Jay Rayner: My Dining Hell

Jay Rayner is a real presence, a big guy with a big voice who is very comfortable with addressing an audience. During a very interesting hour we learn a lot about what motivates his writing, why we love coruscating reviews, and the different types of ‘bad’ restaurant. If you’re a fan of Rayner’s writing, and restaurant reviews in general, the rewards are bountiful.

The wit in his writing is just as evident in his public speaking.

Rayner begins with a discussion of why we love to read bad reviews. He suggests that it’s to do with ‘social comparison theory’; after a long and stressful week filled with life’s little miseries, it feels good to sit down with the Sunday papers and witness someone being laid into. For the time it takes to read eleven hundred words, someone is having a much worse time than you are. This analysis is pretty much on the money and it’s also why, as Rayner admits, bad reviews are easier and so much more fun, to write. ‘It’s all about the story’ as he points out, and stories with happy endings are not always the most satisfying.

Then there are his pet peeves, the things that immediately undermine his dining experience and attract the sharpest edge of his pen. There is the dreaded ‘would you like me to explain the concept behind our menu?’ and the enthusiastic waiter refilling your glass (which has its perils if your dining partner drinks slower than you do), whilst interrupting your dazzling conversation with a repeated ‘how is everything guys?!’ These examples are illustrated with brief videos starring Rayner himself, acted out with an exaggerated earnestness that captures the kind of pretentiousness that Rayner loves to undermine.

A segment dealing with the language used on menus reveals some real gems: ‘Basil enthused pasta’ is just one. Rayner’s interaction with the audience is also impressive. A mispronounced ‘dreich’ earns a reproach from the Scottish contingent; he pauses just for a moment and replies ‘you have a vote on it in September!’ The wit in his writing is just as evident in his public speaking.

The closing section, detailing his top five worst dining experiences, is similarly deft. For anyone with an appetite for eating out, or for insights into the reviewing profession, My Dining Hell is fine fodder indeed.

Reviews by James Macnamara


Government Inspector

Stand in the Square

Is Your Marmite Watching You?

The Jazz Bar

Jazz Rite of Spring

Underbelly, Bristo Square

Rachel Stubbings: Doing It for Himself

C venues - C nova

Cabaret Nova

The Edinburgh Academy

West Side Story


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Observer restaurant critic and chair of BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, Jay Rayner examines our fascination with lousy reviews, recalls some of his worst nights out and shares the most damning reviews his own work has received.

Most Popular See More

Frozen the Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Grease the Musical

From £20.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets