Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 9th June 2024

Evening Standard

The Counter, Soho

David Ellis expected great things from the second helping of Kemal Demirasal’s upscale Turkish cooking following his success of the first Counter in Notting Hill last year – “God it was good. Everyone said so.”

Not so. The second Counter is an absolute dud: “sharing the name seems an insult to the first-born.”

David singled out the heavy-handed deployment of pomegranate molasses as the kitchen’s greatest failing, describing it as “an acid attack, chucked across the food with such devastating potency it was hard not to suspect the chef of malicious intent. The bitter ugliness of the flavour stung.” 


The Guardian

July, Fitzrovia

Grace Dent was similarly unimpressed by two visits, for lunch at dinner, to this Alsatian-themed debut from a well-connected couple, Solynka Dumas and Julian Oschmann, billed a passion project arising from their love of hospitality.

Lunch featured an “unappetising” sourdough baguette stuffed with chunks of cauliflower for £12.50, which Grace likened to a “sort of M&S meal deal for Coutts cardholders on some type of high-fibre purge”. 

Dinner sounded better, promising deep-fried munster cheese and a whole Fosse Meadow chicken. But the cheese arrived at the table uncooked, while the Fosse Meadow chicken had a single breast, leg and wing, prompting Grace’s guest to exclaim “This is half a chicken.”

Grace wondered if the restaurant only really existed in its founders’ imaginations. “Dumas, whose family have a major stake in the French luxury brand Hermès, can clearly afford not to care if her restaurant thoroughly disappoints its customers.”


The Observer

Gaia, Piccadilly

Jay Rayner came clean fairly early on in his review of this self-style “refined taverna” in Mayfair that he had dropped in at least partly so that he could “point and laugh at stupid things”. And so he did, starting with the “fully Botoxed clientele from Asia, the Middle East and Europe who need never look at the menu’s right-hand column”.

Mostly, Jay pointed and laughed at the prices. So a £12 thumb-high whorl of whipped cod’s roe was a taste of “dip heaven in that it can only be afforded by the gods”, while a similarly priced portion of broccoli with chilli and garlic was “just a bunch of accountants laughing uproariously at us”.

Jay’s best gag was prompted by the centrepiece fish slab, from which guests take their pick and are charged by weight. “The prices force me to call Rex Goldsmith of the renowned Chelsea Fishmonger. He tells me his kilo price for mackerel is £12.50. I tell him at Gaia it’s £100. Rex gasps. ‘Christ,’ he says. ‘At that price the fish should give you a blowjob’.” 


The Times & Sunday Times

The London Shell Co, N6

Giles Coren has become a regular at the bricks-and-mortar branch of an outfit that made its name serving fish in floating barge-restaurants on the Regent’s Canal. It’s a small and unprepossessing venue, “inside a fishmonger in a redeveloped parade of shops on the edge of a mini roundabout at a leafy junction in north London, and it is doing everything you could possibly do if your humble aim were to be, for some people, on some days, the best restaurant in the world.”

After a dozen or so visits – “it just gets better each time” – Giles has worked his way through the menu, eating “a shifting, opportunistic roster of the most living fish you’ll see outside a swim in the actual sea”, eaten either “plain as you want” or with strong flavours, such as John Dory with mushrooms and chicken butter, Dover sole with curry mussel butter, or red mullet with crab and lobster risotto.

“A decent tagline for this place, apart from, “Best restaurant in the world”, might be, “If St John did fish restaurants…”


An Darna, Stirling

Claire Sawers broadly welcomed the first tasting menu restaurant in Stirling, whose name, the Gaelic for “on the other hand”, is a reference to founder Ian Whitely’s other hospitality business in town, the Meraki cocktail bar.

The cooking is multinational, with edamame, gnocchi, kimchi and gazpacho all making an appearance, and sometimes the complexity of flavours “clashes more than gels”. 

But, Claire says, “You’re there to be impressed, confounded and thrilled — and there is a little of all of that going on here.” High points on the menu include an “incredible pale” Peruvian tiger’s milk sauce; a “fabulously tender half-moon of shredded beef”; and fried gnocchi in a feta foam with smoked cherry tomatoes and seaweed butter.


The Seaside Boarding House, Burton Bradstock

Charlotte Ivers headed for Dorset’s Jurassic coast, and an ironically named hotel founded by Anthony Mackintosh and Mary-Lou Sturridge, formerly of the Groucho club in Soho.

There’s “a cocktail and wine list to rival any luxury hotel”, and “whipped cod’s roe thick and rich like a Soho socialite, with a drizzle of expensive-tasting olive oil and an almost sweet, almost sticky and definitely satisfying sourdough crisp”.

But it all felt rather California, so Charlotte popped next door for lunch at the Hive Café, a glorified and windblown tent. “There I had the freshest, most perfect fillet of mackerel — the catch of the day — in a simple buttery sauce with a scattering of fresh veg and capers. Nothing fancy, nothing clever. But with the cold sea air in the background it’s hard to imagine a more ideal meal. The luxury of the Boarding House is lovely, but this was the proper British seaside experience.”


Daily Telegraph

Evernight, SW11

William Sitwell enjoyed an “intriguing and thought-provoking” meal at this izakaya near the new US Embassy in Nine Elms – “a rather sleeker, tidier, quieter and more modern version” of the informal drinking den he visited in Japan some years ago, his previous izakaya experience.

Almost every item on the menu requires you to Google a translation, but William was having too much fun to let that bother him.

“The dish of the night was cuttlefish and kabu noodles topped with caviar; the textures of the creamy seafood and noodles merging together to become a sort of utterly magnificent, write-home-and-tell-your-parents carbonara.”

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