Jay Rayner

The Observer

Don’t bring a dog if you’re planning to eat out with Jay Rayner. In June this year he reviewed the Parakeet in London, a dog-friendly restaurant that took its canine devotion to annoying extremes as far as Jay was concerned.

“Dog lovers can be an ardent, overheated lot who think every room everywhere can only be improved by the presence of a canine, restless or otherwise. I’m genuinely glad your dogs bring you so much love and comfort and companionship. I just don’t want one indulging in rigorous arse-end frottage against me while I’m trying to get into the asparagus. Is that so weird?”

And it turned out that Jay was not alone: the column sparked a rash of follow-up pieces and much online discussion about the pros and cons of dogs in restaurants. It was the perfect example of how Jay can galvanize the wider food community with a few sentences – and also how his writing often transcends the confines of a restaurant review column.

But beyond hot-button topics, he also has a keen eye for a good story, as he showed with his review of 111 by Modou in Glasgow in March. The restaurant is owned and run by Senegalese-born Modou Diagne. Diagne had at one point been homeless but had worked his way up from kitchen porter at 111 to head chef whereupon the previous owner handed everything over to him. Jay writes: ‘The place was his now. And if you want a good old cry, go to the restaurant’s website and watch the video of that moment.’

For his column on The Suffolk Sur-Mer in Aldeburgh he experienced a Proustian moment over lobster and chips that inspired a fond tribute to his mother, Claire Rayner, herself a legendary Fleet Street columnist. It was a piece that spoke eloquently and movingly about the transformative and healing power of food.

Yes, I know it’s all a bit of a self-pleasuring, middle-class Sunday supplement fantasy, one acted out at that place where the land and sea pull and tug against each other, and the usual formalities are abandoned. But I am middle-class and this is a Sunday supplement. It works for me. And for what it’s worth, my old mum would have loved it, too.’

From knockabout arguments to human stories of struggle and achievement, Jay’s aim is always to celebrate and champion the restaurant sector. And, in doing so, his work is full of the kind of wit, intelligence and insight that both he and the Observer are famous for.