Stem had Jay Rayner from the amuse-bouche. He was looking for reassurance, having never eaten at the chef’s previous restaurants, and not quite knowing what to expect, but “a tiny, exceedingly crisp tart filled with a deep chive emulsion, all onion kick and adoration” did the trick.
The menu of “good clean English, and full of the language of nowness” also helped, as did the “killer sourdough”. Stem is “very good indeed”, with “classy modern food” that’s “all precise without being tweezered and nerdy”. It “occasionally sounds a little odd but always makes perfect sense on the plate” – mussels and gravy? “I’m declaring it a thing.”
There are “unexpected little tasters” like that reassuring amuse-bouche throughout the meal, which makes it all the more astonishing when the bill comes in around £30 a head for a meal in which you are “fed delightfully”. In Mayfair. Of course, you can spend more – wine, extra truffle, tasting menu, but that you can spend so little for so much is “enough to restore your faith in humanity”.
Bancone, London WC2 (12/15)
Initially disappointed at the prospect of reviewing a “majestically straightforward” pasta restaurant – no concept, no gimmicks, no trendy new ingredients – Grace Dent in The Guardian found that the dishes at Bancone (in “a decidedly unhip touristy nook near Trafalgar Square”) were so delicious that they just didn’t “need a 40-storey panoramic view or a champagne butler to help sell it”. And all “at Pizza Express prices” too, so “you can eat like a Russian art dealer or a Knightsbridge lunching mummy for a fraction of the price”.
Her best dish was an utterly simple, “casually orgasmic” platter of “fazzoletti, or “silk handkerchiefs”, lying in heavenly walnut butter”. The braised lamb tagliatelle “is certainly worth seeking out”, and on her next visit (always a good sign) she’ll try the gnocchi with sage butter.
Bancone is “just a long pale room that serves pasta” but it “solves so many West End dining problems … special enough to do a birthday in… takes reservations… precisely the right spot for pre-show dinners, or to meet an out-of-town auntie”. The gimmick? “You get a really lovely dinner and you don’t weep when the bill appears”.
On paper, Bermondsey’s Pique-Nique had everything that makes Marina O’Loughlin’s heart sing: “the curious and charming location”, the “vaguely obsessive devotion to classic French bourgeois cooking”, the “charismatic host” – and a cute sibling to boot (the nearby Casse-Croûte). But, as she sadly describes in her Sunday Times review of the place, the reality left her cold – on two visits.
The food had been “tweaked to oblivion”, the poulet de Bresse tasting menu was “overhyped and underwhelming” and she was (both times) placed on the communal dining table.
But there is a ray of hope: she heard about “a new chef, a new menu” with the “lyrical, lovely brevity of a haiku”. Inventiveness, simplicity and tradition all sit alongside each other, and – now – it’s “Frencher than France” and she loves it. “It’s just straightforward. And lovely.”
Guest reviewing for ES Magazine, June Sarpong visited Latin Americna newcomer Zuaya with her nine-year-old nephew, and dined outside although the “interior… is certainly worth a look, too” from the “fringed pendant lights” to the “lush greenery… there is green everywhere”. The food was “delicious”, especially the starters, although she felt that portions were “a little ungenerous” – suitable for those who prefer “a lighter, healthier evening meal”. As a teetotaller, she found the “extensive range of mocktails… a welcome change”.
Tish, London NW3 (**)
Frankie McCoy for The Evening Standard visited Tish, a grand new Jewish (and kosher) restaurant in Belsize Park, and found it lacking in the heart and soul that defines Jewish food – the challah.
It was busy on both visits (including for Friday night dinner, shabbat, when “a pre-paid set menu of mostly cold food gets around religious restrictions”) but the food “is not good”.
The unfortunate accolade of “the worst thing I’ve eaten in a restaurant” goes to Granny Anny’s bean soup, which Frankie describes as “aesthetically identical” to a Tate Modern ‘moon-landing’ installation of “bubbling Bentonite clay in a tank”.
The Coal Shed, London SE1 (****)
Lizzie Rivera for The Evening Standard discovers “soul behind the rich-wood, emerald marble and huge slabs of meat” at Tower Bridge newcomer The Coal Shed, a ” a steak restaurant for meat-lovers with big appetites”. With an eye on the sustainability, she rated it 3/5 for “superior sourcing of the ingredients”.
Giles Coren in Saturday’s Times magazine visited the hottest new opening in Manchester, Tast Cuina Catalana. It’s owned by a team of the top brass at Manchester City FC – so of course Giles took along somebody who works at Manchester United.
Tast is “a good-looking joint” with ” elegant black-clad Spanish staff” that serves up ‘twisted’ Catalan fare with “instructions and tricks and games”. Some dishes really impressed our reviewer, although he noted an “very old-school Iberian” theme – and “nothing was piping hot off the grill, or raw or remotely seasonal or local”. So Tast has promise, but needs to cook more “live in real time during service” without the sous vide in action.
Cora Pearl, London W1 (****)
Micheal Deacon for The Telegraph enjoyed a meal at Cora Pearl, named for a 19th-century courtesan. But he really enjoyed the chips – “You should be able to order a whole bathtub of the chips”.