Review of the reviews

Here is our weekly round-up of what the national and local restaurant critics are writing about, for the week ending 17 January 2021; the first few round-ups of the year are often short due to reviews being replaced by articles on Veganuary and Dry January, but reviews are especially thin this year with restaurants closed.

England is now in a new national lockdown, with restaurants and pubs closed (many are operating a takeaway or delivery service): https://www.gov.uk/find-coronavirus-local-restrictions.

All of Wales is at alert level 4, with similar restrictions to full lockdown: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-regulations-guidance#section-48600

Mainland Scotland is also in a national lockdown https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-protection-levels/

Northern Ireland is under strict restrictions until 6 February: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-what-restrictions-mean-you#toc-9

Please continue to ordering takeaways, DIY kits and deliveries from your favourite restaurants if you can; the restaurant industry and everyone involved in it need our support in what is usually their busiest time.

*****

The Evening Standard

“I cannot be the only person whose vague plans for self-improvement did not survive the first week of 2021.”

New chief restaurant critic, Jimi Famuwera, reviewed ” smoke-wreathed Dalston institution” Mangal 2’s delivery offering, and recommends it to anyone local enough to qualify for delivery.

Both the “food and interior were dramatically rebooted this summer by [original owner] Dirik’s sons Ferhat and Sertac”, and their “burn-it-down boldness is always matched by care, precision and an innate, firecracker way with flavour”.

Jimi’s wife thought that the delivery fare matched being in an actual restaurant, and Jimi agreed: “this was food accomplished and ambitious enough to reframe fixed notions of what constitutes “good” takeaway.”

*****

Jimi has also taken on Fay Maschler’s ‘week in food’ column, which we have no doubt will be a vastly different read from Fay’s central London social whirl. Proving that with his first column, this week included hot mozzarella beignets from Larry’s in Peckham, a “triumphantly buttery” pie from “local Lewisham hit” Sparrow, “still (just about) going strong”, some home cooking and a packed of “fearsomely hot, dried strips of Northern Nigerian beef jerky”.

*****

Also in The Standard, David Ellis looked at London’s proposed 2021 openings and the food trends we are predicted to encounter this year. Many big-name restaurants  – Gordon Ramsay and JKS Restaurant among them – have announced planned expansion, taking advantage of “the empty sites in the middle of the city”.

*****

David Ellis also reported on Leon’s new menu, which includes carbon neutral burgers and fries, and ” for every cup of coffee sold, the group say it will save a square metre of rainforest”.

*****

The Observer

“Suddenly I have on my table the kind of onion salad I would otherwise not have been able to make for myself. It tastes of somewhere else, which is exactly what I need.”

Jay Rayner reviewed deliveries from Berenjak (berenjakbazaar.com) and Pizarro (josenationwide.slerp.com)

First the £45 Kabab e Tond cook-at-home kit;, the “best kind of meal kit” where “the process of cooking its contents is a fun and unintrusive education”. “JKS is a class act that attends to the details, and this kit is full of them”.

He grills the marinated lamb in his kitchen rather than over live coals as recommended. Even so, “the result, which feeds four greedy people well, is delightful: smoky, deeply sauced grilled meats” plus salads, sides and flatbreads “the size of a school desk”.

Both deliveries made Jay happy. The Pizarro “chicken and seafood rice for two arrives with the paella pan to cook it in: a good deal for £18” (“I suspect Pizarro is not calling it paella to avoid an international incident.”) “Whatever the name, it’s a deeply pleasing dish of nutty rice and chicken with a big savoury boost.”

Despite issues with couriers (not the restaurants’ fault), “both these restaurant meal kits were worth the wait. They brought a level of detail into my kitchen that I wasn’t quite up to supplying myself”.

Jay also notes that a lockdown Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so “expect a rush of tailored delivery options”, the first of which are already being advertised.

*****

A separate Jay article, entitled “Yes, I’m a food writer – and that qualifies me to write about everything” discusses the politics of food, details “the ways in which food affects politics and decision-making”, and confidently proves that he is qualified to opine on absolutely everything.

*****

The Sunday Times

“While she can’t dine out, our restaurant critic reconsiders the people, places and experiences that shaped her — and the way we eat now.”

Marina O’Loughlin is getting creative and nostalgic with her column; this week she recalls the many waitressing jobs she held (and lost) after quitting university. Her favourite was The Ubiquitous Chip, “at the very vanguard of celebrating Scottish cooking and ingredients”, which was then unheard of and considered “revolutionary or even plain daft”, most definitely “hip before hip was a thing” and particularly “unusual for being staffed by people who genuinely wanted to work in restaurants”. She also respects – not being in the latter group – that they “had the decency to sack me after a matter of weeks”.

