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 18 April 2021.

Some magazine articles were written weeks ago, but the newspapers produced a small, but welcome, crop of actual reviews.

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England now has a ‘roadmap’ of dates for the re-opening of restaurants and pubs, which are now allowed to serve single households seated outdoors. Inside dining can start from 17 May at the earliest: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-spring-2021/covid-19-response-spring-2021-summary

All of Wales is at alert level 4, but the stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted, and outdoor hospitality can start from 26 April: https://gov.wales/coronavirus

Like Wales, in mainland Scotland, outdoor hospitality can start from 26 April https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-protection-levels/

Northern Ireland hospitality remains closed; restrictions which will be reviewed on 13 May: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-what-restrictions-mean-you

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.

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The Evening Standard

“All outdoor dining areas are not created equal.”

The Evening Standard’s chief restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa visited Rochelle Canteen and found a “magical portal” where there was “warmth of every description, cooking touched by a quiet, calming cleverness and… artfully cultivated, all-weather brilliance” at odds with the “commendably committed but bedraggled and wind-battered” restaurants he saw on the way there.

Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold’s “discreet, 17-year-old icon” demonstrated the “confidence and steady familiarity of the restaurant’s experience and ethos” and stayed true to the “Rochellian practise of almost brutish English minimalism” with “vivid streaks of something more cosmopolitan” to bring together a “high calibre hospitality experience with such apparent effortlessness”.

“Perfectly matched wine” and “a pudding that set this already unforgettable meal off into some unseen upper stratosphere” were icing on the cake of Jimi’s ‘Happy Monday’.

“All meals out in the coming days will be precious things; memories you want to savour and hoard. But to be this good straight out of the gate… is nothing short of miraculous. There is sanctuary and magic within Rochelle Canteen’s walled kingdom.”

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Also in The Standard, David Ellis reported his elation at the re-opening of restaurants on 12 April; “admittedly, my first port of call probably should have been a barber, but it was the pull of a restaurant that had me cycling through town at 7.30am in the faint, flickering snow”.

He was at 45 Jermyn Street for breakfast, and “after five months living alone, tiring of my own cooking, I’m briefly taken aback – overwhelmed by a combination of sheer gratitude and utter relief”.

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The Guardian

“I booked breakfast at 9am on the opening morning at the Corinthia… I would, I decided, sweep in on a crisp, sunny spring morning wearing a nice frock and strappy sandals, order eggs and drink a big breakfast Bloody Mary to see off the misery of the previous 12 months.”

Grace Dent had her plans only slightly marred when she awoke, as many of us did, to “the sort of wet, sideways snow that.. will take the shine off your scrambled eggs on sourdough”.

She’s discovered that the “problem with plans – especially post-pandemic ones – is that you actually have to go through with them: cancelling is morally iffy when every hospitality venue is already on its knees”.

Grace also felt “curiously guilty” for venturing out, “wobbling towards the light on Bambi legs, when others I’d lost over the past year are no longer here to feel that joy. There was a certain safety in being sat night after night on the same sofa, but we can’t stay there for ever”.

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Also in The Guardian, Rachel Cooke shared her highs and lows of trying to get a restaurant reservation this week – or even next month, until when “every last wonky pavement table has long since been bagged”.

“‘Would you like to go on the waiting list?’ may now be the most terrible words in the English language.”

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The Observer

Two articles from Jay Rayner this week, but neither of them was a restaurant review. Instead, he looked back at the year we’ve come through, first at what got him through lockdown, and then at what’s he’s learned from lockdown and all those cookbooks he’s reviewed.

“When I eventually look back at it all I know it will be the story of our garden wall, and the part it played in how we ate, that will make me smile the most.” His family and his immediate neighbours, separated by a red brick wall started swapping missing ingredients, which would “go on the wall for collection”, as would leftovers from cooking experiments (especially those from his cookbook series) and washed-up crockery. One night, when they had socially distant drinks and shared a barbecue, “that old, moss clad, London brick wall, less divider than enabler, had realised its full promise: it had become our shared kitchen table”.

On to the Observer article on what he’s learned from lockdown (apart from remembering to check his privilege). “First up, I have had it confirmed to me that restaurants are not about the food”, a sentiment echoed by many of his fellow critics.

Eating good food hasn’t been the problem. “I have been able to get almost anything I wanted sent to me, from the lowliest bucket of Korean chicken wings, through cassoulets worthy of any bistro, to the most intricate assemblies of the garlanded and tweezered.” It was the actual restaurants he missed, and all they provide.

“The restaurant experience begins with a booking made, followed by the sweet tingle of anticipation, that little fizz of electricity which reminds you that in a day or two there are nice things to come. You think about reaching a respectable level of drunkenness in public and the joys of saturated animal fats. It is about pushing through the door and feeling the hum of the other people around you. It is about the shine on the glass, and the intrigue at the table next to yours. It’s about the washing-up: the fact that someone else is going to be doing it. I have come to hate washing-up.”

What else has he learned? That “home kitchens are machines that need to be very carefully designed” (that never-used built-in plancha grill is an expensive pot stand) and that “cookbooks are useful”, but his “most delightful discovery” is that pastry is nothing to be scared of. “Just follow the bloody recipe. From a cookbook.”

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Also in the Observer, an article from Nigel Slater on 20 years of the Observer Food Monthly and all the star ingredients and recipes that defined a “moment”. (“Currently, you could be forgiven for thinking if an ingredient hasn’t been fermented then it’s not worth eating.”)

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The Mail on Sunday

Tom Parker Bowles for YOU Magazine is still comparing meal kits due the publishing lag with magazines; this week it was the turn of two decadent seafood kits.

The Rockfish Dover Sole and Crab Thermidor Box (£87 for two including delivery, therockfish.co.uk) featured a range of dishes, along with a sourdough loaf; it was “simple, and simply magnificent” and “a cinch to prepare, too”.

More “peerless” quality and “exquisite” presentation from the other end of the country in the form of The Harbour Café Box for Two (£80 plus £10 delivery, theharbourcafe.co.uk); “you have to do precious little, save move the food from packet to plate” for a dose of “pure Caledonian class, and a truly splendid blast of Scottish sea air”.

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The Sunday Times

In another article written for a magazine possibly weeks in advance, Marina O’Loughlin reeled off the list of restaurants she wants to go to once out of lockdown.

“I have bookings in for April, places with gardens and terraces and even minuscule plots of outside space.”

She’s “spent many otherwise empty moments thinking about where I want to go back to when I’m not “on the job”, where I want to revisit for sheer sybaritic pleasure” – these include The Sportsman and the Quality Chop House (“both of which I rate so highly I wrote forewords for their books”), and Eusebi in Glasgow (“scene of many a meaningful O’Loughlin family gathering”).

Also on her list are Maison François (“so glittering and seductive”), The Kinneuchar Inn (“the ultimate escape destination”), The Ethicurean near Bristol, Chinatown anywhere, Parsons (“my personal idea of restaurant heaven: small, bustling, intimate, classic”), Mana in Manchester (“one of the most exhilarating restaurant experiences I’ve had over the past few years”), Hjem (“one of those magical places that can be crafted only from real love”), Cail Bruich (where she was “deliciously surprised” by Lorna McNee’s cooking), The India Club (a “living piece of restaurant history,”) and Kent’s The Compasses Inn (the “platonic ideal of the perfect country pub”)

And also…

Birmingham Mail reported on the opening of Lucarelli, a “flower-filled canalside terrace” that’s opened this week with a heated “bio thermic” terrace and a retractable roof.

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