Harden’s review of the reviews

⦿ Jay Rayner of The Observer reviewed Plot in Tooting, “a sliver of a restaurant serving terrible cocktails and great food in one of south London’s traditional covered markets”.

“Thick curls of squid, crusted with a chorizo crumb on a salad of tomatoes that taste of something, is a bit of textural fun. It’s followed by a dainty salad of hanger steak, the pieces seared outside, while inside left the purple of the evening sky before darkness finally falls. There are shavings of radish, watercress leaves and dollops of a truffled mayo.”

“I want very much to be a cheerleader for Plot. I admire its pluck and courage, its determination to do its own thing away from the centre; to bring quality cooking so far down the southern end of the tube. But I can’t do so, not quite…  Throw in a bottle of wine from even the lowest reaches of the short list and you’re staring at a bill of at least £80 for two…. It does feel wrong, as if the cultural, social and actual arithmetic simply doesn’t add up.” 

⦿ In the Guardian, Marina O’Loughlin reviewed Campania & Jones 7/10, a former Welsh dairy in Hackney where “Emma Lantosca has created something truly special”.     

“A vast slab of beef ribeye, halfway between braised and grilled, hums with rosemary and red wine; gilthead bream, burnished from the frying pan, comes flanked with red prawns and glossy tresses of emerald, chilli-spiked barba di frate. Polpettone (big meatball) is even more rustic than our surroundings, a huge slab of garlicky, almost-meatloaf of beef and veal, stuffed with ham and hard-boiled egg, and covered in a sparky tomato sauce. There’s cheese oozing out of the thing, too – provolone, I think.”

“This isn’t hip London restaurant food so much as the cooking of Italian homes, of nonne, of hours spent companionably cranking out pasta in domestic kitchens. It would bring a tear to the proverbial glass eye.”

“I’m enchanted by Campania & Jones. … It’s not perfect, but I simply don’t care. I’ve probably ruined it for all of us now.”

⦿ Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard reviewed Dandy 3/5, a pop-up-gone-permanent on Newington Green from Australian chefs Dan Wilson and Andrew Leitch – “Dan-Andy, geddit?“.

“Many of the items offered are fundamentally side dishes with dreams of glory. They are for people who when asked to a party of protein and vegetables will end up talking all evening to the vegetables.”

“With its communal tables and open kitchen it has the feel of a commune, which is warming, neighbourly, fine and dandy, but maybe not ‘vaut le detour’.”

⦿ In ES magazine, Grace Dent reviewed Hand 5/5, “a great neighbourhood restaurant hiding in plain sight” near Stratford International station, which is her “dream destination for a day off”.

“It’s a strange kind-of Greek, slightly Berber, very east London restaurant masquerading as a coffee shop”.

“On the front door, if you look closely, is a menu serving a changeable feast of Palestinian, Greek and earthy British meze. Smashed squash, ‘Trikalinos’ anchovy, stem broccoli, feta and flaked almonds were on one day’s brunch menu. Za’atar tomatoes on dakos rusk, black speckled bean salad with toasted peppers, excellent split lentil soups, or my favourite, leek and fennel.”

⦿ Keith Miller of the Sunday Telegraph reviewed Winteringham Fields 3/5 near Scunthorpe, where he found the food “pricy” but faultless.

“Chef-patron Colin McGurran has a distinctive style. All the Michelin stuff is there, if that floats your boat – the powders and foams, the neurotic attentiveness to detail – but I’d say his food is a shade more ingredient-led and less about technique – and, consequently maybe, bigger on flavour – than you sometimes find at this price point.  A 60-day Dexter beef tartare was chunky, and a little funky, served with a dollop of caviar and a squidge of citrus, and held loosely together by a lovely beef jelly. Asparagus was partly peeled, as if flashing its stocking-tops, dressed with smoky linseed.”

⦿ In the Financial Times, Tim Hayward visited Le Cochon Aveugle in York on the day it reopened with a “blind” eight-course tasting menu to coincide with chef Josh Overington’s appearance on television’s Great British Menu.

