Jay Rayner: My Dining Hell reviewed by Ruth Hobley

This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.

At the time of agreeing to review Jay Rayner, I had conveniently forgotten exactly what the man does for a living; that is, write reviews.

Now I am faced with the rather daunting prospect, not only of reviewing a professional reviewer’s talk about his best and most damning pieces of restaurant criticism, but of writing a review that competes with some of the less-than-complimentary tweets and Amazon assessments of Jay’s own writing that he (seemingly self-deprecatingly), worked into his talk to readdress the balance, (and I am afraid I will fall far short, if slightly more above the belt, of the man who described Jay Rayner as having a face reminiscent of ‘monkfish genitalia’).

The polar opposite of my previous headliner experience, Jay’s performance is slick, well-rehearsed and runs like clockwork – he has a PowerPoint presentation, the PowerPoint presentation has sound effects, and somehow there are no technical glitches (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this happen before). At the interval I look at my watch and it is bang on 8:15: it’s almost unnervingly efficient. By this point, I can’t quite get the notion out of my head that Jay’s talk is a master-stroke of self-promotion (as, I suppose, are all Festival events to a greater or lesser extent, but perhaps it is the PowerPoint, or the presence of a restaurant sponsor in the foyer, complete with an entire leg of ham, that brings it home). And yet Jay somehow manages to stay just on the right side of over-rehearsal; this must be pretty much what he has to say every night (he is interrupted by a digital version of himself, after all), but what he says is still delivered as though it were an off the cuff conversation between one man and an entire room; it is essentially one of his reviews re-incarnated for the stage, sardonic eloquence and all.

By the end of a highly entertaining evening of displeasure, I am fairly certain that Jay is right: bad experiences are eminently more interesting than good ones and, from the impressive turnout and audible murmurs of agreement from the audience at various intervals, it would seem that there is something slightly perverse in quite a lot of us that makes the truly awful really rather appealing (as long as it is fairly frivolous and we don’t have to endure it for too long). It was therefore, I gradually realise, yet another smart move of Jay (/Jay’s publicist) to incorporate bad reviews of his own writing into this celebration of the joys of a terrible evening. I left the Kings Hall, definitely in spite of my better judgement, not only rather wanting to visit a restaurant that could be described as ‘the unmitigated male ego expressed as a restaurant’ (Beast, London), but also to read a novel that is the literary equivalent of ‘lamb chops for breakfast’ (The Oyster House Siege, Jay Rayner). After all, in what could well become the tagline to this unashamedly cynical event, ‘hate springs eternal’, and I do love a good moan.

Ruth Hobley is part of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team.

Ruth is a recent graduate but still an English student at heart.


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