A Bit Of A Mouthful

16th November 2012

Food critic Giles Coren is known for his controversial approach, and he certainly doesn’t hold back as he names and shames London’s dining deadweights.

Al Gordon’s jaw drops open…

Fans of Sue Perkins who are missing her appearances on the Great British Bake Off, where she held court with Mel Giedroyc, shouldn’t hold their breath for her return to the small screen in her former pairing with Giles Coren any time soon. “We’ve got no new material,” the man himself admits. “We’re down to the scrapings at the bottom of the pot.”

The twosome joined forces – rather randomly – back in 2007 for the BBC Four series Edwardian Supersize Me, a play on the original idea by Morgan Spurlock in which two people dined on the equivalent diet of a wealthy couple from chosen eras. Big ratings saw subsequent offerings – The Supersizers Go and The Supersizers Eat… – elevated to BBC Two status, where the duo flitted between cuisine of the 1950s, the 1920s, the French Revolution, the Middle Ages and ancient Rome. And each week, they investigated the effects on their health.

With hindsight though, Coren now believes hopping around sporadically through the ages was a vainly impetuous move. “Sue and I will do something eventually but we made the mistake with Supersizers in that we moved backwards and forwards between the different eras, basically covering everything. If we’d known how well it was going to do, we would have stretched it out much further and saved some material for future series,” he explains, before adding, “but there isn’t really any part of history we haven’t covered now so we need a completely new idea. Or we need to wait several decades for a new chapter in cuisine to become reportable. Maybe that’s the way?!”

More recently, the TV personality has fronted another Beeb foodie show, Our Food – an exploratory documentary series which looks at British tastebuds. While gearing up for another season, he’s also been working on a Stateside version for BBC America, boasting a rather imaginative title… “It’ll be called ‘Their Food’, and fundamentally, we’ll be looking at the biggest differences. Who knows if that will work or not?

Coren is surprised that the idea found favour. “The thing is with the BBC, they’re quite strapped for cash and most of the time. So when I come up with a crazy idea about me driving around South America in a Rolls Royce 10 supermodel, they say, ‘Bit expensive, any chance we could do the show in your own kitchen at home?’, so it’s with astonishment that I’ve got them to finance a series across the pond. But it proves that miracles do happen.”

Away from televisual pursuits, Coren is also a Times columnist, and has just penned his latest literary offer, How to Eat Out, a guide to the art of dining in restaurants. Now, many would believe such a book would pose no use in today’s sophisticated and well versed society. Coren however, is of the opinion that most of our eateries remain rather clueless in one key area.

“Rudeness - that is the cardinal sin,” he says. “Restaurants that don’t treat you as an equal are the biggest offenders. I mean, I’m food critic so for any restaurateurs, they tend to know who I am. But now, most places are using a form of bouncer on the doors, generally Ukrainian or Russian, who therefore have no idea who I am. So, I arrive and get the worst first impression as they look me up and down. And they do this to everyone.”
Coren gathers momentum: “And this could be a place people are visiting because it’s a special event. It’s a birthday or something – people are excited. And then some beanpole ex-model on the door makes you feel like your socks don’t match or your fly’s undone. I want to empower people to get the treatment that I get in restaurants, possibly because of my arrogant personality, possibly because I’m a critic. Regardless, the power needs to shift back to the customer.”

So does he point the finger at any particularly bad offender? “I do name a few,” he admits. “The Grosvenor Imperial Hotel in Victoria have a Chinese restaurant where I was treated like c**p, so that gets a worthy mention. And there’s another place, Roka, a very fashionable restaurant in Charlotte Street in London. I normally get along with them fine but the first couple times I went, I very much had a bouncer looking me up and down and making me stand outside in the rain.

“Now, that’s okay behaviour at nightclubs like Annabel’s or Tramps, but not when it comes to a restaurant. And yes, the fact that I name-checked such ancient establishments just goes to show how often I go out clubbing these days.

He pauses. “Maybe there’s a hook for a new BBC series there somewhere? I can envisage Sue and some strobes very nicely...”

Giles’s new book, How To Eat Out: Lessons From a
Life Lived Mostly in Restaurants, is out now.

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