From: Pitching the World
To: Teagan Maddocks, DV8 Magazine
Date: Thursday 2 June, 13:31
Subject: The Horror of Being a Restaurant Critic
This time last year I was the North London section editor for Square Meal’s 2011 Restaurant & Bar Guide. Wow, you’re probably thinking, and you’d be forgiven for doing so. Around that time whenever I told someone what I did for a living, the response would be the same. “Wow,” they would say, and then say it again, “Wow, that’s my dream job – being a restaurant critic. That’s so cool.”
Well, it wasn’t so cool. In fact, towards the end it was pretty bloody terrible. I had to review around 130 places and at first it was quite enjoyable. I’d caper around and get comped seven course meals and £100 bottles of wine and smoke cigarettes with the chefs and get shown around their kitchens where I perfected an expression and a nod that suggested I understood exactly what they were talking about. Occasionally I’d write reviews – one or two a day at most. Some shone.
As my deadline approached, however, I had a creeping feeling that I had a lot of work to do in not a very lot of time. As usual when I have these creeping feelings, I was proved right. I had about 100 reviews to write in a month which meant no more long lunches and knowing facial expressions and lots more traipsing around Archway and Tottenham and Wood Green trying to ‘interpret’ menus and get an accurate impression of a place during a 15 minute visit. I started to panic, and the more I panicked the less I looked like a restaurant reviewer and the more I looked like a man descending into madness. It was sort of like Black Swan, but bleaker. And with less dancing. “You’re no restaurant reviewer,” an owner’s eyes would say when I told them I was from Square Meal and helping to put together their 2011 guide. “At best you’re a madman. At worst, you’re going to chain me to the radiator and rob the place.”
You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t rob anyone. I did write some pretty terrible reviews though. When I began I used to really take my time over reviews – I remember describing 69 Colebrooke Row as a “pipsqueak of a speakeasy” and feeling so chuffed with myself that I took the rest of the day off. Towards the end though I was writing three or four reviews an hour and the stuff was pretty laboured. It was especially tough as North London is crammed with gastropubs that are all pretty much the same. “Oh, brilliant, this place has got wooden furniture reclaimed from a church. The barman’s got a checkered shirt on. And a crap moustache thing. Ah, I see, there’s a blackboard with stuff written on it that I don’t understand. What the hell is a seviche? Or a jus? Or a pork chop? Jesus, I’m losing my mind.” That’s how my reviews would be towards the end. I’m paraphrasing, a little.
There’s a point to all this. The point is that after filing, I split up from my neuroscientist wife, and moved (via Finsbury Park, Clapton, Dubai and East Horsley) to Boscombe where I live in my Nan’s dining room and often think that it’s about time that I got back into reviewing restaurants. Do you think you might be able to make that happen? I ate at the Cellar Bar in Boscombe recently and thought that might be a good place to start. I’ve included a few reviews I’ve written below. Very hard to pick the ‘best’ ones out of over a hundred, so I’ve just chosen a few at random.
Many sincere thanks for reading, assuming you’ve got this far.
All the best,
Pitching the World
North Londoners have been sprinting to Gallipoli since it opened in 1996, lured in by its heady Turkish flavours, down-home prices & rollicking, slightly barmy atmosphere. The kitchen does the business by turning out waves of moreish kebabs, koftes & crisp falafels – all vividly spiced & fresh as a daisy. The waiters also play their part, singing happy birthday & banging pots & pans while someone dances on a table – you get the general idea. Although weekends are brilliantly rowdy, weekday evenings are more sedate: share a splendid platter of hot & cold mezze, nibble excellent baklava & sip apple tea while dreaming of faraway lands. There are two further outposts just a few doors down – Gallipoli Bazaar, 107 Upper Street (020 7226 5333) & Gallipoli Again, 120 Upper Street (020 7359 1578).
Although the dog-eared surroundings can seem bleak & the interior uninspiring, Dotori’s food is anything but. In fact, its marriage of Korean & Japanese cuisine is turning lots of heads & booking is fast becoming essential at busier times. Sushi zings out of the kitchen spankingly fresh & firm, while nods of approval go to the excellent-quality kimchi, sizzling bowls of gutsy bibimbap, crispy tempura & dae-gh-tang (fish soup). Set meals are a steal at around £20 for two people. A couple of years after opening there are still one or two teething problems to iron out, especially when it comes to the ‘charmingly awkward’ & irritatingly slow service. Either exert a little Zen-like patience, or plump for a boozier way to enlightenment with cheap bottles of Asahi beer.
Apparently the only pub in the UK bearing the name, this Island Queen is certainly distinctive. Off the well-beaten Upper Street path, it’s a grand Victorian neighbourhood boozer with magnificently high ceilings, chandeliers, large windows, delightful floral mirrors & seafaring curios. There’s a quirky, offbeat charm about the place that attracts designers, architects & Noel Fielding wannabes from neighbouring Stoke Newington, Dalston & Highbury – although they mingle merrily with the hardcore locals. Despite an emphasis on drink (a top-notch selection of draught beer & lager including Paulaner, Sierra Nevada, Leffe & Meantime) & heaps of frivolity (weekends can be ‘colourful’), you can still bag better-than-average pub grub at keen prices: witness the £5 daily specials such as chicken burgers, handmade salmon fishcakes, corned beef hash & so forth. Lazy Sunday lunches are also much in demand. Service can be fetchingly slapdash.