Review of the reviews

Our weekly round-up of what the national and local restaurant critics are writing about, for the week ending 8 November 2020.

Restaurants and bars in England are closed between 5 November and 2 December for a second lockdown; parts of Scotland are also on similar lockdown, and the ‘firebreak’ lockdown in Wales ends on 9 November .

Please consider ordering takeaways or deliveries from your favourite spots if you can; the restaurant industry and everyone involved in it need our continued support.

*****

The Observer

“I forgot that the waiters were wearing masks, and that the tables were set wide apart, and that the government is run by a bunch of sweaty-cheeked walking prolapses who are making it up as they go along.”

Before lockdown 2, Jay Rayner took a trip to Bath, and the newly-opened Indigo Hotel’s restaurant, The Elder, where he “got indecently excited about a soufflé” and many other dishes besides. “God, it felt good, experiencing this raging bubble of happiness rise up inside me.” If it’s “madness” to open a new restaurant in “the gnashing teeth of a pandemic”, then to Jay this is “welcome madness, a giddy expression of optimism”.

There’s “great cooking” here from chef Mike Robinson, from Stratford’s Woodsman (also an Indigo hotel) and Fulham’s Harwood Arms, he is renowned for his game cookery; it “makes the world seem better, even if only for as long as it takes to scrape the ramekin clean. No, you can’t make this at home for a quarter of the price.”

The result of a five-year-long project, The Indigo sits in “a terrace of those Georgian honeyed townhouses that Bath has in shameless number”. The Elder  is “a beauty: a series of linked rooms, their panelled walls painted a deep-sea green and hung with hunting prints”. (There’s an “evolved vegan and vegetarian menu” if you don’t fancy eating the “pretty woodland creatures” in the paintings and murals on the walls.)

The superlatives keep flowing, including “culinary magic”, “immense precision” and “exquisitely made”. Jay described the warm crab tart starter as the “Judi Dench of crab tarts: classy, technically brilliant, compelling but also moving and hugely satisfying”. The craft is undeniable – the “brilliant pastry chef”, Darrell Rolle-Jackson, explained to Jay how he managed to create a soufflé with a biscuit on top: “it took years to perfect”.

“The opening of a new restaurant in the current circumstances is reassuring enough. The fact that it’s such a good one is a brilliant beam of sunshine breaking through a bruising, cloud-deadened sky.”

*****

The Evening Standard

Jimi Famuwera was in Bethnal Green before lockdown 2, trying out the “stripped-back rotisserie chicken concept” Royale, a “now mothballed” residency at the East London Liquor Company, where the “winking festoon lights and bobble-hatted outdoor diners” are, for now, a distant memory.

Royale “launched in May as a delivery business by the founders of Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Leroy”, then moved to ELLC at the end of lockdown. It’s essentially “an extended ode to the simple joy of expertly roasted poultry” (the signature ‘burnished chicken’ ), but Jimi proclaimed it to be “one of the more quietly scintillating openings of this deeply weird year”, with “focus, detail and pleasure-forward philosophy”.

“If Royale’s proper restaurant residency at ELLC returns — and I really hope it does — then the intricately wrought starters are worth your attention.” Sides are also praised as “triumphantly fresh”, but even they are “merely a warm-up for the headline act”.

It’s “quite the flex” to make something “as simple as roast chicken the centrepiece of a restaurant menu. But a first bite justified the fuss; a flood of mouth-drenching succulence, humming garlic and rapturous, self-basted depth of flavour”.

Royale’s starters, sides, roasted chicken and Happy Endings ice cream sandwiches are currently available for delivery or collection – check the website for details.

*****

Also in The Standard, a review of the best Christmas sandwiches that have “have begun rolling out” in “supermarkets and midday hotspots” (and “this may just be the most creative year yet” with vegan and turkey curry options). The joint winners were the Starbucks ‘gravy layer’ sandwich (à la Ross from Friends), Marks & Spencer’s ‘Turkey Feast’ and Sainsburys’ ‘Ultimate Christmas Feast’.

*****

“I still think of restaurants as a haven, a home away from home, a continual source of delight — and I want them back.”

 Fay Maschler reviewed the Bocca di Lupo home delivery (although why she didn’t just publish her review of Kol after two visits, we’re not sure – she’ll just have to visit again after lockdown 2), which “this month concentrates on the region of Puglia” (it’s Piemont and Alba truffles in December).

The restaurant, from Jacob Kenedy and his team is one of her favourites, and the meal (with added wine) doesn’t disappoint, although would be “possibly more appealing on a sunny Puglian hillside than on a dank London evening, but as life is teaching us, we are not wholly in control”.

“Prepared food in which the recipient has some participation and makes a contribution is an important service in combating hunger, loneliness and boredom.”

