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22/06/03 . Jay Rayner . Observer . UK
Fast and furious
An Italian restaurant critic is being sued by McDonald's for slating its food. Jay Rayner reveals why small fries should stand up to Big Macs.
This review is as much an act of solidarity as criticism. Last month, the leading Italian restaurant critic Edoardo Raspelli was sued for £15m by McDonald's after he described its hamburgers as 'rubbery' and said its chips tasted like 'cardboard'. Its product, he said, was 'gastronomically repellent'. Nothing wrong there, you might say. And yet we must never assume. I have, of course, eaten at McDonald's. (I have done a lot of things of which I am not proud.) But the last time was long ago, and I was using the place for its only unarguable purpose - as a sudden source of food energy when nothing else was on offer. The time had come for another visit.
I went to a branch close to my home. Do I need to describe it? Do I need to tell you about the slumped, resigned shoulders of the poor buggers working there? No? Good. I started with a classic: the Big Mac. This I deconstructed. First I put the slimy grey puck of a burger into my mouth and yes, Mr Raspelli, it is indeed rubbery, but so much worse than that. The thing leaked hot, greasy, salty water into my mouth. Next the bun, whose third ingredient after flour and water is sugar. It was floppy and burnt. Finally, there was a vicious bile-esque back taste to the sauce.
So far, so disgusting. On to the chips. Cardboard, yes, but fatty cardboard - and after half a minute any crispness sagged away. Next I tried one of the new dishes recently introduced as part of its 'Ever Changing New Tastes' campaign. Chicken Selects are breaded strips of chicken breast, and are a truly remarkable example of fast-food science. Although they are clearly pieces of breast, they taste of chicken not at all. They taste of salt. And then the worst item of all, a pasta and feta-cheese salad in a lemon and olive-oil dressing. After this one I needed counselling: floppy pasta, cheese-like chalk dust and a syrupy dressing packed with sugar. I studied the ingredients. In the olive-oil dressing, glucose syrup comes ahead of the oil. I only ate this because I was being paid to do so. The salad contains sweetcorn.
It was that bad.
Was there anything that was passable? Yes. I quite liked the berry and yogurt crunch. The yogurt was sharp and there was real fruit in the berry mixture.
So, what have we learnt? Not much. McDonald's food is a culinary disaster, but then we knew this. It's also cheap and fun for kids in (extreme) moderation. But for the company to be furious when a restaurant critic tells the truth is like a hooker reacting with outrage at being called loose. It's fair comment. McDonald's may fume. It may even consider reaching for its lawyers, to which I say only this: come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. I stand by every word.