Harden’s review of the reviews

Jay Rayner in The Observer is more than able for Soho institution L’Escargot – seeing as he “bloody loves a snail” and all. It is the critic’s first article as part of the launch of Observer’s new magazine…

“L’Escargot is your stylish auntie, the one who knows how to grow old gracefully. Oh, and it does snails, obviously. I bloody love a snail. When my half-dozen land on the table, the tray lies under a foaming mass of melted garlic butter, the green of watercress. Do I eat it or bathe in it?

“It’s old school. To start they bring a thimble of lobster bisque, which has such a deep flavour … the essence of roasted shell and cognac and cream and fish stock reduced from a pint to a teacup full. L’Escargot is the kind of place Disney animators are imagining when they draw fancy French restaurants.

“A cassoulet “au confit de canard” is a whacking plateful for £19; schedule a lie down afterwards.

“A list that has never heard of any wine-producing country other than France”

“There is a Grand Marnier soufflé offered at dessert, which is so right it’s practically a part of the order of service at a high mass. We are here to worship at the altar of classical French cuisine and we really must finish the job. We are now armpit deep in every glorious Gallic cliché, and happy to be there… there is always a place for longevity, for commitment and for class. L’Escargot has it all.”


Grace Dent in her first column for The Guardian reviewed The Fordwich Arms in Kent, which has been taken over by ex-Clove Club chef Dan Smith…

“Presently, Fordwich, three miles east of Canterbury and officially Britain’s smallest town, is gorgeously unspoiled… unbesmirched by Londoners, who, as I write… are now reading that Dan Smith, an ex-Clove Club chef, has taken harness of a gargantuan country boozer in this tiny town.

“Recall, if you will, the plight of the poor people of Seasalter in north Kent when Stephen Harris transmogrified The Sportsman into a restaurant-world sacred cow. Seasalter did not deserve the metropolitan elite washing up daily, in their peculiar trousers, whiffling on about keto-diet options and normalising £11 for a slice of salt-baked celeriac.

“… a pub, dining room and, notably, capacious beer garden overlooking the River Stour. This garden, which Smith vows will stay dog-friendly, is made for lost summer lunches gone wildly awry… house-cured meats, Maldon rock oysters and local crab. But also plump pheasant dumplings – think big, wobbly, dim sum dumplings, not your nan’s suet chestcloggers – stuffed with Stour valley bird in a vivid, roast onion-flecked broth. Or a parfait of chicken liver with gingerbread and red grape.

“I adore that The Fordwich Arms is not afeared to have bold strokes of Michelin-manner whimsy – rare sika venison on kale with plum – and exemplary straightforwardness, too, such as a piece of fresh grilled Kentish mackerel. The Fordwich’s vegetarian option will live on in my heart, or more accurately my phone’s photo library, as a death row lunch that could soften a summary execution. Sweetcorn panisse – thick chips …come perched on a corn chowder with a wobbly confit duck egg yolk. Why can’t all vegetarian food be like this? I’m a huge fan of the not-killing-stuff option on any menu.

“I’ve made it a 2018 resolution to wage war on all chefs who offer me a meat-free afterthought of pre-made tagliatelle avec low-excitement mushroom. I am chalking this up as a good first day in a new job. If you go, which you really must … do demand the baked vanilla cheesecake with roasted quince on a layer of sticky gingerbread.

“Book a table at Dan Smith’s place sooner rather than later. The food scene is coming. I apologise in advance, Fordwich. Your sleepy hollow just got woke.”


Ben Norum in The Evening Standard bravely ventures to a restaurant in a nightclub – Pufferfish at Kensington’s recently launched outpost of Mahiki…

“Contrary to the name, it doesn’t serve the notorious and potentially deadly Japanese fish, but rather a Polynesian-themed menu built around sushi, sashimi, tartare and salads. It’s hard to go wrong with carpaccio-style thinly sliced tuna (but not too thin, mind) paired with a jalapeno dressing and truffled soy sauce, or salmon sashimi laced with truffle ponzu.

“Portions are small, which allows for plenty of variety, but prices not quite so dainty. Let’s be clear, you’ll really come here for tiki vibes and rum not rock shrimp tempura, but should you want some food before – or during – your night out then you could do far worse than a plate of fish or three.”


Julie Burchill also in The Evening Standard heads to the latest offering from Caprice Holdings that isn’t an outpost of the Ivy – Harry’s Dolce Vita in Knightsbridge, which launched late last year…

“The latest venture from Caprice Holdings, which brought you Harry’s Bar, The Ivy and Sexy Fish, this was never going to be a shy and retiring place for vegans in hemp clothing. The menus were big, boastful beasts. My tonno alla griglia was extraordinarily good. The chargrilled vegetables were so life-affirming that I briefly considered becoming a carnivore again rather than collude in their destruction. Desserts were frankly gorgeous: an Amalfi sundae of lemon sorbet and candied lemon crashing up against a wedge of lemon ice.”


