Harden’s review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

45 jermyn streetWriting reviews of reviews is always more fun when the original is particularly scabrous. It’s just the way things are, people enjoy a bad review more than a good one. So this week we’re starting with AA Gill’s review of 45 Jermyn Street in the Sunday Times. Mainly because he was the only broadsheet writer this week to weild the poison pen, but also because we think we’ve figured out why he prefers bow ties…

“I decided against a quarter teaspoon of fish eggs and went instead for six snails, at £1.50 each, stuffed with gorgonzola and butter. This is an outré combination, and one of those things that people put on menus to give it flamboyant distinction, like a bow tie. You don’t expect people actually to eat them, which in this case would be right. Cheese and snails isn’t as novel as it might sound. Italians, particularly Sicilians, have been doing it for some time. The stuffing needs to be really confident and operatic — this one was timidly undecided about what it wanted to taste like. One of the snails had actually left home. There was no delicious sauce, no runny, big-mouthed, scalding juice, just little, gritty, curly, dead gristly things that tasted faintly fromaged, like eating schoolboys’ little toes.”


Meanwhile over at The Times, Giles Coren heads to a kebab shop by a roundabout on Highbury Corner that plays heavy metal at ear-splitting levels and serves food from a spherical wood burning oven that looks rather like a giant motorcycle helmet. Black Axe Mangal is defiantly different and not for the faint of heart (or the hard of hearing), but the food makes a trip there worth while…

“Oh yes, it’s no-bookings. It really doesn’t want you, Janice, or me, to make any sort of special trip. Especially as we are only going to complain. It’s just a kebab shop on the roundabout at Highbury Corner, but the queues at peak times stretch pretty much to Camden. So they’ll give you a cold Maltese lager and invite you to stand in the doorway or leave your name and go to the pub across the road for a couple of days and wait. Or you can just f*** off. It’s your life.”


The Observer’s Jay Rayner is not a food nerd – he prefers a restaurant that will actually feed you over one that will tell you at what temperature their eggs are cooked. He’s just that down to earth. So when he visits Flour & Ash, a restaurant in Bristol taking the science of pizza to new heights, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s going to recoil at the nerdiness of it all. Right? Wrong – this is one of Jay’s floweriest (or should that be flouriest?!) reviews for some time…

“There is a stew of slow-cooked kidney beans, with lumps of chorizo and mint, all light and darkness and heavy browed intent. There’s a simple fillet of mackerel with the crispest of skins, slicked with coriander and garlic. Cubes of butternut squash are fried to crisp with a hot pepper sauce and sage leaves, then buried under a snowfall of fresh parmesan. And for absent minded dipping and dredging there’s labneh, the Lebanese fresh cheese whipped to peaks, and to eat it, pieces of their sourdough flat bread, with that elasticity in the middle and charred bubbles on the edges. From all this you already know the pizzas are going to be cracking… A pizza of chorizo and pickled chillies turns up under a thicket of wild rocket, to make it all heat and fire and fresh leaf crunch.”


This week also sees The Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin off in search of scoff in Bristol, a city that ‘seems to exist along culinary ley lines’. The critic reviews Bellita – sister restaurant to Bell’s Diner on the site of Flinty Red (RIP) – Aron’s Jewish Delicatessen, and even sneaks in a quick, cheeky write-up of Flour & Ash. Are you trying to make Jay look bad Marina?!

On Bellita: Food is simply lovely. Everything from the shallowest end of the menu (fluffy-crisp potato and parmesan fritters for three quid) to its dizziest heights (eight-year-old Galician sirloin at £55, which easily feeds three of us) just works. That beef, ex-dairy from Spain and aged here, is astonishingly good: all the mineral bite of grass-fed, with a ripe, buttery length. It comes with “chicken stock potatoes”: tiny roasties whose crisp edges melt into a pool of fragrant, savoury juice, as if a deity had a stab at roast chicken crisps.

On Aron’s Deli: Co-founders Marta Aron and Steve Varcoe met in Budapest, before deciding to recreate this homage to the Lower East Side, with touches of traditional Ashkenazi cuisine and the odd nod to Hungary. And boy – or should that be oy? – they’ve done a job of it.


matthewandjackAnd the Evening Standard’s David Sexton loves his trip to the London Field’s latest culinary offering, Ellory at Netil House. Food and wine are in perfect harmony at this joint venture between ex-Mayfields chef Matthew Young and sommelier Jack Lewens.

“So, fully at home in this locale, this is cutting-edge cooking, delivered at a moderate price, accompanied by a passionately curated and lovingly explained wine list. There is an air of purity, even piety, honesty in sourcing, and self-consciousness in culinary choices here — it’s a dist inctive dining-out experience, a much better value evening out than say, ooh, a musical. Perhaps now London, its most interesting parts moving outwards from the centre, can even claim this as a local cuisine? It should.”


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