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Tossers Everywhere

Jay Rayner always seems good value for money to me. Not that I’ve ever parted with cash to see him or listen to him. Doing either or both of those is still a perfect possibility as I am often tempted by his tours of the ‘Ten (food) Commandments’, 'Dining Hell' and his concerts with the Jay Rayner Quartet.

Lots of other opportunities to enjoy his critiques and food journalism, of course, with radio, TV and newspapers providing regular relatively free access.

I never tire of his flagrant self-promotion on Twitter but I do rather prefer his occasional barbed posts revealing a grumble and a gripe which usually merits a follow-up. Here is the latest Rayner Rant to catch my eye.

Not too much response came on that one. A nipple-twister was mentioned and, naturally, someone wanted them to be outed. No-one gainsaid the Burton-Race condemnation. I decided to delve a little. Some would find strong elements of ‘tosser’ in a chap who has given up on two marriages and goodness knows how many children. But I’m sure Jay Rayner bases his censure on more than criticism of an individual’s private life and opinions.* “There but for the grace of any god who doesn’t exist...” as Mr Rayner and I would say. And since we agree on that one, I obviously had to discover a different angle.
* Well, maybe not

A visit to the Burton-Race restaurant website disappointingly gave me immediate results.

This is a restaurant where you can enjoy Michelin-starred cuisine at the highest standard while feeling completely at ease.

Now I am as guilty of exaggeration as the next sixty-six year-old adonis who hasn’t yet traded in his stud card for a free travel pass. But the choice of words which greeted the casual enquirer after Torquay tucker didn’t so much stretch a point as lay out a lie and say, “Go on, challenge that if you dare.”

I dared to challenge…. and found so little resistance that all was resolved and returned to a semblance of honesty within twenty-four hours.

A shot across the bow

A shot across the bow

The dull thud of clarification

The dull thud of clarification

Before and After

Before and After

In those twenty-four hours the restaurant gave up at least one Michelin star which it had never been awarded. Misrepresentation could have come from an over-zealous employee but I know that a talented chef wouldn’t dream of being so out of control of his business. Therefore, I conclude that John Burton-Race merits the tosser tag. He shall retain it until such reasonable time has elapsed in which he shows signs of continuing to do much better.

Since my intervention the website has had a bit of further review and the content is, apart from a few grammatical errors, in much better shape. No suggestion that Chef Burton-Race is necessarily cooking for you – but I’m sure he has had input which will add interest to your dining… tinged as it will be by elements of tosser.

‘Tossers Everywhere’ demands more than one tosser. I’ll do my best to reveal some others. This will continue to focus on restaurants and chefs. So I feel compelled to add at this point that I spend a huge amount of time verbally defending the wonderful, harsh, often dangerously teetering hospitality industry and I continue to willingly pay out around 20% in gratuities to the vast majority of establishments who prove so often to be utterly magnificent.

The tossers I identify next are intimately connected to that magnificent world. Like me, they visit it as paying customers. Specifically, in my region, they pay to eat at ‘Winteringham Fields’. And a lot of those are honorary tossers since they insist on believing that they are dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I must point out that the restaurant does nothing to overtly encourage them in that respect. The area has no Michelin stars. Even a Bib Gourmand escapes ‘The Fields’. Colin McGurran’s team certainly get their knife and fork icons highlighted in red. This means that they are good enough to be under consideration for an upgrade. Which is why I am disappointed by the regular reports from so many whose understanding is that they have paid for and enjoyed Michelin-starred cuisine at the Winteringham venue. Two Michelin stars disappeared along with Swiss chef, Germain Schwab, fifteen years ago. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. And since I’ve never personally corrected anyone I am guilty of helping to perpetuate that ignorance... maybe with misplaced kindness. I know that staff there at present have the capacity for stuffiness which extends to rude disdain for diners. The restaurant featured on a Gordon Ramsay TV venture some years ago and he was quick to identify the fact that customers were oppressed by over-zealous and fawning servers. Subsequent snippets of Chef McGurran on GBM only suggest that he leads by example. I’m not encouraged to conduct a costly test of my strong suspicion that tossers abound in the kitchen and around the tables in the Scunthorpe countryside.

