Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer says the decor at Gul & Sepoy is so distressed it needs a hug. From reading his review it sounds like Jay could use one too…

“Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good individual dishes are… If, at the end of the meal you feel baffled or let down or short changed – or worse than that, all three – you know you won’t be back.

“…a new, modish restaurant in London’s Spitalfields, offering a clever menu of dishes from the Indian subcontinent which isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is. Perhaps it’s the difficult third album syndrome. Until now Harneet and Devina Baweja have had only hits on their hands. Their two other places, both nearby, have been greeted with rapturous applause and dribbling.

“Gul & Sepoy is meant to be a more upmarket offering than its siblings. The décor here is so distressed it needs a really good hug… it’s meant to be a game of two halves. One side, listed as Gul, represents the food served in the royal palaces of northern India. The other side, headed Sepoy, is the food eaten by soldiers patrolling India’s coastal regions.

“I enjoyed the unashamed punch and heat of burnt achari cauliflowers and new potatoes, smeared in fiery pickles. The escargot with moong daal and spinach kichdi is less baffling than troubling… It did indeed remind me of [Heston Blumenthal’s famed] snail porridge: how much better it was than this.

“From the royal list the three-bird Awadhi korma is extremely pretty to look at. The best dish of the lot… whole sea bream, slapped around with a chilli paste then roasted in the tandoor, miraculously boned out and then reassembled… none of that justifies a whacking bill of £98, both with a discount and without any booze.”


Felicity Cloake in The Guardian has great fun for a fiver with Rambla’s braised oxtail canelone…

“Though agreeably buzzy on a Friday night, the atmosphere remains as laid-back as the staff. We don’t even have to fight our way through a hungry crowd at the door, unlike at Barrafina just up the road.

“I doubt I would have ordered the braised oxtail canelones … but I’d guess it’s the most pleasure you’ll get in Soho for a fiver these days. Stuffed with soothingly velvety meat and topped with a bubbling mass of outrageously cheesy sauce… Italy stand down: Catalonia wins at cannelloni.

“Rambla does the classics, too: jamón de Bellota, which seems ridiculously expensive compared with the rest of the menu… Déu meu, this is good, and we eat it so slowly, with frequent breaks to rhapsodise on its complex, nutty sweetness, that, costed at price per minute, it almost feels like good value.

“The sole dessert … is a bullseye, too: a warm, oozy apricot and almond pudding with some louchely liquid frozen yoghurt that pairs brilliantly with figgy Pedro Ximinez.”


Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard reviewed Chinatown newcomer Hovarda…

“I look up online the meaning of the Turkish word “hovarda”… profligate, rake, rascal, chaser, gadabout, libertine, vagabond. It sounds very promising… what I know we have been promised is “Aegean” food — a seemingly politically tactless mix of Turkish and Greek cooking… a menu strongly driven by seafood, raw and cooked.

“The interior… is actually rather thrilling, especially the fish-scale-glazed tiles in aquatic colours… after a two-course dinner for two, I am astonished, and not in a good way, by a bill for £187 that on scrutiny includes £12 for a bottle of sparkling water… we try yellowtail in a citrus dressing that brings to mind that useful product Cif.

“Karides, marinated prawns, are out for the count under a dressing of flavoured oils… grilled smoked eel with fava, radishes and caper leaves … is the standout assembly of all the first courses. Wood-fired roasted baby chicken on an agreeable slurry of sweetcorn and spelt is too salty to be eaten.”


Before she heads off to take up Marina’s old post at the Guardian Grace Dent pens one of her final Evening Standard review, giving her verdict on Gilly’s Fry Bar…

“I very, very much like chips and curry sauce. And battered fish and sausages or, if I’m honest, almost all beige-coloured, carb-heavy comfort food. Gilly’s Fry Bar — and did I mention they do a Salt & Vinegar Martini? — is my sort of venue.

“Gilly’s is a bit strange. It looks like a reclaimed greasy spoon. Gilly’s is ‘strange’ as in unique and a little befuddling. Not strange as in ‘wacky’… spicy sweetcorn scraps. Glorious, individually battered kernels of corn with a kick… having skirted dangerously close to valid nutrition, we shared battered cod, a side of fat, freshly cut chips with a side of sweet, heat-free authentically gloopy curry sauce.

“Everything was beautifully done, earnestly sourced and, weirdly, a touch muted in flavours… Gilly’s does two puddings. I recommend both. The small, fresh, hot custard-filled doughnuts were a work of art.”

Dent leaves on 22 December and ES Magazine will announce its new critic in the New Year. To send of their current critic ES have rounded up her funniest restaurant reviews.



Micheal Deacon in The Telegraph gives four stars to Cinnamon Kitchen Oxford: “The standard lads’-night-out curry leaves you with a gut like a cannonball. Not here.”


Tim Hayward in The Financial Times reviewed Rambla: “The best I’ve eaten in years. Rich in oil, alive with tomato, this gazpacho may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever inserted into my exhausted body.”



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