Harden’s review of the reviews

⦿ Jay Rayner of The Observer reviewed Koj, MasterChef finalist and former City banker Andrew Kojima’s “cheerfully low-key” Japanese comfort food joint in Cheltenham.

“Koj Fried Chicken – work out the initials yourself – is halfway between the softness of American southern fried, and the full-on crunch of Japanese karaage. Sesame flavoured mayo sends it happily on its way. But the real gems are far more subtle. Three fillets of lemon sole, curled around themselves into cones, like illustrations from a Good Housekeeping cookery book circa 1978, are precisely steamed and then served with a butter punched up with ground-down seaweed. It’s both delicate and, for that £8 price tag, extremely good value.”

“The most ostentatious of the dishes is an okonomiyaki, a Japanese omelette of fried squid, piled with curly flakes of bonito (dried tuna), sliced spring onions, seaweed and mayo spun through with sriracha. It’s a whole lot of textures and flavours on one plate.”

⦿ In the Guardian, Marina O’Loughlin reviewed Dastaan 8/10 in suburban Ewell, co-owned by former Gymkhana chefs Sanjay Gour and Nand Kishor Semwal, where she found “Mayfair cooking at mundane prices”. 

“It’s an age since I’ve tasted Indian food of such immediacy, such vibrancy and freshness, such zip and zing. Even the relishes and chutneys that arrive with a basket of poppadoms taste as though they’ve just been made, vivid with mint or chillied tomato. Pani puri are crisp little spheres, explosive with chickpea, onion and tamarind. And the proletarian-sounding vegetable bhaji brings lacey gram flour fritters, almost fudgey inside.”

“The sheek kebabs are duck and guinea fowl, minced into succulence and shimmering with freshly tempered spices, with, on the side, an unusual relish of almost-candied apple and mustard seed. Genuinely: wow. Lamb chops, blackened at the edges and velvety from their yoghurt and spice marination, come on a salad of julienned radish, fiery and sinus-clearing with actual mustard.” 

⦿ Grace Dent of ES magazine reviewed Legs 4/5 in Morning Lane, Hackney, which chef Magnus Reid opened a year ago on a site where previous restaurants had failed. “One year on, I’m delighted to say he pulled the whole thing off. It’s one of London’s shining lights.”

“The menu changes frequently but prods and dares with oddness like hollowed-out artichoke filled with Parmesan custard, fresh no-faff radishes with wild honey and seeping duck yolks over vibrant fresh asparagus atop toasted soda bread. Reid, like most great chefs, is a glorious contradiction. It takes a lot of precise care, practice and thought to give as few f***s as he claims to over food.” 

 “A plate of burrata with burnt onion, basil and bottarga was marvellous. We fought to mop and dredge at the scraps with fresh sourdough. The panzanella of Marinda tomatoes was bright and delicious.”

⦿ In the Evening Standard, David Sexton reviewed Llewelyn’s 3/5, a new Herne Hill local from a strong team headed by Warren Fleet, formerly head chef at the Anchor and Hope near Waterloo.

“Sweetbreads, bacon, peas and wild garlic (£16.80) was a delicately put-together ragout, although perhaps sweetbreads don’t especially shine with such modest treatment? Hereford beef shin ragu, soft polenta and parmesan (£16.80) was the best: softened but still gelatinous chunks of meat in a meaty jus on a neat disc of liquid yellow, again bedecked with chopped-up greenery.” 

“Chocolate cake (£6) was a gorgeous slice, so light that perhaps it was actually flourless, yet still tremendously rich-tasting: the desideratum. A rhubarb fool (£6.40) was lovely too, loosely textured, making the most of the tart-versus-sweet play.” 

“This was a meal that anybody would be delighted to find locally. Whether it would merit a lengthy detour… or hold its head up in competitive Soho, is another question.”

⦿ In Time Out magazine, Tania Ballantine reviewed Bun House 4/5 in Soho, which serves closed Cantonese-style buns – cousins of Taiwanese open bao buns.

“The best is one of two dessert buns, which comes filled with dark chocolate and pig blood. Now before you go all eeeww! on me, you don’t actually taste the blood. It’s really there as a form of natural thickening agent, although it does add an umami-like depth, too. It’s sort of like having a warm cup of coagulated cocoa. In a bun. With a ‘just-up-to-the-middle-please’ coat of crunchy, golden coconut flakes. Which, of course, have been deep-fried. It’s the stuff of pudding pilgrimages.”

“Don’t get too blinkered by the buns. Two more star dishes are the ‘fries’ (which are actually deep-fried duck tongues, complete with crunchy cartilage) and the peanut-studded glass noodle salad.”

⦿ In the Daily Telegraph, Ben McCormac reviewed Claude Bosi at Bibendum in Chelsea, where he found “the best dishes combine the high-end with the earth-bound”.

“There is a sticky and stinky stew called ‘my mum’s tripe and cuttlefish gratin’ that is more about texture and smell than taste. On the side are two crusty slices of meatloaf that turn out to be a pig ear and ham cake to soak up the funk of the gratin. A hefty pair of asparagus spears, one white, one green, have a flavour as intense and fleeting as their short season. They come with a hay hollandaise that tastes as smoky as a field burnt after harvest time.”

“When Claude Bosi sold Hibiscus, I wondered if he was going to do as Pierre Koffmann did when La Tante Claire closed, and return to the cooking of his childhood. But the joy of Bibendum is that this great French chef has evolved his style to give simplicity star billing in his box of tricks.”

⦿ Tom Parker Bowles of the Mail on Sunday reviewed Oxford Blue 4/5 in Old Windsor, a pub with “a dining room that’s more Richard Caring than rural country”.

Pig’s trotter is braised, picked and painstakingly formed into a gleaming cylinder, soft and seductively succulent. A bed of thinly sliced acidic apple adds crunch and vim, as do fat blobs of shouty sauce gribbiche. Throw in a bosky black pudding croquette and you have the prettiest of plates that still manages to contain the gutsy appeal of the pig’s cheaper parts.”

“We select our Laguiole knives from a proffered box, as if picking duelling pistols. I’m not sure why I need a razor-sharp edged weapon to eat a pie, even if it does cost £25. But it’s one hell of a pie, golden shortcrust filled with confit thigh, rich and redolent of a life well lived.”

“The food isn’t just good. It verges on the great.”

⦿ Giles Coren of The Times also reviewed Bibendum 7/10, where “the great Claude Bosi [is] cooking better food that it has served at any time in my professional life.”

“The supreme delicacy of some of the starters sends them straight to the top of London’s fancy list, and ‘My mum’s tripe and cuttlefish gratin’ is quite the most exciting restaurant dish I have eaten this year: rich and barnyardy but at the same time delightfully refined. The ‘Pig’s ears & ham cake’ Bosi serves alongside is worth the trip alone.”

⦿ In the Sunday Times, former politician Ed Balls – writing his first restaurant review – had lunch with a “down-to-earth Midlands MP” at The Other Naughty Piglet 4/5, which has “the most discreet restaurant entrance I’ve ever been through“, upstairs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Other Place Theatre in Victoria.

A brace of ham croquettes were a spectacular coalition of salt, crunch and creaminess – enough to derail our conversation about Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s general election prospects.”

“”We didn’t talk a word of politics from then on – we were too enraptured. Grilled pear, beautifully partnered with blue cheese and hazelnuts; a tangle of flaky white crab on crisp cabbage and some kind of brown, crabby, peanut-flavoured paste; and a majestic piece of brill topped by cloves of soft garlic and resting on smashed potatoes. For a couple of blokes who normally just have steak and chips, this was quite an upgrade.”

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