Review of the Reviews

Here’s our regular round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about up to 1st October 2023.

The Observer

“An unpretentious, but beguiling little bistro.”

Jay Rayner popped to Cirencester to review Sam & Jak, whose owners Sam Edwards and Jak Doggett previously “ran the very much-loved Upton Firehouse in a broad shed not far away at Burford”. Jay also reviewed their work in 2010 at Made By Bob (also in Cirencester).

“The menu is tight and in places, market-sensitive… there are flourishes and there is pizzazz… at lunchtimes they have a short pizza menu.” Really, what more could anyone ask for?

“Fish cookery is a strength here” (the owner of Made by Bob worked at Bibendum – “there is a lovely story here, of skills and good taste being passed down kitchen generations…  the culinary golden threads get pulled through the decades”).

“Everyone at Sam & Jak knows exactly what they’re doing. The result is the kind of meal you always hope for and don’t always get.”


The Telegraph

“This is how I’d wish all restaurants would be.”

William Sitwell was in Manchester to review Higher Ground, where he sat (comfortably, for once) at the concrete counter (“delectable to touch and somehow set at the perfect height”) and enjoyed the view into the kitchen.

“The produce is firmly British, some of the cooking struck me as Italian-influenced with a dash of Scandi flair.”

The chefs succeeded in “tickling the taste buds all the way without unnecessary flotsam and jetsam”. Jay Rayner would enjoy the “sloppy, awkward to eat, dripping, cumbersome” crab toast, which William described as “absolutely, bell-ringingly delicious”. (****)


The Evening Standard

Jimi Famurewa was feeling a little old in Exmouth Market, at “brand new, sizzling hot wine bar” Ken’s, “an Exmouth Market sibling to Dan’s in Dalston”. He “left feeling more than a little perplexed by both the outlay and the thinness of the experience”.

“Crackling atmospheric cool, well-chosen drinks and memorable, rough-hewn flavours” were all present, but Jimi also felt that place fell into “an awkward middle ground between an ambitious, bistronomie kitchen and a wet-led bar”.

“The overriding sense… was of a clearly able chef — in this instance, Quo Vadis alum Fergus Shields — working within boxed-in, P Franco-ish limitations for no discernible reason.”

The wet weather and a “niggly £80 bill” (for one, with no booze) probably didn’t help matters (***)


Also in The Standard, David Ellis introduced “the opening of the century”, The OWO, with “12 restaurants and bars, Michelin in its sights and half an Aston Martin on a wall” it’s “a destination unlike any other in the world”. Seven of the restaurants and bars are within Raffles hotel. Overall, the refurbishment of the former government palace (which has 4 postcodes!) cost £1.4billion. “Rarely, when one hears the expression “no expense spared,” does it ring true. It does here.”


The Guardian

Grace Dent’s article ran the gamut of chain restaurants this week; seen from the point of view of comfort food, there’s definitely a place for them, to bring a “moment of dependable zen to a helter-skelter day”.

“We’re not going on a culinary journey; rather, this is a culinary cul-de-sac where you’ve been doing a three-point turn for the past 20 years.”

As pictured above, Grace is “fairly sure that, at a moment’s notice, I could step in for the 2pm-10pm shift at Wagamama, say, because I’ve been eating its yaki udon since about 1995; my order rarely deviates and my love never dwindles”.

“Your favourite chain never truly burns its bridges” (except maybe Pret A Manger, whose recent prices hikes have left Grace feeling genuinely betrayed).


The Scotsman

Gaby Soutar reviewed the newly opened Mowgli, whose UK branches are now well into double figures (including Glasgow), and where “about a third of the seats are strung to the ceiling by rope”.

Edinburgh’s branch inhabits a “listed building and former bank, with its domed ceiling that makes it feel like a giant terrarium filled with fairy lights and a tree”.

There are “many low carbon footprint menu items” and “each dish had a distinct personality”. (16/20)


Meanwhile, Rosalind Erskine reviewed a place that opened first in Edinburgh and now Glasgow; Civerino’s is “bright, colourful and covered in graffiti art” and serves up “gigantic slices of pizza” and Insta-fodder giant mozzarella sticks. “We left full, and in no doubt that this will be a huge hit for the west end.” (13/20)


And also…

In The FT Magazine, Tim Hayward hailed newcomer 64 Goodge Street as ‘a gorgeous room’ – “autumn is coming, and this cosy, old-fashioned French restaurant is where to spend it”.

Also in The FT’s Globetrotter section, a round-up of “the best pubs (and a wine bar) in London’s West End”, chosen “from hundreds of contenders”.


In The Times, Chitra Ramaswamy praised the sustainability and “absolutely massive oysters” at The Oyster Shed, on the edge of  Loch Gruinart, Islay. “Not the sort of place you expect to find a restaurant. And yet…” (27/30)

Also in The Times, Giles Coren returned with a review of the long-awaited Manzi’s, “a serious seafood joint” with a fairly priced wine list, “with wines similar to many of the great white burgundies for unheard-of restaurant prices. I’m talking about staggering Chablis or Meursault-adjacent bottles for £25-£45…”


Tom Parker Bowles for The Daily Mail reviewed The Castle Inn in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, which he concluded “is a great pub… but as a restaurant it needs to turn up the dial”.


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