Bocci di Lupo’s home food and wine delivery (with party food and hampers in December) can be ordered from boccadilupoathome.com

*****

The Guardian

“As of midnight last Wednesday, we’re all confined to barracks again, ordering Aldi booze deliveries, bidding on eBay jigsaws, doom-scrolling on social media and staring into the fridge at least six times a day.”

Before the start of the second lockdown, Grace Dent ate at Fourth and Church in Hove, and is already planning a February 2021 re-visit to cheer her up, and possibly a birthday celebration too (“the highest compliment you can pay any restaurant”), because it “turned out to be one of the greatest restaurants I’ve been to in the past few years”.

“This is a small, independent labour of love – imaginative small plates, dizzying wine line, fabulous service – that I found out about only after several of its regulars got in touch feeling rather rattled that Sam Pryor and Paul Morgan’s neighbourhood joint was being ignored.” (It was also reviewed by Keith Miller in The Telegraph last week, although he said it didn’t quite make his “soul sing”.)

For Grace, the place is “joyous” with a menu that’s “a riot of ideas”. It’s “an example of why we will always need restaurants”, because she “loves to be at the absolute mercy of such flights of culinary fancy”.

Fourth and Church is still open for bottle sales and click-and-collect food, order on www.fourthandchurch.co.uk/buy-food

*****

The Sunday Times

Marina O’Loughlin visited Mo Diner, Mourad “Momo” Mazouz’s “high-voltage pleasure dome” in Mayfair; the “titan of the restaurant scene” has been behind “any number of groundbreaking restaurants, among them the sensory overload that is London’s multi-Michelined Sketch”. The “classically trained and much awarded” Eric Chavot is in the kitchen, which is “a bit like finding Picasso overseeing a paint-your-own-pottery shop”.

The diner is “pleasingly bonkers”, offering a “blast of almost carnival colour… its apparent mission to deliver rays of joyful sunshine”. It’s an “homage to the classic American diner, raised stools fringing the galley kitchen, luncheonette-style pegboard menus on high”, but with the colour turned up.

“When food starts arriving it becomes rapidly obvious where the seriousness lies.” The flavours are “ecumenical”, with classic dishes given a “sun-soaked, hard shakes-fuelled LA razzle-dazzle”; combined with “dangerously gluggable wine”, it’s “a captivating one-off… a restaurant outside any normal sphere of reference”.

There’s no “coherent narrative”: “this is a menu where tinned sardines jostle with full English breakfast”, and it all works. “Much of it cosplays as trashy, but turns up elevated into dishes where every component is as good as it can be.”

“Mazouz has brought us the restaurant we didn’t know we needed right now. I can’t thank him enough.”

*****

Marina also continued her reviews of popular snack favourites, this week she tried the Bao bun delivery kit and asked “can it deliver the goods by post as successfully as over the counter?”

“Happily, it can. The kit contains six buns and 12-hour-braised pork humming with aromatics and ready to be boiled in the bag… There’s no way I can get mine to be as flawlessly symmetrical as the restaurant does [but] each bite is perfect: marshmallow-textured bun, rich pork, the slap of the pickles and the final flourish of toasted nuts to pull it all together… a mini feast and a dangerous new addiction.”

Bao’s bun kit for two is available for delivery nationwide from baolondon.com/shop

*****

The Mail on Sunday

Tom Parker Bowles in The Mail’s YOU magazine reviewed Hartnett, Holder & Co in the New Forest, but not before a not-so-gentle dig at the 10pm curfew (his visit was before the curfew started and before lockdown 2 was announced), which “robbed places of the all-important second (and even third) sitting, but also ensured merry hordes of over-refreshed revellers poured out on to city streets at the exact same moment”. He clearly feels, as many of us do, that the “scrupulously clean restaurants and pubs that fastidiously adhered to all those anti-Covid-19 measures” are being unfairly punished.

Lime Wood, where the restaurant is, is one of his “favourite hotels on earth”, a place where the “world is filled with hope”. “As you’d expect from Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder”, it’s “a place as warm and unpretentious as the two eponymous chefs”.

“Nothing is too much trouble here, and pudding melts slowly into Calvados.” The place was full and “open until the last punter skips out”.

*****

And also…

Birmingham Live has a list of restaurant offering takeaway and delivery options during this second lockdown.

Both Birmingham Live and Bristol Live have offered free listings to restaurants open for delivery during the second lockdown, on the Order Local collaboration.

Bristol Live also reported on the re-opening – after five years and under new management – of Java, a Park Street bar and café set across four main rooms with an all-day menu and table service.

The Manchester Evening News reported on the closure of the Piccadilly Gardens branch of Tampopo.

No reviews this week in The Telegraph, The Independent, The Scotsman or from Giles Coren in The Times.

*****

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