Kirkus Reviews QR Code


In Search of the Perfect Dinner

by Jay Rayner

Pub Date: July 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8669-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

A book-length quest to understand the 21st century’s international gastronomic revolution.

It’s characteristic of London Observer restaurant critic and occasional novelist of some wit Rayner (The Oyster House Siege, 2007, etc.) that he can find fault even with the agreeable task of eating his way toward the world’s perfect meal. On the one hand, his job allows him to sit in restaurants “eating extraordinary food and having Dom Pérignon squeezed into my mouth from a South Seas sponge.” On the other, he rubs shoulders with wealthy Michelin-star worshippers: “self-satisfied, self-abusing, arguments for involuntary euthanasia.” The combination of zest for glorious gastronomic abundance and the nagging sensation that he’s propping up a corrupt system of gilded-age excess gives Rayner’s book a real-world frisson that rarely finds its way into food writing. Giving readers the grand tour without forgetting how much everything costs, he jets to modern foodie capitals from the expected (Paris and New York) to the surprising but appropriate (Dubai and Las Vegas). Though the author is hardly above hobnobbing with star chefs like Jöel Robuchon and cover-blurb-providing Mario Batali, he’s not afraid to stick it to those he considers not up to the task; Gordon Ramsay, who blurbed earlier Rayner books, gets a good dressing down in this one. A sharp-tongued hacker and slasher of food and chefs he doesn’t care for, such as Moscow’s kitschy, obscenely expensive and underwhelming Café Pushkin, Rayner is a besotted devotee when he finds something he loves. At the heavenly Okei-Sushi restaurant in Tokyo, the tab was $475, “the most I had ever paid for a single meal, though in my state of rapture, it seemed irrelevant.”

Readers will be delighted to participate vicariously in the globetrotting feast of an inquisitive glutton who remembers that somebody has to pay for it all.