RESTAURANT REVIEW: RobandRoms, Canary Wharf, London: ‘Please hail me a taxi away from the devastation.’
For their most recent Sky series Rob & Romesh Vs… those titans of British Comedy Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett were challenged to open their own restaurant. Along with my dear friend and colleague Grace Dent I was invited to the first night, and then asked to write a review. Doing so was less an act of criticism, than therapy.
Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan have successful careers as stand-up comedians. This is handy. Because if they tried to make it as chefs they would starve, not unlike many of the customers at the opening and, thank God, only night of their restaurant Robandroms. I’d call it a total car crash, but that would do a disservice to accidental pile ups. After all, this was entirely predictable. At least with a car crash the emergency services eventually arrive to relieve the pain and carry off the dead. All I got was a taxi ride away from the devastation.
Firstly, the positives. It is housed in a nicely designed space. This is because it was designed by someone else. The original restaurant went out of business. Now here are Rob and Romesh dancing on the grave of what went before. Into this space they have imported their version of sophistication, and if you were a 17-year-old boy smelling of Lynx Africa you too might think it was sophisticated.
On the table, when we arrive, is a bottle of a sour apple liquor the colour of washing up liquid. It tastes of hate and carelessness and should be banned under certain chemical weapons conventions. There is also a machine tableside, enabling you to pull your own pint of frothy lager. All that’s missing to complete this vision of teenage male loveliness, is an iPad endlessly scrolling Pornhub and a roll of toilet paper.
But this is a restaurant so there must be food, of a sort. They get full marks for keeping the menu short: just one meat or veg starter, and three mains. They lose all those marks for then attempting to cook any of the dishes. Aside from the oil-drenched poppadoms and the bucket of mango chutney which they didn’t make, and the rice which they surreptitiously bought in from Wagamama, Romesh’s sturdy testicle-shaped vegetarian samosa is the best thing of the night. That’s not praise. The bar is set so low you couldn’t post a letter under it. Rob’s lamb samosa is a misshapen monstrosity. It looks like it was born deformed in the midst of a nuclear accident. There can be no filo pastry left in the country. It’s all been used in just one of Rob Beckett’s catastrophic lamb samosas.
For her main my companion, the saintly Grace Dent, orders Romesh’s Sri Lankan aubergine curry with a seabass fillet. The fish is served to her half raw. It’s interesting how close the word ‘hostility’ is to ‘hospitality’. Then again top marks for bravery: trying to kill one of the nations most beloved restaurant critics on your first night is a ballsy move. She sends it back. When it returns the fish is cooked, but everything else is stone cold. I order Rob’s butter chicken. The barely grilled thigh arrives in a lake of sauce the colour of Donald Trump’s face; it has the sweet-sour tang of pure tomato ketchup, the cheap own brand stuff, bought by those who can’t afford Heinz. Given Grace’s terrifying fish, I can’t bring myself to try more than a forkful. I still get to experience the gag reflex in the wild.
At which point there’s a roar from the crowd as a DJ thunders some massive beats around the room. I can feel the bass thumping in my underfed guts. I’ve had enough. If I had wanted to feel old and desperately uncool while listening to music so loud my ears bleed, I could have stayed home and had the piss taken out of me by my kids. I decline to stay and try Rob’s balls for desserts because, unlike Beckett and Ranganathan, I have my pride. The best thing about a night at Robandroms? The gentle hiss of the door closing behind me, on the way out.
Rob & Romesh vs is on Sky One. You can catch up with the series here.
Getting a manicure from Lorena Bobbit.
Next month Amazon Prime drops a new documentary series about Lorena Bobbit, an American woman who became famous 25 years ago because she was convicted of slicing off her husband’s penis. The series is promising to look in detail at the story. It is certainly worth investigating, because it was always much more complicated than it it was portrayed in the tabloids, where it played out as some dark, brutal comedy about a man having his penis excised. It wasn’t that; it was a story about spousal abuse. In early 1995 I was sent by Night and Day, a relatively new supplement of the Mail on Sunday, to Las Vegas, where I (kind of) interviewed John Wayne Bobbit. Later, I flew to Washington DC, and arranged to have a manicure with Lorena who had recently returned to her old job in Arlington, Virginia, just outside DC. This was in the earliest days of the web and certainly the Mail on Sunday was not then online. I have therefore posted the piece in a series of scans of my own cuttings.
