Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 31st March 2024

The Evening Standard

Yuki Bar, Hackney

Bored of London’s small-plates scene and bewildered by the “ruinous” prices of London’s Japanese-inspired restaurants, Jimi Famurewa had the highest hopes of master sommelier Yukiyasu Kaneko’s tiny Hackney spot, anticipating “the modern trope of the natural wine bar through a thrilling new cultural lens: luscious Juran reds, sansho-dusted crisps and an
atmospheric sweet spot between familiarity and surprise.”

He was, on balance, disappointed. The railway arch space “radiates cool” and fulfuls expectations of “a great hidden bar”, but Jimi was “not wholly convinced” by a venture which “doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants to be an expansive restaurant or merely a place for high-impact drinking snacks”. “Even with the better dishes (like a fragrant chicken tsukune hotpot, roiling with creamy gobbets of tofu, greens and mushrooms in a dashi-spiked broth) there was a thrown-together quality; an appreciable imbalance of effort and reward”.

Perhaps, he concluded on a hopeful note, “like certain vintages, this is one that will make more sense if it is given time to develop”.


The Guardian

The Shed, Swansea

Grace Dent undertook a six-hour round trip for lunch in Swansea, where locally born chef Jonathan Woolway has returned to open a restaurant in a converted Victorian dockside warehouse after a long stint at London landmark St John. Yes, it’s a long way to go for lunch, so Grace advised anybody holidaying in Wales this summer to make a detour on the way.

But, she said, don’t expect a St John replica. “The Shed is essentially 16 years of Woolway’s homesickness on a plate, complete with a laverbread garnish.” So in place of whole roast suckling pig or Eccles cakes with Lancashire cheese, there are “offally, mysterious faggots with sides of chips and greens or a salad of Cae Tân leaves”. 

This is definitely “a place for farm-to-fork lovers keen to eat every mooing, baa-ing tasty thing from across the Gower Peninsula, the Brecon Beacons, Herefordshire, and the lush farmland of West Wales and the Monmouthshire borders”.

It’s also a top spot for Welsh rarebit – “oozy slabs of cheesy heaven [which] come with a bottle of Lee & Perrins so you can add it to taste.” And leave room for the Welsh cakes as dessert.


The Observer

Freddie’s, Hampstead

Opening a “New York-style non-kosher Jewish deli” in a high-end retirement
complex opposite the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead is – to Jay Rayner – an “eminently sensible” arrangement. After all, as we get older, what we want is “to be in the heart of things, close to a chemist, primary health care and other people. Ideally, with a New York-style Jewish deli attached, for when we don’t want to cook. Or at least I do.”

Such a place “lives and dies by the Ashkenazi classics”, and Freddie’s comes up trumps with “chopped liver good enough to be argued over”, “fish balls [that] are dense and just a little sweet too, as they should be”, “latkes crisp and hot and salty”, top-drawer London-cure salmon and beef, a good range of bagels and sandwiches and more – all of which are “definitely slugging it out with the competition”, the Brass Rail in Selfridges or B&K in Edgware. The only duff note is the “desperately under-seasoned” chicken soup.

On a darker topical note, Jay wondered aloud whether he might invite abuse by reviewing a Jewish restaurant given the current political situation. The answer, he felt, was clear: “The horrendous campaign of the government and armed forces of Israel in Gaza cannot be allowed to make being Jewish a source of shame.”


The Times & Sunday Times

Med Salleh Kopitiam, Bayswater
Med Salleh Viet, Westbourne Park

Giles Coren finally caught up with the Malaysian ‘kopitiam’, or coffee house, near Queensway that rival reviewers raved about last summer –  a “mad, gorgeous, nostalgia- driven passion project” that takes you “through some sort of time and space portal, into Kuala Lumpur in 1967”.

“But it’s not what I came here to review”, he mock-excused himself. “It’s old. It’s been reviewed. Sure, I didn’t know about it till last week, and nor did you, but we can’t have old restaurants reviewed in The Times. Only shiny new ones like, for example, Med Salleh Viet, [an] offshoot project about half a mile away on Chepstow Road… Which is so new the bright yellow and blue paint on the walls is still pretty much wet.”

