When Jay Rayner arrived for lunch at Obsidian on a damp Manchester Monday he found a restaurant unprepared to serve any punter, much less the restaurant critic of The Observer.

“A restaurant trading outside of its most appropriate hours”, mused Rayner in his 4th of July review, “is like a transvestite who hasn’t shaved”.  

Rayner wondered aloud if it was fair to be there at all, ultimately reasoning that “if the restaurant has decided to be open then it is OK for me [him] to eat there”.

His puzzled disappointment at not finding any of the dinner dishes he had spotted on the restaurant website menu did not dissuade the intrepid critic from mixing and matching from the extremely limited prix-fixe lunch and bar menus and then writing a scathing review based on a small and not entirely unpleasant sampling of two mains and two desserts.

On twitter I questioned the fairness of his writing such a review without making a return visit, setting off this [uncorrected] exchange between Rayner (his tweets are in blue-bordered box) and myself:

@youngandfoodish I dunno. After 11 years in this gig I suppose I think I know how restaurant reviewing works. Terribly arrogant of me.Sun Jul 04 15:43:48 via UberTwitter


@jayrayner1 11 years? an intern days out of journalism would have at the very least called the restauant afterwards to get the lowdown.Sun Jul 04 16:32:08 via Twitter for iPhone


@youngandfoodish if a restaurant is open and serving its there to be reviewed.Sun Jul 04 16:38:28 via web

Based on my experience as restaurant critic for The New York Daily News that sounded to me like a justification for lazy if not unprofessional behaviour. I decided to do what Rayner did not: call the restaurant to learn if there were extenuating circumstances to partly explain why Obsidian was so unprepared.

The fact that Monday lunches are notoriously slow, as they are at many Manchester restaurants, is no excuse. Rayner is right: if you’re open for business you’re open for criticism. But there were other conditions not communicated to The Observer readers that made this an inopportune day to be visiting Obsidian and passing judgement on it for a national newspaper.

Obsidian in June was a restaurant in transition. The new chef, Steve Waters, worked his first service on the 11th of June – four days AFTER Rayner’s visit. The new manager, Neil Woodward, began work on the 5th of July, one day AFTER Rayner’s review was published. Trust me, Wayne Rooney is no longer the most miserable man in Manchester.

Put the unfortunate timing of Rayner’s lunch down to bad luck. What’s regrettable is that he did not bother to do a little reporting and thereby explain to his readers, as I am doing here to mine, that Obsidian had hired a new chef who was in the process of implementing an entirely new menu. Those dishes from the outdated website were no longer available to Rayner because the chef behind them had already departed.