Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 16th June 2024

Evening Standard

Paulette, Maida Vale

David Ellis had never given a five-star review before his visit to this neighbourhood bistro in the heart of Maida Vale, “on the grounds that nothing is perfect”. And neither was everything at Paulette: they brought the wrong vintage of a wine and forgot a plate of saucisson.

“But these seemed inconsequential, irrelevant. Here is somewhere distinct and individual, with endless charm, which feels like it comes from people who care… I had worried London was losing these sorts of places, given rents and rates favour the corporates.”

Owners François Guerin and Jean-François Lesage “have opened my dream restaurant”, David said – and it was not just the service that cut the mustard: the food was uniformly excellent, including a dish of seiche à la Provençale (cuttlefish in tomato and olive sauce) that “slowed things to what you might call a star-struck halt. Astonishly good”. There were also a “stunning” tarte tatin with Roscoff onions and blue cheese mascarpone, and “perhaps London’s best French fries”.


The Guardian

Dipna Anand Kitchen & Bar, Milton Keynes

Grace Dent was initially baffled by the Unity Place development opposite Milton Keynes station – “a block that looks like The Office’s Wernham Hogg building”. Once she found her way into chef Dipna Anand’s “elegant, absolutely charming” restaurant though – a space of “pale floors” and “greenery” that somehow reminded her of Santa Monica – she happily tucked into a “delicious Punjabi and south Indian menu with a smattering of modern British-Indian favourites”.

The £16 vegetarian thali was “a complete platter of joy… light, thoughtful cooking that determinedly sets out to incapacitate you, with lovely, kind service”. It included an “outrageous secret-recipe raita that the chefs claim to be merely Greek yoghurt with cucumber and salt – which I don’t believe. “

Grace was particularly taken by the vada pav – deep-fried potato dumpling and chutney inside a fluffy dinner roll, and the Indian state of Maharashtra’s spicy answer to the chip butty beloved of northern England. “Dipna Anand’s version sings with mustard and curry leaves and arrives with a rich, sweet tamarind sauce in a little silver bowl.” 


The Observer

Whole Beast at the Montpelier, Peckham

Jay Rayner had a fine old time in a “vaguely gentrified blocky redbrick corner pub” in Peckham with a “nose-to-tail, live fire concept” in permanent residency, that he characterised as “a Slipknot gig… packed full of cranial-shaking, jaw-rattling bangers from start to finish.”

Sam Bryant and his Polish-born partner, Alicja, apparently declare themselves to be ‘pyromaniac sommeliers, matching different woods to different animals’. “The resulting food is not subtle”, Jay said.” They do not do understated. They do shouty look-at-me food”, which he assured is is “huge fun”. 

Highlights include two tacos that are “so stacked, so very Devil’s Mountain, that rolling these up and eating them with your hands is an impossibility. Use a knife and fork”. The ‘award-winning’ cheeseburger is “a Big Mac that’s been tutored by Henry Higgins so it can pass in polite society. It is the Eliza Doolittle of burgers, ready for its turn at Ascot.” The only real misfire is smoked chicken wings in a “bullying” mustard barbecue sauce that is “a colour anyone who has ever been on baby-changing duty will recognise”. (Thanks Jay. Nobody who has read your review will ever order that!)


The Times & Sunday Times

The Hero, Maida Vale

Giles Coren was mightily impressed by the latest incarnation of this grand tavern, whose “ambition … smelt to me of the Devonshire in Soho – the standout pub, restaurant and general catering success of last year”. 

The interior, he said, was “magnificent. Everything pared down to the bare wood, dark, unvarnished, the metalwork and beer taps in that nutty, tarnished brass that evokes a steampunk tavern style of old London town in the 1830s that never truly existed until now. Or at least until 1994.”

The food was pretty good, too: lamb ribs and cheese toasties from the ‘snacks’, plus a menu of very “pubby” dishes such as sausage and mash; ham, egg and chips; shepherd’s pie; and half a roast chicken with chips and salad for two, followed by treacle pudding and “an almost vengefully sharp lemon tart”.

Giles ate in the bar because the restaurant with open kitchen upstairs (and the cocktail bar on the second floor) were not yet in operation. “But I think you should book anyway, if it’s open by the time you read this. Because from what I’ve seen it’s going to be good. Very good.”


