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 3rd December 2023.


The Evening Standard

“Food with a magnificence and flavour dynamism that completely speaks for itself.”

In The Evening Standard, Jimi Famurewa reviewed Akara, chef “Aji Akokomi’s more casual sister to Akoko” in the “redeveloped outer rim of Borough Market”.

After “an unforgivable bit of menu-splaining” to the waitress (which he justifies with a plug for his new “research-intensive book about African diaspora culture”), Jimi enjoyed the West African menu in which even the sides felt like “opportunities to cram bold, palate-igniting savour into dishes that are normally about simplicity”.

Akara “has a pleasurable directness, a kind of wordless eloquence, that it announces with each depth-charge of heat or unfurling hit of layered umami”.

The meal “ended strong with two exceptional puddings” that “nod to Akokomi’s avowed sweet tooth and also his eye for detail”. (****)


Also in The Standard, a round-up of restaurants for New Year’s Eve, “from Brasserie Zédel to Brunswick House”.


 The Observer

Jay Rayner dined at Merchants 1688 in Lancaster, housed in the basement of a listed building that’s “deliciously seasoned with history” – it’s “like a hobbit house… converted into a pub”.

The food served here is “seriously impressive” – proper, “cheek-slapping, belly-pleasing stuff from first to last” demonstrating “lashings of professional technique” from chef Will Graham.

Unfortunately, the place is massively let down by its décor (“it feels like the kind of place you would visit for nothing more ambitious than a pint and a panini” and has “a musty smell in the arches”) and its website (“eye-achingly awful”).

Looking beyond that, Jay recommended the “proper value” cooking (“you’ll be fed brilliantly”), which included “one of the best presentations of venison I’ve eaten in many years” – and the “standard doesn’t slump at dessert” either.

There’s “a strong sense that the management have no idea how good a restaurant they could have hidden away in these arches.”

There’s no review from Grace Dent this week.


The Times & The Sunday Times

Giles Coren was “riled” to review DN1 Delicatessen & Dining by the editor of The Yorkshire Post in a tweet saying “How about it? Fancy a date in Doncaster beneath a big Premier Inn, by the big car park?” His verdict? “The epitome of British hospitality.”


The Telegraph

William Sitwell and his three-year-old son reviewed Woven in Berkshire, “chef Adam Smith’s fine-dining restaurant at Coworth Park, a smart country-house hotel near Ascot”.

He ignored all the marketing “guff” about “storytelling” and just enjoyed lunch for what it was: “rather extraordinarily wonderful” – Smith shows “an almost visionary touch” – followed by a “serious English pinot” with the cheese course.

“In a room of Japanese minimalism and sleek spot lighting, Smith surpasses his prose and through his food has woven a fine fairy tale.”


The Independent

“There’s no other way to say it – this place is cool.”

Lilly Subbotin visited newcomer Kolae (“from the guys who brought us Som Saa”); the “surprisingly spacious three stories” nestled in the heart of Borough Market “combine industrial with cosy chic”.

The ”slim” menu is “essentially a small-plate situation” – be guided by the waiters, but also be warned that “the kitchen doesn’t hold back – at all – on the heat”. There are “several great cocktails”, too.

“The only thing you’ll struggle with… is deciding what to order – everything is so delicious. Just don’t overestimate your spice tolerance.”


The Scotsman

Rosalind Erskine escaped Black Friday shopping for lunch at Sugo, where’s almost always a queue, as you can’t book ahead.

“Owners Paul and Audrey Stevenson were hoping to replicate the success of their Paesano Napolitana pizza restaurants” but with “pasta dishes served as they are traditionally throughout the varying regions of Italy”.

“The pasta is fresh, well cooked and tasty. It’s a winning formula that’s well executed.” (68%)


Also in The Scotsman, Gaby Soutar made a rare second review visit to Fin & Grape in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh; it’s a three-year-old fish and seafood restaurant that recently opened a wine bar downstairs with “a new small plates menu”. (85%)


And also…

Tom Parker Bowles reviewed Kopitiam in Oxford; the “small, unassuming” Malaysian spot serving “serious dishes full of real flavour” is his “new happy place”.


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