THE THURSDAY BOOK: Truly a Legend in His Own Lunchtime ; Incest and Morris Dancing Jonathan Meades Cassell, Pounds 20
Hirst, Christopher, The Independent (London, England)
PURVEYORS OF the bland, the unauthentic and the mediocre will have been sleeping easier since last December, when Britain's most vitriolic, knowledgeable and literate restaurant critic handed in his napkin after a 15-year stint at The Times.
How on earth did Jonathan Meades keep it up? One reason is, as this compendium of over 200 reviews reminds us, he did not restrict himself to gastronomy alone. The culinary content of his critique of Planet Hollywood is limited to five words: "The food, incidentally, is crap."
A further reason for Meades's staying power is his near- limitless reservoir of bile. The twin passions propelling this book are a profound appreciation of top-notch cuisine, preferably French in origin and visceral in content, and a Swiftian disdain for the tastes of the mass of the populace. Both aspects are expressed with impressive fluency and passion. The result is that extreme rarity, a book of collected journalism that merits its hard covers.
Every paragraph contains at least one memorable expression or arcane nugget. There is also a generous seasoning of jokes, often in stunning bad taste. None is more shocking than his reflection when Marco Pierre White gave him a bottle of '66 Petrus in apology for a slight faux pas concerning Meades's dead mother: "If a mother gets you a '66 Petrus, what do a cousin, an uncle, an aunt get you?"
Piquant as a well-seasoned pig's spleen, the book succeeds in its aim "to be read rather than consulted". In some respects, I wish it was more of a reference work. …