Paloma, Leith,

Chitra Ramaswamy dropped in to a “cheery addition to the Mexican wave washing over Leith”, pink and pistachio-painted so “it’s like entering an ice cream. And, frankly, who doesn’t want to do that?”

Paloma “does all the ‘now’ things: house-carbonated sodas and hot sauces, corn tortillas hand-pressed daily and a concise, 100 per cent gluten-free, cheerfully inauthentic menu”. But much as she’d clearly like to, Chitra can’t give the establishment her full endorsement.

Yes, a lamb birria provides the “purest – and messiest – of street-food pleasures”, and a fried chicken taco is not far behind. But “Mexican food should explode in the mouth like a party before the police are called… Some of the fireworks here are a bit of a damp squib”, lacking “scorch” and “zing”.


Smash & Wings, Bushey

Charlotte Ivers was in campaigning mode, showing “support for the little guy” with a visit to a “pretty innocuous place… pitched between late-night takeaway and cocktail bar” that Haroon Khan and his wife Jessica opened a couple of years ago.

A few months after launching, they received a legal notice from US fast-food giant Smashburger (founded 2007, 200-plus outlets in the States, seven in the UK, ‘We’re coming to a city near you soon’) demanding that they change their name.

Haroon points out that to ‘smash’ a burger is a style of cooking, not a brand: in fact, squashing meatballs to trigger a stronger and better-tasting Maillard reaction was how burgers were invented by immigrant German street vendors in New York.

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs, Haroon cannot afford to defend himself in court and will have no option but to change the name this summer. “It’s the scenario that launched a thousand films: family-run business fights corporate giant,” writes Charlotte. “In the Hollywood version we all know who wins. In real life it doesn’t always turn out that way.”

As for Haroon’s smash burger (lawyers: please not carefully lower-cased s), “It’s a joyous festival of umami, crispy and viscerally meaty — which I’d attribute to the smashing technique. Rustic and nostalgic — which I’d attribute to the onions, carrying memories of a childhood burger van. It’s £9.50, which these days feels cheap for a burger, though it would probably astonish the owners of that childhood van.”


Financial Times

Oma, Borough Market

Acknowledging his late arrival to the party, Tim Hayward noted that “All the critics and the entire digital gossip shop seem to have spoken of little else” since this new Greek place opened a couple of months ago. “Rightly so, it turns out, because when I finally got a table, and even though the waiter couldn’t stop telling me how thrilled he’d been to serve ‘both Giles and Grace!’, the food was bloody marvellous.”

The menu was familiar enough: hot breads, babaghanoush, red pepper dip, sea bass, Greek salad, charred squid, grilled lamb and spanakopita – all done unbelievably well. “They did a clementine gimlet that reminded me of being in love… The sea bass was a crudo that would have made a sushi master fall on his yanagiba.”

Tim reckons David Carter and his team have succeeded so spectacularly not by taking Greek food away from its stereotypes, but by adopting the same strategy that Gymkhana and Dishoom applied to Indian cuisine: “find the comfort zone the Brits have created for themselves, execute to an exceptional standard and charge fearlessly. They have taken what we think we know and are feeding it back to us, albeit with smooth and costly glamour.”


Daily Telegraph

The Black Grape, Edinburgh

William Sitwell visited a newish restaurant in the city’s Royal Mile (coincidentally from the same team as Leith taqueria Paloma, reviewed this week in The Times, see above) whose name promised a “dark and cosy inn” but whose modern decor, all bare-brick walls and polished parquet floor, “was more airport bar than medieval city bolthole”.

The menu too promised more than it delivered, combining “small plates for sharing the raw (oyster, beef, tuna) and the moppable (featuring aubergine, hummus and wild mushroom), alongside meat, game and fish of wide global influence”. Unfortunately the small plates were “linked by the chef’s favourite drizzle, a green oil that is dropped and speckled over everything”, while the scallops were truly botched: “overcooked, then sliced and topped with mini salad leaves, they looked as though they were coming up for air in a heaving sea of mushy peas and wild garlic.”

William left it to his lunch companion, a distinguished Scottish doctor, to come up with the killer line: “I’ve seen more atmosphere in a morgue.”

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