Review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

The Sunday Times’s AA Gill revisits Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy in its new form as Pharmacy 2 in Vauxhall and finds things have changed considerably since the Notting Hill original launched in 1998, when the opening was ‘like a red-carpet premiere, a mob of paparazzi and rubberneckers, double-parked limos, teeth and tits’.

“I was surprised at how different they look now, with more gravitas and an aesthetic weight. The larky, clever ephemerality of it all has gone. They were funny, now they’re serious. Stained-glass butterfly wings and the chairs and cushions are all printed with feelgood medication. It’s nice and sinister.”

John Walsh pens his last ever review for the Independent Magazine and he wanted it to be a good one, so he goes back to Spitalfield’s Blixen for its ‘unbeatable comfort food’.

“When I asked where I should eat the final evaluative supper, the Magazine bosses were clear. “You can’t take chances with the last one,” they snarled, “If you hate it, your final review will be curdled by disappointment and fury. Why not choose one of the best places about which you have happy memories?” I cudgelled my brains to recall the “best”: the very few five-star-food places, the veteran “classics” I was privileged to re-assess, like J Sheekey and Rules in London, The Harrow in Little Bedwyn… I finally decided to choose the place where I’d feel happiest just walking back into. So I chose Blixen.”

The Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin finally manages to visit York’s little curiosity of a restaurant, Le Cochon Aveugle. She tried once before when it was owned by Michael O’Hare (The Man Behind Behind the Curtain) but ended up in The Star Inn the City. As you can tell from the snippet below, she’s rather pleased to finally grab a table.

“Everything that follows makes us grin like eejits. (With the exception of a chocolate, sea salt and espelette pepper dessert that looks so unfortunately like a little poo that we hoot like hormonally challenged teens. It’s the evening’s only, er, bum note. And even that tastes glorious, once we get over our childishness.)”

South Woodford’s ambitious new restaurant The Woodford definitely has potential, but could benefit from less Michellin-focus and a better wine list, says the Standard’s Fay Maschler.

“Another Spirograph masterpiece is the dessert entitled Apple which rounds up vanilla panna cotta, blackberry and apple crumble and ice cream. Effortful, skilful, slightly overweening but absolutely well meant, 25-year-old Ben Murphy has a definite talent. On the Mondays and Tuesdays when The Woodford is closed he might want to invest in visits to places such as 40 Maltby Street, The Dairy, Antidote, Frenchie, Noble Rot, Pitt Cue and The Clove Club to realise that there is vibrant gastronomic life outside the more soulless conventions of haute cuisine.”

Jay Rayner, The Observer’s critic-in-chief, heads out of London and up to the Wirral to try out Gary Usher’s (of Sticky Walnut fame) new, crowd-funded venture Burnt Truffle in Heswall.

“Burnt Truffle launched on a shoestring last July – hence the modesty of the fixtures and fittings – but is clearly thriving. Having eaten there I can exactly see why. It’s the model of the neighbourhood bistro that punches well above its weight; the sort of place that you want on your doorstep, or at least that I want on mine. Often menus on restaurant walls feel like trophies, an act of hero worship from young cooks on the way up. Having eaten the food, these feel more like a nod from one bunch of pros to another.”

Giles Coren packs his paper, pen and AK47 for his latest Times review, but it turns out that reviewing Oliver Maki isn’t the slaughtering he’d envisaged. Quite the opposite in fact.

“So. I came to mock and scorn but I left just a little bit in love. Not just with my waitress (who stood aside making teeny, tiny origami swan-shaped chopstick holders while I ate), but with the ambition and pride so evident in everything laid before me. I don’t really understand its route here, via Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain, but Oliver Maki is as good as anything we have in London of this sort, and when they roll it out across the city (as they surely mean to) it deserves to thrive.”

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