Everyone is a restaurant critics these days. Whether it's uploading poorly-lit photos onto social media or outpouring our post-prandial emotions on Tripadvisor, we all like to think that our (often unqualified) opinions count.
No doubt we are partly inspired by food on television. The days where the audience of Ready Steady Cook got the chance to vote (red tomatoes and green peppers anyone?) seem so innocent now, when compared to the overly dramatic Great British Menu with its arch-eyebrowed judges, or worse Gordon Ramsay shouting at hapless cooks and giving them Kitchen Nightmares of their own.
The end result is that many seem to believe that they too have the mind of the critic simply because they know that meat should be rested before serving.
All the while cooking has got ever more competitive. When they’re not reaching boiling point trying to win Michelin stars, restaurants and chefs are forever being ranked. And ever since the 90s media obsession with Marco Pierre White, we’re all conditioned to think that all kitchens have to serve their sauce with a ladleful of macho.
So when I was invited to try Rumble at the Deli – a new dining experience that combines both these phenomenons – at Tom's Deli in west London, I was keen to go. And I brought my estimable colleague Larry Ryan – deputy editor of the Independent magazine – as fellow judge.
The format is simple. Each night two chefs from a rota of several young hopefuls go head-to-head in the kitchen. The chefs – presented to diners in pugilists dressing gowns before slugging it out in the kitchen – each have to use the same raw ingredients bought that morning from the local market and come up with a three course Italian-inspired menu. In our case that meant getting two mackerel starters each, two pork-belly mains and two grape-based desserts.
Of course it’s impossible to say whether the competitive aspect upped the quality or not, but the food was both very good and ambitious. Afterwards we had to fill in scorecards judging our meal on categories such as taste, composition and presentation.
If someone who has sat in a restaurant thinking, it was nice, but perhaps they could have done it differently, then this might be the night for you. And if it does catch on (which I can see it doing), it might also satiate people’s appetite to share their food criticism.
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