Review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

AA Gill is thoroughly unimpressed by Shaftesbury Avenue’s new Chinese hotpot restaurant Shuang Shuang – an “anxiety-inducing concept” where diners are asked to assemble their own soup from a conveyor belt of ingredients. It’s making The Sunday Times critic nostalgic for the days of turtle soup terrines, Michael Winner, and drinks trolleys…

“This is by miles and miles the most expensive bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten. You could go to any one of the not terribly encouraging Chinese noodle bars and takeaways within 300 yards of this place and get a far more agreeable slurp of soup made by a real cook for a quarter of the cost.

And you can’t send this stuff back. You can’t tell them to sack the chef. This is an anxiety-inducing concept — there is so much that can go wrong. So many moving parts, so much heat, with too many chefs in the kitchen. Though what they have cleverly, unintentionally, invented is a consumer product where the customer is almost guaranteed never to be right.”

Meanwhile, over at The Times, fellow restaurant writer Giles Coren admits a shocking truth – he knows nothing about wine! It doesn’t stop him from enjoying both the plonk and the food at Bloomsbury’s new wine bar Novle Rot, from the founders of a wine magazine of the same name.

“I suppose it’s never too late to learn. But if I were going to take on some massive new subject now, in my late forties, and devote thousands of hours to just barely scratching its surface, then I would probably choose Chinese or car maintenance or computer coding. I reckon that getting twatted at mealtimes is something that I can carry on doing pretty much as I have always done until I die.”

The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent gets up and close personal with the chefs at Simon Rogan’s new development kitchen Aulis at Fera at Claridge’s, where a meal will set you back £150 a head – perfect for those pushing the boat out this Valentine’s Day.

“After being whisked through the kitchens, one finds oneself in a culinary nerd’s paradise of Rotavapors, sous vide machines and hot infusion syphons. Pull up a stool next to the dehydrators and the captivating display of mid-distillation homemade woodland saps. Savour the soothing opening and closing of Lock & Lock stackable airtight boxes filled with obscure Cumbrian-nurtured microherbs. Rest your weary Valentine’s bosom by the Sonicprep Ultrasonic Homogenizer. Don’t worry if all of this sounds like gobbledegook, Aulis’ earnest chefs will explain as they go.”

At the Observer Jay Rayner finally stops by Vauxhall’s Brunswick House where chef Jackson Boxer (one-time protege of St John’s Fergus Henderson) serves up effortless cuisine in an environment where the decor appears to be thrown together at random but ‘somehow find their way into each other’s company’…

“And yet for all that nose-to-tail St John heritage, a lunchtime menu – £16 for two courses, £19 for three – displays an ambivalence towards things with a pulse. There is meat, but it is not front and centre. A dish of pumpkin, both in thinly sliced curls and sweet roasted hunks, comes with slices of crisp black radish and pear. There is a thick smear of nutty brown butter across the bottom of the plate, though each ingredient on top of it has been sharply dressed, too, and then the whole sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.”

And we feel that Marina O’Laughlin’s hour-long wait between courses may have soured her experience slightly at chef Matthew Young’s latest venture Ellory in Hackney. Writing in the Guardian she admits that everything issuing from the kitchen shows serious culinary skill, but ‘there’s a point at which purity teeters towards Puritanism’…

“I’m not suggesting that Ellory isn’t a very good restaurant; it is. But I feel a bit like the stylist pal when a long-held rock-star crush turned up for a fitting in mustard and brown Y-fronts, and not in an ironic way: a little disillusioned. I absolutely get Young’s cooking: it’s that pared-back, ingredients-fetishising style crystallised by Faviken and done so well by Lyle’s, Lake Road Kitchen, and the high priest of the UK movement, Hedone. But his technique has evolved to a point where purity teeters towards Puritanism.”

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