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

The Observer’s Jay Rayner finds a very generous sunday lunch at reasonable prices (always a welcome surprise in central London) at the latest venture from the Goodman Group, Zelman Meats. This new meat-focused venue took over the site of keenly priced Soho seafood spot Rex & Mariano (also a Goodman enterprise) late last year…

“Yes, we want lunch. And we get it. We get lunch the way the Sahara gets sun, the way Kylie gets adored. We get it in slices of beef, the pink of a taffeta ballgown, with crisped ribbons of fat, and a deep flavour of earth and field that goes on long after you’ve slurped it down. We get it in proper roasties and jugs of gravy and Yorkshires. The last time I had a Sunday lunch like this was at the Lamplighter Dining Rooms in the Lake District, where the generosity of spirit entirely suited the domestic setting. To find it like this in gentrifying Soho feels unlikely but welcome.”

Not so much a review as an indictment of Berkeley Street’s tasteless parade of new restaurants – the ‘feckless curse of the unimaginative new rich’. Still, AA Gill’s assessment of Alan Yau’s new Mayfair offering Park Chinois in the Sunday Times, did afford him the chance to utter this immortal phrase…

“And sea urchin with bacon is not a great blind date. It’s like coming home and finding a fat Dutchman and a ladyboy in your bed. Then there was a veal chop — expensive meat, but with a whisperingly bland, polite sauce. There’s a lot of caviar on the menu, a list that is generally overawed by and obsequious to its own ingredients.”

Food though takes a back seat to the décor at Park Chinois:

“I expect the moodboard motto was “timeless opulence with international mystery appeal”. What they’ve got is a joke movie set of a 1970s casino — you want Roger Moore and Oliver Tobias to sashay up to the bar in cuban heels, collarless sports coats and rollneck cashmere. Then you look at the bar and see it is already populated by the Abu Dhabi, Baku and Montenegro branch of the Oliver Tobias re-enactment society… We sat down in a bubble of speechless hysteria. After the room, the food comes as an anticlimax. It just isn’t the point. How could it possibly compete with the decor?”

Giles Coren had a pretty good meal at Marylebone’s newish Italian Benardi’s, and his review in The Times reflects that. Sort of. Actually it’s mostly a rant about the pointlessness of dieting and New Year’s resolutions when you hit middle age. Still, it’s more amusing than most of his colleagues’ reviews, which are about as dry as dry January…

“Wow, Bill, you look a tiny bit less bloated, your skin is less grey and I can actually see the whites of your eyes,” is really not what they are looking for.

And even if you do tell them how much better they look for a couple of weeks off the sauce, there is no getting round the fact that to say so is only to point up how awful they looked before. We are in late middle age now, nobody actually looks good. There are only gradations of bad. And giving the busted blood vessels round your nose a month to half-recover is really the saddest sort of delusion.

Pachamama, a Peruvian restaurant in Marylebone with a decidedly Nikkei inflection, is reviewed with gusto by the Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin. At first she was put off by their voicemail message: “Ola! Mama can’t come to the phone right now. Call us back! Besos!” (Shudders). But then a pal finally dragged her down there and, mama, was she wrong to judge a restaurant by its voicemail…

Pachamama’s febrile atmosphere and inventive cocktails encourage lubrication. I believe this is what’s called “a vibe”. The couple beside us are so over-served, they’re not sure whether to fight or fornicate. I’d stick to lunch, when the pressure to pardeee is absent. An actual Peruvian, meanwhile, might blanch into his (excellent) pisco sour – for every sighting of aji and huacatay, there’s shiso and ponzu, Onsen eggs and Galician beef.

The only national newspaper critic to venture outside of London this week was the Indy’s Tracey Macleod who braved a train to Cambridge for an outing to the latest ‘coming-soon-to-every-shopping-centre-near-you’ prototype from the folks behind PizzaExpress. Reys is a posh chicken shop with a ready-made roll-out formula. But is it one we would care to eat in?

“[The] menu eschews the “do one thing and do it well” approach, to enter territory which can only be called “all over the place”. Unlike Soho House’s Chicken Shop group, which offers just rotisserie chicken and a handful of sides (at slightly lower prices), Reys’ menu is a smash-and-grab of deep-fried wings, nasty open sandwiches, pulled-chicken buns and some Asian-inflected sides. It’s hard to mess up avocado on toast, but they do it here: slices of cold, under-ripe fruit dressed with lemon and a shaving of red chili, on what seems to be a giant two-day-old crouton.”

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