Harden’s review of the reviews

⦿ In the Observer, Jay Rayner reviewed Barbecoa, the new Piccadilly flagship from Jamie Oliver (pictured, left, with Raymond Blanc), a grand and expensive “meat and smoke extravaganza“.

“It feels like a big New York brasserie crossed with a branch of Hawksmoor. The real action is downstairs in a basement space which laughs in the face of economic cold winds and tight accounting. There are gorgeous jade green and ivory porcelain floor-to-ceiling wall panels. There’s parquet flooring and marble, art deco chandeliers you could ride in and, at the back end, a show kitchen boxed off with copper and glass.”

“It’s a mixed bag of a place…  Pork scratchings, big, warm, slightly oily planks of the stuff, come with a spicy apple ketchup and demand to be eaten quickly. A fillet steak comes slathered with a duvet of a béarnaise that needs to be scraped off. It lies on top of an inch-thick lump of industrial-strength bread that no one will ever eat.

“The bright spot is dessert. The menu of sweet things is a serious piece of work.”

⦿ Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian reviewed Jugemu 8/10, Japanese chef Yuya Kikuchi’s tiny backstreet Soho newcomer.

“Neither a one-dish specialist nor a pub-like izakaya, Jugemu seems to be going for a different approach: it reminds me most of obanzai ryori, the home-cooking style of Kyoto, usually a selection of small, simple dishes, lots of vegetables, the best ingredients.”

“And sushi and sashimi of genuine brilliance: nigiri with rice so flawless, it should be presented in a jewel box, pearly and robust, just a scintilla of vinegar and wasabi, the fish draped over it like a shrug: scallop, half beak, tuna the colour of vintage burgundy, fondant-soft yellowtail.”

“There’s a £12.50 set lunch: a steal… Go in ones and twos, like the Japanese, and sit at the counter.”

⦿ In the Evening Standard, Fay Maschler reviewed Palatino 4/5, Stevie Parle’s tribute to Roman cuisine housed in a flexible work space in Clerkenwell.

“Gnocchi alla Romana dressed with browned butter and fried sage impresses with its pillowy lightness. Sweet dreams are made of this.”

“The Roman focus drifts in the main course as does adroitness in the kitchen. Saltimbocca can’t summon the energy or determination to jump in the mouth — as the translation requires. Onglet (hanger steak) doesn’t possess enough of its customary stash of flavour to delight or deal with the strong salsa rossa accompaniment. Side dishes are more alluring, especially finely chopped Swiss chard and fried potato gnocchi, the little crisp dumplings sparky in seasoning and combative with chew.”  

⦿ Grace Dent of ES magazine reviewed Hai Cenato 3.5/5, Jason Atherton’s “New York-style Italian” in Victoria’s Nova development – “a perfectly decent place to eat dinner”.

“A small plate of grilled octopus, Cornish squid and braised lentils was possibly one of the best things on the menu. A sea bass crudo with blood orange, lime and parsley was assertive. Fresh discs of corzetti pasta come with a rich aged-beef Bolognese, sage and burned butter. It’s the sort of plate of pasta heartbroken people need after a week surviving on Silk Cuts.” 

“We gobbled up a confit lamb-neck pizza with spiced aubergine before sharing some grilled Cumbrian rib-eye, which arrived with tarragon cracked potatoes and an excellent side of fresh cavolo nero. There’s a salted caramel gelato on the dessert menu that they’ll bring you in a little cone. This is outstanding.”

⦿ In Time Out, Alexi Duggins reviewed Club Mexicana 4/5, a vegan Mexican streetfood residency at Pamela, a bar in Dalston – which, as a meat-eater, surprised him in the best way.

The food is very, very good. Everything on the menu is colourful, zingy with spice and bursting with flavour. Their Mexican street corn is a pair of charred corn cobs, coated in creamy chipotle mayo and chilli-flecked breadcrumbs… And the things they do with bean curd are phenomenal. For a start, they make it taste almost exactly like fish by wrapping it in seaweed, deep-frying it, then serving it as a ‘to-fish taco’.”

⦿ In the Sunday Telegraph, Kathryn Flett reviewed The Brass Rail 8/10 in Selfridges on Oxford Street which, she complained, had been “revamped” in the lead-up to its 50th anniversary last year.

Most of the changes were ignorable. “Less easy to dismiss, however, was the wrong-headed decision to turn the process of ordering into standard table delivery (and offering modish lean cuts only)….

“At The Brass Rail there are few of the minor stresses involved in eating out, not least because the melt-in-the-mouth meats are a known quantity that always, without exception, are absolutely yet unquantifiably correct.” 

⦿ Tim Hayward of the Financial Times reviewed Veggie Pret, the sandwich chain’s pilot vegetarian branch in Soho – and found the food “truly wretched”.

“Falafel are the undisputed triumph of vegetarianism. Properly made, they are crisp, light and often served with an inviting flatbread. The Pret wrap failed on every count, a baffling lapse akin to one of the City’s great red-meat temples serving a pretty good menu across the board but a crap steak.”

“The Spicy Chickpea Yoghurt Bowl was like eating a bowl of custard, with a sprinkling of rhubarb … but it kept insisting it was savoury. I sat, brain-frozen; gaslit by a post-truth dessert.”

“If Donald Trump hears about the Veggie New Yorker on Rye, he’ll nuke us into the Stone Age.”

⦿ Tom Parker-Bowles in the Mail on Sunday reviewed Farmer, Butcher, Chef 4/5 in the Goodwood Hotel, part of the horse and motor-racing estate near Chichester in West Sussex.

“Crusted beef shin comes with crayfish, pig jowl with pickled potatoes and apple. This suddenly feels very interesting indeed.

“Three oysters, clad in the lightest of panko coats, are expertly fried and topped with tissue-paper-thin slices of cured ox heart. Wow. The meat has a bellowing, bosky depth that pairs beautifully with the bivalve’s subtle brine. 

“Shards of beetroot add vegetable crunch, while a whiff of tarragon brings it all merrily together. It’s one hell of a dish.” 

⦿ Giles Coren of The Times reviewed Taiwanese bun specialist Boa Fitzrovia 9/10, “which is currently serving the most delicious food in the country”.

“The new beef short-rib bao is all you even need to eat for the rest of your life. The pulled cow meat is sloughed into the puffy milk bun with a scatter of crispy shallots on top of a sliver of fermented cucumber and then topped with a bright yellow egg emulsion, creating a single transcendent gastronomic experience that – and I never dreamt I would say these words – SUPERANNUATES THE CHEESEBURGER!”

“Just get down there! Go!”

Coren also reviewed Launceston Place 4/10 in Kensington, where he was disappointed by the cooking of highly rated new chef Ben Murphy, who won rave reviews at his previous perch, the Woodford in east London.

“None of the dishes worked. Why would you put two tentacles of octopus in a bowl of consommé with a small chicken wing and three tiny cubes of chorizo? Why? Nothing coalesced, it all just sort of floated there.”

⦿ In the Sunday Times, John Walsh reviewed Honey & Smoke 4/5 in Fitzrovia, the new Middle Eastern grill from the team behind the successful Honey & Co café nearby.

Charred marinated octupus with lentil meshwiya was stunning to look at – one long, suckered tentacle, like something Captain Nemo might have hacked at, 20,000 leagues under the sea. It was neither chewy nor rubbery, but very octopussy, magically tender and succulent, accompanied by a headbanging salsa.”

“Dinner at Honey & Smoke was a blast of Jerusalem-by-way-of-Casablanca tastes, ancient ingredients toasted, blended and grilled to sublimity.” 

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