Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 5th May 2024

Daily Telegraph

Francatelli, St James’s

Restaurant critics like to give generous reviews but readers notoriously prefer stinkers. So this week they were in for a treat – led by William Sitwell, who was “bewildered” by the decision of the St James’s Hotel and Club to open a new restaurant inspired by Charles Elmé Francatelli, a Victorian chef whose 1854 tome, A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, is in William’s view “the Most Revolting Cookbook of All Time”. Its recipes include gems such as “toast water (toast bread, put in a jug, add boiling water, cool, then drink). I’m not making this up.”

William’s meal was every bit as bad as the book and he tore into it with real
savagery, starting with “a freebie of six plums in blankets (think sugared
slug in burnt bacon)” and “a motley collection of misshapen ‘artichoke
beignets’: deep-fried veg of a dull flavour, useful only if you wish to break
wind savagely in two hours’ time.”

Pork terrine was “a miserable, oily little sliver…, so sad next to some
greying and vinegary piccalilli”; charred mackerel and pickled veg “a bitter
combo”; cep risotto “a gloopy heave of a dish”; and St James ham “three fat
cuts of ham topped with large carrots in thick gravy. It tasted as bleak as it


The Observer

Public House, Paris

Jay Rayner took the Eurostar to Paris for dinner, which turned out to be a
“dreadful” and “calamitous experience” at “a new and audacious restaurant in the 9th arrondissement by pie king Calum Franklin, formerly of the Holborn Dining Room…. He’s a gifted chef. He’s a lovely man. He literally wrote the book on pies.”

Despite its name, Public House is “not a pub. At best there’s a hint of ‘pub
trying to attract the family crowd’.” On a patriotic note, Jay pointed out that
place is French-owned and run, and merely employs an English chef
(thankfully perhaps, Calum was not on duty on the evening of his visit).

So what went wrong? The sourdough bread was far from fresh, the pig’s head croquettes were not hot and the Scotch egg not properly cooked. The lavish-looking lobster pie looked a good bet, with a head and tail sticking out of the pastry.

But no: “We cut in to find huge, almost raw quarters of fennel bulb, turned
potatoes and a parsimonious amount of seafood. We push vegetables aside in desperate search of tail meat. It’s Finding Nemo, only without a redemption arc.”


The Guardian

Poppies, W11

Closer to home, Grace Dent headed to the fourth and newest branch of a
chippy which started out in London’s East End 60 years ago, to sample a style of food that remains dear to her heart because it perked up her “cold, beige, northern childhood”. 

Close to Portobello Market, the dining room was full of bemused tourists, and while the food was generally “fine”, Poppies had reduced the experience to a nostalgia trip, “a rosy, yesteryear take on what the Good Old British Chippy used to be: think battered saveloy and chips with a side order of Disney or Paddington.” It made Grace “want to chivvy everyone in the place – the Italians, the Americans, the Japanese – on to a coach and take them to Stranraer to eat vast bundles of salty chips and thickly battered fish that sticks to newspaper.”

She concluded: “I shan’t be going back to Poppies. They’ve had their chips.”


Sunday Times

Trejo’s Tacos, W11

A few minutes’ walk along Portobello Road, Laura Pullman sampled the tacos at Hollywood hardman Danny Trejo’s taqueria, having first sampled Trejo’s repertoire of gangster memories in an interview with the tattooed almost octogenarian, who “spent a decade being menacing in prison, following a childhood of being menacing, selling drugs, stealing cars and robbing shops with a sawn-off shotgun. Or, occasionally, a grenade.

“Now, in an unlikely twist of fate, he is hawking tacos to the Hooray Henrys and Trust Fund Tabithas of Notting Hill.”

Sadly, though, “Trejo’s tacos are not as exciting as his anecdotes.” For Laura is no tacophile, and insists that “a decent taco is only ever a decent taco rather than anything transcendental.”

Nor is the place well run. At dinner the day after her interview, “service is chaotic. Jalapeño-spiked margaritas take 20 minutes to arrive, one taco dish goes missing, dirty plates stack up. If only Trejo was here to glower things into order.”


Evening Standard

Oma & Agora, Borough Market

Back on more familiar positive-review territory, Jimi Famurewa enjoyed some “surprising and utterly scintillating” cooking at David Carter’s “twin-pack of blockbusting Borough Market openings”, a Greek-inspired upstairs-and-downstairs pair which “draw their power from a kind of sophisticated primality”.

Although Agora (meaning market) is “almost illegally fun” on a Friday night, Jimi feels that its food sometimes lacks direction. “In my view Oma, the Greek word for ‘raw’, is the one to go for.”

The occasional intrusion of non-Greek elements – XO sauce from China, ceviche from Mexico – showed that Colombian chef Jorge Paredes was more interested “gently heretical capturing of culinary essence” rather than authenticity. All the better, in Jimi’s view: “the combination of ancient Greek simplicity and definably London gastronomic rule-breaking is nothing short of, well, epic.”


The Times

Hearth, Hull

Giles Coren was absolutely charmed by a restaurant above a bakery in a beautiful 18th-century building on a cobbled square full of blossom trees, opposite Hull Minster. Founded on the back of a levelling-up grant, Hearth is run by a trio of “Northern hipsters with skilled palates, good attitude and a lot of soul” – chef Ryan Telford, head baker Caitlin Ogden and manager Ian Pexton.

Top pick of an impressive meal was a plate of “crispy potato puffs (pronounced ‘poofs’ up here) with truffle dressing and aged parmesan, which were like tiny potato croquettes or deep-fried, breaded gnocchi: golden, cylindrical, crispy, hot, creamy inside, under a lavish truffly aïoli and covered with cheese – imperious potato management. Deliriously good.”

In short, Giles declared: “It is a great place with good people doing grand things to great ingredients. They are not trying too hard to be super-fancy, just keeping it real.”


Lyla, Edinburgh

Chitra Ramaswamy was thrilled by the priciest meal of her reviewing career – £165 for a 14-curse tasting menu – at chef Stuart Ralston’s fourth restaurant, in “one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful Georgian addresses”, an elegant townhouse on Royal Terrace that was previously the late Paul Kitching’s 21212.

Her dinner was “pure decadence (at least three courses too many for this critic)” and “insanely expensive”, but there was no question about the excellence: “it is Ralston’s finest hour”.

A dish of poached langoustine wrapped in kataifi pastry, the shredded filo usually encountered in baklava, with burnt apple ketchup was, Chitra reckoned, “at once the best battered seafood I’ve eaten and like nothing I’ve encountered before”.


Financial Times

The Devonshire

Tim Hayward rated the launch of this pub and dining room just off Piccadilly Circus as “the biggest opening since the pandemic” (take that, Arlington!), and added his name to the long list of critical thumbs-ups, pronouncing it “actually a very good pub”.


Daily Mail

A Braccetto, SW5

Tom Parker Bowles had his cockles warmed at this new Earl’s Court Italian
by the family behind the veteran Spaghetti House group. “The pizza is
decent, with a thin, crisp, slightly chewy crust.”

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