Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 21st April 2024

The Evening Standard

Crispin at Studio Voltaire, Clapham

Jimi Famurewa was impressed by the latest expansion of the East London-based Crispin brand, which “cements founding restaurateur Dom Hamdy’s HAM group as one of the capital’s most nimble and influential young hospitality operations”. A few paragraphs later, he reckoned it “cemented the feeling that Hamdy and his team have done the unthinkable: brought cool, swagger and weapons-grade restaurant sexiness to an area that even locals are prone to decry as a culinary tundra.”

Cement repetition aside, Jimi’s prose purred as he conjured up “an elegant, candlelit life raft … [where] you are in the presence of something quietly seismic and subtly miraculous” – a place offering “sanely priced, effortless dining glamour”.

On the food front, head chef Michael Miles, formerly of Manteca, is “channelling something of Fergus Henderson’s gutsy restraint, stark aesthetics and gleeful British revisionism”, accompanied by “uniformly excellent draught wines”.


The Guardian

Arlington, St James’s

For a brief moment, it seemed that Grace Dent would be the first critic to dare slag off Jeremy King’s renamed revival of Le Caprice. “Spruced-up nursery food for those who find mastication arduous” hardly presaged a good review – “Jerry Hall’s next husband could manage almost the whole menu without putting in teeth.”

But no, it was just the moneyed clientele – “spoilt, grown-up babies” – that she wanted to skewer rather than the cooking or the David Bailey photos on the wall. The fish and chips were a disappointment, but everything else she tasted hit the spot: the Caesar salad was “showstoppingly good”, the bang bang chicken “delicious” and the puddings “truly fantastic, the latter including “Britain’s best crumble – I’ve thought about it hourly ever since”.


The Observer

Lita, Marylebone.

Jay Rayner confessed to being “completely besotted” by a meal at this new Spanish joint that had reduced him to “heavenly raptures”.

Everything was wonderful, from the décor – “the joinery! It’s an orgy of tongue and groove, dovetail and pocket” – to the cooking from Irish chef Luke Ahearne, who managed to transform the simple tapas pan com tomate into something extraordinary. “Sure, there is a touch of gilding of the well-polished lily. Except, by God, each piece is a brilliant mouthful: salty, sweet umami-rich tomatoes, the bare-knuckle punch of the anchovies, the toasty
bread beneath. It’s a metropolitan, deluded take on the humble beach life.”

There is, sad to report, a catch. “Those dovetail joints don’t come cheap,” Jay warned. “The two mouthfuls of tomato bread are £9,” while the cheapest bottle of wine costs £54 and 1.2kg of barbecued Galician cow will set you back £160. Lita “sells itself as a sweet neighbourhood bistro. And it is, much as Buckingham Palace is a convenient townhouse.”


The Times & Sunday Times

Twenty Eight, Chester

Giles Coren was pleased as Punch with a day trip to Chester, where he enjoyed lunch at “a sort of directional tapas offshoot of the famous Chef’s Table” next door, run by Jay Tanner, previously head chef at local legend Sticky Walnut.

Top billing went to a bao bun with Korean fried chicken, which was “as good as such a thing can be… a bun for the ages. Worth the day trip in itself. And for £6, where in London you’re looking at £10, £12, maybe even £14.”

Five of the sharing plates at this price “could have fed two people easily… with a great range of flavours. Astounding value. Just astounding.” Giles capped off the trip with a 50-minute post-prandial stroll around the city walls back to the station. “What a city. What a restaurant. What a vibe.”


Lannan Bakery, Edinburgh

Chitra Ramaswamy dodged the early-morning queues by turning up at “Scotland’s most talked about bakery” after 11am to sample the “pastries, cakes, breads, buns, tarts, custard slices and cookies of your wildest, most algorithmically constructed dreams” from Darcie Maher, a 26-year-old self-taught baker from the Borders.

The “fabled croissants” were sold out – “they’re usually gone by 9am” – so Chitra made do with jambon-beurre; a slice of Lannan’s signature “rich, tangy and unbelievably moist” chocolate, buttermilk and rye loaf; another of pala romana — a traditional Roman flatbread — topped with very thin slices of potato and finely grated cheese; a kimchi and Mull cheddar Danish; and white chocolate and sour cherry cookies. 

“Everything is flawless, the best, all the superlatives you can stomach,” Chitra enthused, while her six-year-old daughter shouted “IT’S THE BEST I’VE EVER HAD.” The coffee too, roasted by Obadiah in nearby Abbeyhill, was “exquisite”.


Lannan Bakery, Edinburgh

“Toughen up your tastebuds, boys. Business lunches are only going to get spicier,” declared Charlotte Ivers, after sampling the West African cuisine at this new spot in Borough Market.

Given that it is no longer acceptable to “totter back to the office after two bottles of 2pm malbec, the alpha males of the City” have found a new way to parade their machismo, she reckons – by eating the Lagos poussin, spatchcocked, barbecued and swimming in “the type of bright orange that your lizard brain tells you to flee from because it’s either undiluted E
numbers or ten tonnes of mouth-altering habanero”.

“Forget Michelin, there should be awards for the restaurant that can do the most with a bit of lettuce. These guys would win.”


Daily Telegraph

Pollini at Ladbroke Hall, Notting Hill

William Sitwell found a “classic menu to satisfy the purist Italophile” at this smart new Notting Hill venture, but it “didn’t quite deliver on the promise” and lacked the “guts to really bring it glory”.

Doubts began to set in when chef Emanuele Pollini himself brought out the main courses, congratulating William and his friend on ordering favourite dishes from his home region, Emilia-Romagna – “an easy line in sycophancy” which the reviewer managed to resist. 

The tagliatelle was decent “but it lacked the dark depth one dreams of when contemplating duck ragù”, while the green salad was “all soft leaves” with no crunch.

And if sycophancy was bad enough, the kitchen “cheated” on the fondente al cioccolato, which arrived in a little ramekin with a handle instead of being turned out onto a plate. “Sure, it was gooey and rich and delicious, and offset by pistachio ice cream, but that’s not the point – the technical challenge had been swerved.”


Hannah, Southbank

Tim Hayward had never been charmed by the cold perfection of Japanese kaiseki fine dining until, following up a tip from a chef, he made his way to a six-year-old restaurant from chef/proprietor Daisuke Shimoyama in the old County Hall and knew at once he was “in for an uncommon experience”.

“No stereotypical, chillingly calm kitchen samurai, the guy is effusive, even passionate, and his strange dining room swerves decisively away from cliché, cod-Zen sterility into a comfortable, almost bohemian space.”

Among the highlights was a block of rice draped in a piece of A5 Wagyu beef – meat that Tim had previously dismissed as “a gimmick” that had become a “global delusion for chefs and diners”. By showing it fire not to sear it but to free the fats, Shimoyama-san had isolated and demonstrated what is so special about Wagyu. “Mark me down as a begrudging convert and let me cover my head in a cloth to hide my shame from God.”

“At Hannah, I realised [kaiseki] can be hospitable, creative and warm,” Tim concluded. “This is the best kaiseki in London. Go immediately.”

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