The food here is every bit as delicious at Kopitiam’s, including standout hand-crafted summer rolls, “the rice paper case stretched tight over fat prawns, crunchy vegetables and herbs, so that they seem encased in edible polythene”.


Morchella, Exmouth Market

Charlotte Ivers gave this “elegant”, Med-inspired spot four out of five stars despite finding her main course of hake resolutely “dull” – “you could eat half this thing without it troubling a tastebud”. 

Enough to ruin a meal, you might think, but her disappointment was offset by plenty of highlights. Panakopita – “rich, creamy spinach encased in the thinnest layer of filo pastry” – was followed by salt cod churros on a red peppery sauce that “look like something your dog would pick up in the woods. This is good, somehow”, along with “a little pot of Spanish stew
with eggs poached into it, the paprika conjuring up a thousand memories of sunny European squares. Now we’re getting somewhere. Big, crunchy croutons; sticky confit tomatoes and onion.”

The meal was rounded off by “the weirdest-sounding of the desserts, the portokalopita: a juicy, crunchy blood orange cake with the olives baked into it and served with a big dollop of yoghurt. ‘Every cake should have olives in,’ I find myself declaring.”


Daily Telegraph

The Clifton, Bristol

William Sitwell lost his heart to the “ugly food” served at an old pub in Clifton “with the kitchen in the centre, more pubby at the front and diney at the back”.

Service was dour – “an occasional smile would have been welcome” – and the decor simple, while “most of the dishes are of the type that make one forget the idea of a knife and fork, appealing directly to one’s primal instincts”. Most notable (and perhaps ugliest) was the “dauphinoise potatoes that might have been cooking since about the 14th century. They were medieval – dangerously hot to touch, charred on top and, beneath, an endlessly warm and spirited deep-dive of creamy, buttery potato”.

The food may have been “simple and hearty”, “but there are real brains and thought in the kitchen… this lunch was a tonic in an age of vain self-love.”


The Daily Mail

Arlington, St James’s

Tom Parker Bowles tipped up (a little late) at Jeremy King’s comeback restaurant on the site of his former masterpiece, Le Caprice, which no critic has yet dared to malign.

“At first glance, it seems like nothing has changed. Save, that is, for the name,” Tom fudged, struggling in vain to find something new to say about it. Never mind: “all’s as it once was. And all is well in the world.”


Financial Times

Donia, Soho

The ‘review of the week’ award goes to Tim Hayward, who was in coruscating form following his trip to this “small modern Filipino restaurant” in Kingly Court, at the “joyless heart” of the so-called ‘Carnaby Quarter’ – an area he likened to “a ride in a Soviet theme park, designed to convey the vacuity and decadence of western youth. It can only apparently be appreciated in mobs of 40, clad in identical puffa jackets, sharing
two vapes and a litre vat of bubble tea.”

Tim also emptied both barrels on the “challenging” acoustics inside Donia, where he found “a cruel and unusual battering” of random foodie conversations” that was like “living inside Gregg Wallace’s head”.

When he switched his attention to what he actually ate, though, Tim was all
enthusiasm for cooking that was “fantastic, new to me and a delightful revelation”.

Top of his list was adobo, a national dish of the Philippines – usually a stew of meat, poultry, fish or vegetables braised in vinegar and soy – here is served in the form of crisp fried mushroom croquetas. “They were extraordinary, prompting me to reassess my life goals radically in favour of spending more time eating adobo.”

Another Filipino classic, lechón or suckling pig, “provoked moans of joy at the table, but it was as nothing beside The Astonishing Sauce…. If you can imagine all the things you love about chicken liver parfait that elevate it beyond school-dinner liver. That. Poured over pig.”

Not to be outdone, the fresh grilled half lobster provoked another extravagant metaphor: “Imagine two alien xenomorphs wrestling naked in a drench of delicately fragranced coconut curry sauce. Lots of ferociously dangerous bits but strangely erotic.”


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