Harden’s review of the reviews: Nick Lander provides a trio of Chinese restaurant reviews

Nicholas Lander in The Financial Times reviews Kai Mayfair, Grand Imperial at Charing Cross Hotel and Four Seasons on Chinatown’s Gerard Street, in anticipation of Chinese New Year (the Year of the Dog begins on 16 February)…

“The long-established Kai Mayfair has a menu that is well attuned to wealthy clientele. While the high prices could, I suppose, be justified for the lobster (£35) and the Oriental pork belly (£21), there must have been a huge mark-up on our ma-po aubergines at £26.

“For a simple combination of stir-fried tofu, aubergines, onions, garlic and soy sauce, this is ridiculously overpriced. Our meal was saved by a bottle of Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Terrassen 2016 Kamptaler (£58) from a very good list, friendly service and, most unexpectedly, a dessert.

“It was also the dessert, and one main course, that distinguished our meal at the Grand Imperial restaurant, part of the Charing Cross Hotel by Victoria Station. But these were not to be my lasting memories, sadly.

“Far more basic but more fun and certainly infinitely superior in terms of food is the branch of the Four Seasons restaurant on Gerard Street in Chinatown. I first reviewed this restaurant in 2010 and the quality of its roast duck is as good as ever.”

Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail finds ‘bourgeois French food at its best (up there with Racine)’ during his lunch at Henry Harris’s latest London venture the Coach, Clerkenwell. High praise indeed…

“No run-of-the-mill, waxed-moustache and hillbilly braces East London gastro pub. [Henry Harris’s] Racine… was one of the capital’s great French restaurants, a classically unpretentious bistro deluxe.

“The menu is a joy: concise and straight to the point… lusciously fatty rillettes, comme il faut… brains, burnished, lovely, delicately creamy… in a typically dirty, caper-studded beurre noisette. Parfait.

“…it’s no surprise that the lunch was up there with Racine. Bourgeois French food at its best. 

“Harris is a partner in this pub, and two others too – The Three Cranes Tavern in the City (already open), and the soon to be launched Truscott Arms in Maida Vale. The challenge is keeping the standard this high every day, as his talents are spread ever more thinly across town… rare good news in a city where classic bistro cooking is becoming an endangered bête.”

You’ll need a Times subscription if you want to read Giles Coren’s impresh of the Coach in The Times. Here’s a little taster:

“The ‘greatness’ of London was what did for Henry Harris’s Racine on Brompton Road a couple of years back. Henry will tell you any day of the week that the sort of people who live round there now just don’t want fairly priced, serious French cooking any more.

“Which is why Henry is now cooking in a pub [The Coach] in Clerkenwell. 

“The menu is a sheet of A4 featuring Bayonne ham and celeriac remoulade, calf’s brain, pork rillettes, duck confit and lentils, andouillette de Troyes, “croziflette” and salad and Harris’s famous grilled rabbit with mustard sauce and smoked bacon that I used to travel an hour across town for at Racine, and then dream about for weeks afterwards.

“The tête de veau was warm and sloppy and comforting with a little brain on top and a sharp sauce ravigote in a jug alongside. I also had the calf’s brain fried nicely crisp in black butter with capers. The cooking overall is homelier than you would normally expect from Henry. Familiar dishes but less polished, rougher edged, revealing a genuine French family kitchen style. And all the rarer and more interesting for it.”

Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times truffles out the best “£7.50 to be spent in London” – the peek gai yud sai at Thai spot Supawan in King’s Cross…

“Supawan tells us it is southern Thai and, in among the green curries and pad thais (a fine example) are less conventional thrills: the Bangkok street-food favourite yum khao tod, a kind of “salad” made from smashed-up fried rice balls, all crusty toastiness, hot and sharp with bursts of astringent lime leaves.

“It’s one of those dishes that looks like nothing much but is fiendishly complicated to make. And ravishing to eat.

“Also insanely labour-intensive are peek gai yud sai: stuffed chicken wings, crumbed, deboned and fried. Typically stuffed with pork, here the greaseless delights are fat with minced chicken and prawns, glass noodles and lemon grass, the kind of mousseline that would do justice to any upscale French restaurant, only way more exhilarating. Their sweet chilli sauce tastes house-made — none of the sauces here appear to come from bottles (I suspect even the coconut milk is fresh). If there’s a better £7.50 to be spent in London, I’m yet to find it.”

Jay Rayner in The Observer reviews Henry’s, Bath, and gives his thoughts on the restaurant ‘experience’ at a talk on data capture and personalisation, where he predicted the rise of the counter-revolution…

“…the Craft Restaurant Movement: the small place that has no interest in data capture or personalisation, which does its own precisely delineated thing to its own eager, willing audience who are interested only in a table, a chair and a well thought-out plate of food.

“Of course, this already exists. It’s Henry’s in Bath… a simple dining room, … bare boards… tables are clothless. Henry Scott’s food is idiosyncratic without being overwrought… notably it doesn’t fob off non-meat-eaters with something involving beetroot and goat’s cheese.

