Harden’s review of the reviews

We must apologise. Last week when we stated that surely everyone has now reviewed Chinatown newcomer Xu, we had forgotten that Marina O’Loughlin was yet to deliver her verdict in The Guardian. From the founders of the brilliant Bao, this more upmarket Taiwanese excited Tom Parker Bowles but disappointed Grace Dent and both Matthew Bayley at The Telegraph and Fay Maschler thought more bedding in was required after their early-days visits. What does Marina think? One word: swoon…

“Xu has a dreamlike quality… hollowed-out marrowbone filled with slow-cooked, aged shortrib, sticky with its marrow, to be wrapped in Peking-duck-style pancakes with chilli-pickled daikon, shredded spring onion and stout batons of cucumber. Good Peking duck is one of my desert island dishes; this looks set to boot it into the sea.

“The star of the show is what they call shou pa chicken, seemingly a variant of Hainanese chicken rice or Thai khao man gai… succulent, star-anise-scented chunks of breast and crisp shards of thigh, the whole thing luscious with the bird’s “dripping”. Minced ginger and spring onion is scattered on top, then, at the last minute, crisp crumbs of peppery chicken skin, so it retains its crunch. Honestly: swoon.”

“There’s a devotion to that curious texture the Taiwanese call Q, or QQ, an alluring, gummy chewiness (think mochi, bubble tea or stiff gnocchi): springy taro dumplings… the gelatinous bounce of the tendon.

“Nothing is haphazard or left to chance. With Xu, the Bao trio have progressed from queues and buns and matured into restaurateurs of gravitas, wit and style. This is a serious coming of age: Xu is, quite simply, gorgeous.”

Yorkshire tapas? Curious indeed. Jay Rayner’s trip to Mr P’s Curious Tavern in York leaves him feeling like the whole venture is just trying too hard to please…

“In truth, Mr P’s is akin to one of those terrible plays which is saved by the casting of some brilliant actors in small character roles. Every now and then something happens which makes the whole thing feel worthwhile.

“Savoury trifle filled with white crab from Whitby, the sweet soft hit of mango, a cooling dice of cucumber all layered under a thick buttermilk foam topped with the crunch of salted peanuts. It’s a smart piece of ingredient composition… so much else is weird or unpleasant.

“Mr P’s is exhausting. It’s trying so damn hard to please and in trying so hard, it is mostly failing. And it’s expensive.”

Get your money’s worth from Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard as she delivers a double review – Bang Bang Oriental (2/5) & Golden Dragon (3/5)…

“The striking building… is eco-conscious, ziggy-zaggy, ingenious, the opposite of tacky. In fact, nestling beside a Morrisons supermarket (useful car park) and opposite a huge KFC, it is something of an architectural pearl.

“Reviewers sometimes blab on about layers of flavour. I’m quite sure I have. Here there are very obviously layers of service.

“[Golden Dragon] Best of our order is mixed seafood fried ho fun noodles with egg, where the prawns and scallops have depth, you might even say layers, of flavour.

“On another day at lunchtime I visit the first-floor food court, where so far 23 pan-Asian outlets have opened around seating for 450 people divided into different moods with different furnishings.

“The best dish from the outfits we try — including Yaki Ya Grill Japan, Royal China’s 168 Dim Sum, Taiwan Fried Chicken and Four Seasons (barbecued meats) — is congee with fried intestine from Hakka Southern Chinese. Royal China’s dim sum is predictably sound. ”

And at ES Magazine Grace Dent heads to Bermondsey to try out Pique Nique – a French rotisserie chicken spot from the folks behind the nearby (and quite wonderful) Casse-Croute…

“Another place to be furious about never having time to visit. Please go and enjoy it for me.

“Hervé Durochat’s Casse-Croûte on Bermondsey Street, which regretfully I have not visited for about four years, lives on in my mind as one of London’s loveliest restaurants. News of the arrival of Pique-Nique, Durochat’s second place, sparked joy.

“Pique-Nique does indeed live in a sort of re-purposed park kiosk, which is all at once strange, wrong, right and totally charming… ferociously delicious jambon beurre baguettes heaving with cornichons. Pique-Nique’s vol au vent sauce Nantua will feature, I predict, on end of year London ‘2017 dishes’ round-ups… enormous, warm and unctuous with bechamel and crayfish. I didn’t know whether to eat it or ask my lawyer to draft me a pre-nup and marry it.”


Kathryn Flett at The Telegraph reviews Spiritland, a music-led venture next to Granary Square, King’s Cross, all about jazz, rock, soul and dub, however there’s also food available (and from ex-Brawn chef Owen Kenworthy no less)…

“Spiritland is, indeed, a bit weird. It doubles as a recording studio (you can see the booths from your table) and has its own radio station. In the bar, it sells vinyl, along with spirits and headphones.

“Spiritland may be the very incarnation of casual dining, but the kitchen is overseen by Owen Kenworthy, ex-Sonny’s and Brawn. Service was warm and super-efficient ”

Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail delivers his verdict on Covent Garden newcomer Oystermen – a pop-up turned permanent venture featuring, you guessed it, bivalves as the star dish…

“A place as small, sweet and perfectly formed as its Essex Kumamotos, one of three oyster varieties available today. I ask for Tabasco, but instead am offered an alternative array that makes my heart thump with endorphin-fuelled glee.

“It’s not just the oysters that delight. A crab beignet is light and lovely, generous with the crustacean, and fried with a knowing hand. Taramasalata is alabaster-white and sexily sloppy, with serious smoke and fishy depth. Plaice comes garlanded with samphire and capers, and awash in a slick of brown butter. This is a fish that demands utter freshness. Here, every wish is fulfilled, and it’s cooked with a typically confident hand too.

“There are certainly no flies on these Oystermen, and the place is imbued with an admirable economy, a no-nonsense purity that flows through its veins. Excellent, predominantly British seafood, expertly cooked. The wine list is well priced and interesting, the service spot-on.”

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