Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 19th May 2024

Evening Standard

Roe, Canary Wharf

Jimi Famurewa delivered the first verdict on the “unfathomably huge” Canary Wharf follow-up to St James’s Market hit Fallow, and it’s a certified thumbs-up: “Roe is both big and clever,” he declared, “one of the defining, gravity-defying openings of the year.”

The sheer size of the place, he says, is “difficult to overstate” – officially 500 covers plus an outdoor terrace – while the fit-out is “the confirmatory Ferrari on the driveway” that fuels hospitality industry speculation about
the business’s accounts.

Triumphant dishes include a “polyphonic riot of pork scratching-strewn cuttlefish toast”; “mint sauce-doused lamb ribs so succulent and yielding they practically fell off the bone under nothing but a hard stare”; and “the deranged brilliance of a flavoursome, puffed flatbread heaped in barrelling, richly spiced pork and snail vindaloo.”

While the Fallow/Roe founders Jack Croft and Will Murray emphasise the sustainability of their cooking, Jimi is more impressed by their “high-low, quintessentially British approach that is classical in sensibility but irreverent in spirit”.


The Guardian

Oma, Borough Market

Grace Dent added her vote to another contender for “opening of the year”, the “laid-back but gastronomically highfalutin” upstairs half of the new Athens-inspired operation from David Carter that is part of Borough Market’s recent push as a proper dining destination.

“Oma is different from most other places round these parts. It is a nerdish, painstakingly thought-out, relaxed but high-end Greek-ish space-age taverna up a flight of stairs, and overlooking the melee outside.”

The hummus, Grace says, is “showstopping”. “That’s what happens when David Carter of  Smokestak  and Manteca and Ecuadorian chef Jorge paredes, formerly of  Sabor in Mayfair , spend 18 months tinkering with the recipe before serving their hummus masabacha-style – that is, much smoother and runnier than you may be used to. Crunchy chickpeas swim in this silky custard, which is topped with a spicy, bright green coriander zhoug.”

Grace’s other menu tips are the deconstructed spanakopita, which is “frankly obscene”, while of the clay pot offerings, the wild red prawn giouvetsi with orzo and deep-fried prawn butter is already causing a stir as “a glossy, set, incredibly fishy puddle that teeters on the brink of too much”.


The Observer

Arabic Flavour, Aberystwyth

Jay Rayner journeyed to west Wales to taste the “delightful cooking that deserves a wider audience” of Ghofran Hamza, who arrived six years ago as a Syrian refugee after a spell in Lebanon. Having started out cooking with her mother in a Syrian supper club, she now cooks solo in the restaurant she runs with her Greek partner.

“There’s something deeply emotional and intense about this cooking,” says Jay. “It is cooking that traces a journey, from dish to dish, from one life to another. Hamza has lived an awful lot of that life for someone still only in her mid-20s.”

Her food is a particularly vivid take on familiar Middle Eastern dishes, with plenty of pomegranate molasses, roasted cashews and “the raunchy purple citrus of sumac”. “Most diverting is the hummus fatteh, a dish of whole chickpeas bound in a garlicky tahini sauce. Fragments of crisp, just-fried pitta have been stirred through it all.”

Instead of buying in baklava, like so many Middle Eastern spots, she bakes her own – “they are crisp and then soft, and sticky with syrup and toasty nuts, and a foaming ocean away from those dusty, tensed examples that usually turn up.”


The Times

Lita, Marylebone
Morchella, Exmouth Market

Giles Coren doubled up this week (those Times expenses!) with two new restaurants ploughing similar southern-Med furrows a couple of miles apart in central London – both of which have already been well reviewed by his fellow critics.

The main difference Giles discerned between the two was price. Lita is “a very expensive restaurant in very expensive Marylebone”, with a food bill topping £200 a head backed up by a wine list that “was a bit scary to drink whole bottles from, only briefly wiping its feet at the £70-80 mark before going straight into triple figures.”

His meal started well, with excellent snacks and small plates including “show- stopping Limousin veal sweetbreads (the dish, sautéed by Marcus Wareing at Pétrus in 1999, that made me determined to become a restaurant critic), glazed, pink, sweet, milky, with Tropea onions and pomme puree”.

