Australia is a nation of foodies. What we’re not, however, is a nation of people who like having our culinary talents criticised. Whether it’s two sisters running an MKR instant restaurant or a hatted chef in a swish fine dining joint, Aussie restaurateurs are pretty thin-skinned. Which is a shame for our food critics who keep getting saddled with defamation lawsuits for merely suggesting that their rump steak was more “leather boot” than “medium rare”.
The US and the UK, however, are a critics’ paradise. Free to go to town on shonky service, outdated décor and inedible food, the bad restaurant review is practically an art form. There are whole books containing nothing but restaurant beat ups.
So here, for your daily dose of schadenfreude, are some of the best food critic smackdowns ever (with a couple of super kind - by comparison - Aussie ones).
9. Matthew Evans vs Coco Roco Restaurant (Sydney)
The proprietors of the now-defunct Coco Roco thought this review was offensive enough to hit the Sydney Morning Herald with a defamation case, which they eventually won to the tune of $600,000 - an insane amount considering the relative tameness of Evans’ critique.
“I've never had pork belly that could almost be described as dry. Until tonight… The meat is unevenly spiced with Moorish flavours and the lentils are poor. Texturally, it brings to mind the porcine equal of a parched Weetbix.”
8. John Lethlean vs Hill of Grace (Adelaide)
John Lethlean is one of the few Aussie food critics who doesn’t seem frightened of defamation… but he’s still pretty damn gentle by international standards. Even still, rumour has it that the HOG team are also “talking to their lawyers” after this review.
“I’m trying hard to think of someone I’d recommend it (the restaurant) to. I just can’t."
7. Steve Cuozzo vs Eat (New York City, USA)
This restaurant took hipster nonsense one step too far by forcing diners to eat their food in total silence. Why? According to the chef/owner, it had something to do with “Buddhism”.
“A good salad of crackling mustard greens laced with radishes and miso was served between ‘palate-cleansing’ teas tasting like watered-down mint toothpaste.”
6. Tom Sietsema vs Second State (Washington DC, USA)
This reviewer even criticised the restaurant’s “put down your phone” sign, suggesting scrolling through Facebook was a far better way to spend your time than actually eating the food at Second State.
The young restaurant should be declared a disaster area by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, so great are its culinary misfires. Salads are overdressed, cheese pierogis drown in butter, pheasant gets roasted to dryness, venison is so undercooked it practically snorts, and baked beans have the misfortune of being cooked with root beer.
5. Jay Rayner vs Beast (London, UK)
Legendary Guardian critic Jay Rayner found London restaurant Beast so bad he actually encouraged readers to go - if only to experience for themselves the OTT level of wank on display.
“Got any friends who are, say, international drug barons? Excellent. They may be able to afford dinner. It’s worth going to see what the unmitigated male ego looks like, when expressed as a restaurant.”
4. Pete Wells vs Javelina (New York City, USA)
The New York Times writer Pete Wells was so determined to not piss off the entire state of Texas that he turned this scathing review of an NYC BBQ joint into a sarcastic series of backhanded compliments.
“At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home.”
3. Jay Rayner vs Buddha Bar (London, UK)
This whole list could be filled with brilliant Jay Rayner smackdowns but I’m limiting it to just three. This is the second, equally as cutting as the first.
“In an attempt to complete the tour of Asia we also had a Thai-style red curry with shrimp, and it was indeed in the style of a Thai curry much as Zimbabwe is in the style of a democracy.”
2. Jay Rayner vs Blue Boar Smokehouse (London, UK)
Jay’s final appearance on this list and IMHO his finest. Biting sarcasm? Check. Barely contained frustration? Check. Comparison of dinner looking like something you coughed up with the flu? Check and check.
“Underneath lies a banana ketchup which has the honour of being the worst thing I have put in my mouth since the incident with the washing-up liquid when I was seven. It tastes like those sweetshop bananas, blitzed with the remains of someone's forgotten 1970s spice cabinet. It looks like something you would treat with antibiotics.”
1. AA Gill vs L’Ami Louis (Paris, France)
The brilliance of this review lies not only in Gill’s total annihilation of the food at L’Ami, it’s also in his utter contempt for wait staff, the English, tourists in general and anyone who thinks they know best when it comes to what makes a restaurant special.
“Nothing I have eaten or heard of being eaten here prepared me for the arrival of the veal kidneys en brochette. Somehow the heat had welded them together into a gray, suppurating renal brick. It could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor. They don’t taste as nice as they sound.”
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