Jay Rayner on real writing, guns and Gord Dong’s privilege

By BigHospitality Writer

- Last updated on GMT

Who are you? I'm a middle-aged writer who got lucky and was given the gig as restaurant critic of The Observer, which means people now pay attention to what I do – they didn't when I used to chase criminals. So there was a time when you .

Who are you? I'm a middle-aged writer who got lucky and was given the gig as restaurant critic of The Observer, which means people now pay attention to what I do – they didn't when I used to chase criminals.

So there was a time when you were a proper grown-up journalist? Oh yeah, I've sat through war crimes tribunals, done pieces on terrorism, race crime, child abuse… Doesn't the restaurant criticism seem a little shallow after all of that? Actually, at the time it was a blessed relief but I don't think it's any coincidence that, within my new novel, the character who has the roughest time is the restaurant critic.

Nice bit of redirection. I was going to ask you about your f***ing novel if you'd given me a chance… So, your new novel, The Oyster House Siege, is actually your fifth book? Correct.

I've written four novels and one non-fiction book.

If the new novel really took off – not, of course, that I'm suggesting the other four were failures – would you give up the journalism? I would never give up journalism because it's a very good discipline for any writer to have a day job like that. But how long can you be a restaurant critic for?

I don't know. It's not like being a film or television critic, where you can do it for decades, Fay being the obvious exception. There is a natural shelf life, I'm not at the end of it yet, is all I'd say, but clearly you can't do it forever.

So explain to me why anyone should go out and spend £10.99 on The Oyster House Siege? It's about a siege in a restaurant kitchen that starts on the night of the 1983 General Election. Two gunmen storm into a restaurant, thinking that they can get out the back door, only to find that there is no back and get caught down there with a bunch of cooks, the Treasurer of the Tory Party, a High Court Judge and a restaurant critic to whom no good can come. It's about whether you can find redemption at the stove. It's a gritty thriller set in a kitchen – so I can't imagine why a single one of your readers wouldn't want to buy it.

"If you thought my kitchen was intimidating, wait until you get a load of this one… A heartstopping thriller?" I didn't know Gordon Ramsay had learnt to read. Did you have to fellate him to get that quote on the cover?

He had to fellate me for the right to be the person that got to endorse me – naturally there was a long queue.

What were you doing on the night of the 1983 General Election? 1983 was a big year for me because I was thrown out of school for smoking dope and ended up in all the papers. The headlines were ‘Agony of Agony Aunt', ‘Problem son of problem solver' – you could have written them yourself. I also lost a lot of weight dancing in a nightclub called Xeon.

As I attempt to banish the image of a youthful you getting down on the dance floor, were there other reasons for setting it in '83? We were at the end of the bistro craze – so I could fill it with bistro classics plundered from the pages of Robert Carrier's Great Dishes of the World. Any later and the whole restaurant scene would have been too disparate to do that.

The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner is published by Atlantic Books, £10.99 groveatlantic.co.uk

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