When you’re a minor TV celebrity, your career can be a bit of a lottery. Sometimes you get ads for memory foam mattresses and sometimes you’re invited to eat Madagascan hissing cockroaches with Harry Redknapp in the jungle.But sometimes your agent calls with an offer that’s a complete no-brainer. Do you want to go around Britain and Europe with top chefs, having dinner at really nice restaurants? And getting paid?
As any of us would, Fred Sirieix said yes. And the result is the remarkably unmemorable Remarkable Places to Eat (BBC One). Don’t worry, this is one of those very low stakes, early evening pottering around shows, so the production company probably can’t remember what it’s called either. What matters is that everybody gets a free jolly and eats great food, and we get to watch it while scoffing a Sainsbury’s chicken tikka masala in front of the telly.
You may already know Fred from his front-of-house role on First Dates. He is a real Maitre D’ who patiently listens to people called Sasha from Essex as they moan about how they can never find The One. He raises a subtle eyebrow as dim people mash their personalities together and create a compote of conversational disaster. Depending on the couple, dates either burn brightly like a flamingly hot crêpes suzette or slide off the spoon of life like a flaccid out-of-date Ski yoghurt. But whatever happens, or doesn’t, there’s always drama, backstory, and Fred’s blue-eyed Gallic insouciance. It’s a winning formula.
Sadly, you can’t really say the same for this. Even though all the ingredients are there – Angela Hartnett, Venice, lobster fishing, Fred having a go at filleting stuff – overall the dish comes out a bit bland. It looks nice, and is a gentle foodie travelogue, but my God it’s boring. It makes Antiques Roadshow look like a throbbing Berlin cabaret. And it’s also uncomfortably stilted. Professional chefs make great food, but they very rarely make good TV presenters. It’s like asking an incompetent journalist to become prime minister. (Oh no, hang on.)
Can we cut to the main course and watch the food porn now please?
There’s also far too much technical behind-the-scenes kitchen detail, surely only of interest to budding restaurateurs. I mean, if you ever wondered how many portions you can get from the carcass of a roe deer, then it’s fascinating. (The answer is 36). Otherwise, can we cut to the main course and watch the food porn now please?
If I was Fred’s agent, I’d have told him to turn this one down, even though it sounded good on paper. He’s got charm and personality, but Keith Floyd he is not. But if there was a hidden camera in the remarkable restaurants eavesdropping on the other diners as they admitted their affairs, while Fred raised his eyebrows to camera, sipped cheekily from his wine glass and said pithy bon mots… now that would have been five-star TV.
Remarkable Places to Eat is on BBC iPlayer