Just a few weeks ago, prominent British food critic AA Gill dropped the news that he had been diagnosed with cancer — perhaps fittingly, in a review. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times confirmed that Gill had died.
Gill was known for his finely honed wit and razor sharp observations and assessments of the restaurants he covered (as well as other cultural phenomena), not just for the Sunday Times, but also Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and more.
In honor of Gill’s refined take-downs, here’s a roundup of some of his most scathing reviews that savage the most heinous crimes against food and dining.
66 (New York City)
Gill dropped by Tribeca restaurant 66 for a Vanity Fair review in 2003, and didn’t really agree with the its self-perception as a “fusion of modern design and haute Chinese cuisine.”
To say the food is repellently awful would be to credit it with a vim and vigor and attitude it simply can’t rise to. The bowls and dishes dribble and limp to the table with a yawning lassitude. A vain empty ennui. They weren’t so much presented as wilted and folded to death. It was all prepared with that most depressing and effete culinary style—tepid whimsy. Tell me, off the top of your head, what two attributes should hot-and-sour soup have? Take your time. It was neither. Nor anything else much.
L’Ami Louis (Paris)
For a 2011 Vanity Fair critique, Gill visited this Paris bistro, which he characterized as a favorite among high-profile anglophone visitors to the city.
So why do the Americans and English come here? Men who, at home, are finickity and fussy about everything, who consider themselves epicurean and cultured. Men who choose their own ties and are trusted with scissors and corporations, who have “sophisticated” on their Facebook pages. Why do they continue to come here? They can’t all have brain tumors. The only rationally conceivable answer is: Paris. Paris has superpowers; Paris exerts a mercurial force field. This old city has such compelling cultural connotations and aesthetic pheromones, such a nostalgically beguiling cast list, that it defies judgment. It’s a confidence trick that can make oreille de cochon out of a sow’s ear—reputation and expectation are the MSG of fine dining.
But still, it’s undeniable that L’Ami Louis really is special and apart. It has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, the worst restaurant in the world.
Café Royal (London)
It may have been affiliated with the luxury, five-star Hotel Café Royal, but for Gill’s Sunday Times review, that meant this Central London restaurant only had further to fall.
The most depressing and uncongenial meal, in an anaemic, echoey building, made even more wrist-slashingly ghastly by the sad and silent ghosts of a century of culture and élan and bibulous brilliance.
The Tiroler Hut (London)
Notting Hill restaurant Tiroler Hut is known for trying to create the most intensely Austrian experience possible in a dining situation. Gill was not impressed.
I tasted a steak, a schnitzel, a bait of herring, all inedible, unless you were as drunk as everyone else in the room, or on the death watch at an old people’s home.
Ballymaloe House (Cork, Ireland)
This restaurant was deemed “the spiritual home of Irish cooking” by the Irish Times, a characterization that didn’t resonate for Gill.
A dining room that had possibly once been epic and was now just adequate . . . sad and expensive.
This wasn’t Gill’s most cutting commentary, interestingly. The Irish Times carried the restaurateur’s response — and he didn’t seem too bothered.
Theo Randall (London)
Gill on British chef Theo Randall’s eponymous haute-Italian restaurant:
It looked as if all the ingredients had been fed through an office shredder with half a pint of water and kept under a hot lamp since lunchtime.
Perhaps the best example of Gill’s biting criticism came back in the late ‘90s. Before Gordon Ramsay was shouting at people on TV, he was doing it in kitchens — including an incident where he ejected Gill from one of his restaurants as retribution for a previous review of Aubergine, in which the critic described Ramsay as:
A failed sportsman who acts like an 11-year-old
If a critic’s number one job is to express opinions with brutal honesty, Gill certainly succeeded.