Food Critics Forced to Suffer for their Art

It doesn’t appear to have been the best of times, on the job of late, for a couple of Scotland’s better-known print media food critics – Tam Cowan, of the Daily Record, and Ron McKenna, who writes the ‘Eating Out’ spot for The Herald Magazine.

Comedian, Cowan, who also writes a variety of idiosyncratic columns for the Record, homes in on a Dundee hotel for a tirade which mainly is devoted to the quality or otherwise of his £13 breakfast but also includes references to a function he attended in the hotel the previous evening.

He reported: “Approaching my 12th anniversary of restaurant reviews (which means I've filled my face on your behalf at 600 eateries) I've never given the food rating a big fat zero. But there's a first time for everything, I suppose…”

And the breakfast he 'enjoyed' in the hotel gained a rock bottom 9/25 mark, comprising: Food: 0/5 – truly shocking; Service: 0/5 – abysmal; Decor: 4/5 – nice place, shame about everything else; Toilets: 4/5 – smart and clean; Value: 1/5 – what a waste of money.

Meanwhile, McKenna, who forsook journalism for a career in law in six years ago, was not so much concerned about the food but more about his sartorial elegance and failure to make an impression while visiting a Glasgow restaurant.

His intro was compelling: “Sometimes I wear completely the wrong clothes. I mean, sinister black suit, white shirt, my best hand-brushed polyster grey tie. To come in here? What was I thinking of?

“Not only do I look unlike any other customer, I seem a bit, um, incongruous and I am having a chilling effect on the atmosphere …I’m sure if there were windows at the back of this restaurant people would be queuing up right now to hurl themselves out of them.

“There’s no menu. Nobody’s making eye contact. I can’t work out who is actually working here. And time has slowed down a la The Matrix as I stand for minutes like an island of stupidity in a sea of discomfort with hairs actually rising on the back of my neck.

“Eventually I blurt out: 'I'm not an official, just a guy who has got to the age where he doesn’t know what to wear any more. Honestly, I look worse in jeans.' OK, I don’t.”

Told there is no food left, despite …“a frankly enormous amount of food behind the counter”, McKenna explains that he and the staff appear to come to an unspoken agreement that he was not leaving until he tried it.

The food does taste good, admits McKenna: “I hand over a fiver, and leave, perplexed.

“When I come back again a few days later, things go much, much better. This may be because I have taken the decision to loosen my tie before entering or could simply be because I’m recognised as the harmless weirdo who was in before.”

McKenna, a former stalwart of Scottish journalism, having worked for most newspapers, now does criminal law work for a Glasgow-based legal firm.

During his journalism career, he held senior positions including political editor of the Daily Record, chief reporter at The Scotsman, chief political writer at the Scottish Daily Mirror, and senior reporting roles as The Herald and Evening Times, Glasgow… 

He also had a stint at the Evening Express, Aberdeen.