Monday, 15 February 2010


I can only feel huge sympathy for Jasper Gerard. Foodie blogs are alive with talk that Jasper, who is the restaurant critic of the Daily Telegraph, offered a restaurant/hotel in Ludlow, called Mr Underhill, a review in exchange for free accommodation for him, his wife and two children. Jasper denies all of this and, having met Jasper a couple of times and done a bit of work for him when I was a work-experience girl at the Sunday Times, years ago, I can't believe it's true.

But I can see how you could, as a restaurant critic, get into trouble, despite being innocent, over this kind of thing. Poor old Giles spends most of his life pleading with people to stop offering him freebies. It's not just that you can't give somewhere an honest review if you are someone else's guest, it's that the staggering fuss that gets made over you if a hotel or restaurant knows that you're coming is horribly overwhelming.

In some restaurants or hotels, where Giles has booked in advance under a fake name, or in a hotel where we are staying just for a holiday - and yet he has been 'busted' - I become reluctant to ask for anything or where anything is. If you ask where the ladies is, someone will practically follow you in there. If you're in a hotel you have to hide in your room to avoid being leapt on by staff who want to know why you're not smiling. If you ask for a glass of water you get 18 questions about what exact temperature you'd like it at, how fizzy, how still, what percentage of filtration and if I'd like a sous-chef to be ritually sacrificed at the table. I have seen grown men shake as they pour wine or take an order and laugh until they cry at completely unfunny jokes. The food arrives cold and 20 minutes after it would if you'd been anyone else, because the chef goes mad and keeps throwing platefuls in the bin because he thinks Giles will be annoyed if his medallion of beef isn't EXACTLY 1.5inches across. Eight different people will come and ask you if the food is okay, while you are in the middle of a really, really exciting argument.

None of this is a criticism: I would be the same - probably worse - if I spied Giles, or any other rezzy critic, stamping into my place of work, pissed off from not being able to park, with a slight cold on the way, ready to sit down and do some serious judgment-passing on the establishment that pays for my childrens' shoes.

All I mean is that if you are a normal person and not some delusional freak, once you've experienced this level of over-service, over-attentiveness and frightened kow-towing, you learn that you want to limit it as much as possible. That's all.

No food today: I've got two overwhelming food projects on at the moment - brining and frying enough chicken for 10 on Wednesday and two different sorts of quite complicated chutney and marmelade to test out for the Leon cookbook. But I thought I ought to write something because otherwise you'll all get bored and wander off. And I'd really miss you.

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