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PREVIEW: Jay Rayner on being a food critic

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Food critic Jay Rayner brings his show to Leamington on Friday
Food critic Jay Rayner brings his show to Leamington on Friday

Restaurant critic, presenter and jazz pianist Jay Rayner calls into Lemington Spa town hall with his show My Dining Hell on Friday (13 May). He chatted to Herald arts ahead of the event.

What can we expect from the show?

Well, despite negative reviews being a small part of my work, people love to hear them. The first half is basically stand-up comedy. And then the second part is an audio-visual presentation of a ‘journey through awfulness’ – the terrible dining experiences I’ve had. However it’s not all one way, I do read harsh reviews of my own work – books and my own appearances on TV. I also invite the audience to review me via Twitter. Which is an interesting exercise. Then finally a Q&A with the audience.

What are some of your pet hates in the food world at the moment?

Serving food on anything that isn’t a plate. It started with slabs of slate. Why would you want to eat off from one of those? It’s cold, the scrape of the cutlery, the sauce dribbles off the edge, they are horrible – plates are marvellous. This desire by chefs to serve food in unusual things: in mini baskets or cocktails in jam jars. It just drives me nuts!

What’s the secret of writing a good review?

I have to remind myself it’s a writing job not an eating job, I ask myself ‘what’s this review about?’ There are any number of gastropubs serving the same food: goats cheese and beetroot starter, ribeye steak, lemon pudding for starters – all very nice, but I would have nothing to say about them. Nobody employs me to eat, what my editor needs is an interesting piece of prose.

How do you feel about Tripadvisor?

If I was a chef or a restaurateur I would hate it; and I don’t much like it as a journalist – it seems remarkably untrustworthy. You don’t know those people or what axe they have to grind; and none of them understand the law of libel, they say whatever they like; and it’s useless for finding somewhere good to eat.

What restaurants have you tried in this area that you’ve liked?

It’s hard to recall without checking, but I seem to remember liking The Churchill Arms in Paxford and The Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stratford’s always baffled me: you’ve got a great captive audience, theatre-goers and tourists, rich people, and yet, I’ve never had call to go to go to any restaurant there.

One of the problems for most towns is that when a licence spot comes up all the chains, like Wagamam and Byron Burgers, make a bit and the landlords faced by those or choosing an independent go for a safe bet, and that means to get identical high streets. You need an enlightened planning policy by the local council.

Your mum, the agony aunt and journalist Claire Rayner, was obviously a big influence. Is your career mirroring hers?

I suppose the variety is similar to what I do, but she never played jazz piano!

Obviously I miss her, but you do move on; one thing I regret is she never got to see me do the jazz.

What were your favourite meals growing up?

I had a ridiculously cosmopolitan childhood – so it would be things like going to Joe Allen’s, the great theatre restaurant in London, and eating spare ribs while staring at a room of people off the telly – that and Chinese food on boxing day because that’s what Jews like to do.

Tickets are still available for Jay Rayner’s Friday’s show (7.30pm start) from Leamington Town Hall or call 01926 334

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