Tracey MacLeod, The Independent (Rating: Food 3/5 stars, Ambience 2/5 stars, Service 3/5 stars)
“The name evokes the vanished glamour of Raffles hotel and the woosh of the punkawallah's fan. We find ourselves sitting in a beige, windowless cube which feels like the panic room they’d herd hotel guests into should the natives start revolting”. Another critic finds the “concept” of this Marylebone fusion restaurant a little hard to swallow. It may claim to offer cuisine inspired by “the street traders of colonial Asia”, but the critic instead finds “complex, recondite dishes which would have the memsahibs calling for the smelling salts”.
Bar snacks and main courses prove largely enjoyable, although “not quite good enough to earn Colony a rave review”, and service “manages to combine faffing and fluffing with rather patchy delivery”. “I'd been hoping for a masala of a meal – mixed-up, spicy and full of zing. Instead, the spice that Colony brought to mind was vanilla; sweet and useful, but a bit ordinary”.
The Harwood Arms
Giles Coren, The Times (Rating: Cooking: 6)
The critic is mostly impressed by his visit to this Fulham gastropub; starters are “delicious” but main courses prove a little underwhelming : “[p]erfectly tasty but rather a waste – not worth finishing, so I didn’t”. He can’t help but feel, however, that the Michelin star may have more to do with the “tweeer than hell” finishing touches - bread is served in what appears to be the “upturned linen bonnet of a 17th-century Dutch milkmaid” - than the food.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet
Yet more praise for M. Loubet's eponymous bistro – “a light, warm, uncluttered, relaxing space” in Clerkenwell. With the exception of hare royale (in “a sauce as dark as Darth Vader and twice as menacing”) and rhubarb tart that's “a shade too sour”, the critic is impressed by the “gutsy, high-end bistro menu”. “[R]evised” Lyonnaise salad a particular highlight: “delicately dressed salad leaves of deep-fried pig's trotter as creamily unctuous and gooily gratifying as that porcine extremity should be”.
The critic is impressed by his visit to this Hunanese restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue, another example of the regionalisation of Chinese food that’s “one of the more thrilling developments in Britain's restaurant scene in recent years”. Despite the after-effects of dishes “laden with chillies and garlic and salt and garlic and chillies and a few more chillies”, the critic finds the flavours “utterly compelling” and concludes “the hit [was] so addictive that we kept going back”.
The Fountain (Fortnum & Mason)
Lisa Markwell, The Independent on Sunday (Rating: 11/20)
A visit to one of the five dining options in the famous Piccadilly food shop disappoints the critic, who is amused to find that her presence in the “pastel palace of muted good taste” brings the average age of diners “down by about 20 years”. The critic’s main course is “at once too salty, too limp and resembles the kind of dish that fails to get a contestant through to the quarter finals of Masterchef”, and her guest's rib eye steak looks like it’s “from a Tesco value pack”. Even puddings disappoint. “[S]pend your money on Fortnum's chocolate, by all means, but you'd get a better value meal at the Pret a Manger across the road”.
The Crab, Chieveley
AA Gill, The Sunday Times (Rating: Food 1/5 stars, Ambience 1/5 stars)
A hugely disappointing visit to this Berkshire seafood restaurant “[s]et in a windy and bleak corner of unlovely agricultural minimalism just off the M4...surrounded by horse people”. From an “expensive and chichi” menu, the critic eats halibut that's “overcooked to the point of reverting to plankton, and came with lentils that were like something that had passed through a small rodent, and slivers of parma ham that made you think a leper had been shaken over the plate”. The critic observes that he isn't the only frustrated guest: “the interlocking dining rooms were steaming with that hissed and mumbled fury that the English have instead of revolutions”.
(But isn’t this a place with quite a ‘name’? With the benefit of a little bit of the sort of historical research which is beneath Mr Gill, the great critic might – illuminatingly – have given a bit of background, and thought fit to mention that this is an establishment which changed hands a couple of years ago. As our 2010 guide observes, “standards have slipped quite noticeably” since the change of ownership.)
By the bye, the critic disparages the whole idea of weekend dining. “Sunday restaurants in England have a peculiar atmosphere. They are like watching television in the afternoon, or phoning your mother while sitting on the loo: not something you should really do.” We know what Mr Gill means, but do we really need a Sunday sermon? Working mums who rather like being taken out for a Sunday treat, for example, may feel that they really don’t need Mr Gill sniping at them for being common.