Review of the reviews

Our regular summary of what the national and local restaurant critics have been writing about in the week ending 10 July 2022.


The Guardian

“Genuinely intriguing and appetising dishes.”

Grace Dent was in Soho (which is “especially staggy and henny these days”) to review Firebird, “an elegant new restaurant opened by Madina Kazhimova and Anna Dolgushina”.

“From the outset, the place feels personal and homespun, which is a rarity in London restaurants at the moment, because only the big, bolshie and slightly sterile openings seem to find the wings to fly.”

As the name suggests, everything on the menu (including the cocktails) from ex-Caravan head chef Nikos Kontongiannatos is “touched by flames” – i.e. “cooked over charcoal or wood”. It’s “about setting the rulebook alight” (as well as the food). For example, the “choux bun filled with earthy, chicken-liver paté and hazelnut [pictured above], a sort of bizarre, offally Paris-Brest… sounds heinous, but it works”.

“Firebird was really rather good. In fact, it’s probably better than 90% of the places I have frittered my time on this year.” Even better, there’s “an abundance of trained staff… a level of service that’s rarer than hen’s dentures right now” and “as much thought had been put into the sweet course as the starters and mains, which is almost an outdated concept in the capital these days”.

“I’m like a plump-bottomed moth to Firebird’s flames.”


The Observer

“A classy bistro that will look after you and make the world feel just that little bit better.”

Jay Rayner was in Taunton at Augustus, which is the restaurant that “every town needs” (along with “a good bookshop… an independent mini-department store… [and] a well-positioned bus stop”.

Augustus manages to be “a place which can serve for both special occasions, but also for an impromptu lunch with a mate; where the food is indulgent and diverting without being look-at-me showy; where the prices, while not exactly cheap, won’t make you gasp”.

Jay isn’t claiming a “breathless discovery”: Augustus has “been doing its thing very happily since 2011”. Owned by chef Richard Guest and front-of-house Cedric Chirrosel – former colleagues at famous Taunton establishment The Castle, which Jay rather slated in a 2000 review – it’s “in a quiet courtyard off one of Taunton’s pretty lanes” with “a glass-walled extension out front”.

Dishes are a combination of the “intensely comforting and domestic” with “something so much more glamorous and downright sexy”. “The wine list is short and to the point. The customers are relaxed and cared for.” Even with dessert, “none of those well-juggled balls were dropped”.

“You now want an Augustus in your town, don’t you? Quite right, too.”


The Sunday Times

“Imad Alarnab’s route to opening his restaurant off Carnaby Street in London was a more dramatic one than most.”

Marina O’Loughlin reviewed Imad’s Syrian Kitchen, the backstory to which most of us know by now. The “former Damascus restaurateur… in his jolly pink T-shirt” has a “cheerful brightness” that belies his experiences of the past few years – and it “suffuses his food too”, with dishes that “radiate sun-drenched warmth”.

The “falafel are happy-making too” – and raised thousands of pounds for a children’s hospital in Aleppo at Imad’s “charity pop-up in Bethnal Green” – and “there’s a smart wine list”.

The “light-flooded space” (“formerly home to Asma Khan’s celebrated Darjeeling Express”) welcomes guests, and “staff are mostly as welcoming as their boss too, especially the women”.

Leaving a review “until the heat died down a little, to come here when it was an established business, ticking over rather than boiling over in a blaze of well-intentioned column inches”, Marina was delighted to report that Imad “has created a fine thing”.


The Mail on Sunday

Tom Parker Bowles for YOU Magazine found “that rarest of discoveries – a London pub makeover that works” when he reviewed The Princess Royal, a formerly “handsome” but “nondescript Notting Hill boozer”. It reopened recently after an “elegant and extensive facelift… from the Cubitt House group” with Ben Tish (ex-Norma and The Game Bird) at the stoves.

It’s now more “restaurant in a pub than gastropub per se. And all the better for it”. The decor is “lush with hanging verdancy, the original Victorian tiled floor uncovered, the upholstery bright and bold”.

“As ever with Tish, produce is the star, his focus broadly sunny, southern Mediterranean” with a focus on fish and seafood.

“This Princess is a peach.”


The Evening Standard

“A series of avoidable double faults.”

Reviewing in Wimbledon during the Championships, Jimi Famurewa leaned into tennis puns in his review of “farm-to-fork spot” The Black Sheep, from “sibling farmer-restaurateur founders” the Gladwin brothers (“plus five others”).

Location-wise, it was a trip “outside my comfort zone” – which “has previously served me pretty well”. This time, however, “as another playful spin on some quintessentially British flavour combination arrived devoid of the requisite skilled execution”, it became evident that he was not onto a winner.