“Every ingredient tastes both of itself, and of themselves combined… crispy rings of shallot that Barbie could wear as jewellery. The meaty starter is a heap of crisp-fried then glazed sweetbreads… brilliant green herb risotto, made by a cook who has clearly stood stirring a pot of this many times, is a complete winner… an extremely clever warm chocolate tart, with a heart of pure liquid.

“Henry Scott … has created a thoroughly lovely restaurant that is an expression of himself. It’s also great value.”

Mark O’Flaherty in The Sunday Telegraph wines, dines and reclines at Devon’s incomparable Gidleigh Park where there’s a new chef at the stoves. Chris Simpson’s food already ‘matches up to the location, architecture and interior design of the hotel’…

“I slept in the Drago suite (from £505 per night) with a river-facing balcony, a fabulously comfortable bed and a complimentary decanter of Madeira wine. Downstairs, (Chris) Simpson (formerly of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, Cornwall) was a few weeks into his stride.

“By all accounts, he’s doing his own thing, creating something rustic and rooted in the culinary traditions and produce of the South West. Much of it struck me as refined gastropub stuff – just the kind of thing you’d want, perhaps, somewhere like this, And an indulgent weekend on the country might be the last bastion of the £145, seven-course, three and a half hour tasting menu. I rarely eat this like in cities anymore, but in the wilds of Devon it was a holiday in itself.”

Grace Dent in The Guardian gives her thoughts on the second iteration of Simon Rogan’s Roganic which opened in Marylebone last month. They are mostly that few people actually want to spend their free time indulging in this sort ‘multi-course, Michelin-teasing, 50 Best-flirting dining’…

“This restaurant… is both the Second Coming of a much rhapsodised former pop-up and a spin-off of Michelin-bestowed Cumbrian mecca L’Enclume… already one of those places …[for] chefs, writers, bloggers, blaggers and miscellaneous food chunterers.

“My experience of reviewing ornate, long-haul, multi-course, Michelin-teasing, 50 Best-flirting dining is that few people truly want to spend their free time in them.

“Rogan’s food is always a deeply subjective experience… a plate of salt-baked celeriac with spindly enoki mushrooms in puddles of whey is fantastic… porridge of millet thick with blue cheese and a clump of bone marrow comes in a mercifully tiny portion… puddings were the stars of the show for me.

“A mini caramelised douglas fir tarte tatin was a bewildering work of apple architecture. I’ve had meaningful romances shorter than this dinner.”


Ben Norum in The Evening Standard reviews both the new La Tagliata in Fitzrovia and Four Degree in Vauxhall

La Tagliata: “…specialising in typical Italian food and drinks, with produce and provenance in the limelight… consistently sits above the belissimo bar… exemplary carbonara made with guanciale (cured pig cheek)… classic tiramisu packing a serious espresso kick.

“…far from dynamic and barely even inventive, yet it is a fine example that a restaurant really doesn’t have to be… classic Italian cooking, done very well indeed.”

Four Degree: “Fusing French and Japanese food… and boasting Europe’s first Macallan Whisky Lounge (plus some quirky art) upstairs, Four Degree is an interesting proposition. The fact that all this is happening in Vauxhall rather than Mayfair makes it all the more so.

“…the name references the ideal temperature of water that oysters like to live in… [it’s the] collection of quirkier dishes that signals a creative kitchen that’s really worth watching.

“Christmas party-style deep-fried camembert comes with a robustly flavoured lobster bisque for dipping… it feels like the team are trying a little hard to be different, and not every dish feels particularly polished, but it’s early days. Given time to relax into its menu and draw some punters in, there could be a new neighbourhood favourite alive and kicking in no time.”


Fay Maschler in The Evening Standard gets all wistful at Robin Gill’s new neighbourhood Italian Sorella which recently opened on the former site of The Manor Clapham…

“Sorella (previously Gill’s Clapham restaurant, The Manor) means “sister” in Italian… palpable sense of being part of a family… it is as if the notion of the nationality of a cuisine is evanescing.

“…authentic Italian passion for pristine produce… have all three cicchetti to go with a Sorella Americano constructed with the wonder that is homemade vermouth… tagliatelle with pork and nduja ragù … was everything you want from a bowl of pasta including comfort and joy.

“The desserts we try … most definitely display the Gill typeface.”

Keith Miller in The Telegraph reviews ‘provincial steakhouse’ Miller & Carter, Bursledon

“M&C has been around for nearly 12 years, but it seems to have moved up a gear recently: there are now over 80 of them. To the Southfork-meets-country-pub aesthetic… they’ve added a very faint whiff of faux-industrial ­hipsterhood.

“…it was bustling and energised, and didn’t smell of yesterday’s chips… a starter of “beef and bone marrow bonbons”, mouthful-sized gobbets of a rich, rendered stew, handsomely clad in sturdy little oatmeal and breadcrumb coats. Sides incline towards the Trumpian: stuffed cheesy bone marrow… etc.

“Miller & Carter, on the strength of this branch at least, does what it does pretty well.”


Micheal Deacon in The Telegraph delivers an unusual opinion on Bombay Bustle (the new Mayfair nouvelle Indian from acclaimed former Jamavar chef Rohit Ghai): “We looked as if we’d just murdered an Oompa Loompa.” However he does give the restaurant four stars.

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