Harden’s review of the reviews

Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian is the latest critic to give Soho’s new Flavour Bastard a good bashing. “Not so much flavour bastards as thoroughgoing, unremitting, absolute taste tossers.”

“Staff appear to be less amused and more terminally embarrassed… when they’re not explaining the concept to us at ludicrous length. The dishes are, apparently, bastardised in a tedious, “look at us with our kooky, no rules, gangsta, maverick bollocks” way.

“This bobby dazzler: roast sweet potato (served cold), glooped with fennel-flavoured yoghurt, sunflower seeds, a lot of coriander and quantities of damp chillied popcorn – a kind of mutant chaat. The worst dish – and believe me, it’s tough competition – is a “poké” of tuna. It’s not a Hawaiian raw fish salad poké at all; it’s just a sad little bunker of chopped, greying raw tuna.

“Clearly, big money has been sunk into Flavour Bastard… clubby, over-designed newcomer… It’s like end-days cooking; like decadence taken too far. Sadly, I really can’t find much to be positive about – sorry. I suppose the good news is that there’s a damned fine wine list, if you can ignore it being subdivided into the likes of “big bastards” or “in between bastards”.

“Not so much flavour bastards as thoroughgoing, unremitting, absolute taste tossers.”

Jay Rayner in The Observer reviews Ox Club, Leeds, a new grill spot which has the potential to be ‘seriously bloody annoying’ but redeems itself with cooking that’s ‘boisterous and assertive’…

“It used to be home to a drinking den named Big Lil’s. It’s the second project from the team behind the Belgrave Music Hall, including chef Ben Davy… a grown-up restaurant, complete with a fancy Grillworks grill imported from Michigan.

“There’s charred corn, charred pineapple and charred cabbage. Everything else may or may not be smoked, including the cooks. It begins with a bowl of liquid golden chicken schmaltz and cubes of bread to dredge through it. The cooking here is boisterous and assertive… determined to make a point.

“The genius dish, the one that cleans the palate, is the cubes of melon with savoury fermented chilli… trout, with silvery, heat-blistered skin like crackling, sits on a thick creamy sauce spun through with smoked roe. It’s the essence of cod’s roe on toast.

“Ox Club has, in its genes, the potential to be seriously bloody annoying; the solid fuel mission statement is a poseur’s charter. But they know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it at a reasonable price too.”

David Sexton in the Evening Standard gives his verdict on Parabola at the Design Museum in Kensington, where chef Rowley Leigh (of Le Café Anglais fame, RIP) has taken over kitchen operations…

“Parabola looked set to be a real addition to Kensington’s pleasures. It hasn’t worked out quite that way yet. The restaurant’s record on TripAdvisor makes for unhappily mixed reading… the group has just appointed Rowley Leigh as “chef patron” to direct all “culinary endeavours”, as it nervously phrases it.

“A set lunch last week was a treat and a bargain (£19.50 for two courses). Smoked haddock, egg and anchovy salad was nice flakes of the fish made piquant with anchovies and capers and crumbled egg… a large salad but refreshing and not overwhelming.

“The years have brought no allègement to Rowley’s palate. He has never been an enemy to butter and cream. Barnsley lamb chop, charred lettuce, anchoiade (£16) was excellent. The test will come when Parabola re-opens for dinner with ‘a more gastronomic menu’.”

Next in line to give Flavour Bastard both barrels is the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent. It seems critics just can’t wait to rip a chunk out of this uniquely monikered venue…

“It’s safe to say… that if Flavour Bastard hoped to be talked about by the London restaurant scene, it succeeded. Flavour Bastard will feasibly always attract the curious as well as anyone needing to ram a wacky London dining experience down a visitor’s throat. Personally, I never want to go back as there are approximately 198 other restaurants that don’t dispatch myriad eensy-weensy bowls of confusing, underwhelming nonsense ‘for sharing’.

“The greatest thing I ate that evening were the white lentil, chorizo and pecorino doughnuts, which were deftly seasoned, appealing-looking, carby joyful lumps. The weirdest thing was the roasted sweet potato (squishy) with fennel yogurt (creamy), strewn with chilli popcorn. The quino-and-cucumber pudding scented with the strong musky perfume vetiver felt like being frottaged roughly by a goth in a B&Q garden centre.”


Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail heads to London’s most upmarket West African food offering, the relatively new Ikoyi at the luxe St James’s Market development…

“St James’s Market… this gleaming new cathedral to ‘luxury lifestyle retail’ seems more glossy ghost town.The room is somewhat lacking in charm. With its vast, gaping glass windows, we feel like haunches of beef in a butcher’s shop, naked and exposed.

But… “dear God, this food is a revelation… lyrical, lusty and lovely… flavours … are both warmly familiar …and intriguingly strange. Octopus pepper soup has sublime umami depth, with a hint of Bovril and the bonfire.”

“Head chef and co-owner Jeremy Chan has worked under Heston Blumenthal and René Redzepi, and this shows, not just in the precision of the flavours and the championing of obscure ingredients, but in the cool, modern presentation, with locally thrown ceramics and cutlery of the darkest black.”

“Fish is cooked with equal precision – a mighty wild Nigerian tiger prawn is buxom rather than pappy, and still wears that ethereal scent of the sea… don’t miss the jollof rice, served with barbecued onions and wobbling nuggets of smoked bone marrow… this is vibrant, sexy, big-hearted food (albeit at St James’s prices), served up in a resolutely modern manner.”

“If you know your West African food, prepare to be dazzled. And if, like me, you know next to nothing, then it’s that rarest of things – a genuinely new experience.”

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