Harden’s review of the reviews

This week the Observer’s Jay Rayner waxes lyrical about The Garden Museum’s new Garden Cafe in Lambeth, a lovely new space with food to match thanks to the quality in the kitchen. Harry Kaufman and George Ryle have an impressive list of credits between them, including St Johns Bread & Wine, Padella and Primeur…

“The Garden Café occupies a sparkling new glass and beaten-copper pavilion, and is the restaurant London never knew it needed. If there is a style of cooking that can be defined as London, and increasingly I think there is, it lies in the sum of these various parts. It’s about robust flavours, an ingredient count that rarely goes beyond three, a restrained approach to the global larder, and a diehard conviction that flavour must win out over pretty every time.

“I am drawn… to grilled onions with nduja, the soft Calabrian salami, which is as much chilli flake as salty pig. These are two ingredients that have been crying out for each other’s company. This really is one of the loveliest new spaces to open in the capital in a long while, and boasts food to match.”

Meanwhile Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian tests out Ollie Dabbous’s new (and only, RIP Dabbous and Barnyard) London restaurant Henrietta, at Covent Garden’s new boutique hotel of the same name, and leaves feeling “sunny, positive and uplifted” – a bit of a change from her visit to Glasgow a few weeks ago.

“A new Covent Garden boutique hotel as light and airy and, well, feminine as its name. It’s an antidote to the proliferation of heat-blasted, meaty, fatty, salty bro food, a celebration, mostly, of delicacy and nuance. Dishes are pastel-hued, scattered with petals, artfully composed: edible Hello Kitty kawaii. Here, the big draw is Ollie Dabbous. Even if he’s not cooking here full-time. So, exquisiteness abounds, but does the food taste as good as it looks? In many cases, yes… some dishes take whimsy and hurtle it straight towards downright silliness. Overall, Henrietta leaves me feeling sunny, positive, uplifted.”

Fay Maschler reviews Meraki in the Evening Standard, the latest offering from the Waney family (Roka and Zuma). This is their first foray into Greek cuisine, on which Ms Maschler is something of an authority – we suggest they take cover!

“Greek food as viewed through the prism of businessmen in catering who have an eye to international roll-outs. Leading the kitchen is Dimitrios Siamanis who, in London, has worked at those well-known Greek restaurants Zafferano, The Square and The Dorchester Grill… The solicitous floor staff, many of whom, not being Greek, seem flummoxed by the menu… Wrapping vine leaves around cod…the fish comes across as dressed in a wet school mackintosh.”

Ms Maschelr concludes that there’s “something grievously missing from this demure, self-conscious rendition of Greek cooking is the fire and ice that should be palpable in its soul”.

In the ES Magazine Grace Dent finds authentic and ‘fearsomely spiced’ Indian cuisine at Kingly Court’s Darjeeling Express where none of the staff are trained chefs, but rather cooks her learned at their grandmothers’ feet…

“I have much time for Kingly Court… as I feel it gives London’s visitors at least a tiny glimpse into how we actually eat. Anything to stop tourists sitting in the Satan’s bum crevice Aberdeen Steak House.” Darjeeling Express is “a bright, beautiful room with a lively atmosphere” where founder Asma Khan “is a force of nature: bold, funny, talented, philanthropic and unstoppable”.

“Almost all of Khan’s output – from shikampuri kebab through to her outstanding carrot halwa — has a story attached, either from her royal ancestry or her day-to-day London life. Her Kingly Court kitchen is staffed purely by talented female friends cooking homestyle food… None of the Darjeeling Express team are trained chefs; they learned from their grandmothers. There is not a surly chef with a tattoo sleeve doing ‘twists on classics’ in sight.”

More restaurant reviews in the Standard this week as David Ellis test drives Covent Garden’s new tapas joint Sibarita, from Encant’s Victor Garvey, who also has another restaurant Ramblas in the pipeline this year…

“When it’s legal to marry a restaurant, I’ll be down on one knee. Ideally, one would have a table kept on standby at all times. Sibarita is an oasis in WC2, somewhere to be greedy about. It’s very likely the best restaurant I’ve been to this year.

“Oh, but it’s cosy. In summer you’ll want to get woozy on wine in the sticky heat. In winter you’ll come, wrapped up in protective scarves and the jersey with the elbows gone and be warmed right up with hot, salty Padron peppers and vividly ashy red wines.”

“You have to have the roasted lamb chop… ours came stark pink, roasted so softly that all the fat inside had fallen asleep and drifted away, so we were left only with beautiful, succulent meat, no hard gritty bits. And the flavour! The flavour!” The menu also “boasts the likes of glazed pork belly, grilled octopus, and yellowtail ceviche”.

This week The Telegraph featured a list of top Sunday lunches. Which includes Kentish Town’s “beaut of a local” the Bull & Last and Chew Magna’s “lovely” Pony & Trap…


The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett heads to Tunbridge Wells old fave Thackeray’s, but delivers a more middling review than many of our reporters who say it is on top form at the moment…

“A white onion and beetroot amuse was a pleasingly frothy brothlet… smoked bone marrow “rarebit” was a sweet, densely unctuous contrast.”

“It’s an oddly exhausting place in which to relax, not least because waiting staff are robotically efficient and always hovering without being simultaneously either warm or charming.  Some will love this restaurant – it does much of its “fine” “fining” “French” gastro-stuff skilfully.”

In Time Out you’ll find enthusiastic reviews of Herne Hill’s new Llewelyn’s (which occupies an impressive old Victorian dining room overlooking Station Square), and Festa sul Prato, an Italian café set in Deptford park

“Basically, there was nothing to fault [at Llewelyn’s]. The service was impeccable. Prices are reasonable. I haven’t shut up about it since, and don’t really intend to any time soon. SE24, you don’t know how lucky you are.”

“Festa Sul Prato is a decent neighbourhood eatery that’ll be a particularly nice spot during the summer months, given its location on the edge of a park. ”


Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail delivers yet another encouraging review for Chinatown’s Xu (yet another hit for JKS Restaurants – AKA the Sethi family of Gymkhana, Hoppers et al)

“Lots of smart, dark, elegant wood, languorously whirring fans, marble bars and delicately decorated screens. Bak Kwa, or Taiwanese jerky, soft strips of cured beef, lamb and pork, wear their spice like expensive scent, seductively chewy and served with a sharp Sichuan pickle.

“The tofu is sexily silken, and green Sichuan peppercorns have a citrus-infused vibrancy that explodes in the gob like pungent firecrackers. Tomato and smoked eel melds Japan and China, a sharp, fresh tomato broth, with a subtle chilli edge, studded with tiny nuggets of eel. Clean grin meets richly fatty grunt. A dish of quiet brilliance.

“Xu proves that there’s so much more to this delectable island than mere bao buns. However fine they may be. What it does is set the standard, imprinting Taiwan firmly upon London’s culinary map. Not as part of China, rather a country standing firmly and proudly on its own.”

And The Financial Times reviewed Ginza Onodera in St James’s, the replacement for sushi spot Matsuri (RIP) which closed after 23 years…

The verdict? “perfect food” but “airport lounge ambience”…“Half the experience of the soup is lifting the lid and rinsing the nostrils with the aromas — it’s achingly subtle and invites contemplation”.

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