Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 12th May 2024

The Times

Oma, Borough Market

Giles Coren wins the ‘review of the week’ award for his rave over the latest
Borough Market hotspot, which he rates as “hands down, pants off, run around screaming, slam-dunk best-of-the-year-so-far joint in central London”.

Conceived by David Carter of Smokestak and Manteca – “who sounds like Garry Sobers”, a fellow “Bajan genius” – Agora is “Greek in spirit but Turkish, Yemeni, Italian, Lebanese, not fusion, not parodic, not taking the piss…”

The bread alone brought out the lyrical best in Giles. The acma verde is, he said, a sort of Greek bagel “in the sense that the Parthenon is a kind of Greek shed” – it’s “a pureblood prince among baked loops of dough”, while the “stop all the clocks” spanakopita – melted sheep’s and goat’s cheese and spinach, herbed and spiced, with a square of flaky-sticky Yemeni flatbread – had him riffing on W.H. Auden: “Cut off the telephone. Stop the dog from barking with a juicy bone (we actually had the juicy bone ourselves, right at the end).”

In short, Giles suggested, “there is nothing else like it” – certainly in London, and probably in Athens.


Evening Standard

July, Fitzrovia

David Ellis was baffled and disappointed by this new “allegedly Alsatian” restaurant he insists should really be called a wine bar, where talented ex-40 Maltby Street chef Holly Hayes “appears to have been cut off mid-sentence” with an over-concise, over- simple menu.

Dishes such as the lamb’s heart with calçots were “gorgeous” alright, but “they are not travel-across-town plates… Food you want to eat, but you wouldn’t Uber for. I wanted fireworks from a chef I suspect has a kitchen full.”

The menu was also a mismatch with the excellent, “low intervention-but-not-idiosyncratic list” from wine consultant-du-jour Honey Spencer (co-proprietor of Sune in Dalston) – “Don Quixote to Hayes’ haiku” – although if this were a proper wine bar, there would be more options by the glass.


The Guardian

Apple Butter Café, W1

Grace Dent suffered from a severe sugar overdose at the second branch of this new café brand, a purveyor of “influencer-friendly theatre” that would “make a diabetes doctor sigh anxiously”.

“The first pancake was delicious, the second was verging on overindulgence
and, midway through the third, my mood changed to one of defeat, shame,
regret and biliousness.” 

“Sugar is the most cheerily pernicious of vices,” Grace said, noting that while no calories are printed on Apple Butter Cafe’s menu, she had consumed the daily calorie allowance for a grown woman by 10am, in 42 minutes flat.


The Observer

Upstairs at the Grill, Chester

Jay Rayner struggled in vain to give a generous review to this smart-looking New York-style steakhouse, which has earned a strong following over 22 years. His meal here was both inconsistent and painfully slow, the main courses barely arriving by 10pm when his party had arrived early for their 8.30 booking.

“The sense was very much of a kitchen trying and failing to cope. Rib-eye and sirloin steaks were served medium, rather than medium rare as requested. They were piping hot and tense, because they hadn’t been rested. Chips were undercooked. Steakhouses have to do a small number of things perfectly. Unrested, overcooked steaks at £30 a pop, and undercooked chips isn’t good enough.”

There were other problems. Café de Paris butter did not arrive as ordered (but appeared on the bill), the wine was hidden and to cap it all, the Caesar salad prepared tableside used anchovies preserved in vinegar instead of salt, so they failed reduce to a paste.


The Times & Sunday Times

The Creel, Dunbar

Chitra Ramaswamy had “a whale of a time” in an old fisherman’s inn on the
working harbour front at Dunbar, a 17th-century herring and whaling port.
Proprietor Jack Findlay provided a rare and perfect combination of warmth and formality, ably abetted by “a sister and brother team in the kitchen: head chef Miss A Ramsay, and sous chef Mr M Ramsay”. 

“It’s true that the Creel is on the pricey side for dinner but how about £23.50 for a two-course lunch? Apologies, luncheon. Plus the portions are generous, but not to the point of belly-clutching, and the food is wonderful.”


Hare & Hounds, Aberthin

Charlotte Ivers headed to a village near Cowbridge, half an hour’s drive from central Cardiff, where locally born chef Tom Watts-Jones has returned after a career working at the Anchor & Hope and St John in London to take over the pub where he drank his first pint as a teenager.

“He has kept half of it as a classic boozer and turned the other half into … well, he’s turned it into a place pretty much a bit like St John or the Anchor & Hope. But for about a third of the price.”

It has exposed brickwork and floorboards, plus a menu featuring big hunks of local meat and veg, but everything has “a bit of show-off sparkle”. “If it had opened in Soho I’d probably think it a little derivative. But nobody is doing it quite like this around here.”


Daily Telegraph

Cardinal, Edinburgh

William Sitwell has no doubt that chef Tomás Gormley “has a deft and skilful touch”, which shines through in his “innovative delivery of a lobster”, hidden under hollandaise with pink fir apple potatoes cooked over charcoal, and in his transformation of “tough old dairy cow into a plate of
tender and sumptuous wonder”.

But his new restaurant – all “black walls, black tables, black chairs and only the odd splash of colour” – leaves William struggling to see, while the “relentless assault” of a 16-course set menu that takes three hours to work your way through is mentally and physically exhausting.

“I don’t need – nobody needs – 16 courses, not even if hungry or very


Daily Mail

The Clifton, Bristol

Tom Parker Bowles heaped praise on another pub conversion with a kitchen run by former St John chef Tom Watts-Jones, whom we have already seen this week at the Hare & Hounds across the border in Wales.

True to form, it boasts a “daily changing, seasonal menu, and a nose-to-tail ethos, using artisan local suppliers, mostly cooked over a custom-made Parrilla charcoal grill… When it comes to modern British cooking bingo, The Clifton has a full house.”


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