Harden’s review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

This week the Times’s Giles Coren reviews a relatively new Italian in the Dickensian maze of streets just south of Spitalfields Market in the City. But more interesting than his opinions on their pasta (sorry Giles) is the critic’s prediction that 2016 will be the year restaurant reservations become fashionable again. In fact here is Giles’s handy guide if you’ve forgotten how…

“Right. So pick up the phone, dial the number and book a table, telling them clearly the date and time at which you would like to dine.

Come on, it’s easy. Say, “Hello, Arnold Wisbeech here. May I book a table for tomorrow night, please?”

Now say, “In an ideal world, 8pm.”

Then say, “Thank you. See you then.”

There now. That was nice, wasn’t it? Now you can go and tell your wife that you are going out for dinner tomorrow to a nice new Italian restaurant in Spitalfields. Definitely. Not probably going out for dinner unless the queue is too long in which case you’ll just grab a Big Mac. You are definitely going to be sitting down at a table in a comfortable, well-lit space with a fully stocked bar that you can sit at beforehand if you want to, but don’t have to, where a charming Italian girl will bring you a menu and there will be knives and forks and everything.”

Over at the Guardian Marina O’Laughlin, recently returned from a trip to the Isle of Bute, seeks out some more Scottish seafood in a rather more urban location – Escocesa on Stoke Newington Church Street. The langoustines are almost as good as up north and, joy, it’s another restaurant where you can book a table. The trend continues…

“The place looks fantastic: bar stools fringe an open kitchen at the front, all the better to ogle bustling chefs and sparkling seafood on ice – scallops, silvery sardines, tuna to be served “a la Bilbaina” with tomatoes, garlic and sherry, and, yes, langoustines; and at the back – yippee! – a bookable, sit-down restaurant, its quirky 50s furnishing given a Lynchian air by the light from a vast neon sign reading Dream Baby Dream.”

Meanwhile the Observer’s Jay Rayner heads out of London to a restaurant he’s been invited to many times over the years – Roger Hickman’s in Norwich. As he contemplates his bowl of orange soup and tries to think of something to say about it, one thought pervades the critics mind: “Well, he did bloody ask for it”. Once again the amuse bouches, petite fours, crisp linens and stark prices do nothing to endear fine dining restaurants to Jay…

“The essentials are these: that orange soup, served as a pre-taster, could have been made with anything. We’re told its pumpkin soup, but blindfolded I might have gone for chicken. Maybe butternut squash. Perhaps puppy. It’s just a hit of savouriness. Nice little spoon. Dinky little cup. But what’s inside is just a victory of blitzing, seasoning and cream.

“There are other worries: the dried-out, bland cottonwool bread, has a rough crumb, as if sliced up before service. It’s announced as sourdough, but we can only take their word for it. And then there’s the wine list, on which I can find no bottle for less than £26 and lots for much more. I find that inexcusable in London, where rents and rates are astronomical, but here in Norwich it’s close to shameless.”

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