Here’s our weekly round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 11 June 2023.
“Food doesn’t get much more personal than this.”
Grace Dent was in Caversham, enjoying “thoughtfully made and determinedly different” authentic Hyderbadi food at the “second incarnation” of Clay’s Kitchen, now in an “enormous” former Wetherspoon’s, “painted TeleTubbies Laa-Laa-yellow” having moved out of the centre of Reading last year.
Owner Nandana Syamala admits she has “lost a bit of myself to Clay’s” through lockdown and delivery kits and moving to this larger home. “All I have is this obsession with creating something special.” (Grace confirms it “is indeed special”.)
“Clay’s has one of those menus that I feel I’ll keep going back to… there is a pure Field of Dreams vibe to the fact that it even exists.”
“All a bit of a self-pleasuring, middle-class Sunday supplement fantasy, one acted out at that place where the land and sea pull and tug against each other.”
Jay Rayner was in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, eating lobster and chips (pictured) in honour of his “dear mum” (they’d tucked into the same dish at the original Ivy years ago).
The Suffolk Sur-Mer “is a side hustle that got wildly out of control. In the summer of 2020, when restaurants were struggling with Covid restrictions, George Pell, then of London’s venerable L’Escargot, decided to open an outpost of the Soho institution by the sea.”
Pell has moved on but the building has been restored and the restaurant lives on with “a menu that is certain of its mission, with only the occasional wanton flourish”, desserts that “make sense” and a “clever bar menu”. Compared to London, it’s also “great value” (but “not cheap”).
“There was just the strong sense that nothing bad could happen.”
The Evening Standard
“A side order of slightly cloying disappointment.”
Jimi Famurewa visited the new restaurant from Israeli restaurateur Eyal Shani, (his third UK opening this year). Lilienblum is “an ostensibly more formal follow-up to Miznon near Shoreditch” where “some of the perplexing choices and weird flourishes” found at Miznon don’t work quite so well.
“Shani’s undeniable genius” is still present, “dishes were still cooked with unexpected flair, potency and restraint” but the “vast, echoing barn of a new-build space” does Lilienblum no favours, nor does the “menu construction” (split by ingredients with “wearying zaniness of… descriptions”).
“Lilienblum, to me, proves that slowing down a little might be the best way to move forward.” (***)
There’s a new monthly “critics’ choice” feature in The Standard in which Jimi Famurewa and David Ellis each name their current favourite Top 10 restaurants; it makes for a diverse selection, from the Ritz to Wong Kei via St John Bread & Wine.
“A confident, beautiful triumph.”
Over the course of 10 courses, however, “little charm bombs” landed around him, from “nimble, prompt service” to “unusual, gorgeous wine”, “pretty little snacks” and a recently refurbished restaurant that “reeks of warm, chummy endeavour”.
Handling’s take on Balmoral chicken (pictured) was “a thing of intriguing brilliance”.
And of course, Handling himself appeared to deliver William several dishes (despite him claiming to have booked anonymously) chatting “passionately about his battle against waste and to source sustainably” with “a glint in his eye to suggest he doesn’t take himself too seriously”.
William left, expectations defeated, but “happy… to be proved so wrong”. (****)
In Glasgow, Rosalind Erskine tried out the new Viennese-themed menu, new-look restaurant and beer garden (with pizza oven) at Websters, “the former church turned theatre and events space on Great Western Road”, (14/20)
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Gaby Soutar visited the new Buck’s Bar (there’s three branches in Glasgow too, with decor that’s “authentically US dive bar-esque”) to try out the “fried chicken with buffalo sauce” that “Lorna McNee, of Michelin-starred restaurant, Cail Bruich… wanted to be her last supper”.
“The fried chicken fans are going to love this place…. I’m not sure if it’s my bag, but I’m probably not the demographic they’re aiming for.” (15.5/20)
Tim Hayward in the The FT asked “is eating out a luxury again?” in his essay on “the inflation fear stalking restaurants — and whether we should pay more for our food”.
In The Times, Chitra Ramaswamy reviewed The Forager in Dollar, the gastropub that MasterChef: The Professionals 2018 finalist Dean Banks has added to his empire.
Starting out with the question “How many restaurants does it take for an empire to fall?” and mentions of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay’s Street Burger didn’t bode well. She’d already wondered if Banks was spreading himself too thin when reviewing Dulce recently, and concluded that this new place “struggles to keep the old magic going and is a “missed opportunity”.
Bristol Live reported on Gregg’s first-ever bar that has opened in Newcastle; Fenders Unplugged celebrates the Geordie icon and Sausage, Bean & Cheese Melt fan, Sam Fender.