There are few people who inspire as much fear and loathing as a restaurant critic. With a well aimed stroke of a pen, the biggest can make or break careers and turn terrifying kitchen dragons into whimpering kittens. It’s something every chef takes extremely seriously.
Despite the almost religious reverence with which some seem to regard critics, there is a less sober side to the profession. As well as being really horrible, many of the best are also helplessly funny. As upsetting as it is to see someone else’s livelihood torn apart on paper, hilarious descriptions of flaccid seafood and vile decour are always irresistible. To prove that critics can make us giggle as well as shudder, here are the meanest - and the funniest - restaurant reviews of all time.
1. Pete Wells - Per Se
For years, Thomas Keller’s legendary New York bastion of fine dining has been a by-word for quality. Winning accolades left right and centre, its reputation as one of the world’s top restaurants was in no doubt. That was, until Pete Wells got his teeth into it. In a now legendary put down of the famous restaurant, the New York Times critic described dumplings as “limp and dispiriting” and likened Michelin star soup to “bong water”.
2. Jay Rayner - Leon de Bruxelles
One of Britain’s most effusive food voices, Jay Rayner is unafraid to unleash his tongue when he finds something he doesn’t like. Unfortunately for the owners of this Belgian eatery, he found just that at Leon de Bruxelles. In one of his more colourful rants, Rayner described the flesh of an insipid mussel as “small and shrivelled and dry; each shell containing the retracted scrotum of a hairless cat”.
3. AA Gill - 66
With one of the sharpest tongues in the business, the late great AA Gill was feared and respected in equal measure. After his review of 66 in New York, it’s easy to see why. Likening a plate of shrimp and foie gras dumplings to “fishy, liver-filled condoms” he went on to add that the food left him with a “savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital.”
4. Jonathan Gold - Olive Garden
Olive Garden is one of the biggest food brands in the US, so it’s unlikely that the views of a stuffy critic are hardly going to make a dent in their coffers. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop Jonathan Gold from letting his feelings be known. Rather than embracing the joys of all you can eat breadsticks, Gold instead spends his review wondering out loud how much Italian liqueur it would take to “deliver [him] to a merciful death”.
5. Pete Wells - Guys American Kitchen and Bar
Thomas Keller isn’t the only renowned American chef who has been on the receiving end of a Wellsian rant. When Guy Fieri, the host of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, opened his own kitchen and bar in New York, he might have expected a warm welcome. What he got was an onslaught where Wells demanded to know, among other things, “did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”
6. Tina Nguyen - Trump Grill
It should surprise no one that Donald Trump’s grasp of the restaurant industry is almost as non-existent as his grasp of politics. Yet, somehow, he’s the President and owns a restaurant. Delving into the bowels of Trump Tower, Tina Nguyen left Vanity Fair readers in little doubt that slapping on a famous name does not a great restaurant make, relaying an anecdote where “an eyeball that had been freshly popped out of the skull of a pig...tasted better than the Trump Grill Gold Label Burger.”
7. Tom Sietsema - Founding Farmers
As with anything, but perhaps even more so with food, popularity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. This point was made incredibly clearly by Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema as he dismantled Founding Farmers, describing a starter of bacon lollies as “strips threaded on skewers, they resemble a cross between jerky and liquefied cinnamon toast,” adding, “The desire to finish is zero”.
It might seem harsh to be so horrible about someone else’s work. But, however mean it may seem, if it weren’t for critics, cooks could get away with murder. They may be evil, but they are also necessary.