In the April issue of Vanity Fair, British restaurant critic A. A. Gill called L'Ami Louis, a bistro in Paris, "the worst restaurant in the world."
But it wasn't this honor that prompted practically every single person I know to email me a link to the article. No, it was the language with which Mr. Gill described his dining experience that set the foodies of North America all a-twitter.
I'm not going to argue: the review is amusing. Gill describes veal kidneys en brochette as a "suppurating renal brick," the wine cellar smells of "fetid bladder damp," and the foie gras tastes of "gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction." He faults the decor in a similar fashion:
It's painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.
But I did not share the shock of some of my fellow food writers. I grew up in England, so I'm used to seeing dishes compared to purple-veined breasts, oozing whiteheads, the last excretions of a dying water buffalo, and so on. It is the distinctive and dominant school of British restaurant criticism, and each of the major broadsheets has its own flamboyant practitioner of the style.
In this slideshow, we collect some of the best examples of the genre, as well as muse on what these nauseating gems might tell us about their authors and British culture in general.
The quote above comes from A. A. Gill's review of The Langley, London, for The Sunday Times, in which he describes a slow-baked cheese-and-onion tart as "snot in a box." Gill also added that his grilled kipper resembled a "smoked postman's Odor Eater." Writing for Vanity Fair, he took Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Rote 66's shrimp-and-foie gras dumplings to task:
What if we called them fishy liver-filled condoms? They were properly vile, 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.
So far, so disgusting. But, as you'll see, Gill's grotesque analogies begin to seem run-of-the-mill when set side by side with those of his colleagues.