While “it never tipped into full-scale disaster, The Black Sheep did seem afflicted by a kind of well-meaning mediocrity”, which wasn’t helped by the “long, airless and scantly peopled space” that was at odds with the rest of the village “in full Pimms-burping mode, all flapping purple-and-green flags”.

On a positive note, wines came from an “impressively reasonable list that majors on bottles from the Gladwin’s own West Sussex vineyard” and “partial salvation” arrived with some “very good spuds” and a Wimbledon-themed jelly (pictured).

“Though we were only in Zone 3, I had never felt so far away from the concentrated energy, creativity and craft that makes London dining so reliably exciting.”


Also in The Standard, a report on the “huge gesture of support from the UK hospitality industry” given to Jeremy King when he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2022 Cateys.

There was also a round-up of the 18 best ice-cream (gelato, sorbet, parfait and soft-serve) parlours in London: “not all ices are churned equal and some cones are cardboard”.


The Times

“Shall we start with the reasons not to go?”

“It’s miles away… by car, of course. The train takes even longer.”

“It’s also expensive: £350 per head for the set menu… and then the booze on top.”

And then there’s the “black-painted interior and a pitch-dark kitchen”, the “very, very loud… house music” and the “cushionless wooden chair you sit on for those many hours”.

Giles Coren nabbed a table at Ynyshir “just days after it was crowned National Restaurant of the Year” thanks to the train strike causing cancellations and knowing someone who knows chef Gareth Ward.

It’s not for everyone (and especially not the “type of pampered three-star Michelin junkies who enjoyed the Waterside Inn”) and draws quite a “strange crowd”. But there’s great people-watching and a view of “Ward himself, vast, round-shouldered, stubble-headed, leather-aproned, peaceful, all-seeing, lit by roaring fires, slicing and stabbing” in the kitchen.

Ward “learnt bourgeois precision and respect at Hambleton Hall, then crazy big flavour wa-wa at Sat Bains”; at the centre of his cooking is “very serious produce…[a] prominence of animal protein, the blend of locavorism with the wildly exotic, and [a] big southeast Asian bent.”

The meal itself was “40 or so” courses, “all just a mouthful or two in size” (a “rat-a-tat-tat of multiseasoned mouth-slappers”) alongside a “seat-of-the-pants grog journey”, served by a Richard Beckinsale lookalike, altogether making “a quite bonkers evening”, from the very start “something thrilling and light and wild that would build and build…”

Surprisingly, it was “all much more like actual food than meals I’ve had in other famous list-toppers like the Fat Duck or El Bulli or Noma, where it’s easy to feel as much like the victim of a laboratory experiment as a hungry man in need of dinner.”

By the end of the evening, Giles couldn’t remember a single one of his reason for not going. (24/30)


The Independent

“Serious holiday vibes just a hop, skip, an hour’s train and a quick ride on a posh sports cruiser away.”

Hannah Twiggs arrived at The Hut in Colwell Bay on the Isle of Wight by a chartered boat, which not everyone can afford to do, but it certainly set the scene; the “principal audience are tourists and “yachties”… a lot of polo shirts and boat shoes”.

“Prices aren’t eye-watering compared to some seafood restaurants in the UK” (especially if you drink enough ‘Painkillers’, “their signature, dangerously drinkable cocktail”) and the menu “delivers on freshness and quantity” but there’s a hint of an “identity crisis” in the menu, with “attempts at an Asian influence” – “where seafood is done best, it’s done simply”.

“Come here for the vibes and… stay for the mostly affordable food and pretty decent cocktails.”

And also…

William Sitwell for The Telegraph gave 5 stars to the “Thai food to drool, dribble and rave about” at Plaza Khao Gaeng at the relaunched Arcade Food Hall; “expect fresh, fragrant, life-giving flavour at this canteen-style eatery”.


In the Financial Times, a round-up of “ten of the best pubs for a pint in the City of London… from Samuel Pepys’ old hangout, to Victorian gin palaces and a cool rooftop garden”.


In The Scotsman, Catriona Thomson visited the “historic” Sun Inn, Dalkeith, “a previous winner of the AA Pub of the Year and the Scottish Gastropub of the Year”. “They pride themselves on using local Scottish produce.”

There’s a “stylish and modern interior” and staff who “managed to strike the right balance between efficiency and friendliness”; while there was some “main course disappointment”, it was followed by “pudding perfection”. (7/10)

Also in The Scotsman, Gaby Soutar slurped her way through ramen and cocktails at the new South Bridge branch of Ikigai, which is “less traditional and younger vibe than their original venue, with neon signs and wooden pews, as well as a more extensive food menu and a focus on cocktails”.


In Manchester Evening News, a report on new hospitality data released by CGI and Wireless Social which “places the city’s post-pandemic recovery as being miles ahead of that seen in London… Manchester is in third place behind Glasgow and number one and Bristol at number two”.


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