Harden’s review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

german gymNot too many reviews in critics’ corner this week with Marina O’Laughlin’s and Fay Maschler’s columns absent from the Guardian and Evening Standard respectively. We shall have to muddle through without their pronouncements and hope for a return next week.

Among the reviews that caught our eye were three for D&D London’s latest dining behemoth, German Gymnasium in King’s Cross. It vaunts over 400 covers, comprising a grand café, restaurant and ludicrous cocktail bar concept Le Waff (where concoctions are inhaled as vapour instead of imbibed). We’d call it high maintenance poser drinking taken to new heights, but then, there’s no actual drinking involved.

The grand café dining and supposed Mittel-European menu all sounds a bit Corbin & King. And we’re not the only ones who think so…

Giles Coren at The Times says: “I think the idea was probably to try to make it feel like a bustling Wolseley or Delaunay-type Austrian/German all-day café of the interwar period. But it doesn’t. Not at all… It’s all just a bit 1990s here. I’m not against groups (how could I be?) and I went along twice, full of enthusiasm, in search of lost German time. But the formality, the hugeness, the single-sex parties, the flabby middle management at play, the something for everyone menu, the weary roll-out catering, the lack of interest in detail, the “convenient” location … It all just reminded me of Quaglino’s and Mezzo and Pont de la Tour and the Bluebird at the time of their simultaneous pomp and awful decline around the turn of the millennium. It’s just not what London restaurants are about in 2015.”

The Observer’s Jay Rayner was even more damning. Not just of the concept, and the lighting so moody he had to read his menu by mobile phone light, but also the food…

“Main courses are crash scenes which should be taped off from public view for the sake of the children. A roast cod fillet with a “smoked fish broth” is a salty, slippery mess; the fish is undercooked, the skin a nasty tangle of grey sputum… But look, they’ve been busy, what with all the building work, and getting the lighting to the point where you can only just see your iPhone in front of your face, and sourcing the paintings of Victorian bodybuilders and finding ways to turn cocktails into foams and airs.”

The killer location and well appointed space almost won over David Sexton at the Evening Standard, but ultimately he too has his doubts about German Gymnasium…

Understandably [D&D have] been a bit defensive about taking such a punt on the appetite for German food in London, Des Gunewardena saying before it opened: “How many German restaurants are there in London? Very, very few. So, the demand may not be great but the supply is not either.” That’s an admission that cuts both ways. It’s not often you hear Londoners cry, “I know, let’s eat German!” — for the same reason perhaps that so many more Germans holiday in France or Greece than at home, which is not what the citizens of those countries do themselves. You can avoid German dishes here too, but then why bother? 


Meanwhile the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent gets yokey in Stokey as she reviews The Good Egg on Stoke Newington’s increasingly gentrified (and pram-filled) Church Street. A restaurant whose menu, she claims, is trying to get her knickers off.

Not everything the critic tries is a triumph but… “For me the one-page menu reads like a bawdy love letter that hopes to get my knickers off, succeeding shortly after the Dak Dak salad with pine nuts and pomegranate, just prior to the description of the Za’tar buttermilk fried chicken with chilli honey. You had me at beets, dill and poppy seeds. One of The Good Egg’s team, Oded, baked for Ottolenghi and there are definite delicious echoes of this here, mercifully without the nosebleed-inducing price tags.”


thesaltroomAnd over at the Sunday Times, AA Gill’s stand-in Damian Barr sticks around his native Brighton to bring us a taste of what’s on offer outside of London. He reviews the recently (spring this year) opened Salt Room, from the chef behind The Coal Shed…

“The Salt Room’s progressive-not-pretentious menu celebrates the sea, and whatever they can catch locally they will. There’s nothing here to frighten the in-laws, nothing pointlessly deconstructed. The owner, Razak Helalat, started round the corner with the Coal Shed, where I finally found the Sussex steak I craved. He’s expanded here with the chef Dave Mothersill. For compulsive carnivores, there’s a “coal shed” corner offering steak as sanguine or scorched as you like. But why would you?


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