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I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.

Bonnington Square is a rather special part of south London, with an extraordinary atmosphere and a rare community spirit. I'm spending a fair amount of time wandering round there as I am trying to buy a house in the area, so far without any success.

Anyway, Bonnington Square and Vauxhall Grove that runs off it are lovely. In Vauxhall Grove sits the Bonnington Cafe, a charming vegetarian cafe. I had a nice, cheap lunch there with a friend the other Sunday and, though I'm not a veggie, will surely eat there again.

The people who run and cook at the Bonnington have no pretensions to be Gordon Ramsey - they are volunteers and enthusiasts and this is a little place serving the local community. So it was slightly odd of the Observer to send its restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, to review the place.

To be fair to Rayner, he is a Brixton resident and does review local places from time to time - it was through one of his pieces that I discovered the marvellous Gallery, a fantastic Portuguese restaurant in Brixton Hill. But sending him to review the Bonnington was a little like sending a theatre critic to write about a school play, or the chief football writer to report on a Sunday League game - all the more so since Rayner is no fan of vegetarian cooking.

So, predictably enough, Rayner hated the Bonnington and wrote what was pretty much a hatchet job over a page in today's Observer. That's his right, of course, but you wonder what the point of the exercise was, when he's clearly more at home in the Dorchester.

UPDATE: Jay Rayner has added a comment below arguing, reasonably enough, that I was unfair to say he hated the Bonnington. "Liked the place, hated the food" may have been a fairer summary.

And here's a view on the Bonnington and Jay Rayner's review from another blogger.


Anonymous said...


You misrepresent my piece. You say I hated the Bonnington, when in para three I say this: 'What I can't take issue with - what no reasonable person could find fault with - is the Bonnington Cafe itself. It is a complete anachronism and all the more wonderful for that.'

My problem isn't even with the vegetarian food thing, as another blogger has claimed, but with the food I ate that night which was terrible. The idea that there are places I should go and places I should is bizarre. I'm a restaurant reviewer. It's a restaurant. I reviewed it. Sure I've done the high end places, but I also do the cheap eats as well, as your reference to the Gallery points out.And while we're at it have a look at the third part of this three in one review: an Indian vegetarian restaurant in Leicester where a meal is even chepaer than that at the Bonnington. Oh, and I liked it.


Jay Rayner

simon said...


Fair point - "liked the place, hated the food" might have been a fairer and more accurate summary.

Obviously it's your right to go where you want and write what you think. I suppose my point is that, while there is clear benefit in pointing out a hidden gem (like the Leicester place), or slagging off a high-priced place that doesn't measure up, I find it hard to see the value to readers, or indeed the point, in seeking out an obscure caff, run by amateurs and giving it a a going-over across a full page.

To extend the simile in my blog, it's the difference between a theatre reviewer telling us about a great show he's seen in provincial rep that we might otherwise be unaware of, and going to Barrow in furness or somewhere and giving an amateur troupe a kicking.

Marc said...

Just out of interest, as a former veggie, here's my tuppence worth...

If you are paying money to eat at a cafe or restaurant, isn't it fair game to be reviewed in *either* a positive or negative light.

If Jay Rayner has form for slagging veggie restaurants, then surely the veggies who read his columns will take this into account. Also, most sane people (though not all) realise that reviews are not objective pieces but entirely dependent on the reviewers particular foibles and peccadilloes.

Anyway, as I said, just my tuppence worth.

Anonymous said...

Presumably if Jay Rayner had found cause to write a good review your opinion on his right to do so would have been different.
The Caf, as it was known in my day (I was the most regular cook there from 1986 to 1990) welcomed interest from beyond the confines of Bonnington Square/Vauxhall Grove and was at least once reviewed favourably in Time Out (not on my shift I must add).
It also suffered from some very poor cooks, including the hippy that "adopted" and fed a rat that was attracted by his inabilty to grasp any notions of hygiene or cleanliness.
It is right that Jay Rayner reviews whatever eateries are on his path, be they run by a Michelin-starred chef or an enthusiastic amateur, and anyone in the business of providing food should be doing it well. If a vegan cook thinks it is OK to be providing bad food to paying customers because that is what he understands as acceptable fare, then he rightly deserves his bad review.
I left the Caf mainly because of its inabilty to apply any minimal standards and the last time I ate there (2006) I also had a disappointingly bland food experience.
Food should be a passion, and just as Heston Blumenthal may be ever eager for another Michelin star, so should the cooks at The Bonnington Café be striving to produce the best food they can. And if they can't (or can't be bothered to) do so then they need to be doing anything other than food.

Bobi Lloyd
ex Bonnington Café

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