Review of the reviews

Our weekly round-up of what the national and local restaurant critics are writing about, for the week ending 16 May 2021.


The UK’s hospitality industry is finally open to outside dining at the least, with indoor dining starting from 17 May (24 May in Northern Ireland). If you make a reservation, please honour it, whatever the weather, or cancel in plenty of time; no-shows and late cancellations cause huge losses to restaurants.

Please continue to order takeaways, cook-at-home kits, vouchers, merchandise and deliveries from your favourite restaurants if you can (we include links to those mentioned); the restaurant industry and everyone involved in it need our continued support.


The Guardian

“I took pubs for granted before all the upheaval, but by late spring 2021, gripped by cabin fever, I’d have paid upwards of £100 for a night at the Rat & Parrot.”

Grace Dent visited The Alma in Crystal Palace, originally established in 1854 and refurbished during lockdown; this “spanking new incarnation” is “smart, pale, airy and ever so slightly elegant”. There’s a “surprising, ambitious and beautifully executed” menu that’s “many times better than pub food even needs to be” from chef David Yorkston and lots of local ales.

With a “refined” interior and “confident, imaginative cooking”, “if this is how pubs are coming out of the pandemic, then there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel”.

“I’ve now eaten four times in the garden, because I remember full lockdown and this is literally the pub of my dreams.”


The Observer

“The Del Boy pun is a laugh, but there’s real intent behind the cooking at this Brixton venture.”

Jay Rayner was at the cringingly named Only Food and Courses, which popped up in Pop Brixton between lockdowns. Yes, he can “imagine certain people getting quite cross and sweary” at the whole concept, but it’s saved by the fact that the team can’t “get too serious and up themselves when their home is a shipping container”.

During the al-fresco-only season, they offered a short menu of 10 dishes, but will revert to “operating as a supper club serving six courses to just 14 people, in two sittings inside, for £65 a head” from May 17th.

“Expect every dish description to be gently misleading and, at times, wilfully so.” There are deconstructions, reconfigurations, “neat tricks”, “pure whimsy”, “old-school Blumenthal-esque modernism” and some techniques “developed by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli back in the 90s”.

Only Food and Courses “deserves to be taken seriously”; it’s “a careful exercise in misdirection. But it’s a sweet and benign one. Plus, it results in duck eclairs and lobster doughnuts. How could anyone seriously complain about that?”


The Mail on Sunday

After a brief detour to Brown’s Hotel, Tom Parker Bowles for YOU Magazine found his target, Native, in the Mayfair clothing store of the same name.

“Formerly of Southwark Street and Osea Island, Maldon – the place where the hyper-seasonal and freshly foraged meets the splendidly sustainable”, Native has returned to London again, and dazzled Tom, the first of our regular critics to visit the courtyard for an al fresco lunch. He’d expected the food to be “hair-shirted and worthy” but discovered it’s “anything but”.

“Flavours sashay and swagger, bold and confident as a Regency dandy, but stop short of showing off. Chef and co-proprietor Ivan Tisdall-Downes understands the importance of acidity and balance.”

With cob nuts and hogseed on the menu – and even a version of McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish – “some of the ingredients may be a little obscure (although none the worse for it), but this is cooking to make the sap rise, the soul sing and flood the heart with spring-foraged joy.”


The Sunday Times

“Everything about this new restaurant… is precious in every sense of the word… [and] a far cry from the first restaurant of theirs I reviewed.”

Marina O’Loughlin also reviewed Native at Brown’s, a “serene sweetie” with its “hidden courtyard and narrow, ash-blond interior room” that made the Southwark (now closed) original seem like a “benevolent, ecologically advanced troll”.

The “very obvious homage to the cult McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish” as noted by Tom Parker Bowles, was “the dinkiest, most delightful thing I’ve rammed into my face in a long time”; “it’s genius, simply”. She had two, as advised by the waiter – the “not exactly trencherman-sized dishes” meant that she also went on to order almost the entire menu. “Even dishes for sharing are on the small side.”