Having mentioned the Ramsay name I might as well confirm that he hovers over all in my pantheon of culinary tossers. His “Idiot Sandwich” may be a spoof video made in support of charity but it reflects far too closely the way in which he chooses to present himself. It is such a vile image that I allow it to take precedence over any of his stunning accomplishments in cooking. I made a pineapple dessert from his sumptuous ‘*** CHEF’ volume ten years ago. I’ve never felt seriously inclined to reference the book since.

Allow me to introduce the tosser who came to my mind as soon as Mr Rayner got this whole party started. All the way back to late 2013. Lurpak UK’s Facebook page had attracted my attention and I was getting notifications of new posts. I don’t remember exactly what prompted me to try out the ‘Search Google for Image’ facility but it opened up a can of worms… a can of tossers, I suppose. After emailing about thirty mainly North American food bloggers I received confirmation from just about all of them that their photographic work had been appropriated and used without permission by the Lurpak page. It was pretty much open season as far as they were concerned. Even Jamie Oliver’s food stylist and photographer was not spared.

Emails from Lurpak explaining their behaviour as an “oversight” were pretty much laughable. Is it an oversight to deliberately crop out the watermark of someone’s work? Amber Parkin assured me that “… we will endeavour to be more discerning in our image choices and review our sign off process.”

I found out that this cavalier (that’s another word for acting like a tosser) behaviour was overseen by ‘Outside Line’, a digital agency which had already been acquired by Saatchi and Saatchi but was still run by co-founder Ant Cauchi. Incidentally, I was pretty disgusted to discover that they also handled Andy Murray’s digital marketing at the time.

Eventually I was contacted from the very top of the tosser totem pole… by Mr Ant Cauchi himself. His offer of a face to face meeting at which he wanted to explain “… how we work with partners and media owners.” was dripping with enough slime for me to discard it immediately. A simple admission that he promoted an environment where people are encouraged to steal intellectual property was obviously beyond him.

By early 2014 the Lurpak site was unrecognisable. A wholesale review of practice had transformed their Facebook posts. The page was awash with credited photos and recipes with links to many of those aforementioned food blog sites.

By the middle of that year it appeared that the positive changes might be sustained when Holler won the digital business account. “The incumbent was the Saatchi & Saatchi agency Outside Line, which did not repitch.”

I am happy to think that I might have prodded a company into moral and ethical behaviour which had been seriously lacking under Mr Cauchi’s watch.

Let’s lighten up and move from total tosser to transient tosspot, shall we.

A couple of weeks ago self-confessed pastry deviant, Calum Franklin, was alerted to the very strange apparition of his work on Jason Atherton’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. An odd orangey filter was no barrier to many recognising the achingly careful skills on display in a Holborn Dining Room product. The hashtag #analpastry, although off-putting, does seem appropriate.

Someone always seems to record things for posterity. The offending twit (tweet) captured.

Someone always seems to record things for posterity. The offending twit (tweet) captured.

The Twitter alarm bells were heard at The Social Company and all was soon smoothed over. 

Jason Atherton. Embarrassed, contrite, apologetic... hopefully not too apopleptic.

Jason Atherton. Embarrassed, contrite, apologetic... hopefully not too apopleptic.

I don't think anyone lost their job over this one but I don't think it's likely to happen again soon.

Right, I'll be busy for the next couple of days. I need to trawl through the posts I've published here over the last three and a half years to check for squeaky-clean attributions, provenances and permissions given... tossers everywhere, you know.

 

MR P'S CURIOUS TAVERN

 

Mrs. Cheoff and I dropped in here on February 16th 2017 for lunch on our way home from a Wearside (literally) Valentine's Day stay. The lingering (ever-present) romance meant that we agreed to share the 'Taste by Surprise' menu without too much argument. 

Charcuterie Plate: Hazelnut and Apple Salami, Chorizo, Lomo,
Bread, Oil and Balsamic

All on this platter was quite delicately cured and flavoured. Very thin slices - but about right considering what was to follow. We dipped our bread into an oil which was unremarkable and a vinegar which was certainly much sharper and less sweet than expected or wanted.

