Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments.
Today, we hear from a British restaurant owner about what really goes on when a well-known food critic comes to lunch.
We don't want reviewers to come to the restaurant, we're not trying to be the best or get to the top. All we're trying to do is a create neighbourhood restaurant that locals could come to on their way home from work and grab a pea risotto. We were never trying to be anyone and we still aren't.
If a reviewer comes in, they always say we're trying to be different. But we're not. That's not what we're about. If you didn't enjoy it because we didn't have table linen or your wine wasn't topped up, then fuck you. We are what we are.
But I do care what intelligent people think. If someone says that they came in and ordered pork, and the pork came with apple puree and slices of apple and they thought it was too much apple and it overpowered the pork, I'd look into it and they'd probably be right. We got that one wrong. If your restaurant is criticised by someone who you can tell is intelligent, it's awful because it's probably true.
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This is how we prepare for food critics: we don't. Usually we don't know when they're coming. All we do is try our hardest and if someone doesn't like that, then I'm gutted but we fucking tried. It's wanky but it's true.
You usually never get a tip-off. When a critic came in once and asked where the pork was from, a part-time waitress told her it was from the butcher around the corner. But one time, when a top critic came in and someone recognised him—let's call him John—shit hit the fan.
I'm on Twitter all the time and keep up-to-date with people. It was 7.30 AM and I'm looking at John's account. He'd sent a tweet saying that he was in the general area of the restaurant for a seminar and as a joke, I phoned the general manager and told her to alert everyone in the restaurant that John was coming in for lunch. She's was shitting herself but after she flipped out, I reassured her it wasn't true.
I'm over at my other restaurant and completely forgot about it. I get a phone call at 1.30 PM from the general manager, who had the day off that someone had phoned her to say "John's just fucking walked in."
He booked under an alias and I don't give a fuck what anyone says, he would have got the best table in the restaurant but instead, he was left upstairs with one other table. I would have put flowers on that table and I would have gone out of my way to give him the best experience that we could give him.
That day, the sauce was completely shit. It tasted like Marmite, it was awful. That sauce takes two days to make. There was nothing I could do.
We're not a Michelin-starred restaurant, we're a fucking bistro. I dropped everything and got in the car and did a journey that would take a normal person about 25 minutes—no joke—in 12 minutes. I did it in 12 fucking minutes. I was driving up kerbs and didn't give a fuck that the traffic light was red, I went through it.
When I got there, I was told where he was sitting but I didn't want him to see me walking in. The worst thing in the world would be for him to see me walk in: the restaurant owner just turning up because he's there.
So I pulled up two minutes away from the restaurant, put on a hoody, a scarf, and a woolly hat despite the fact that it was fucking warm and sunny outside. I walked around the back and arrived in time for his main course.
He chose the mains and I was so unhappy with what we sent out. That day, the sauce was completely shit. It was a red wine glaze and it was wrong. It tasted like Marmite, it was fucking awful. That sauce takes two days to make. There was nothing I could do.
Desserts were coming and I asked the lad who was making them to prepare one of everything for me because I wanted to taste them before John ordered.
We had a lemon curd which has a blackcurrant jelly. Wanky restaurants call it a "pâte de fruits." I shit you not, I spat it out. I don't know what they'd done to it but it was like a rabbit dropping. It was like a bullet and tasted like washing powder. Out of the five desserts on the menu, it's the worst option anyway. Who the fuck wants lemon curd?
He ordered the fucking lemon curd.
I was devastated. We just had to put some different garnishes on it and left out the jelly. He had it.
He ordered the fucking lemon curd.
We're close-knit at the restaurants, even with the customers, and one of the other guests who'd been upstairs when John was there came up to me after he'd left. She said to me: "I did something while he was here."
My head was already in my hands. I thought, What the fuck happened?
She told me that someone in the ladies toilet had made a terrible, terrible mess. She said: "Well, John's with a lady and if she goes into the toilet, she's going to see that and come back out and tell him that it was disgusting and the place is filthy."
So she said that she cleaned the toilet and then the whole bathroom. I asked her why the fuck she did that, and she told me that she didn't want to place to get a bad review.
For the next couple of weeks, it was horrible at that restaurant. Everyone was nervous and I was preparing for the worst. Then the review ended up coming out. John loved it.
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We've been treated kindly by critics but it doesn't always happen (don't get me started on TripAdvisor). That's what happens when a critic turns up—you only see the review from the side of the critic, but you don't get to see what happens behind-the-scenes at the restaurant.
I don't care about it when people come in and review the decor. Who cares about the fucking pine furniture? I inherited it when I bought the place and it is vile. I had hardly any money and the money I did have went on a second-hand oven, so we've just made do with it. I recently spent six-grand on a new dough maker just so we could make brioche. I could have spent that on new tables and chairs. In my opinion, brioche takes precedent.
Surely the most important thing in a restaurant is the food. That's where my priorities are.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in June 2016.