It has come to our attention that our small, family-run restaurant was the subject of a review by the renowned food critic and raconteur Jean Bernard last week. Recently opened, we were delighted to have attracted the attention of such a culinary connoisseur. Nonetheless, it should be noted that no soliciting of such a review was made by our humble restaurant and no pretences of grandeur were made on behalf of our food. It was with some surprise then that Monsieur Bernard’s scathing review was read and it is with no small degree of sadness that I must tell you that we are closing our doors as a result of his article. Responsible for the breaking of many a head chef, Bernard is notorious for destroying the reputations of a far higher class of restaurant than ours. As a result the chefs, the cleaning staff, and the serving staff will be looking for work elsewhere.
Nevertheless, do not mourn us. We offer this counter-review as a sweet, a dessert, a cordial if you will. What is a meal, after all, without a satisfying finale?
Soup – Poultry Consommé
Food should titillate as it appears from the kitchen. It should be a work of sculpture, making the diner uneasy about disturbing its subtle message with spoon or fork. Appearance is everything. The same could be said about diners of course, and it is an understatement to state that Jean Bernard does not stimulate the salivary glands upon first appearance. Jowls pendulous and unshaven, he saunters through the family restaurant, leaving a trail of stale cigarette smoke and wrinkled noses in his wake. Bloodshot eyes peer greedily out from underneath lank curtains of hair as he scans the wine list, understandably keen to numb the existential pain of being a pain in the arse for a living. One might think that during a career spent savaging some of the most talented chefs in the country Bernard might have picked up some manners in the process. One would be wrong. A napkin stuffed down the front of his shirt attempts to show an insouciant, devil-may-care attitude to polite society whilst also serving the very practical purpose of catching spilled consommé. Just as well, because Jean is either lacking in technique or manners. Elbows are on tables whilst the soup spoon enters the bowl the wrong way around. Puckered lips hover tremulously over the hot liquid before blowing what must be small, white-capped waves across the silverware. Consommé rains down on the white tablecloth, signalling extra work for the serving staff after service and a temporary reprieve between courses.
Main – Beer-braised Short Ribs
It takes an individual of breeding to elegantly dine upon ribs. It takes someone with dexterity. Somebody with grace. Whatever attributes Bernard possesses, these are not among them. A corpulent frame does not stop the critic from falling on the ribs like a starving dog looking for marrow in a bone. What follows is a breath-shorteningly gruesome display of dining and probably should not take place in a family restaurant. Bernard seems to feel that he needs to bare his teeth before gnawing each rib. He darts down upon the bones, feral and unfettered, narrowed eyes darting around the room as though defending a kill from hyenas. As soon as the grisly feast is complete I half expect Jean to drag the remainder into a low-branched tree to revisit later. Instead he treats his fellow gastronomes to a display of self-grooming as nauseating as it is thorough. Threads of meat are wheedled out from between tar-darkened incisors before each, individual, finger, is sucked clean. How many of Bernard’s fellow diners order a sorbet for dessert I don’t know, but I certainly need my palate cleansed.
Dessert – Apple Crumble with Custard
A simple dish, but then we are a simple restaurant. A sneer greets the waiter as he sets the dish down. Perhaps Monsieur Bernard was expecting something more adventurous. Nevertheless, a taste for the exotic does not stop him setting about his pudding with abandon. The critic even has the audacity to shake his head as he heaps spoonful after spoonful into his mouth. A notebook has belatedly appeared on the table. Bernard appears to be expending equal amounts of ink and custard upon it. A phone rings and Bernard, not bound by the conventions that constrain lesser men, answers it. A full-length conversation is broadcast throughout the restaurant, no doubt prompted by the fact that it is Bernard’s publicist on the line. Dinner dates, newspaper columns, and radio segments are all discussed. The food writer glances around the restaurant as he speaks as though inviting those around him to share in his achievements. For their part, no small amount of pleasure is taken as custard drips from a suspended spoon and onto what must be expensively tailored trousers. Bernard finishes his correspondence and with spectacular abandon this purveyor of haute cuisine takes a wad of notes from a fine leather wallet and, without bothering to count, leaves it on the spoiled tablecloth. With a fingernail scraped around the caramelised custard on the bowl the sated glutton is off into the night, doubtless to spread his culinary bile and ample rear in some other establishment.
It is notable that despite not needing to count notes Jean Bernard could not buy taste, nor admiration, nor a companion with whom to sit for the evening. We only hope that his meal, one of that last to be served under this roof, was sufficient to sustain him as his words bring the crockery and cutlery down around our heads.
Bon Appetit, monsieur.
Thanks for reading folks. Pictures courtesy of Dave Allan (Flickr), Publicdomainpictures.net, and Wikipedia.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is an absentee member of the Glasgow Writers Group, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order.