A couple of things. I am open in the piece about the subterfuge I used to get to spend time with Lorena. Looking back now it’s not something I’m proud of, and is definitely not something I would repeat today. I apologised to her at the time. All I can say is I was in my twenties, and those were different times. Secondly, for those slightly baffled as to why a Guardian group lifer was working for the Mail on Sunday, a little bit of newspaper history: back in the early 90s the MoS had reached a sale of well over two million and concluded that if they were to expand further they would need readers from the broadsheet market. They decided that they did not know how to do that. Hence, they hired a young former Guardian journalist and rising star called Jocelyn Targett, then at the Sunday Times, to launch an upmarket supplement. He phoned a bunch of us up at the Guardian and asked if we’d like to join him. My response was that I couldn’t write for a Tory rag. He told me that there would be no interference from the rest of the Mail; that I could carry on writing Guardian style journalism but that I would be paid Tory money. So it proved. I firmly believe that Weekend Guardian Would happily have published this piece.
(Statement of obvious: read both columns on each two column scan, before moving on to the next.)
A SLICE OF LIFE.
She’s a manicurist. He’s a rising star of porn films.
They’re married but live 2,500 miles apart.
Which – since they are Lorena and John Wayne Bobbit – suits them just fine…
By Jay Rayner
First published in Night and Day of the Mail on Sunday, March 19, 1995.
ANNOUNCING: a new collection of my scorching reviews of terrible restaurants. Publ October 4 (perfectly timed for Christmas). Price: £5.
‘Jay Rayner isn’t just a trifle irritated. He is eye-gougingly, bone-crunchingly,
teeth-grindingly angry. And admit it – that’s the only reason you’re here, isn’t it?’
I’m delighted and thrilled if not contractually obliged to announce that, on October 4, Guardian Faber will publish Wasted Calories and Ruined Nights, a second collection of 20 of my most negative restaurant reviews. Some might argue that this is a dark and disobliging move, which adds little to the sum of human happiness. I would argue that you’re all horrid people who adore reading the utter shitbaggings much more than anything else, as the success of the first volume, My Dining Hell, proves. I could, of course, have published a collection of my most positive reviews but who among you would have bought that?
This one includes my accounts of dinner at Beast, The Farm Girl Cafe and, of course, Le Cinq in Paris. There’s an introduction which describes the aftermath of the publication of that review of the Parisian Michelin 3 Star, and I look at what happened after each of the other reviews. It is a beautifully crafted volume and you’ll want to buy copies for every member of your family this Christmas. Or I’ll sulk. Look, it’s only a fiver. What have you go to lose?
Incidentally there are 10 tickets left for My Dining Hell, my show about lousy restaurants and why we like reading about them. Crazy Coqs, London, tomorrow night, Sept 5. Tickets HERE.
There are more tickets available for The Ten Food Commandments, also at the Crazy Coqs, on Sept 11. Tickets HERE
All of my other shows, both comedy and jazz, are listed HERE
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SELL WASTED CALORIES AND RUINED NIGHTS?
With both My Dining Hell and The Ten Food Commandments we found that there were a whole bunch of non-traditional retail outlets for books which did very well with these small but perfectly formed volumes which sit beautifully by the till: think delis and cafes, butchers and B&Bs. If you would like to stock this new one please email me at [email protected] and I will put you in touch with the right sales person at Guardian Faber, who will sort you out.
Last time I did this Michael Gove got weirdly cross about it. But then it was just before Christmas, and I think the spirit of the season had got to him. I’m hoping that, now he’s back in government and very important, he’ll be too busy to have a go.