Review of the reviews

Here’s our weekly round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 16 July 2023.


The Observer

“Ambitious, clever, relaxed, and hugely enjoyable.”

Jay Rayner was in Bury St Edmunds in the heart of Suffolk, enjoying the fruits of labour of two ex-Pea Porridge chefs and their catering college graduate. Together, Freddie Footer, head chef James Carn and Ewan make up the kitchen staff of Lark, housed in a small, 20-cover room that’s previously been “a bus shelter, then a police station and finally a florist’s”.

Pondering on the use of the word “special”, Jay had the rabbit shank pie special (pictured, “the love child of a wellington and a scotch egg”) and loved it so much he was found in the kitchen later “fanboying… as if they were all the Harry Styles of food”.

“This is not a glamorous space… all the glamour is on the plate. There is a strong sense of young cooks pushing at the very edge of what they can achieve in a tiny kitchen.”

Jay also appreciated the “proper desserts”, “swift and assured” service and a wine list that’s “compact and priced for that second bottle”.


The Guardian

“It requires genuine guts and passion to take on a few tables in Bow that look out on a load of sewing machines.”

Yes, you read that right. Grace Dent’s review this week is on Polentina, the staff canteen / public restaurant at Apparel Tasker, a sustainable fashion factory. If it worked for The River Café, why not here?

“The food at Polentina is wonderful, but I cannot say that everything else about eating here isn’t rather peculiar, because it absolutely is.”

Lunch is at one, diners fit in with the staff on shared tables and eat Canadian chef Sophia Massarella’s take on “Italian nonna” cooking, “mixed with a smattering of soups, dumplings and crepes in broth in a nod to the Austrian side of Massarella’s family”.

“Polentina will get bigger, slicker and more famous, for sure, but… it’s good to experience a new thing when it’s weird and unsettling, and at the same time already altogether perfect.”


The Evening Standard

“A restaurant of impeccable pedigree, thrusting ambition and pyrotechnic flavours.”

Jimi Famurewa reviewed Kachori, the new Indian restaurant in the “all-new Elephant and Castle” development; Elephant Park is “a £2.5 billion property developer-owned sprawl of landscaped greenery” that “crackles with defiant life and seduces even as it slightly unnerves”.

Kachori “marks an elephantine step forward for an already hugely underrated dining spot”; it’s “a chic, 132-cover behemoth with textured pale pink walls… and a capacious terrace” that makes its neighbours “almost laughably incongruous”.

Jimi is “still marvelling at… food of such boundless potency and imagination, and such unexpectedly affordable not-London prices”.

“Kachori basically makes no sense. But, like the still-coalescing riddle of the new Elephant, that might just be what makes it so thrillingly compelling.” (****)


Also in The Standard, news that Kettner’s is to re-open to the public once again after four years as a members-only club. “Once Oscar Wilde’s favourite restaurant and where [PizzaExpress] dough balls were born”, we agree that it’s “a welcome move in the name of London egalitarianism”.

The restaurant will be “run in partnership with the Stoke Newington pub The Clarence Tavern” and serves seasonal British food “with a Mediterranean accent”.


There’s also an article on 25 years of the StreetSmart scheme that levies £1 on London restaurant tables in November and December to raise money to support homeless charities; so far it’s raised over £12 million.


The Times

“A wizardry for pairing flavours and ingredients so they sing chorally but also limber up to the palate with a banging solo.”

Like all of us who have heard the backstory (and watched the video) of 111 by Modou in Glasgow, Chitra Ramaswamy was reduced to tears by the kitchen porter to restaurant owner story of Modou Diagne, which arrived in the UK from Senegal with £200 to his name.

The “ferociously talented chef” has been given what was effectively the prototype Six by Nico restaurant and made it his own; it’s now a “small dark restaurant bristling with leafy plants and great music”.

On Sunday and Monday nights there’s now a “Total Trust” menu – “you get a five-course tasting menu for £25… The catch is there’s no menu” and you can choose whether or not you find out what the dish is as you are served it.

“Each course contains such brilliant moments.” “Stunning plating, too”

“It’s all so exciting, yummy, and generous.” And by creating “something affordable, new, and thrilling”, the restaurant is now full on those traditionally quieter days. (30/30)


The Telegraph

William Sitwell found a “new reason to ponder one of the capital’s proudest landmarks” when he visited Lasdun at the National Theatre, drawn – as so many have been – by the fact the team running are also “behind a successful Hackney pub, The Marksman”.

The room, named for architect Sir Denys Lasdun, is “all concrete and sparkly lighting” and the whole affair, only recently opened, has “confident charm”.

“The place heaves early evening” with pre-theatre diners, but after 7.30pm “order is… quickly restored and you can have a gentle dinner” and enjoy the “excellent service” and “very comfortably gastropub” menu (not for those on reduced calories, as butter and oil feature heavily – “I did feel the kitchen was testing my fitness regime”). (****)


The Scotsman

In Edinburgh, Gaby Soutar and her significant other returned to the site of their first date; over 20 years on it’s no longer The Belfry, but a food-focused pub called Patron Saint, under the ownership of “Lucky Number Seven Holdings – the people behind west-end bar, The Cocktail Mafia”.

She’d recommend the “excellent cocktails” and puddings (pictured) but the small plates deal (£48 for 5) that came loaded on a “long wooden sharing board” was disappointing and not brilliant value (13/20)


And also…

In The FT Magazine, 20 “high-summer dining terraces to love in London” – from Scott’s in Bloom terrace at Scott’s restaurant to The Lost Garden at Daphne’s.


Manchester Evening News reviewed Gordon Ramsay newcomer Lucky Cat: “It cost me £120 for dinner on my own… and I only drank tap water”. The former Midland Bank premises are “breathtaking” and there is a “£35 weekday lunch menu – which runs to a generous 6.30pm – that looks to be great value for three courses”. The food was “tough to fault” until a disappointing dessert, but portions are small and prices high.


Bristol Post reported on the closure of Pasta Loco in part due to Bristol City Council’s pedestrianisation scheme which would take away outdoor seats all summer; the team have gone on to open Pasta Ripiena, Sorella (now Cotto), then Bianchis, and Pizza Bianchi post-lockdown, but are sad to shut their original restaurant after seven years.


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