Giles Coren is wrong and I went to Bar Boulud with the intention of showing this. Semi- unfortunately it was not the restaurant to do it with.
I got back from holiday and had a flick through The Times at my parent’s house. I don’t normally read The Times as I like immigrants and don’t care about celebrity gossip. I was curious to see what Giles Coren was ranting about this week in his review of Bar Boulud and found him high in the ridiculous stakes with his views on anonymity.
Giles Coren’s stance on anonymous dining is simple: restaurants “can only serve [Coren] the same food they serve to little old you”. Well putting the patronising aside from a man whose daddy was a very successful journalist, he is wrong. They can serve very different food. And as he seems to accept the service can be different, very different.
I asked Jen, from her experience in working in food TV for 10 years, what restaurants did when they spotted critics. The answer was simple, they write VIP on the tickets and the head chef will supervise and improve every element of every dish before it goes out to the critic. It would be madness to do otherwise. That critic can mean that difference between success and failure.
That is why Coren’s self justification on the merits of his reviews is so desperate. Does he really not realise that he receives wholly different food and service from us? Or, is this a defensive manoeuvre from a man who recognises that he peddles stories and fantasies about restaurants that the public’s experience will rarely match?
So when he delves into his cupboard of vitriol and mockery to criticise the NY Times reviewer Ruth Reichl for visiting restaurants in elaborate disguises so she could eat anonymously… well, I am less than impressed. Does he hold similar content for anonymous reviewers such as Marina from the Metro or the entirety of Time Out’s Food and Drink section?
Anyway, the reason Bar Boulud was not the right restaurant to demonstrate that we, the public, get different meals from critics and that anonymity matters was that the service is fantastic. Bloody brilliant. Eager, knowledgeable, trained.
The food was also not wholly different from Coren’s experience. It was good, efficient stuff. You couldn’t pick an obvious flaw. The charcuterie we had to start was excellent but when you buy cold cuts and terrines from one of the world’s best charcuteriers, shouldn’t it be? The burger I had was good, the pulled pork on top a nice addition, cooked medium rare. Jen’s boudin blanc was truffley and indulgently rich. So, what isn’t to recommend?
Well it was boring. Impersonally so. The room is a triumph of ladies who lunch. It is devoid of emotion, expression or anything to draw the eye. There is nothing to distract you from the food which is not remarkable enough to distract you from discussions about the stock market or whatever else the rich and indulgent who dine there muse about.
One day after dining there I can barely remember the meal. However, subsequent meals I’ve had this week at Chilli Cool and Koya are still on my tongue and making smile slyly.
Price – £100 for three
PS and for the context have a look at Marina O’Loughlin’s 3 out of 5* review in the Metro (here) and I would link to Giles Coren’s review but, well, it is paywalled now so you will have to either live in the home counties and subscribe or, erm, well live without it