Grills came off worse: a “dreary” spatchcocked Anjou poussin “tasted more like a First World War carrier pigeon scorched at the Somme than a ladylike lunchtime delicacy”, while a “dull” sirloin of Friesian was “what we who like a chewy old milker have to put up with now that the elderly Galician Rubia Gallega have all been eaten”. The solution? “Stick to the top two thirds of the menu.”

On to Morchella, which is “more gorgeous to look at… with a steepling ceiling, huge windows, enchanting light, wonderful new wood and cute gimmicks like little cutlery drawers built into the tables and eating bar”, and about half the price of Lita, at £100 a head.

Interesting, the menu followed a similar trajectory to Lita’s, with promising starters such as “brilliantly conceived and executed salt cod churros on a braised red pepper sauce” let down by disappointing main dishes.

Giles also noted that the service charge at Morchella was fully incorporated into the food prices with no tip invited, while at Lita it was a 15% bolt-on. “The Morchella route is surely the future.”


Cardinal, Edinburgh

Chitra Ramaswamy was swept away by Tomas Gormley’s new spot – all “black frontage, black interiors, low lighting, sexy tunes, and hip youthful staff who know everything about everything”. It’s “one of Edinburgh’s most exciting new restaurants”, offering a set 16 courses using top-quality local produce and paired with outstanding low-intervention drinks, “from a chef under 30 who only opened his first restaurant in the capital three years ago”.

Highlights included “the greatest fried chicken known to hipster-kind” and an “outstanding beremeal, ginger and wasabi mousse which is as long in the finish and short in the eating as a sweet gets”. Among the few duff notes was a Belhaven smoked lobster, “a nod to the irreproachable home smoked lobster at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, where Gormley has done a stint” – “it’s good and rich”, but “it can’t compete with its Gleneagles inspiration. Then again, what can?”


Daily Telegraph

The Tamil Crown, Islington

William Sitwell enjoyed a lunch at a mid-Victorian pub, formerly the Prince
Albert, which has been repurposed as what he calls a “respectable curry house” – that is, a place with “just six small plates, six large ones, roti and rice” instead of a “laminated menu offering a thousand dishes of vague and confused origin”.

Lamb chops were “flawlessly blackened over the robata grill and with soft flesh, just a few seconds away from perfection (they could have been a touch pinker inside)” while the rotis were “really excellent, thin and so- buttery-it’s-almost-wrong”. A rich chicken curry and a “gloriously wet, dal-like mango sambar” also hit the spot.

All this led William to suggest, somewhat out of the blue: “If the government cares so much about our wellbeing as to ban adults from buying cigarettes, then it should also force knackered old pubs to become decent Indian restaurants like this.”


Daily Mail

The Bear Inn, Hodnet, Shropshire

The funniest thing about Tom Parker Bowles’s review was its headline in the online edition, which billed this 16th-century former coaching joint with its own bearpit as “The Beat Inn”. Perhaps the Daily Mail, which has always prided itself on its icy professionalism, is now reduced to hiring superannuated subeditors from the old Grauniad.

“Ursine high jinks aside” – as Tom said – it’s a “rather lovely pub, recently refurbished, and smart but not showy”, with what appears to be an upmarket gastropub menu.

“Yet what appears is rather more cheffy – a breaded finger of soft meat, topped with glossy blobs of pickled-walnut emulsion, and a sauerkraut that is rather nearer to remoulade than fermented cabbage. If it’s pub grub you’re after, you’d best look elsewhere.”


Financial Times

The Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove, Wiltshire

Rural-sceptic Tim Hayward – “I regard the countryside as a soft-play area for terminal romantics” – was all but converted to the joys of pastoral life by this Hobbit-sized pub in the Nadder Valley, owned by fellow critic Faye Maschler’s son Ben.

Chef Dave Winter’s “massively comforting menu” showed real talent, most notably in a seafood stew with orzo. “This felt like a talented chef improvising rather than some overwrought ‘signature’ dish. It wasn’t in any idiom — let’s face it, Mediterranean seafood classics have no place in The Shire, but it felt like he’d stood there, tasting his broth and thinking, yep, you know what this needs? Some saffron and some chilli. It’s not a bouillabaisse, it’s pure Nadder Valley, sui generis and bloody beautiful.”

Tim kipped contentedly upstairs in a “smart hayloft”, and hit the road next morning after “the sort of fried breakfast they write Norse poetry about”.


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