Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer reviews The Kitchen, Inverness (after a bad meal at Boath House, Nairn)…


“I’ve had more fun at the chiropodist, getting my corns removed. I left the Boath House with my will sapped. It is a brilliant opportunity wasted.

“A narrow, gummy strip of treacle-cured salmon arrives, with cubes of bitter, sickly sweet grapefruit jelly sprinkled with edible blooms. More time has been spent on the look of these plates than on the taste of them. The best things come from the pastry department.

“They’ve lost sight of hospitality.”


“I grab a late supper at the Kitchen restaurant, a tottering modernist brasserie overlooking the river, and thank God for it. Is it artful and striking? Is it surfing the wave of newness and pushing the culinary envelope? Is it hell. It’s dinner. There is a contented babble rising across three floors when we arrive and staff who seem genuinely pleased to see us all.

“A disc of black pudding is seared to crisp and served with egg mayonnaise and a smokey purée of roasted tomatoes. It’s a riff on breakfast delivered after sundown. There are slices of venison which are a perfect bloody pink at the eye, and roast potatoes that demand your attention. At the end there is an Orkney fudge cheesecake, which are surely three words that belong together.

“The Kitchen does what a good restaurant should do: it really does send you out feeling better about the world than when you went in.”

Rhik Samadder in The Guardian records a mixed verdict on Home in Leeds, although the puddings are a home run…

“Behind a discreet door on Kirkgate, Leeds’ oldest street, stone steps wind up to a grey-walled bar with parquet floor, 70s pastiche furniture and nana plates on the walls. It could be a home but looks more like a shoot in Wallpaper* magazine.

“We’re presented with nicely peppery … G&Ts and “snacks”… It’s a nod to a domestic dinner party… and we love it… one holds food this ambitious (a 10-course tasting menu is the standard dinner offering) to a higher standard, where nice won’t cut it… suckling pig beignet, an unctuous parcel with a little Asian tickle from turmeric-pickled apple dice. It’s good, but – and this is a persistent issue – tepid as a third-hand bath.

“But just as in the myths, once hope is lost, hope stirs… lemon sole poached in beurre noisette is the first hot thing we eat: it’s extravagantly rich, despite the lemon finish. The desserts show an exceptional touch right down to the micro-herbs, which are far more than decorative.

“The puddings are a home run, but the batting average isn’t great. So far, this is no place like home, and if my mother served me that potato foam, I’d have her up before the Hague.”

Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard awards four stars to The Coal Shed SE1, the new London outpost of a Brighton restaurant of the same name…

“The name refers to the original restaurant in Brighton allied to The Salt Room. The Coal Shed’s position within a rather mean-spirited internal “square” is not the best, but once inside a lavish use of polished wood, Japanesey glazing and genial leather … creates a comforting world.

“The Coal Shed’s menu turns out to be an unpredicted festival of the potential in vegetables… venison two ways with salsify, Roscoff onions, figs and happily undetectable chocolate is much liked.

“Here is a savvy kitchen, maybe even a millennial kitchen, open to global influences but not overcome. The reputation of pastry chef Laura Peterson’s Chocolate Bar precedes her.”

David Ellis in the Evening Standard heads to the recently refurbished Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. Is it any better with a new chef at the stoves? Yes! Almost incomparable in fact…

“Simpson’s has seen everything. It’s somewhere where nothing surprises, where no-one is shaken or caught off guard.  Truth be told, Simpson’s only just shuffled to the end of 2016, the walking stick wobbling and the glory days getting hard to believe.

“Thank God they’ve plugged some money in. The room is better laid out, no longer resembling a boarding school dining hall. The food is night and day over what it was a year ago: almost incomparable.

“Dorset crab salad with Granny Smith apple is a marvel in the miniature jenga mold. The famous carving trolley … has been buffed up and gleams and its treasure, Scottish beef or Welsh lamb, glows red… turning heads ”

“Finally the old Simpson’s is back: the King is dead, long live the King.”

More from the Evening Standard this week as Grace Dent reviews Fitzrovia newcomer Serge at le Phoque…

“One of the most luxurious, yet ridiculous, places I’ve been to in 2017. Once I reached Serge et le Phoque… the ‘f*** it’s a critic’ klaxon sounded. Soon after that a small army of people were treating me like peak season Gaga.

“This is how you whip through £300 in a luxury, French-influenced, Euro-elite magnet.

“A ceviche of Sicilian red prawn and turbot with passionfuit was genuinely delightful. Sharp, meaty, welcome. The foie gras starter was as life-enhancing as tiny cubes of liver diced into a clear broth, poured from a white china teapot, can possibly be.  Small suggestions of trimmed lamb sat close to puddles of pommes purée and slivers of smoked eel.”

“We left two puddings — a rejigged rhum baba and a titivated crème brûlée — largely abandoned.”


Michael Deacon in The Telegraph declares the pudding at Wood, Manchester “pure swooning delirium”…

Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail pays a visit to Michael O’Hare’s much-lauded (our reporters say “brilliantly audacious”) Leeds restaurant The Man Behind the Curtain…

“With its low ceilings and marble floor, concrete walls covered in snowboards and with a motorbike in the corner, feels like a cross between Berlin techno club, Bond Street changing room and municipal car park. It’s a cold space, with awful acoustics.

“You have to pay for the £75 ‘Permanent Collection’ tasting menu in advance, apparently ‘the truest expression of The Man Behind The Curtain, an evolution of our repertoire in 10-14 sequences’.

“A veal sweetbread slider in a bright crimson bun. And, my sweet Lord, it’s good, spongy and rich, and beautifully caramelised, a glandular masterpiece… beef tartare with sheets of cellulose dripping and dried black olive crunch, and a splash of vermouth, the beef aged 160 days until it bellows with bovine heft. It has profound depth, and an expert balance too.

“The plates and presentation might be post-modern, but the cooking is old-fashioned hard work, seasoned with raw, untainted talent. O’Hare takes classic dishes, a Spanish ajo blanco say, and makes them very much his own, without ever losing that all-important soul.

O’Hare draws out flavours like some crazy, demented magician. While there might be fun in the presentation, his technique is entirely serious. Puddings are equally inspired, especially something involving milk chocolate mousse, silver sheets and parma violet ice-cream. Sounds dodgy, tastes unforgettable… this is witty, inspired and often brilliant cooking.”

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