From Alan Yau/the Busaba Eathai team, a striking prototype, by Angel tube, for a contemporary-style Thai chain; on our early-days visit, we found we could add to the chorus of approval that has greeted its arrival.
Someone explained to us recently that a lot of what we at Harden’s do is not reviewing at all. You’d probably worked that out.
But it’s more interesting than that: apparently what we do – some of the time – is what you might call meta-reviewing. That’s to say we review other people’s reviews as much as we review our own personal experiences. Or, to put it another way, we review our own experiences in the light of the published views of those who have gone before.
Why would we do that? Well, why wouldn’t we? Enjoyment of most meals is to some extent a function of expectation. Visit a restaurant that’s the talk of the town, and you’re probably going to go in a different frame of mind from when you visit a restaurant that’s been widely panned. Like it or not, those other reviews are part of the story.
Today’s case is one of uniform critical adulation. Alan Yau’s latest baby, on a once-neglected corner opposite Angel tube, is the notably stylish informal Thai restaurant that his stellar (but not unblemished) track record would lead you to hope it would be. And worthy of the four and five-star (respectively) hymns of praise it has received in the Evening Standard and Time Out.
End of review? If you wish.
If you don’t though, here are a couple of observations based on facts gleaned from the other reviews. One is that this ‘new’ concept is, to cut very crudely to the chase, essentially Busaba Eathai Mark II. The team has made quite a successful effort – of, if you prefer, an effortful success – of making their new baby look novel. Some small element of déjà-vu, however, is unavoidable.
Like Busaba, this will surely eventually be a chain, so there’s another parallel there that’s perhaps worth observing. We have Time Out to thank for recording that David Thomspson, of Nahm (the grand Belgravia Thai restaurant that recently closed) has been active in the kitchen during the launch period.
Nothing wrong with that: he doubtless has much to impart. But let’s be wary of the precedent of star chefs in the kitchens of new chains. The original Jamie’s Italians were much better in its early days when star-chef Gennaro Contaldo (whose protégé Jamie once was) was actively involved. That chain – of which there is, coincidentally, a new outlet next door – is deteriorating fast as it dashes for growth.
Our joy at adding to the number of positive reviews of Naamyaa to date, therefore, is tempered by the knowledge that none of the eminent earlier-days reviewers (or even we ourselves) can guarantee that standards will be maintained once Mr Thompson departs these shores to run his own restaurant, in an Eastern location even more exotic than EC1.