Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 30th June 2024

Evening Standard

Akira Back, Mayfair

Jimi Famurewa gasped when he stepped inside the extravagant new Mandarin Oriental Mayfair in Hanover Square. Sadly its headline restaurant, from Seoul-born, Las Vegas-based celeb chef Akira Back, had the opposite effect – “its conceptual lodestar is nothing so much as the safe, cosseting Anywheresville of international luxury culture”.

The sprawling interior has “the taupe, stone and timber colour palette of an especially grand Apple Store”, while the food is “a mixture of Japanese, Korean and high-low American fusion — the kind of thing that you can imagine slowly warming in the sunshine next to a Mykonos pool cabana”.

Some of it sounded half-way decent. Gochujang bibimbap donburi was “highly comforting”, while the chef’s signature tuna pizza was “compelling, if odd” – “a circular cracker, layered over with ‘umami aioli’, translucent scrims of sashimi and a haunting blast of truffle oil… the sort of thing a degenerate chef might pile onto a Ryvita after service.” All in all, though, “this is the 24th outpost of a global empire that’s more about pacifying high-net-worth travellers than it is about enriching a local food culture”.

Jimi enquired whether the chef was present. He wasn’t. “Barely two weeks into the life of his latest outpost, Back had not fancied hanging around. I cannot say that I blame him.”


The Guardian

Cloth, Farringdon

Grace Dent enjoyed herself at a new spot in one of London’s oldest corners – it apparently escaped the Great Fire of 1666 – set up by a pair of  “earnestly endearing” wine importers in Joe Haynes and Ben Butterworth, with an ex-Marksman, Levant and Brawn chef, Tom Hurst, in the kitchen.

This trio have “swept away the nonsense” behind a lot of contemporary restaurants, “leaving behind the bare bones of good, modern British hospitality. Namely: a table, a great glass or two of wine, and an interesting, hearty, ever-changing menu”.

Better still, Grace surmised that “Hurst had entered some sort of imperial cheffing phase” from her first taste of his miso-soaked mushroom, carrot and cucumber pickles, that were “especially delicious with a round of oysters in an apple dashi and a plate of housemade bread.”


The Observer

The Hero, Maida Vale

Jay Rayner braved an “awfully polite mosh pit” made up of the “raucous west London herd” – very much not his kind of people – to sample the delights of a “shabby-chic” pub now under new management (and already well received in the Times and Evening Standard) that were rather more to his taste.

Eating in the ground-floor bar (the upstairs dining is not yet open), Jay found a “menu of very nice, simple things”, including fishcakes, sausage and mash, and ham, egg and chips, all priced in the mid-teens and constituting “an extremely decent take on the modern pub repertoire”.

The kitchen’s secret weapon is its pastry, which twice sent Jay into raptures. First with a “humble-sounding cheese and onion pie… one of those bottom-of-the-bill dishes which comes out on to the stage and steals the show”, with “the shortest of shortcrusts; a gorgeous miracle of butter and flour, which holds together more out of good manners than anything to do with kitchen chemistry”. Then came “an astonishingly good lemon tart: exquisitely thin, cracker-crisp pastry holds a zippy lemon crème of ineffable lightness and wobble.”

You know what to order. 


The Times & Sunday Times

Julie’s, Notting Hill

Giles Coren was surprised and impressed to discover that this revival of an old stager of a hang-out – he characterised it as a “sex restaurant” back in the decadent day –  now “serves unexpectedly good food at staggeringly fair prices”.

In terms of atmosphere, the biggest change was the new focus on eating in the upstairs dining room, “where it used to be all about dark sticky corners in the mazey downstairs, which is a bar now with some cosy booths in which a couple or even a threesome could easily, if they wanted to…”.

The best dish was a lobster soufflé at £39 – “expensive, yes, because it’s a lobster bloody soufflé!” – that was “a beautiful eggy cloud, free floating on a black iron skillet of the most compelling fricassée, rich with gruyère, sleek and peppery with leeks, bustling with chunky lobster”.


Borscht N Tears, Knightsbridge

For reasons clearly unconnected with keeping on top of the latest in dining, Charlotte Ivers headed to the Harrods hinterland to eat at a venture that describes itself as ‘London’s oldest Russian restaurant’ (est. 1965).

Most of its customers, the waiter, Bogdan, told her, were Russian or from former Soviet states. “We let you in because it was quiet,” he teased. The space was dark, all red velvet and an air of faded glamour – “like a child’s drawing of where you’d meet a spy”.

We did not learn much about the food apart from there being “a preponderance of pickles” and lots of potatoes, washed down by the inevitable lashings of vodka.

Charlotte’s one revelation was the “lagman: doughy stretched wheat noodles wok-fried with beef, pepper, yardlong bean (actually more like 30cm) and celery, finished with soy sauce and chives. Sichuan pepper gives it a kick. We’ve ordered it to share but I end up commandeering the plate.” 


Daily Telegraph

Skof, Manchester

William Sitwell snared something of coup this week, becoming the first national critic to review an ambitious new restaurant from a former L’Enclume head chef, Tom Barnes. William dropped in on its third day of opening, and reckons it does more to promote Manchester as the centre of the world than the city’s energetic mayor, Andy Burnham.

Skof is in an old warehouse in the NOMA redevelopment zone, in what William describes as an “unassuming street” that “could be Manhattan in the 1950s” – which many people might consider rather assuming.

He set aside his anti-tasting menu prejudice to delight in each of his 15 courses, including a ‘BBQ lobster’ dish that was “the pinnacle of surf and turf – sweet lobster, becoming angelic in the melting fat”. The bread – served alongside duck for the eighth course – also invited superlatives, “for it’s a breathtaking layered sort of croissant; literally baking genius, all butter and crunch, as seismic a creation as the Grand Canyon.”

By the end of his meal, poor William was struggling to find metaphors to match his rapture: “Skof is the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids. A monument of pure, victorious conviction.”

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