Monday, August 28, 2006

There is a Free Lunch

Being a restaurant critic always struck me as being a job out of this world. Probably not too good for the waistline, but as long as you were only called upon to decimate one establishment per week, it could be kept under control.

And you get to visit the sort of places that you were never able to afford without the largesse of your employer.

You could work your way through the menu with an easy conscience, select from the wine list with nary a glance at the price column and, when it was all over and you were replete and full of the chef’s food and the milk of human kindness in equal amounts, you could summon the maitre’d.

In well chosen words, you could explain to him just what an inferior establishment he was running and, item by item, tick off the failings of the chef, the sloppiness of the service and the disastrous décor of the place. The coup de grace would be to point out that, if he wasn’t paying attention, he would be able to read all about it in the Sunday newspapers.

And then you could burp quietly and leave.

That seems to be the principle on which most of the critics work, anyway.

One particularly virulent one would write in a major Sunday newspaper of how he would turn up at the restaurant in his Rolls, complete with his latest popsy, and then would proceed to perform a hatchet job upon the eatery with great glee. If he’d shown up at my place, I’d have done a hatchet job on his Roller, personally.

But I suppose that, as a restaurateur, you can’t do much about it.

“Yes sir. Table for two? Right this way…, are you by chance from the Sunday……..You are? Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I see we’re fully booked – until the next millennium.”

Even then, some will slip through the net.

It seems to be a thriving business and, if there’s a vacancy, I’m fully prepared to force myself into doing the job and to hell with the waistline.

Mind you, I can see a few snags. For instance, you might be dispatched to eat at the Obese Canard, a temple of nouveau cuisine where the chef specialises in preparing food from items not usually thought fit for human consumption, such as a starter of pâte de slug served on a bed of recycled polystyrene. But you can always ask for something off the menu, I suppose. I was at La Tour in Paris a few years back in company with an Englishman who detested French food. Looking gloomily over the menu he muttered, “I’d give anything for a poached egg on toast.” The English speaking waiter repressed his astonishment that the man did not want the famous duck – and produced two perfectly poached eggs on toast.

So at the aforesaid nouveau cuisine joint, I could ask for sausage, egg and chips in place of the printed menu.

And then I could lie to my editor about it.

OK, I’ll take the job.


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