Harden’s review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

CUV-X1oWUAEzOb2We kick off this week’s review of the reviews with a corker. Everyone should read Marina O’Laughlin’s scathing dissection of NYC interloper Hotel Chantelle in the Guardian, if only to hear the phrase ‘le wanquerie’, from the woman who brought us ‘Mayfair Wankpits’. From the food, to the service, to the very reason behind the London outpost of this restaurant/nightclub – Marina is not amused…

Here come “tuna tartare cigars”. Leaving aside the wisdom of disguising food as something carcinogenic, and, to hammer the point home, serving it in a smoke-billowing ashtray… Actually, no, I can’t leave it aside. It’s lunacy. Black seeds stand in for ash, and a pool of ectoplasmic green that tastes vaguely cucumber-and-wasabi for, I dunno – phlegm? I suppose I should forgive, because they’re more or less edible. This edibility is a one-off…

Everything is horrifyingly sweet. If the performance were flawless, you could opt for a kind of appalled fascination, but balls drop all over the place: there’s no basil or watermelon for requested cocktails; dishes are supposed to come with all kinds of idiocy – pipettes for injecting caramel or chocolate into “donuts” – but don’t. Our French waiter isn’t much bothered, probably judging us for coming here in the first place. Mate, if I’ve signed up for le wanquerie, I want the full throbbing Onan.

 

Cross to the other side of the newspaper spectrum and AA Gill’s Table Talk column in the Sunday Times notes the best diets for achieving longevity. As it turns out one of these is Sri Lankan, which gives the critic ample reason to attend the Sethi siblings latest offering, Hoppers on Soho’s Frith Street. The décor may be a little tame, but not the food…

Subcontinental food has to be made with complete conviction and personal belief. It can’t equivocate or insinuate. It doesn’t have hidden depths or slow reveals. Every mouthful is a huge singing, dancing, heartbreaking, hysterical number. And in Sri Lanka, the heat is ramped up so that every bite is also a dare. It tastes so good that you have to muster the flameproof cheek to do it again. For every torched kari, there is cooling rice and yoghurt, chutneys and roti. They do an excellent curry-leaf buttermilk.

 

Meanwhile The Times’s Giles Coren diagnoses himself with a very serious case of Critic’s Rumble after two visits to Shotgun (the new restaurant from Brad McDonald of The Lockhart fame). This is thankfully a curable affliction, but manifests itself with the inability to write up a review because you’re drooling too hard over the memory of your dinner. The antidote? Go to a ‘not actively bad’ but ‘pointless’ place like Bandol in Chelsea…

On Shotgun: Nor could I write about the pulled pork bun, so sweet and dense, nor the perfect half-rack of baby back ribs, so perfectly judged that each bone came off the ribcage with just the right amount of tender lean and fat adhering to it: pink and grey and gold, the hint of wood but not of carbon, molasses, the sour-sweet ghost of vinegar … The water rolled from my tongue as from a tap and shorted out my laptop, so I gave up writing and booked again for the following evening.

On Bandol: It was just so Chelsea, so very, very Chelsea: a couple of old men in mustard cords drinking red wine at the empty bar, a pretty French girl new to waitressing, a fairy-lit olive tree in the middle of the floor (“It’s just like San Lorenzo!” said Esther, who used to get taken there on dates by chinless finance boys in loafers before I arrived to rescue her), and food that, while edible enough, certainly won’t trouble the morning saliva glands of a hungry writer.

 

The Observer’s Jay Rayner heads away from the smoke up to St Andrews. Unfortunately the restaurant he really wanted to review the East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans is now closed until April 2016, so he has to make do with the Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews. From the well-heeled clientele to the price tags they inspire, this really isn’t Jay’s kinda place.

We share just one dessert, a banana cheesecake, and it’s fine. But I cannot see how it justifies the £10 price tag that comes with moving from two courses to three. I anaesthetise myself with expensive glasses of Albariño and brood on the fact that really, with restaurants like this, it doesn’t matter what the hell I say. They have their audience. This leaky ship will sail on regardless.

 

And Fay Maschler reviews Bloomsbury’s recently launched Noble Rot. As one might expect from Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling (the duo behind Noble Rot magazine) there is a big emphasis on wine here, with a very good selection by the glass. But as the Evening Standard’s critic discovers, the food from Whistable’s The Sportsman ex-chef Paul Weaver ain’t half bad either…

The menu is short and mined with clues as to the chef’s heritage. Superb homemade soda bread and focaccia is grouped with sourdough from Hedone (the best) and served with home-churned butter. That emblem of fishy simplicity, slip sole — its skeleton the image for every cartoon of a cat polishing off a fish — is served at The Sportsman with seaweed butter, here with smoked butter. The flesh, easy to separate, is surprisingly dense and sumptuous, with the kick of red pepper just what it needs to avoid complacency.

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