As you’d expect in a place where you can buy trainers (“sorry, sneakers”) for £700, prices “don’t so much mount up as galumph towards the stratosphere”.

“I can imagine this version of Native being pretty divisive, unadventurous people put off by recherché ingredients and natural wines; parsimonious people by the prices. But the hours we spend here are spangled with fairy dust.”


The Evening Standard

Last week, we had a double review, this week it’s a triple.

 The Evening Standard’s chief restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa also visited Native at Browns’, and was just as excited by “the enthralling creativity of the food” as his fellow critics, and delighted that the revamp of Brown’s has led – among other “retail innovations” – to “a wholly unlikely, highly impressive new iteration of the foraging-happy, climate-conscious modern British restaurant”. It all led to “a giddy high point in my recent history of shivery outdoor dining”.

Of course, he tried the “riff on a pescatarian McDonald’s icon” and declared it “the capital’s most intensely enjoyable new dish”, and a “an emphatic affirmation of chef Joe Knowlden”.

Native at Browns’ “completely works. Largely because Browns’ surrounding glitz provides the perfect frame and focusing agent for their playful culinary radicalism”.


The Telegraph

William Sitwell kept things comfortable dining at 45 Jermyn St; he loves the “palace of deep-orange banquettes” and “marvellous, long bar” inside, but had to dine al fresco due to Covid restrictions, and found he rather prefers it (in good weather): “you can feel even smugger on the terrace as the smartly dressed folk of this ’hood walk past”.

The restaurant is part of the Fortnum & Mason empire, “a great innovation to lend further chic credibility to its food reputation”. The menu is “a statement of upmarket intent and seasonal know-how” (there’s currently an entire section devoted to asparagus, and always one for caviar).

“A snazzier place to munch in the city I challenge you to find.” William’s playing to his Telegraph audience here; the online dictionary defines ‘snazzy’ as ‘conspicuously or flashily attractive’.


The Times

“On Monday, you can dress for lunch in a nice light suit, under a coat that can be handed in at the door, when you take your seat inside, at a table that you booked many months ago. Unless you didn’t. In which case, you’re too late. Nothing now till July…”

Giles Coren began his article with an odd comparison between the Blitz and enforced outdoor dining (with Benjamin Button thrown in for good measure), and then thankfully moved on to a review of the beach huts in the garden at The Berkeley Hotel, five of which have been “built very solidly, in a French Riviera… style, although refracted inevitably through the lens of Soho House, that mothership of ersatzification” on Wilton Place.

Giles and his friend “ordered a lot of everything from the jauntily blue-and-white striped, fish-heavy, beach café-style menu”, added a cheese plate from the room service menu and a few “excellent” bottles of wine; it was no doubt all delicious (especially the “showstopping Tunworth and asparagus toastie”), but also “very, very expensive”.


The Scotsman

Gaby Soutar reviewed the new Down The Hatch in Edinburgh, which is “the place to go” if you’re feeling in need of “a calorific blow-out”; the original branch of this Canadian pitstop is in South Queensferry.

Wandering around Edinburgh for the first time in ages, she noticed lots of unwanted changes to her city, including “glimpses of the new St James Quarter, which looks vast, like some kind of looming mother-ship”. There’s plenty of “comforting landmarks like Valvona & Crolla or The Playhouse” still in evidence, though.

“There aren’t really any healthy options, so banish your post-lockdown worries about your hefty legs resembling tightly cling-filmed jambons.” Poutine, beef dip, buffalo fries, Korean barbecue and ice cream milkshakes later, Gaby approved Down the Hatch as “a positive addition to this part of town”.


And also…

The Financial Times published a list of London’s best summer dining destinations, “from flower-fringed alfresco terraces to fashionable afternoon teas”.


Birmingham Live reported on the closure of Opus after 16 years, after a “year of pain and sorrow”, and interviewed Brummie chef Glyn Purnell (whose restaurant is opposite Opus). Purnell “launched a plea to diners to return to the city centre restaurants to prevent further closures”.


Bristol Live listed the new cafes, bars and restaurant opening from May 17th.


News about Salford’s historic Black Friar pub in Manchester Live.


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