Born in London, Jay Rayner is a food critic for The Guardian and Observer newspapers, and has been a judge on BBC TV’s MasterChef. He is also a jazz pianist, and is performing with the Jay Rayner Quartet on 23 April at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and 4 May at the Crazy Coqs club at Brasserie Zedel.
We caught up with Rayner to ask him about a few of his favorite London things.
What is your favourite venue for breakfast?
My perfect breakfast would be at The Wolseley. The room just makes you feel like you’re in the right spot. It does a good cooked breakfast.
What are your favourite buildings?
St Pancras Station, before and after its redevelopment, and the National Theatre – it took me a long time to fall in love with it, but it deserves our love.
What’s your favourite place to have lunch?
Four Seasons on Gerrard Street. I sneak in alone to have roast Cantonese duck, not crispy, with a side of greens with chilli, no rice and The New Yorker magazine; I’m happy by myself.
And which museums and galleries?
Tate Modern, for me, is about the Turbine Hall and what is in that space. I love the National Portrait Gallery as it’s always fascinating to look people in the eye.
What are your favourite green spaces?
I’m a fan of my local park, Brockwell Park, which is south of Brixton. When I was a young parent, I could spend the day in that park: in the playground, walled garden and café.
Which venue in London is special for you?
Shaftesbury Avenue. My father had been an actor, so from a young age I was taken to the theatre. By the age of 10 I had been backstage at every West End theatre, so—as my parents are gone now—the street reminds me of them.
Is there a memory that stands out?
I remember going backstage to see Tommy Steele. He had a star dressing room, which I thought was the fanciest thing.
What places in the city inspire you?
Cities are about possibilities. I am a city man, right to the ends of my toes. If you ever want proof of that, stand on Waterloo Bridge—ideally at dusk—and look north. The city is laid out for you, almost wantonly. If you can’t get excited by that, then you’re dead inside.
Where do you like to have tea?
Maison Bertaux on Greek Street. It’s an old-school patisserie, run in a ramshackle way.
Where do you like shopping?
A lot of people never get beyond the ground floor of Fortnum & Mason, but the real treasures are found above it. It’s a brilliant department store—it’s not cheap, but it’s good value. If I’m hunting for a present, I can be found in the halls; nothing bad happens there.
What is your favourite place to dine?
If I was forced to choose, I’d say Bentley’s on Swallow Street. If I could sit at the bar and watch the guys open oysters for me, I’d be happy.
Tell us about your jazz performances...
I can’t bear self-absorbed jazz, which seems to be performed for the people onstage rather than the audience. I’m a big believer in an all-around show, and musically we are on point. My idea of utter bliss is playing with the jazz trio.
What makes London stand out?
It has never been mortgaged to its own history. It has a sense of itself while also being open to the rest of the world. There are cities, like Rome, which are fantastic, but they can’t get over the fact they’re Rome whereas London is a bustling metropolis, open to the world.