Anyone who tells you they don’t like reading scathing restaurant reviews is a goody-two-shoes or a liar, and let’s be honest, no one likes either. I, along with most of the review-reading population, love a nasty write-up though I’d rather not delve into what this says about me or society in general. There are a handful of food writers I read regularly; they’ve been around the block and back again so I’m going to throw a limb out and say they know their stuff and they’re usually full of witty one-liners and cheeky quips. I almost always enjoy their pieces, regardless of whether they’re nasty or not but the difference is that while the positive ones are useful to know, the negative ones are quite simply, gripping.
Negative reviews are like reports on a disaster, you really shouldn’t want to know about the gory end but the build up has sucked you in and you simply cannot drag yourself away. I know it, you know it and Jay Rayner knows it. His column undoubtedly gets an impressive hit rate on any given Sunday but when he pulls his own knives out and slices a place to shreds, the stats must really soar. With this notion in mind, it would have been devilishly good to turn the tables on Jay and tell you about the train wreck that was ‘A Night of Food and Agony with Jay Rayner’, but sorry folks, don’t bother with that call to emergency services because it was good. Very good, in fact.
Recently unveiling himself as a man with more than just a talent with words, this Guardian Live show combined what we already know he’s good at- tales of dining triumphs and tribulations, with what we recently discovered he’s good at- being a jazz pianist. Jay Rayner in the flesh was no less engaging or humorous, though I’m happy to never have to see that Hawaiian shirt and pinstripe jacket combo on his weekly columns. He told us stories, he answered questions, it was one big gut-busting laugh fest.
The second hour was slightly less riotous but definitely got my toe tapping; a certain someone is a huge jazz fan and since we’ve been together I guess some of that’s rubbed off on me too. Along with singer (and Jay’s wife) Pat Gordon Smith, bassist Rob Rickenberg and saxophonist Dave Lewis, the atmosphere in the room lifted up a few notches and the music was certainly deserving of the enthusiastic applause. And almost as if there was a risk of us forgetting his day job, the tunes were punctuated with random tidbits from ‘the life of Rayner’ which I’m sure, if strung together, would sell better than his books.
Over two hours of merriment later, we were hungry. All that talk of restaurants and toe tapping will do that to you I suppose. It was late, we needed something close, quick, hopefully tasty- a couple of tapas at Camino really appealed. Neither fancy nor too gimmicky, this Spanish restaurant has a couple of branches in London and dishes up decent plates of food. We wanted fast food that night and with the kitchen coming to a close, they definitely delivered with speed.
Within minutes of ordering, our boquerones arrived, salty, acidic and utterly delicious, swiftly followed by the pan con tomate and gambas al ajillo. Predicatably we always order patatas bravas at tapas restaurants and are also quite partial to a bit of morcilla, this version was rich but nicely offset by the sweetness of the peppers. The only disappointment of the night were the anaemic empanadillas which somehow managed to be a little bland despite being filled with spinach, pine nuts and goat’s cheese.
But that was only a minor blip in an otherwise speedy and satisfying meal; no tales of agony to report back to Jay on this occasion. This was an uncharacteristically short and snappy meal by our standards but I’d happily stop by Camino again and linger a little longer with many more of the menu items!
After the first sell-out show, A Night of Food and Agony with Jay Rayner is on again in November, check the Guardian Live website for details of this and other events.