Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer keeps things on The Straight and Narrow, a piano bar and restaurant in east London’s Docklands…

“Food and music are meant to go together. Jazz, which is what I have spent most of my adult life at the keyboard wrestling with, was born in restaurants like this.

“The Straight and Narrow has heart. It does not occupy a pretty space. One side of Narrow Street is made of classic ancient warehouses, doubtless with interiors that glossy magazine editors would die for. The restaurant is on the other side, on the raised ground floor of a much more modern development. The Straight and Narrow is the neighbourhood restaurant you want around the corner.

“A Scotch egg, with a golden shell made of properly seasoned sausage meat mixed with cubes of apple, comes with a yolk just on the edge of running. Main courses, priced in the teens, offer the kind of European-inspired, bistro cooking utilising British ingredients that is the food we really want to eat most of the time. It is roast chicken with risotto and fillet steak with chips.

“Desserts are exceptionally good, the sort that make you wonder if there has been some grand hotel training involved (although apparently there hasn’t). A salted caramel tart has dark pastry with an echoing crunch and a deep golden filling that stays the right side of cloying. Service is engaged without being stalkerish. The wine list is short and sensible.”

Meanwhile at the Guardian Marina O’Loughlin finds the ‘dandiest beer food known to man’ at the rather charming, ‘imperfectly perfect’ Oktopus in Liverpool…

“Liverpool’s Oktopus ain’t without faults, but I love it anyway… the restaurant itself: hard surfaces, open kitchen, brick walls. It’s NOISY.

“There’s so much heart here. And it’s enormous fun… irresistible snacks that kick off the menu: crisp, crumbed nuggets, not chicken but sweet, fresh ‘popcorn’ mussels that come topped with a cumin-clove-cinnamon-fragrant “raz ketchup” based on ras el hanout… the dandiest beer food known to man… fat Barnsley double lamb chop, draped with smoky, grilled courgettes and peas in a light, creamy dressing is a splendid alliance between modernity and tradition. There is, contrarily, no octopus.

“The bill… comes as caress rather than headbutt… I’ve no doubt it will just get better and better, but in the meantime, it’s imperfectly perfect.”

Unfortunately Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard finds Soho newcomer Flavour Bastard’s unusual cuisine fusion rather ill-conceived (pun intended)…

“Substantial investment in Flavour Bastard signalled by Soho rent and rates for a fairly big site (previously Arbutus) and the involvement of AfroditiKrassa, the design company for Itsu… among other operators suggests to me a template for a rollout.

“We expected cloud of curds with gram confetti, mint relish and guindilla … to be light, bright, ethereal even, so its dun-coloured appearance is a bit of a surprise. Miso and mango-glazed aubergine, peanut-buckwheat crumble… resemble a boiled sponge.

“Every current menu trope is hit on but, perhaps predictably, hubris outstrips execution. The name Flavour Bastard appears to be a reference to the chef’s unusual pairing of flavours.”

Grace Dent is glad The Langham’s new British pub The Wigmore exists, but she never, ever wants to go there again. Find out why…

It’s a pub where the olives are stuffed with veal and the chips festooned with a Bloody Mary salt, which tastes like the gritty stuff from a bag of Nobby’s Nuts.

Much of The Wigmore menu is typical pub food, but with a wilfully ‘hip’ flourish… mentions of seaweed butter, hispi cabbage, posh grilled cheese and lots of other things that had a moment in foodland 15 months ago for regional types to order.

“I am torn on The Wigmore as I’m glad it exists, and it appears to be making some people happy, but I never, ever want to go there again. It’s like Anouska Hempel had a go designing a Toby Carvery. The grilled cheese was enormous, but offered no real impetus to splurge carb-intake on it.”


Keith Miller in The Telegraph reviewed Deptford’s new Mediterranean restaurant Marcella, sister to Peckham’s Artusi…

“The cooking is not quite as pared-down – nor quite as grown-up – as the decor. Fried artichokes were good, the leaves tawny and crunchy, the heart waxy and firm.

“Confit old spot jowl”, though, was wonderful, hours in the cooking, served with a musty peach mostarda. Pasta dishes looked great: tagliatelle with girolles, a Sicilian-style bucatini with sardines, the holy trinity of aglio olio e peperoncino. Swaledale lamb was beautifully cooked: two rare hunks of rump, a crisp comma of slow-cooked breast. Mackerel was plump and creamy with freshness.

“When we left Marcella… it was with mixed feelings. We’d eaten well, or fairly well; everyone was friendly; there was a buzz about the place. If it’s a fudge of sorts between a traditional Italian menu and a modern small-plates ­operation – well, why not? It felt like a place for mates, not dates.”

Over at the Daily Mail Tom Parker Bowles heads to fried chicken maestro Carl Clarke’s latest baby, Chik’n…

“Chef Carl Clarke, Brummie by birth, must have lived a former life in the [American Deep] South. Because he’s the British high priest of deep-fried poultry. The room, clean, bright and clad in primary colours, has a few chairs and tables, but is certainty not a place in which to linger. We arrive just after 11.30am, and within minutes a queue snakes down the road.

“The CHIK’N hot burger is a serious beast, a great fat wodge of divine fried chicken, slathered in Sriratcha sour cream, loaded with a sharp tangle of spicy slaw, and wedged into a bun that manages to be both soft AND hold the whole thing together. Juice drips and dribbles down the fingers, just as it should.

“Better still are the nacho style ‘all in fries’… Oodles of lurid fake cheese, studded with good bacon and pickled onion, and flavoured with a grunt of chilli, and a numbing of Sichuan pepper, poured lustily over those wonderful fries… it’s a messy, mucky junk food masterpiece.

“Look out for it in a town near you soon. This Chik’n has wings.”


And Time Out gives its verdict on St James’s Market’s West African-influenced Ikoyi…

“Hooray… for Ikoyi. It’s a hip little joint. Ikoyi’s take on African food feels like a thrilling anomaly even in London’s diverse food scene. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a proper trend.”

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