Jay Rayner

Jay Rayner describes the abomination that is the Scotch egg.

on Jul 29, 2009

Here’s what you need to know about the true Scotch egg: it is a British traditional food, which has no noble antecedents. Or to put it another way, it may once have been a glorious thing, but nobody of my generation in Britain is aware of such a  thing. It is a nightmarish food item, the stuff of cheap family weddings, where the irascible scary uncle gets drunk and tries to score with the bridesmaids. The buffet at that sort of wedding would always include a platter of Scotch eggs, which would leave as nasty a taste in the mouth as the party. Think dry, cold, coagulated, cheap quality sausage meat – minced pig eyelids, ground down ears and knee caps; the cheapest of the cheap – with a crust of bright orange breadcrumbs on the outside, and inside an egg boiled to such a degree that if lobbed in a crowded public space it would be regarded as a dangerous weapon. Put said item in deep fat fryer and leave to DIE. Scotch eggs are what you eat at three o’clock in the morning when you pull into a service station off the motorway and are too hungry to make a proper judgment. They are what you eat in British pubs – not the nice oldie worldy, prettified ones; the nasty, sticky floored ones, where the curtains small of nicotine and the air is heavy with the taint of regret and disappointment – when you have drunk ten pints of lager the colour and flavour of something that came out the wrong end of a cat. They are the food of desperation. At Critics' Table I asked Art Smith if he’d ever gone 10 pints in a British pub. He looked at me as if I’d asked him for the late Queen Mother’s bra size, poor love.

Now it’s true that a couple of places in Britain have attempted to do something fancy with the Scotch egg. At a really nice gastropub in West London called the Harwood arms, they serve one made of finest minced venison with, in the middle, a quail's egg, the yolk of which is still runny. And everything you need to know is there in the description: to banish the memory of the real thing, they had to make it without the usual ingredients.

So what of Art Smith’s Scotch egg? Oh dear, oh dear. Undercooked, greasy lamb, around an overcooked egg which was far less than television friendly; it made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, which is never a good thing when you are expected to say smart, incisive things into microphones. I regarded it less as food than cruel and unusual punishment. What had I done to deserve this? The contrast between it, and Anita’s staggering re-invention of Hubert’s lobster dish also did it no favours. (I used the word genius and I meant it.)

So why did Art Smith not go home? A number of reasons. Firstly, I fully accept that my reaction to his dish was re-enforced by my personal and traumatic memories of Scotch eggs (though I would argue that as the relationship between food and memory is very tight, it’s entirely valid). The point is that neither James nor Gael shared those memories — lucky, lucky people. Secondly the other things on the plate really were rather nice. Whereas poor old Suzanne’s dish just failed on every level, and so she was the one who had to go.

Art Smith got to fight another week. And I got to remind myself exactly why I was being paid.

Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World, published now in paperback by Henry Holt.