The UK’s most famous restaurant critic Jay Rayner on his career and side hustle as a jazz pianist | mEats

We took the Observer's food critic to Gooey for a chat about bad reviews, dining trends, and his favourite Manchester restaurants.

By Manchester's Finest | 29 January 2023

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Unlike some critics, Jay Rayner comes to Manchester quite often to review our brilliant restaurants. On his most recent visit, he got in touch to ask if we’d like to spend some time with him while he was here. When we suggested we do a little video interview, he jumped at the chance to meet Matt White, obviously. So we took the esteemed restaurant critic to Gooey for a chat over a slab of French toast the size of a double decker bus and a coffee.

Jay was saving himself for a big lunch so he didn’t want to eat much but who among us can resist a Rolo cookie? Jay couldn’t. His shamefully poor willpower meant he couldn’t resist a bit of that French toast either, describing it as “very good”. Get that quote on your promo materials, Gooey.

Who could resist a slab of Gooey’s French toast? Image: Manchester’s Finest

Jay told us he has been reviewing restaurants for 24 years, and while he admits his appetite is not limitless, he’s still not bored of having a job where he is paid to eat on “somebody else’s dime” and then “write smart arse things about it”. We hear ya, Jay. 

But when it comes to carving your own career as a restaurant critic, his advice was characteristically blunt, “It’s a journalist job. It’s a writing job. It’s not something you can just cross the street and do,” he said. “I have covered everything from murders to the security services. I’ve been a foreign correspondent. I’ve done everything before that particular job came my way.” 

There’s some controversy around the concept of critical restaurant reviews, especially in today’s hyper-sensitive climate, moreover when the hospitality industry is still going through extremely challenging times. But Jay puts forward a convincing argument for why he continues to criticise and why he doesn’t buy the argument that a bad review might close down a restaurant. Watch the video to see what he has to say on that particular subject.

A little BTS shot of our interview with the UK’s biggest restaurant critic. Image: Manchester’s Finest

When we asked about his favourite places to eat in our great region, Manchester’s Chinese and ESEA restaurants were particularly popular with Jay. He told us how much he loves Pho Cue, Yuzu, Seoul Kimchi and Live Seafood. He also gave props to other Finest favourites including The Alan, Erst, Bundobust and The Spärrows

We didn’t neglect to put some of your personal questions to Jay, selected by Matt from the many suggestions you posted on our socials. Which fast food brand would Jay Rayner marry and which ingredient would he contentedly relegate to landfill forever? You’re going to have to watch our interview to find out, aren’t you?

Not just master of the pen and preserver of the paunch, did you know Jay is also a dab hand on the ole Joanna? The Jay Rayner Sextet is coming to Manchester’s beautiful Albert Hall on 16 March this year. Jay will be jumping on the piano, accompanied by five of his musical pals, to play a party style set featuring huge chart hits from mega artists like Sadé, Matt Bianco and Everything But The Girl. 

Table for two for Jay Rayner and our Matt White.Image: Manchester’s Finest

The music will be interspersed with stories of his life in journalism as well as sometimes “filthy” insights into “growing up with a mother who was an agony aunt”. Jay’s mum Claire Rayner was also a prolific author (she wrote a sex manual in the sixties) and you may remember the former nurse doling out all kinds of advice in response to some eyebrow raising questions on TV AM, if you’re old enough. 

If you want to know more of Jay’s opinions on things like outrageous wine mark ups, fellating cows and what he describes as “just so bloody Manchester”, grab a white Americano and the cookie of your choice and watch our Matt White interview the nation’s favourite food critic, Jay Rayner.


The Jay Rayner Sextet

Date: Thursday 16th March
Time: 7pm
Venue: Albert Hall
Tickets: £23

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