Other Stuff: AA Gill

by Lynn on December 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Other Stuff

AA Gill

I have been reading the reviews, travel pieces and interviews of AA Gill for years. They are brilliant. AA Gill was the restaurant and TV critic of the (London) Sunday Times. The restaurant reviews were in a column called “Table Talk.” The TV reviews were noted simply under Television. He also wrote interviews and travel pieces for The Sunday Times. When he went travelling the notation at the bottom of a restaurant review by another writer was: “AA Gill is away.” He wrote for The Tattler before that.

His restaurant reviews in particular could be mean, abrasive, eye-poppingly libelous, but he wrote with a breath-taking brilliance. Each word seemed to be cut from diamonds. The prose flowed: the wit of his thinking, his turn of phrase, his expressions; his prodigious knowledge not only of food, but seemingly of everything else in the world; his ire at lousy food, or surly service. His joy when it all worked left one light-headed with appreciation. No one could make me laugh out loud, bent over, paralyzed, gasping for breath, like AA Gill writing a restaurant review. And then he could write a travel/human interest piece on refugees that would leave you limp with emotion.

His frequent guest for his food forays was someone he referred to as “The Blonde”: Nicola Formby, his partner of 23 years and the mother of two of his four children.

My friend Bryan would clip his reviews and articles and send them to me every two weeks.

AA Gill never actually wrote one word of his reviews or articles because he was so severely dyslexic. He dictated his words to a scribe. That makes his writing even more astonishing.

When he was 30 he was an alcoholic and was told by his doctor that he would be dead in a few months if he didn’t stop drinking. He did stop immediately and went to AA for help. That’s when he noted his initials (for Adrian Anthony) with no punctuation as AA in recognition of their support.

Three weeks ago in a restaurant review he wrote this, which gives a sense of his abilities to express a thought: “I have an embarrassment of cancer, the Full English. There is barely a morsel of offal not included. I have a trucker’s gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.”

He died this past Saturday, Dec. 10. He was 62.

I called Bryan to express the shock that AA Gill died so quickly; each of us talking with voices quivering with emotion. Bryan said, “I shan’t send you anymore restaurant reviews because there’s no point.” And he’s right. Others have their own style. No one can copy Gill.

This is a loss that leaves me limp with emotion.

Here are some samples of his writing:

“The amuse-gueule came, as I knew it would: a crab cake the size of a shirt button that collapsed into vapours at the sight of a fork. A man can feel right foolish chasing a crab’s toenail round a plate. It tasted fine, in a homeopathic sort of way.”

“Main course would have got a Third World airline grounded. My lamb would only have been of gastronomic to a man who had never eaten a sheep before. The mushrooms wouldn’t have tasted wild if you’d soaked them in Ecstasy and given them guns.”

“The pudding wouldn’t have attracted a wasp with diabetes”

“By chance, Frenchie (the restaurant being reviewed) has one of the best foie gras dishes I’ve had in years: duck liver with smoked eel and beetroot. A mouth-coating French kiss of epicurean loveliness: the round, whispered meatiness of the duck with a fishy smokiness and just a touch of rooty sweetness

Incidentally, the bread here (a restaurant named Norn, in Edinburgh)—milled from an Orkney grain, with the nutty, yeasty smell of a nun’s warm front pocket—was divine…Altogether, Norn is a seriously unflashy, soft spoken, careful but generous restaurant in the finest tradition of Scottish cooking. It has a lot to be proud of, but wouldn’t dream of boasting about it.”

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