Wednesday 19 June 2019

Radio: Making a meal of it with restaurant critic Rayner


Jay Raynor
Jay Raynor
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

In a former life, I was persuaded to work as a magazine's restaurant critic for a while. I still have no idea why they chose me, as I probably have less interest in food than anyone on the planet - particularly when framed as some kind of artistic experience - and still never read the restaurant reviews.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to enjoy so much the interview with Jay Rayner on Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am). He's a well-known food writer with The Observer and judge on telly's MasterChef; I assumed he'd be pretentious, self-important and boring.

As it turned out, Rayner was fairly sound and unexpectedly interesting, discussing his new book, which concentrates on the negative reviews he's given restaurants over the years. These, he reckoned, are "the only thing that anybody wants to read".

I enjoyed his diatribe about a preposterously over-priced and underwhelming meal at one swanky Parisian eatery. "I expected it to be brilliant," Rayner said, "and it was awful in every single way… it's stupid money."

And I chuckled when, recalling one London restaurant's use of a metal detector - something to do with licensing laws, Rayner explained, though it still seemed incomprehensible - he commented, "I don't know about you, but that always tends to take the edge off my appetite."

Also unexpectedly good was the Ray D'Arcy Show (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 3pm) chat with retired rugby star Tommy Bowe. Athletes, generally, are very dull in conversation; more than that, I think rugby is probably the worst sport in the world, with virtually nothing to recommend it.

But there you go: life's full of surprises, and this fully engaged my attention. Bowe seems to be a nice guy anyway, charming and droll, and had an interesting take on retirement, admitting that he "maybe doesn't miss it as much as some of the others do".

He's a broadcaster now, and is also involved in Rugby Rising, a rugby initiative for schools. It didn't exactly convert me to the dubious merits of this odd sport, but you'd wish Bowe very well for the future.

Now for something completely different: BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime (Mon-Fri 10.45pm) recently ran an adaptation of The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker's brilliant retelling of The Iliad which was published this summer.

She reinvigorates this timeworn story through Briseis, upgraded from captured Trojan slave to clear-eyed narrator and moral judge on the horrors of conflict. Barker's book is fantastic and this is too; I strongly recommend you listen back on the BBC iPlayer.

The same station's The Hauntening (Wed 11.15pm) got a head-start on Halloween with The Hosting, a very silly but funny comedy about a haunted podcast. Maybe someone should pitch a mash-up: haunted podcasts of retired sports stars reviewing restaurants?

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