Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer reviews Lewisham’s outpost of Sanxia Renjia, a three-strong group of restaurants “celebrating the food of Sichuan and Hubei”…

“Sanxia is on a different mission… the staff, like the rest of the menu, are eager. They want you to march across unexplored territory.

“The room isn’t much of a looker… Pay attention instead to what is in your bowl. What’s most striking about the food here is the commitment to light and shade… seafood and tofu, in a velvety broth full of the restorative hit of ginger. Almost everything in this bowl is pale and interesting. It’s Chinese food as designed by The White Company.

“Grilled green peppers, tossed with black beans, soy and vinegar, are like padrón peppers that have been hanging out around the back of the bike sheds with the tough boys, learning brilliantly filthy habits… unfathomable depths of flavour… a list headed “Adventurous dishes” which, like the best menu writing, has the quality of exquisite found poetry… dry fried pig’s intestines, with dried chilli and Sichuan peppercorns… This is fried food which demands attention. The crisped bits of piggy inside have a crunch that gives way to a hit of glorious offal pong… it’s probably enough excitement for one month. My mouth needs a rest.”


Felicity Cloake in The Guardian heads to Roux scholar Steve Drake’s (of Drake’s on the Pond and Drake’s) latest restaurant Sorrel in Dorking…

“It’s pure pleasure to collapse into Sorrel’s plump, velvety banquettes and be spoiled rotten for a couple of hours… everyone seems genuinely excited to be here, quizzing the waiters on ingredients and techniques with … frequency and enthusiasm.

“Chef Steve Drake kept locals and Michelin men alike happy for over a decade at his previous place in Ripley [Drake’s], and reports suggest this new joint is already booked up three months ahead, despite the London prices… a meal that …proves as highly polished as the silverware.”

“Though dishes are indeed dainty, they’re also exquisite, and so intensely flavoured and texturally complex that they demand what’s no doubt known as “mindful eating” in the big smoke. Basically, you can’t just stuff it in. Highlights of the nine-course tasting menu include a yolk-yellow warm pumpkin mousse studded with sweet, crunchy praline that packs a glorious parmesan punch.

“A yoghurty goat’s cheese and beetroot dish that’s so clean and fresh, we’re momentarily silenced. Two meringue sandwiches filled with liver paté turn up … the kind of joyously weird idea that makes you grin inanely in surprise and delight. Dessert is equally startling. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the “blackberry waldorf” had I known the main element was celeriac and walnut parfait, but it’s a triumph of autumnal flavours.

“Drake has the confidence to give vegetables equal billing (the things that man can do with a cabbage). Sorrel isn’t … but… it does make you feel very special.”



Felicity Cloake in The Guardian, also pays a visit to Wellbourne in Clifton but despite its great credentials it’s something of a curate’s egg…

“The team here has impressive pedigree, having met at London’s late and feted Dabbous, but this is a much more laid-back affair… superior-sounding sandwiches at lunch and brunch.

“It takes a healthy measure of culinary confidence to serve something so terminally naff without an ironic helping of prawn cocktail, but the four we scoff as we study the menu prove the best thing we eat all evening: crisp, warm, buttery and filled with creamy, meaty trompettes.

“Round two is a draw in that both dishes are faintly disappointing. It looks the part, but tastes less impressive. My Ibaiama pork is commendably juicy for such a thin cut, but relies on an exquisite shroud of soft, smoky fat for flavour; the fermented cabbage below lacks punch, while crushed white beans hide so apologetically under it all that I take them for grainy mash.

“One of the few downsides of this gig is that if you see something weird on a menu – black pudding tart with Devon blue and turnip tops, say – you feel duty-bound to order it, even if your heart lies elsewhere. Wine recommendations are exemplary, but that, and the sweetly attentive service, can’t make up for a curate’s egg of an evening. We leave puzzled: with such proven talent in the kitchen, Wellbourne really ought to be great.”


Giles Coren in The Times has ‘the best mouthful’ of his life at Oxfordshire’s Bell Inn…

“The pub is old and small and cosy. Sixteenth century, in fact, so built halfway between the foundation of the church (called St Matthew’s, Langford) and now. In fact, very possibly by the same guys who put the two flying buttresses against the north side of the north aisle at the behest of some long-dead Tudor benefactor.

“And then, no doubt, they repaired for lunch to the pub they had just built. But they won’t have had a chance to eat the best thing I ate in the whole of 2017 (on the last day of that year, as it happens) because it came out of the pizza oven that [owners] Peter [Creed] and Tom [Noest] had only just had put in.

“No, it was the garlic, parsley and bone marrow flatbread the kitchen sent out with a few slices of the roast dry-aged sirloin, which I had wanted to try alongside my healthier-sounding fillet of bream.

“It was so pure, so honest, so tear-jerkingly real and true that I wasn’t surprised when my eye, once it had dried and looked up from the plate, focused immediately on the spine of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating, on a shelf behind Esther. For this heartbreaking celebration of all that is right in the world was nothing more nor less than Fergus’s roasted marrow bones with parsley salad and sourdough toast … turned into pizza!

“But perfection can always be improved. This happened when I took a sliver of the fat, gamey sirloin, which was one of three roasts they had on (along with Kelmscott pork loin & apple sauce and roast chicken, pig in blanket & bread sauce), and spread it with fresh horseradish, then laid it into the garlic bread, folded it over and dipped it into a little steel pot of the sticky veal reduction they use for gravy, then bit and swallowed. Best mouthful of the year? Best mouthful of my life, more like.”


Micheal Deacon in The Telegraph gives four out of five stars to Ceremony in Tufnell Park: “Morrissey would probably hate it, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay”.



Nicholas Lander in the Financial Times reviewed La Tour d’Argent, Paris – the “last bastion of the best French wines. It is the restaurant’s proximity to the Seine that keeps the cellars’ 320,000 bottles constantly cool”.




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