Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer wants to love the newly refurbished Simpsons in the Strand, but the booze prices (“a maniacal laugh in the face of sanity”), “calamitous” Beef Wellington, and lack their infamous breakfast rather spoils his fun…

“I want to love Simpson’s in the Strand. I want to adore it, in the way I once did; as you might a dotty elderly relative who can be infuriating, but is still a wonderful person to have in the world.

“The place opened in 1828, as one of London’s great chess rooms… Some of the food back then looked like the best kind of leftovers – a ham hock fritter with a fried duck egg and capers, for example – and the rest was what school dinners hope to be when they grow up.

“The old Simpson’s laughed in the face of modernity. I didn’t love it back then because it was totally brilliant. I loved it because it had a sense of itself.

“A couple of years ago the owners of the next-door Savoy hotel, of which Simpson’s is a part, announced their intention to refresh the old war horse. … And now it’s reopened. It no longer smells of old food. The saggy seating has been replaced with genuinely comfortable booths and banquettes. The staff are polite.”

“The problem is the food. They’ve worked exceptionally hard to revive and refresh it and in so doing have lost everything that made the place what it was. Steak tartare is pointless if the texture is wrong. Here, the beef hasn’t so much been chopped as puréed.

“The best dish is a main of boned-out lamb rack, wrapped around black pudding with a fritter of the confited shoulder. It’s a nice enough roast dinner, as it should be for £29. The other main, their beef Wellington, is calamitous. So what was really good? Beef dripping roast potatoes were excellent. They had the authentic tang of a northern chip shop.

“Did we spend a lot on booze? Yes, because we had to. The wine list used to be punishing. Now it’s just one long maniacal laugh in the face of sanity. Dessert is a moment to mourn.”

“I can’t love Simpson’s any more, however much I try, however much I want to. Simpson’s used to be famous for its breakfast and particularly it’s Ten Deadly Sins, the ne plus ultra of the full English. The new Simpson’s is no longer even open for breakfast. Says it all, really.”

Felicity Cloake in The Guardian heads to Gary Usher’s latest crowd-funded venture Wreckfish in Liverpool which just opened in November…

“1,522 people, including a fair few big culinary cheeses, coughed up to help Gary Usher open his new place in Liverpool, making it Kickstarter UK’s biggest restaurant campaign to date. It’s been open for only a couple of weeks, but this former watchmaker’s workshop … already feels like part of the local furniture.

“Genuinely warm and friendly staff… Hospitality is clearly taken seriously here: the elegant chairs are… unusually comfortable, and perfect for relaxing into.

“You can tell a lot about a restaurant by its paté… pork cutlet: it’s a real beauty, juicy, soft and emphatically porky, with snappy green beans and a puddle of subtle, silky chorizo sauce… warm marmalade sponge, its open, almost suety crumb drenched in gloriously bittersweet orange syrup. It’s a very fine thing indeed, and all the better for its simplicity.

“The bill, when it comes, reads like the kind of joke that isn’t that funny to a Londoner: three interesting, satisfying courses for £20 a head [at lunch].”

Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard finds a glorious Cantonese symphony at the newly opened Duddell’s in London Bridge, the first UK outpost of a famous HK chain…

“My heart soars, as it should in a church, even a deconsecrated one. Duddell’s in Hong Kong, a fusion of food and art that for a while held two Michelin stars.

“Dishes such as crispy salted chicken, supreme lobster noodle and honey-glazed char siu with soybeans sing out to be chosen… At lunchtime you will want to concentrate on dim sum.

“Service is slick and friendly. King crab sweetcorn soup with asparagus is a perfect balance of savoury and sweet, a honey-coloured broth in a bowl big enough for two to share — which you might want to do at £12. Steeped in hot broth with Parma ham, Japanese dried scallop and dried shrimp before being air-dried and crisped in hot oil, the chicken has layers of flavour that they don’t even chirp about in Bresse… a superb dish — not to be missed — of truffle and scallop egg white fried rice. Sunday lunchtime is perfect for the irresistible performance that is dim sum.

“Har gau, the prawn or shrimp dumpling with a pleated casing that reveals the dexterity of the kitchen, is “the test”… the deceptively simple construct gives the dumpling and chef no place to hide. Har gau here passes with flying colours. Black pepper duck pumpkin dumpling is a beauty with skin the colour of autumn leaves.

“Duddell’s, for all its aspirations, is canny, not a dud in any way but a rather glorious wind-up to the year.”

Grace Dent in one of her final reviews for the Evening Standard (she heads to the Guardian soon) reviewed Bloomsbury’s oasis of Gallic gastronomy Otto’s

“I’m not suggesting one go to Otto’s with the purpose of behaving dishonourably. But, if you were to let lightly loose, then owner Otto Tepasse… has certainly seen it before.

Whenever one mentions Otto’s to the food crowd there will be an instant ripple of affection for all the ‘tableside’ chopping, pressing, squeezing, garotting and rolling about of trolleys… tartare de boeuf Simmental, prepared tableside, laboriously. I’ve had relationships that have fizzled out more quickly than it took to cut, mash and serve this tartare. Not that it’s a charity mission, God no; we swept through almost £200 while erring on frugal.

“Otto is a force for good. I won’t lie, what I ate did not set my heart on fire. A honey glazed tarte fine au fromage de chèvre with fig was a syrupy, claggy affair.  The one unforgivable sin,’ said Christopher Hitchens, ‘is to be boring.’ If Otto’s had a motto, then it would be this.”

Micheal Deacon in The Telegraph gives four stars to the Intercontinental Park Lane’s relatively new Mexican restaurant Ella Canta from Mexico City chef Martha Oritz… “The pork was obscenely tender. 
It practically swooned on to my fork”


Keith Miller also in The Telegraph meanwhile heads out of the capital to Rutland’s Nene Valley and the Tap & Kitchen

“Tap & Kitchen sits right on the Nene, at the edge of Oundle, in a little compound of new industrial buildings… an offshoot of the feted Nene Valley Brewery… it seemed to be representative of some broader trend: a new dispensation between pub and restaurant, an exemplary “new vernacular” menu (grills, salads, a dash of Ottolenghi, three quite recherché pizzas, some more ambitious choices in the evening, lots of home-made elements throughout).

“I had expected it to be a bit more hipsterishly self-aware and less eager to please than turned out to be the case… there’s a pubby bit with a bar… and steam-age paraphernalia hanging; a restauranty bit… and some sort of VIP area … where, I presume, the stars of Oundle’s hip hop scene come to disport themselves.

“The food was not show-stoppingly good, but it was quietly, consistently better-than-OK. Hanger steak … came medium rare, well rested, sliced thickly, beautifully tender, nicely seasoned, with a festooning of watercress, a pot of minty-sweet “house chimichurri” and decent chips. Puddings were grown-up takes on well-worn crowd-pleasers, accompanied by touchingly reticent wine recommendations: “Lemon posset, meringue, chantilly, lemon marmalade – perhaps a glass of palazzina?

“What they are doing isn’t wildly innovative. Many conventional pubs serve food that’s more ambitious. Most other national papers might not think it worth reviewing at all. It knocks the endless cavalcade of Las Iguanas, Jamie’s Italians, Real Greeks, Cabanas and Bill’ses – the Berni Inns de nos jours – that now dominate Britain’s townscapes into a cocked hat.”


Time Out reviews Chelsea newcomer Stecca and awards its four stars https://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/stecca

And Nicholas Lander in The Financial Times rounds-up what he feels are the Best Restaurants of 2017 from around the world.

Share this article: