Review of the reviews

Here’s our weekly round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 3 July 2023.


The Evening Standard

Jimi Famurewa was in Notting Hill to review Empire Empire, the new Indian restaurant from Gunpowder founder Harneet Baweja, and found several “nettlesome issues”, not least the “small, awkwardly configured 40-cover space” with a photo booth that’s just a façade.

Billed as “joyous, disco-themed boogie through the culinary repertoire of the subcontinent’s north-west”, it’s anything but. “Flavours are solid rather than spectacular”, which “only served to invite unfavourable comparison with Gunpowder”.

“My abiding feeling… was of something failing to deliver on its tantalising outward promise” even though the meal finished on a high with “terrific” puddings full of “the vivaciousness and punch we had been searching for”.


Also in The Standard, a first look at Manzi’s, “Soho’s new fish restaurant from the Wolseley Hospitality Group” that “promises mermaids and mermen, moules marinière and nods to Hemingway”. Plus news of a new head chef at Pidgin, where Bangladesh-born Naz Hassan takes over as the restaurant nears its eighth birthday.


The Guardian

Grace Dent was at the Taj Hotel near Buckingham Palace , where House of Ming has opened its first British branch, having spread from Delhi where’s it’s been a “pretty big name… now for more than four decades”.

The food House of Ming serves “is not earnestly recreated, authentic Cantonese and Sichuan food, but more catch-all Chinese food, in this case by way of India”, and the “interior designers Atelier Wren have clearly thought much longer about the place than anyone involved with the menu”.

Exiled to restaurant Siberia as a solo diner, even “on an un-busy weekday lunchtime”, Grace was largely ignored as she worked her way through disappointing and overpriced dim sum dishes, which were almost all £12-£15 whether they contained cucumber or caviar. The jasmine tea she was offered instead of ice cream (the only dessert option that day) was £25 + service.

In an area where hotel guests can afford £400 per night, it might survive, but it’s no destination.


The Observer

Jay Rayner chose the two restaurants in this review “specifically because of alluring stuff I saw on Instagram” – namely “images of meat” including slow-cooked beef briskets, thick pork ribs, burnt ends and burgers. Regular readers will know this is Jay’s weakness.

First up was Burnt Smokehouse in Leyton which “opened only a few weeks ago in a reconditioned railway arch”, the “dreamy, passion project from Sufia Khan, an NHS mental health therapist and her partner Abidur Tarafder” with “a Romanian-born American barbecue expert, who goes by the utterly fabulous name of Tiberius Tudor”.

“The open kitchen has a magnificent purpose-built live-fire grill… like something out of Mad Max: Fury Road, belching flame and smoke”, there’s a smoker out the back and a plancha for the Black Angus brisket burgers – and it’s BYO too, which keeps costs down.

“Burnt really is an eight-napkin-three-shirt-oh-sod-it kind of place.”

Jay also stumbled on the “mighty works” of Rack City on his social media trawl; it’s a roving street-food operation currently in residence at the Duke’s Head pub on north London’s Highgate High Street. Their barbecue is “solid Americana” with the “Caribbean influence” of  American-born, Jamaica-raised Keon Cilly.


The Times

“A combination of steepling food inflation, rampant fuel prices, interest rates driving debt-repayment and rent costs up, and the wage inflation… has made eating out 15-20 per cent more expensive than it was a year ago… 30 per cent pricier than it was pre-pandemic.”

Giles Coren is worried that he’ll be fired if he increases his expenses in line with these rises – he already doesn’t charge travel or for any more than one bottle of wine. He certainly can’t afford to venture to any of the new Mayfair or Knightsbridge newcomers.

So, he was delighted to have lunch at Il Portico in Kensington, which was under £150 for two – “unbeatable value whichever way you slice it”; “it claims to be London’s oldest family-run restaurant, having been in the Chiavarini family… for four generations”. Current proprietor James served free pizzas to the locals in need during lockdown, and now serves retired folk on long lunches.

“Really good wild and fresh food with great wine and a host full of humour and kindness.”

“Long after the likes of Riviera, Nusr-Et and Cantinetta Antinori are forgotten… Il Portico will be powering on.”


Also in The Times, Claire Sawers reviewed Lobo in Glasgow, which was opened in 2022 by three friends who worked in hospitality locally.

The Mediterranean small plates menu gives “chic European holiday vibes but with a Glaswegian commitment to keeping it real”; dishes focus on “small, concentrated bursts of flavour, rather than bulk”.

“The meal gives me flashbacks of licking fingers outside a Barcelona tapas bar while drinking fabulous, cheap cava… casual but quality, laid-back but still a bit exotic.” (24/30)


The Telegraph

William Sitwell travelled to Batcombe in Somerset to try out Margot Henderson’s food at The Three Horseshoes, the village’s 17th century pub that’s been “recently tarted up with a deft and subtle touch”.

Margot’s husband Fergus (of St John fame) has clearly influenced the menu too: the mince on toast snack “takes your nightmare of school food and elevates it to dreamlike status”. The veggie main course wasn’t the best, but the treacle tart “would sweep the board at any English fete”.

In summary, “generally very good grub, charming service and a fine manager”.(****)


The Scotsman

Gaby Soutar tried out Kuzina, a new (and the first) fine-dining Greek restaurant in Edinburgh; it claims to offer an “authentic taste of Greece with a modern twist” but “there was nothing on this food list that I’d seen before”, from a take on sushi to baked feta topped with edible silver.

“I think it deserves to be much busier here, if only because it’s so unique.” (16/20)


Meanwhile, Rosalind Erskine reviewed Cafe Source Too in Glasgow, the much-loved last standing member of a small group that’s “a bit of a hidden gem on a sunny day, as it has a large number of outdoor picnic benches”; it’s “also very kid and dog-friendly, and you can book for outside”. “ A showcase of seasonal produce.” (14/20)

And also…

Bristol Post reported on The Baffled King, a new French bistro on the former site of The Pipal Tree in Easton.


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