He did not enjoy the smoked oyster with lemon oil and granita, the rose veal tartare with tonnato sauce, the fruits de mer in dashi broth with foie gras.

“The ingredients are good, the skills are there but, dear God, the idiom was exhausted years ago. … This is a way of cooking would have died of its own absurdity a decade ago were it not for the fact that it’s ideal for competitive food TV. High-jeopardy techniques, ‘plating’ that looks good under studio lighting and enough ingredients so that the judges can talk for 10 minutes mean these moribund tropes are cruelly and endlessly resuscitated.”

“What burns me up is the waste. There are few enough inspired cooks out there, so it’s a tragedy that York has been robbed of some – led astray by an outdated and entirely false orthodoxy of ‘serious’ food.”

⦿ In the Mail on Sunday, Tom Parker Bowles reviewed Rick Stein, Barnes, 4/5, the TV chef’s new outlet in the capital, which he said is “now firmly on my list of best places to eat seafood in London. No fuss or nonsense, just reliable, consistent and easy to love”.

“Fish soup is a rich umber in colour, with a good chilli bass note, a hint of citrus and a good whack of booze. It seems almost too polite to start but once you dig in, dunking proper croutons slathered with punchy rouille and handfuls of Parmesan, the true flavour starts to emerge. A rich, sonorous, southern French fishy heft, that bellows lustily of rocky coves and deep underwater caves.”

“Fruits de mer arrive on their battered tin plate. Even a £25 small portion is lavish: scallops, langoustines, razor clams, winkles, cockles, whelks, mussels and a whole crab. They’re fresh cooked, sweet and undulled by the ice’s grasp.”

⦿ Giles Coren of The Times reviewed the Tandoor Chop House 6/10 in Covent Garden 6/10, which he described as “an attempt by a large company clearly looking for a gap in the market… to marry the virtues of the old-fashioned English chophouse with the ever-popular high street tandoori”.

Dexter beef dripping keema naan was “unctuous, meaty, outstanding” and crispy blackened Amritsari lamb chops were “the business”, but black dahl was “weirdly bland and runny, almost sweet” and the IPA-battered squid and prawns “had been cooked a little too long, losing fish flavour”.

“It’s all fine, but at these prices and in a place drilling down into a single speciality, I would expect genuine, incontrovertible excellence. Which  I didn’t get.”

⦿ Coren also gave a glowing review to the Other Naughty Piglet 8/10, at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Other Palace theatre in Victoria.

“Standout dishes included spears of hot asparagus with sheets of lardo di Collonata that melted into the greenness on contact; Devon crab with lovely cool pickled cabbage, shredded very fine, and smashed peanuts; crispy nuggets of breaded, fried sweetbread with fat peas, charred spring onions and a creamy madeira sauce; and a square of the sweetest, stickiest black pudding with slices cuttlefish and capers.”

“This is a supercool, cutting-edge hipster diner unexpectedly hurled into a hive of musical theatre. The weird thing about it is that Lloyd Webber was himself a restaurant critic for some years – at The Daily Telegraph – so one wouldn’t have thought he’d know anything about food at all.” 

⦿ In the Sunday Times, Joseph Connolly reviewed Monica Galetti’s Mere 4/5 in Fitzrovia, where he complained about the “rather pricy wine…. We had a Toyland 25cl carafe (the only size available) of Gigondas at £21.50, and after a single inhalation it had practically evaporated” – a theme his review returned to.

“There was mushroom and Marmite tortellini, and this was exemplary; perfect, nutty pasta and a deep and mouth-filling mushroom flavour, though I never would have known there was Marmite in it.”

“For mains, squad – a rhubarb-glazed breast of pigeon with a ras el hanout pastilla, cauliflower and chard. At £32 this was going it for two small pieces, but superbly cooked.”

“There was also roast chicken breast with confit thigh, wild mushroom, bread sauce agnolotti and a madeira jus. This was faultless… first-rate cooking, but very little actual chicken – and, of course, on a plate the size of a hubcap.”  



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