Harden’s review of the reviews

This week Jay Rayner reviewed Notting Hill’s family-run Italian, Da Maria, in the Observer, remarking that it’s the kind of place that ‘keeps London human and, more to the point, humane’. A shame then that it may be demolished to make way for an expanded cinema foyer. You know who’s side Jay is on…

“Da Maria is not much to look at, literally. It is less a fully fledged restaurant than a strip-lit, table-laid cupboard. Pastas and pizzas and secondi, supplemented by specials made by Maria Ruocco, depending upon what’s in the fridge and on her mind.

“A cheap democratic eatery like Da Maria is not just a nice thing. It’s not quaint. It’s a vital resource. It’s the kind of place that keeps a city like London both human and, more to the point, humane.

“In the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a restaurant of this quality at these prices is akin to a bloody miracle… a bowl of spaghetti, all bite and slipperiness, with toasted garlic, olive oil and chilli. The pasta is soothing, the accessories ripe and pungent. It’s as good a pasta dish as I’ve eaten anywhere.”

“The arancini are hot wobbly pyramids of soft rice enclosing a little savoury ragu. Pastry is clearly a strength. A ricotta tart with oats and candied peel, served still warm, is a glorious thing that has you chasing the last crumbs round the plate with fat thumbs.”

Read what is likely to be one of Marina O’Loughlin’s last reviews in The Guardian, she is off to take over the late AA Gill’s mantle as the Sunday Times restaurant critic soon. This week she visits Melur in Bayswater

Melur has been popping up on the timelines of the kind of Instagram otaku who takes the search for bergedil or ayam berlada hijau very seriously indeed… forget any kind of kerb appeal… Melur seems almost calculated to repel… persevere, because there are treasures here, a comprehensive Malaysian adventure from light, crisp fried squid with a lurid sweet chilli sauce (excellent) to pandan pancakes.

“The roti, with their resonant split pea and turmeric dahl, or “gravy”, are wonderful… gado-gado could feed a family: a forest of beansprouts, beans, boiled egg, tomato, fat slabs of fried tempeh (fermented soy bean cake) slurping up the peanut dressing. This is food to make an expat sigh for home.”

“Beef rendang is my Malaysian benchmark, and Melur’s is a belter, all sweet and sticky with coconut, the beef collapsed into the sauce…a powerhouse of a dish. I’m going back for the kari laksa. … Hell, it may not be the most beautiful restaurant in town, but try and stop me.”

David Sexton in the Evening Standard revisit the newly renovated and reopened Salon in Brixton and finds things much improved since his colleague Fay Maschler’s review…

“Fay Maschler… was severe on Salon when it opened in 2013, criticising the no-choice menu, the hipster approach and the delivery, rating it only two stars… re-opened this month in expanded form. There’s an appealing new bar downstairs. The [set menu] meal was altogether a pleasure, quite distinctive yet well-balanced, carefully thought-through and expertly executed… with a strong sustainability and local-sourcing ethic.

“The first course, “mackerel, elderberries, horseradish”, both looked and tasted remarkably good… There was such a consistent palate here — pickles, that sour-sweet combination, berries, mushrooms, leaves — that felt very autumnal, genuinely in touch with climate and place.

“At this price, it’s a bargain… Salon is hipsterish, for sure, perhaps best absorbed as part of the overall experience.”


Michael Deacon in The Telegraph reviewed the Langham’s new British gastropub The Wigmore

“I was surprised to find the Scotch egg was pork – rather than, say, sautéed unicorn. On Michel Roux Jr’s new menu, there is certainly no shortage of imagination.”

And Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail heads to the fairly recently opened GBR at Dukes in St James’s…

“At Dukes Hotel, in St James’s, London, a place of martini pilgrimage, they have a strict rule. No more than two per person. Their martinis… are the stuff of legend. But they stumble at the first fence with that name, GBR, an awful, clunky and ugly moniker which is more suited to a daytime cookery show on ITV4 than a restaurant in a very good hotel. ”

“They’ve certainly spent money on the room. The food is OK, ticking off all the British classics without ever creating anything even remotely memorable. Potted shrimps are fine, but icy cold. Pressed ham hock is similarly marred by the fridge’s chilly grasp, and woefully underseasoned.

Service, though, is lovely, but even this doesn’t make up for the general sense of melancholy mediocrity. The place is well meaning, but a crashing bore.”

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