As with all forms of gainful employment, there are pros and cons to being Time Out’s Eating Out editor. The pros are obvious: I get paid to gorge myself on great food in wonderful restaurants.
The downsides are a little more complex. Other than being subjected to a great deal of bad food, I’ve had to start lying. Don’t worry: my restaurant reviews are always 100 per cent honest, but I have to lie about my name when I book a table. Admittedly, it’s a teeny white lie – not to mention a necessity when conducting an anonymous review – but I still struggle. I’ve come to dread the words ‘Can I have your name, sir?’ because it’s my cue to tell the lovely, unassuming voice on the other end of the line a brazen lie.
Needless to say I panic, I stutter and I blurt out the first name that pops into my head. For reasons I can’t explain, it’s usually the name of one of the former presenters of BBC kids’ programme The Really Wild Show, Terry Nutkins or Chris Packham. What’s even stranger is that I don’t even like The Really Wild Show. And if it’s not children’s TV presenters, it’s football players – specifically former Arsenal full backs. This was all very well until it dawned on me that of all the places in the world to pretend to be an ex-footballer, Dubai is not the city to do it: if you tell a restaurant that Nigel Winterburn wants an 8pm table, then the restaurant expects former Arsenal left back Nigel Winterburn to walk through the door, not someone pretending to be Nigel Winterburn.
I did have some success with a pseudonym that combined elements of my middle name and my mum’s maiden name. Since half the name was technically mine, I felt marginally less guilty. But all good things come to an end, and I was outed on Facebook by a conniving PR – I think she caught on after I turned up at a restaurant only to temporarily forget my name (as you do).
They say that Dubai is a great place to reinvent yourself. I never thought I’d come to Dubai and start telling fibs, but if it means being paid to anonymously review restaurants, then so be it. Now I’ve stopped feeling guilty about my little white lies and started to embrace them. Besides, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get the chance to go by the name of Jake Cage, Zeus McShane or Tom Bullet again…