Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 14th April 2024

The Evening Standard

The Bear, Camberwell

Jimi Famurewa was nonplussed by a revamped neighbourhood boozer that had been closed for six years before being rescued by Teddy Roberts and chef Joe Sharratt, formerly of Brixton hotspot Naughty Piglets.

The interior, all “roughly plastered walls, bare lightbulbs [and] climate
justice stickers in the loos”, felt like “some anarcho dive in Kreuzberg or
Brooklyn”, with little sign of a restaurant. It turned out that the “entire kitchen operation has effectively been hidden sheepishly away in a cupboard”.

Some of the cooking was “sensational”, in particular “a thrilling but modestly proportioned wild garlic duck Kyiv on transcendent piped mash”. Other dishes did not work, due partly to the limitations of the cramped kitchen which meant “the Bear’s operatic flavours can feel like they are being blasted discordantly through tinny phone speakers”.

And while Jimi was sympathetic to the founders’ “implicit concerns about restaurant-creep in pubs”, he was far from convinced that the answer was to create an “exclusive chef’s counter”.


The Guardian

Morchella, Exmouth Market

Grace Dent is not the first critic to rave about the Perilla team’s new Med-inspired joint off Exmouth Market, but she may well be the most
enthusiastic in her praise for the “intense mix of decadent, surprising, weird and usually utterly triumphant dishes” emerging from chef Daniel Fletcher’s kitchen.

Top marks went to the salt cod “churros” – “God bless this earthly meeting of fish and doughnut; so crisp, so hot, so pungent” – while the spanakopita was another “canapé on steroids”, and the short-rib topped with pickled aged mushrooms “looks like something dreamed up by JRR Tolkien… , a rich mix of vinegary, piquant joy and soft, yielding beef”.

A big hit a few weeks ago with Charlotte Ivers of the Sunday Times, the blood orange and black olive portokalopita “will probably make all other puddings in 2024 seem lacklustre… a stubby, fat, dense, glossy lump of what appeared to be sponge but was actually filo dough injected with syrup… Sweet, slightly bitter, decadent and, thanks to the chopped orange, one of your five a day.”


The Observer

A Braccetto, Earl’s Court

Jay Rayner was highly impressed by a new spot from the family that launched the Spaghetti House group back in 1955. The antipasti included “a truly delightful dish of smoked, thinly sliced tuna, with bite and tension, dressed with seriously good olive oil, then piled with a salad of ribbon-thin fennel and orange”, while the pappardelle with ragu was excellent — “perhaps unsurprisingly, given the company’s heritage” — and the thin and crispy-crusted pizzas boasted “an uncommon subtlety to the toppings”.

“Not everything is great”, though. The sirloin steak tagliata “sits, completely
under-seasoned and looking sorry for itself, on one side of the plate, next to a wan pile of rocket”.

Worse still is “the bizarre drinks offering that, given the generally reasonable prices for the food, feels like a violent and aggressive act”, with the cheapest red or white wines priced at £35 a bottle. “It’s a wine list written for an entirely different business; one I’m not keen on visiting.”


The Times & Sunday Times

Nairn’s, Bridge of Allan

Chitra Ramaswamy made her way to the latest venue from Nick Nairn, the 1990s TV chef whose previous restaurant on the same site, Nick’s (fka Jam Jar by Nick Nairn) burnt down three years ago.

The menu offered Scottish/European classics with nods to present trends, but Chitra found the food so bad it made her shudder. An “unforgivably unseasoned fillet of hake” was “underdone, wet and mushy”, while a “gigantic” chicken kiev was stuffed with “katsu butter that tastes exactly like the curry sauce you get on chips from the chippie…, it’s as unfinishable as a steak challenge in a Texan roadhouse.” A £5 side of buttered greens was “boiled to 1970s levels, sprinkled with something reminiscent of sand, and is a strong contender for worst mouthful of food I’ve eaten in a while”.

“I wanted Nairn’s to be better,” Chitra moaned. “He is, after all, a Scottish
institution and was once this country’s most famous chef.”


Opheem, Birmingham

With Charlotte Ivers away, the doctor-turned-comedian and writer Adam Kay dropped in to her slot on the Sunday Times as a locum, and headed gleefully to Birmingham to sample the tasting menu at Aktar Islam’s Opheem.

The meal was “sensational”. Each course was “clever, characterful, delicately spiced and sure, showy. Islam can choose every dish I eat for the next four months”.

The only minor minus point was “a vague ‘business-class lounge at a European airport’ vibe” that resulted from the “quintuple glazing” required to block out the sound of the passing traffic.


Daily Telegraph

The Cotley Inn, Chard, Somerset

Exploring the Blackdown Hills on the Somerset-Devon border, William Sitwell found rural bliss in a country boozer that manages to “balance locals and visitors, mud and high heels”: “it’s called The Cotley Inn and I challenge you to find a pub that combines such welcome, warmth, style and flavour”.

The inn is “gloriously entrenched in the culture of the Blackdowns”, with “amenu of hearty food to match”. Fruit, veg and game are all local, bread and chutney are made in-house, and even the crockery is from a nearby pottery.
Dishes including feather blade of beef and red mullet with fennel, butter
beans and chorizo were “beautifully orchestrated” and “dressed with
precision and poise”.


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