Kathryn Flett in The Telegraph also reviewed The Fordwich Arms but wasn’t quite as ebullient in her praise as her colleague Grace Dent… (Amusingly, the Guardian photographer came in to take a picture for Grace Dent’s article while Flett was eating, and asked if she and her companion would mind being in the shot!)

“The Arms is a delightfully welcoming, arts-and-craftsy pub. There are two roaring fires and an open, uncluttered bar. The food, let us be clear, is not pub food but pukka bells-and-whistles ambitious modern British, which is also somewhat at odds with the easy-going dogs-and-pints-at-the-bar vibe.

“Our starters proper were gorgeous to look at; my generous portion of local crab, pickled cuke, brown crab and sea herbs was punchy and briny… my roast local haunch of venison with plum and pumpkin was about 30 seconds too pink. Desserts were very good: my stem ginger ice cream with poached quince and buttermilk mousse was a winner simply for including quince.

“Overall, presentation was never less than perfect, albeit at the fiddly end of the spectrum, and the service was warm but a bit too hover-y. Fordwich is a brave, ambitious move by the young chef-proprietor Smith.”


Michael Deacon in The Telegraph feels just a tiny bit awkward dining alone at The Salutation…

“Yes, I did write that eating out alone is good. And I stand by that. It’s relaxing, it’s restorative, and there’s no need to be ashamed of it. I will admit, though, that now and then there are times when it can feel just a tiny, tiny bit awkward… I sit at the head of my banqueting table, all alone, like a king with horrendous body odour.”


Keith Miller in The Telegraph finds flawless sushi at Yen – a soba specialist from the St Germain de Prés area of Paris which opened an outlet just off the Strand last year…

“A brand new Franco-Japanese restaurant … cleverly arranged on its sloping site, with both the spectacular double-height dining area downstairs and a small bar upstairs accessible from the street… a suited maître d’ led us down a beautiful wooden staircase… a little greenhouse affair where, twice daily, specialists prepare the restaurant’s signature foodstuff, handmade soba or buckwheat noodles”

“It’s hard to say what’s good about really good sashimi. Super fresh, just the right temperature, immaculately cut, artfully but not fussily presented (a few shiso leaves and flowers plus, thrillingly, a nano-courgette in full bloom) and – crucially – plenty of it. Prawns were sweet and bouncy, served raw but tinged with pink. Marble tuna nigiri sushi had a perfectly even fatty texture, as if the fish had been fed on beer then lovingly massaged to death, as Kobe beef cattle are, and as I one day hope to be.

“By the time our noodles came, we felt as if we’d been taken on a journey… hot noodles in broth, served with a little still life of feather-light tempura. Yen isn’t cheap … but its menu is intelligent and navigable. It may feel a little severe for some people but I thought it pretty nearly flawless: eating there felt like being on the receiving end of a profound act of courtesy.”



Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail unsurprisingly loves Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons. Who doesn’t?

“To cross the threshold of Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is to glide, noiselessly, into another world, a sybaritic, sumptuous Xanadu where the grit and grime of the workaday toil slip away like mink off silk. Service is warm, but immaculately drilled, and smooth as a river-rubbed pebble.

“At its heart is Raymond Blanc, its boss, the soul, and the greatest of chefs. He never stands still. Since the place opened, over 30 years back, the list of chefs who trained under Blanc is astounding.

“What they do is provide food of the highest level, consistently, for around 80 people per service, which is a monumental achievement. At these prices, every last punter expects perfection… there’s a five-course menu for £95. Not cheap, but incredible value.

“Crab, pure as a bracing sea breeze, with lemon-grass sorbet, and wisps of whipped coconut milk, and a sharp mango jelly. There’s a magnificent clarity of tropical flavour… sweetbreads, burnished and bouncy… upon a tangle of slow-cooked onions, and shards of pickled onions, and an intense, joyous, mightily reduced jus …Old-school French, but with a very modern precision. A gilded and luscious millionaire’s shortbread, rich as a pasha.

“This is a place that has sat at the top for three decades, and it’s easy to see why. Old-fashioned comfort and service, hard graft and cooking that’s always evolving, without ever falling victim to fashion. Even on the greyest of days, Le Manoir is eternally bright.”


Tim Hayward at The Financial Times is disappointed by his visit to the London branch of The Coal Shed, which opened near Tower Bridge last year (the original is in Brighton)…“Good ingredients undermined. Setting up a steakhouse hundreds of metres from some of the best in the world is a gamble.”


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