Review of the reviews

Our weekly round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about up to 11 February 2024.


The Evening Standard

Grasso, Soho

Perhaps retro-feel Italian dining never went away, but critics seem to concur that it is having a moment right now. Jimi Famurewa led the way into a “dining trend that is suddenly hotter than an arrabbiata made for an enemy” by taking his family to Grasso in Soho.

This new Italian-American venture “may have opened with minimal fanfare but there is basically nothing quiet about it. Magicked into the vast, new-built shell of a Dean Street Wagamama, it is an imitation red sauce joint that hits with all the subtlety of a big pizza pie.”  

Beneath the “hectically mismatched retro art… the boisterous, high-volume atmosphere of a steroidal modern trattoria… and the groovy Seventies font of the logo”, he was generally unenthusiastic about the actual cooking.


The Dover, Mayfair

Jimi’s colleague David Ellis pursued a similar theme in an interview with Martin Kuczmarski, the former Soho House COO whose The Dover in Mayfair is currently “arguably London’s hottest table in town”.

Sophia Loren in the Seventies, that was the inspiration,” Martin says. “Well, Sophia Loren goes to Brooklyn, eats a bowl of spaghetti meatballs, and Al Pacino is her boyfriend. That’s what I told the designers.”

“The menu, perhaps there’s nothing special, but it’s the classics. It’s comfort food. If I were to die tomorrow, what would I want for my last meal…?”


The Broadwick, Soho

At ES magazine, Joanna Taylor sampled ”the sumptuous Italian-inspired basement restaurant” at Broadwick Soho, “a decadent, eccentric boutique hotel with the sort of filthy-gorgeous charm that’d give a Marie Kondo a stroke.”

For all the “Peppa Pig’s La Dolce Vita dream” of the surroundings, though, the over-salted food was “so disappointing”. “As my dinner date said, ‘It’s a hug everywhere but on the plate.’”

Joanna had a busy week. Dropping in to 65a on the edge of Spitalfields Market, she was better fed from a “menu crafted by Maura Baxter, [that] is as about as wholesome as French-inspired fare gets.

“It’s difficult to find fault with sliced fillet steak drenched in enlivening Café de Paris sauce (ta, cayenne, you cheeky devil) with slithers of skin-on chips alongside a plump half chicken and heaped spoonfulls of sizzling dauphinois.”


The Observer

Zucco, Meanwood

Jay Rayner found himself in Leeds, at – you guessed it – an Italian outfit, Zucco, a direct descendent of Salvo’s in Headingley, which was a leading light in the city when Jay was a student there in the 80s. The nostalgia “forces from me deep wells of moist emotion, like bathwater squeezed from a sponge”.

“There is more than a touch of the 20th-century Salvo’s about the food here”, along with more recent reference points to the late, lamented Russell Norman’s Polpo – “all the essentials are attended to. A white risotto topped with pebbles of long-braised, heavily sauced ox cheek is quite simply perfect.”


The Guardian

Sete, Margate

Grace Dent enjoyed herself in Margate at Sète, which “began life just over a year ago as a ‘Parisian-inspired wine bar’, a mood that owner and manager Natalia Ribbe has well and truly nailed…. Nothing fancy or remotely intimidating, but still elegant, which those Frenchies are so very good at.

“Ribbe, who is not French but German/American, then went on to open a 40-seater restaurant in the back room with food by Billy Stock, formerly of St John and the Marksman in London. Everything is served as small sharing plates, but still very much hangs together well as a meal.”


The Telegraph

Kima, Marylebone

William Sitwell professed his love of all things Greek after a visit to Kima in Marylebone. “As a proud Grecophile, and one who has loved the most shambolic of meals in the most wretched of tavernas and enjoyed the joyous simplicity of freshly grilled fish, a proper Greek salad and tumblers of Greek wine – I can safely say that this place is something of a game-changer, offering some of the finest Greek food I have ever tasted.

“Tell your rich pals to go, and to take you. This place is too important to fail.”


The Times & The Sunday Times

The Dover, Mayfair

Back on the Italian-American theme, Giles Coren was happy to admit that Martin Kuczmarski is a long-time buddy, but with The Dover “he’s nailed it first time. Hit the target smack in the middle. Bullseye.”

“I’ve rarely seen spaghetti meatballs (USDA beef, tomato sauce — £25) in a restaurant except in front of those two horny dogs in Lady and the Tramp, because it isn’t a real dish. It’s an American-Italian send-up of a thing that never existed in Italy. But it was immense. Delicious. Fathomless. Those tight little nuts of grain-fed beef, rumbling in a bright, lively sauce, all tangled up in the pasta, between slugs of a very good fifty-quid sangiovese. Positively sexual it was. No wonder those dogs loved it so much.”


The Silver Birch, Chiswick

Charlotte Ivers headed to The Silver Birch in Chiswick, under the headline “5 stars and nobody knows it exists”. Clearly the Sunday Times subeditor is ignorant of Harden’s: our last three guides have all reviewed the restaurant favourably.

Maybe Charlotte herself is a reader. She concurred with our view: “You’re getting top-quality food for less than you’d expect. Fashionable food too: Scandi with a bit of modern British.

“This poor place opened in the autumn of 2020 — not the best time for it. As a result, almost nobody knows it’s here. But now you do, so please go. Otherwise it might not be around for much longer.”


The Scotsman

Paz Taqeria, Edingbburgh

Gaby Soutar declared Paz Taqeria on Thistle Street a “more grown-up” upgrade of El Cartel on the same site, which closed during the pandemic. “The menu is quite similar to El Cartel’s, but better. It’s like they’ve refreshed, refined and added a bit of vim.

“I’m especially happy about its existence, as there is no greater pleasure than a lunchtime Margarita.”


And also…

FT Magazine

Chishuru, London SE1

In The FT Magazine, Tim Hayward reviewed Adejoke Bakare’s West African venture Chishuru in the week it was awarded a Michelin star, reporting that the accolade was “well deserved”.


Mail on Sunday

The Spudman, Tamworth

Tom Parker Bowles in The Mail tracked down the Spudman of Tamworth, Ben Newman’s baked potato trailer in the Midlands that has attracted 2.3 million followers on TikTok, to see what the fuss is all about. He declared the £4 spuds well worth a visit.


Bristol Live


Bristol Live’s Sophie Grubb queued to get into another Italian, Park Street’s Moltobuono, a popular family-run spot so old-school that it lacks a website. “No pretentious presentation or portion sizes here, just a big hearty bowl of pasta.”

Share this article: