Review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

AA Gill heads out to The Woodford in search of Ben Murphy’s cuisine (a young chef of just 25 who trained under Pierre Koffmann) and finds that The Only Way is Essex is in fact a real way of life and not, as the Sunday Times’s columnist previously thought, simply a ratings-courting fiction. Incidentally he loves the exemplary kitchen skill on display here, and the great set lunch deal…

“I always thought Towie was made up, or at least exaggerated by television, but apparently not. Almost every other table was a gang of girls dressed within an inch of their pudenda. Nude heels, huge handbags and all with wedding hairdos, lots of relaxed curls, glossy, painted, shiny and reflected, brilliantly brassy, cawing like hungry jackdaws.

At the table next to us was a mother, two daughters and a silent, glum boy. All the girls talked at once, with vowels so broad they needed a police escort. I couldn’t work out who the lad belonged to. The Blonde hissed that he was definitely the mother’s, with her huge diamonds. This was the most entertaining room I’d been in for ages, so much more spectacularly vital than a reclaimed basement full of hipsters.”

We all love to read a bad review, let’s not be coy about it. But honestly, there is nothing satisfying about Jay Rayner’s dismantling of Tapas 37 – the new French/Spanish small plates venture at the Ecclestone Square Hotel in Pimlico. The food just sounds too upsetting for us to enjoy the Observer critic’s fine wordplay…

“The centre piece was a lump of untrimmed short rib, complete with connective tissue where it had clung to the bone. It had clearly been braised a while before, then sliced up and chilled. It had only just about been brought up to warm enough before being glazed. For the lardons, there was a sizable block of exceptionally fatty pork belly, so marble white that I thought at first it was potato. It wobbled as I carved. It was too much fat for me, and that’s the first time I have typed those words together. Alongside some button mushrooms were heaps of deep fried breadcrumbs which began to coagulate as the plate chilled. It was, I suppose, a deconstruction of a boeuf bourguignon. It was also the systematic dismantling of all my culinary hopes and dreams.”

Giles Coren at The Times has the second most upsetting lunch of the week (still a long way behind Jay’s disastrous-sounding affair) as he revisits Smithfield’s Club Gascon. Conversation is made difficult by the deafening drilling provided by London’s constant march of construction, but that’s nothing compared to the disappointment of finding an old favourite has fallen rather behind the times…

“In essence, this was a very decent (expensive) lunch. But it was a lesson too about how that which seems youthful and revolutionary in one decade can seem like a lot of elderly twiddle and faff in the next but one. Club Gascon has stiffened up only a little with age, I suspect, but the rest of us have relaxed so much as to leave it looking positively rigid.”

Meanwhile there’s a tale of two vastly differing opinions when it comes to Damien Hirst and Mark Hix’s first joint venture – Pharmacy 2. While the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent loves its ‘balls and continuing bizarreness’, Marina O’Laughin at the Guardian yearns for the loucheness of the old Notting Hill Pharmacy. Same restaurant, two very different diagnoses…

GD: “They do a jolly decent mini-version pineapple upside-down cake. So mini, in fact, we also ordered a daft but delicious absinthe jelly and a single scoop of honeycomb ice cream, which was extraordinary. I was sniffy about Pharmacy 2, but I’ve eaten those words. I need a repeat prescription.”

M O’L: “After the initial hype, I can’t see this Pharmacy turning into a destination. There was a manic energy about the original, a place where food and art hung out together to behave exquisitely badly. This looks like an over-decorated gallery caff, every nuance of loucheness syringed out of it. Its acid-coloured DNA windows, pastel-pill bar stools, cabinets of Cronenberg-esque surgical instruments – all Hirst artworks, of course; you can almost smell them increasing in value – just add up to a bit of a headache. Pass the Nurofen.”

And the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler takes a competition winner out to Jason Atherton’s latest empire outpost – a new izakaya called Sosharu which has taken over the former site of Turnmills nightclub in Clerkenwell.

“Over two meals, a punctilious lunch of 12 items and then, on another day, dinner to see how the somewhat mirthless male-dominated vibe might alter in the evening — darker, louder — reveal some definite culinary hits. Under the heading Chilled, bream sashimi with shavings of vegetable, microherbs, flowers and surprising crisp potato shreds all speckled with seven-spice shichimi is an uplifting beginning. In Kyoto-style chirashi — meaning scattered — vigorous tossing results in a delectable moshpit of raw fish, egg threads, seaweed, salad vegetables and sushi rice.”

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