All of the other places she worked in are “(deservedly) dead. But the Chip is still there, still one of Scotland’s best restaurants”. It has “spread and sprouted — first a pub, then a whisky bar here, a brasserie there, colonising the lane” and is “still, remarkably, family-run”.

The Ubiquitous Chip “gave me the first inkling that restaurants could be more than just places to pose in, places to order food for reasons other than to facilitate later drinking, places to appreciate the innate beauty of fine ingredients not too buggered about. And for that I’m eternally indebted”.

*****

Marina also returned to her food reviews this week, with a trial Veganuary run of Tesco’s vegan burgers: “The texture: no, just no”.

*****

The Mail on Sunday

In The Mail’s You magazine, Tom Parker Bowles reviewed Mo Diner (presumably before lockdown; as this is a magazine, the lead times are long) while his column chum Olly Smith “invented Sherry Wednesday” in order to savour “the perfect tipple to pour over the midweek hump”.

“Like so many restaurants, both old and new, Mo Diner… had a pretty wretched year” in 2020, launching briefly before Lockdown 1 and then opening and closing enough to make anyone’s head spin. Owner Mourad Mazouz (“the rather brilliant restaurateur behind Sketch, Momo’s and Mo Diner”) remains positive.

Mo Diner is his “Mediterranean take on an American diner” and is “inspired” according to Tom, with a menu (developed by Eric Chavot) that “skips around the shores of the Med like a sun-seeking sybarite, bringing together a sort of edible greatest hits of a dozen different cultures”.

Inside, it’s “a room filled with effervescent delight” with “the classic long counter with stools facing an open kitchen, and booths along one wall”. “Canary yellow” tables, “photographs of sun-drenched palms” and “a neon yellow camel” add bright colour.

“Mo Diner tastes as good as it looks. A blast of pure Mediterranean sun, on this most sullen of winter days.”

*****

The Times

This week saw the reluctant return of Giles Coren’s lockdown column with his wife Esther Walker. They both had Covid over Christmas, “with the nausea, diarrhoea, fever and loss of taste and smell that made the entire festive season a misery from start to finish”.

“There is nothing good about Lockdown 3. It is a cloud with a lining of pure turd. There is no upside/downside dichotomy any more, there is no creative friction, there is no room for debate.”

He’s even missing restaurants, after a year of moaning about his “25 years of compulsory face-filling” and feeling a “guilty relief” that he didn’t have to go out to eat constantly. “But that was because I assumed restaurants would be coming back. Now I am not at all sure that they will. So it’s not a refreshing break; it’s the end of a thing I loved.”

Esther is finding “something exhilaratingly rock bottom about all this”, especially now everyone is as depressed about it as she was in Lockdown 1. On the actual bright side, her children are cooperating with home schooling this time around, under the threat of being sent into school – as a journalist, she can claim keyworker status.

*****

The Scotsman

Rosalind Erskine catalogued the latest restrictions on Scotland’s hospitality industry. ‘Click and collect’ has been suspended, with “only retailers selling essentials, such as clothing, baby equipment and books… able to offer collection services”.

“All takeaway sales of food or drinks must take place from outside the premises such as via a hatch or doorway.” Furthermore, “anyone buying takeaway alcoholic drinks must consume this at home rather than outside, socially distanced with friends or family”.

*****

Also in The Scotsman, news of a “Scottish-themed tapas restaurant” to open in Falkirk after lockdown, and new cook-at-home masterclasses from Nico Simeone, the man behind the Six by Nico mini-chain.

*****

The Observer

 Tony Naylor predicted the food trends of 2021 and looked at the trend forecasting industry in general: “Can the public create trends, in its likes and retweets? Or are we always manipulated by “big food”?”

So what might we be eating / drinking this year? Corn ribs (“cooked corn cobs carved to resemble spare ribs”), guanciale (“essential to an authentic carbonara”), young garbanzo (“green, early-harvest chickpeas”), hard seltzer (“flavoured, low-calorie, alcoholic sparkling water”), teff (a “fast-cooking, nutritious east African grain”), carob, table beers, smoked salt, banana blossom and eringi mushrooms, apparently.

*****

And also…

The Financial Times celebrated the 30th anniversary of the gastropub: “No ordinary boozers” – places like “The Eagle in London revolutionised pub grub in the UK. But what happens post-pandemic?”

*****

Bristol Live reported on the new local restaurants due to open in 2021.

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The Manchester Evening News reported on South Manny Flavaz,  the Manchester chicken restaurant that “started life in a back garden” (and was promoted on Snapchat) that is due to open in Deansgate after lockdown, “in a former office unit that is part of the Great Northern Warehouse development”. There’s also a new vegan curryhouse – This Charming Naan – opening, owned by a Smiths superfan, with dishes riffing on their back catalogue: “Girlfriend In A Korma” anyone?

*****

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