How to upset the French


Jay Rayner upset the French with his review

THE French don’t like it up them, as Corporal Jones might say, when an Englishman criticises their food and drink. As The Guardian’s Jay Rayner has found after his coruscating review of his £500 meal at the three Michelin star Le Cinq at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris.

 He complained of an unappetising gel globe, looking like ‘Barbie sized breast implant,’ under-cooked pigeon so raw that a few volts could have brought it back to life, served with acidic Japanese pear and a canapé involving ‘the blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dull brass coins.’

 The reaction has been predictable. Rayner was accused of setting out to make fun of the French. His criticism was worthless because he was British. And so on. But even allowing for a little writer’s hyperbole (and reviews wouldn’t be entertaining without it) it was clear from his accompanying photos that something had gone badly wrong.

 Compared with the restaurant’s own pictures Rayner’s food didn’t look anything like them. And when you pay that amount of money at a high class restaurant you expect every dish should be served the same way as the head chef has decreed.

 I, too, have upset the French. But it wasn’t their food: it was their wine. Back in the Eighties I took part in the ritual of the first tastings in Sheffield each November of Beaujolais Nouveau. To make the main edition I drank it icy cold in cellars across town from 7am in the morning. I arrived at the office slightly paf, as the French say.

 To be honest it was never really any good. After all, this was very young wine which hadn’t settled. But it was fun, some years were better than others, and I went along with the hype. Then one year it wasn’t very good at all. In fact it was horrible. And I said so in print.

 My cutting was faxed back to France by a local Frenchman and, zut alors, the merde hit the fan. There was a letter in The Star from the French Chamber of Trade, or whatever. The stink finally died down and so did the fashion for Beaujolais Nouveau. Some years later I discussed the episode with that self same Frenchman who has snitched me up to his countrymen. He grinned. “You were right,” he said.

 I do seem to upset the French. I was less than enthusiastic about one bistro but when the owner hit back he was unwilling or unable to defend the food. Instead he accused me of racism as I had used the word ‘froggy’ in my review – and this was in the days before political correctness ran rampant. I was merely describing the mutual miscomprehension between les rosbifs and the froggies. So imagine my surprise when, a year or so later, he revamped and renamed his restaurant . . . Froggies!

 The Italians are very touchy, too. I thought I was being affectionate when I described a local restaurant owner as ‘meatball shaped’ but he was furious. “You can criticise my food but not me,” he fumed.

 It was worse when I thundered about my meal in a North Debyshire Italian restaurant. It was awful. My abiding memory is of the fat congealing in globules on the back of the spoon in my minestone soup.

 There was hell to pay. The restaurant (which eventually took me to the Press Council and lost) wanted another review by someone who was not called Martin Dawes. And if not “We invite Mr Dawes to come again, announced, and see what good food really is. Then we will take great pleasure in throwing him out.”

 I didn’t take them up on the offer.





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