Calamari with Marie Rose Aïoli

The disaster. I foolishly assured Mrs Cheoff that this would convince her to include properly cooked squid in her menu options in future. What arrived was a bowl of those elasticated bobbles which are ideal for tidying up long hair but get sent back to a professional kitchen. The 'bobbles' were coated in a poorly seasoned, slightly damp ‘batter’. I still haven’t worked out how the squid could be so over-cooked inside while the outside coating was so limp. The sauce at least had a fruity, acidic hit of tomato.
Chef agreed to send an alternative.

 ‘Seaside’ Pickled Cockles, Mussels and Oak Roast Salmon
Marsh Samphire, Sour Cream and Poor Man’s Caviar

A clever, very pleasing mix here. Great coastal flavours dragged from the promenade stall and given a few richer touches with a smoked element and a suggestion of caviar which wouldn’t normally appear in your polystyrene cup… this was nicely presented in a ‘Kilner’ jar. Back on track.

Potted Clatter Dove ‘Royale’, Smoked Bacon Butter, Raisins, Black Truffle Brioche

My favourite. Let's forget that silly old ‘caviar’ business - this was truly more indulgent. Smoked butter was far thicker than expected... and all the better for that. Hidden chunks of bacon were awfully welcome. Wood pigeon was delicately rich and balanced out by sharp raisins. Is the fecund aroma of truffle on sweet brioche a step too far? Absolutely not… why stop short of complete and utter seduction?

Two Chefs’ Braised Pig Cheek Cottage Pie, Smoked Mashed Potato, Marmite Glazed Carrots

Almost a roaring success. This reads as a crowd-pleaser but, apart from the smashing carrots*, the other elements' flavour and seasoning were disappointingly weak and underplayed. So nearly there.
* I take little heed of you Marmite haters.

Tandoori Pheasant, Spiced Squash, Mango Purée, Fennel, Peanuts and Raisins

Again we had all the ingredients and recipe ideas for a treat. Again the flavours which should have come from spices were almost absent. The meat was dry and it didn't help that any suggestion of hot, smoky tandoor cooking was also missing. Our taste buds were not jaded... we were perfectly ready for further challenge.

Crumbed Black Pudding and Mustard Mayonnaise

This was our replacement for the calamari catastrophe. No real frills here but the earthiness of the pudding was given a wake-up call with just the right attack from mustard. The crumb joined in and formed a trio of well-judged textures. Simple, generous and tasty.

Admiral Collingwood Cheese, Landlord’s Pickle

Most cheeses hit the spot in some way. This was no exception. We’d enjoyed the pickle over at Harome on our last visit. It was lovely to make friends again.

Yorkshire Rhubarb ‘n’ Ginger Upside Down Cheesecake

Not the strongest of finishes. Our main concern was the titchy amount of rhubarb. I couldn't identify much ginger. There was a 'cakey' crumb on top but the 'cheesy' section was replaced with a melted custard ice cream. All a tad confused. And the cold numbed any little flavour which might have been there.

Trebbiano di Romagna, Le Coste Poderi, 2014

Wines are usually reliable from 'Pernshire' and our white didn't disappoint. Driving duty restraints limited our exploration here but the rest of the list looks as sound as expected. There is also a generous ginfest for those so inclined.

All in all a bit of a bumpy ride. We have only enjoyed sheer delight at the flagship (mothership?) Star Inn but I recognise that Mr. P's is a different beast. I would certainly return here but probably not risk the 'surprises' which were sprung upon us. Most of the items were available to choose from the  main menu. I'm sure you could find enough to enjoy on a more personally controlled basis. And, as was made clear, the responsive, professional kitchen is perfectly willing and able to compensate for any occasional weakness. 

I'm not here to put you off. Walk around the quirky interior (between courses or on your way to the loo) but be prepared to focus on the food. York has so much to offer and, when all is said and done, Mr. P's holds out the prospect of city centre eating well above average.

Many thanks to our server, Perrie, who provided confident and reassuring advice and acted as a very diplomatic go-between with the kitchen when things weren't quite right.

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

All images and content are the property of Geoff Griffiths. Copyright Geoff Griffiths 2014 ©