometimes we tend to be more lenient and atother times we try to find fault even in perfection. Everyone can have a bad day but in this case it seemed that the restaurant was having a meltdown judging by the level of criticism levelled at the restaurant and the difference in the photos sent by the restaurant and taken by the guests at table.
What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? It was probably was the female companion receiving a menu without prices particularly when she had booked the table.
Receiving menus where the female companion is given one without prices is common in such restaurants though it is clear that this is something that restaurant owners would do well to reflect on whether such a practice is still necessary in this day and age. Because, let’s face it, it is actually an affront and an insult to a woman to give her a menu without a price particularly when she is hosting the dinner. We are in 2017 and while this practice might have worked in the previous century, one would have expected the world of fine dining to move on.
Such an episode alone could be enough to ruin the experience particularly when you start to see that the starters and main courses are costing between €70 to €140.
What maybe added to the frustration is the comparison of a photo taken by Jay Rayner of an Onion Dish which he described as follows: “The cheapest of the starters is gratinated onions “in the Parisian style”. We’re told it has the flavour of French onion soup. It makes us yearn for a bowl of French onion soup. It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party. There are textures of onions, but what sticks out are burnt tones, and spherified balls of onion purée that burst jarringly against the roof of the mouth.”
Compare this to Elizabeth’s review of the dish where she said “the relatively new and brilliant “Gratinée d’Oignons à la Parisienne / contemporaine” is also proof that Christian Le Squer is not resting on his laurels and can deliver excellence on both the classical and contemporary sides of the haute cuinine spectrum. Spherification can be a hit-and-miss technique; here it was a sure hit.”
The photo of the onion dish sent to the Guardian by Le Cinq. Photo by Jean-Claude Amiel
What upset Rayner is the PR shot sent by the restaurant. He said that for the sake of clarity, he was not ‘suggesting that le Cinq did this to deceive anyone, or to gainsay my review the contents of which they had no prior knowledge of until its publication. (I pity the person who has to translate it.) But I do think the difference between the way they portray their dishes and the one I ate is interesting.’
While everyone knows that with dire lighting conditions and the lack of flash, taking a photo can be very difficult, the stark difference between the dish in the PR photo and the one that was served is such that would make even the most lenient critic wonder whether the benefit of doubt can be afforded in this case.
We still have to hear the other side of the coin from the restaurant. Le Cinq has been quiet since the article was published. It is unlikely that we will hear anything but it would be a PR disaster for the restaurant to not at least respond and give its side of the story.
The criticism may have been justified, the language might have been too harsh for some but we should all reflect and listen particularly when someone shouts out that the emperor has no clothes. Because while a bad review always sells better, as can be seen in this case, it is still extremely difficult to write such a review.
The problem we face as guests is what to make of it all. Because here we are talking about one of the most influential British restaurant critics reviewing one of the best restaurants in Paris. And when faced with the equally reliable Elizabeth Auerbach who says “the beauty of Le Squer’s cooking is that it is so unashamedly outspoken with maximum flavours and with high aesthetic appeal; a signature style that already has attracted many international gourmands and is an inspiration to aspiring chefs around the world,” you are left with many question marks and very few answers.
They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Who will give Le Squer another chance?