Review of the reviews

Our weekly round-up of what the national and local restaurant critics are writing about, for the week ending 22 November 2020.

Restaurants and bars in England are closed between 5 November and 2 December for a second lockdown; parts of Scotland are in the highest level of the country’s five-tier system of restrictions, and the ‘firebreak’ lockdown in Wales ended on 9 November .

Please consider ordering takeaways or deliveries from your favourite spots if you can; the restaurant industry and everyone involved in it need our continued support.

As the stock of pre-lockdown reviews dwindles, we are sharing whatever the critics are sharing with us: delivery reviews, nostalgia, lists of favourite meals and even Christmas news.

*****

The Observer

“Arriving here feels like coming face to face with the accommodations we have all had to make in 2020.”

In his last review before lockdown 2, Jay Rayner visited The Tramshed Project (“which, as the name suggests, was once where London trams went to bed at night”), formerly part of Mark Hix’s restaurant empire which “did not survive 2020”.

It’s “so now”, run by the brilliantly named Dominic Cools-Lartigue, who’s made a reputation for “nudging rough-hewn urban spaces into becoming street food hubs”. This project is still a restaurant, but “is also now a space for involuntary home workers fed up with banging away on laptops at their kitchen tables”, and there’s “sizeable booths” for meetings.

Despite all the “intense young people” trying to work, it’s “still very much a food venture and a good one” that will “in time, it will play host to a variety of chefs” including Zoe Adjonyoh and James Cochran. At the time of his visit, Jay ate the offering from ‘house chef’ Andrew Clarke, Ex-Brunswock House and St Leonards, a “chunky, bearded and tattooed man, who looks like he could swiftly skin and butcher the elk you just bagged on Shoreditch High Street”.

Clarke puts the charcoal grill to “good use”, serving up flavours that are “reliably huge” and “pitch-perfect”. Lunch is a “list of possibilities piled on top of heat-blistered naan” and the dessert menu is “short and to the point” (although Jay took umbrage with a so-called ‘trifle’).

“This space is now a welcoming, beating heart in the centre of the city for those in need of refuge of so many kinds. The lockdown will end eventually. The new normal will return.”

*****

In November’s Observer Food Monthly, there was a list of the 20 best easy Christmas recipes for those of you planning early.

*****

The Evening Standard

“The best temporary function of this column would be to extol the virtues of what we might call a walking lunch.”

Running short of ‘eat in’ reviews, Jimi Famuwera has been reminiscing on the takeaway meals of his youth, the “ambulant, chip-shop dinners… the jolting pleasure of kerbside burritos, crinkly churros… savoured in the open air or an unseasonable gelato enjoyed at a blissful meander”.

“There is certainly no shortage of options” – from delivery  to click-and-collect to meal kits, “London’s rejigged pre-Christmas dining landscape teems with enticing, wintry picnic opportunities”.

Jimi mentions “Flor’s deservedly hyped ASAP Pizza spin-off “, the “tricked-out, Technicolor lunch boxes at Nasi Economy Rice” and “sandwiches from Dom’s Subs on Hackney Road… messy, texturally inventive two-handers deserving of a reverent moment or two on Regent’s Canal”.

“No one is suggesting that a hungrily gulped, spectacular hot dog is seriously competing with, say, a lingering, candlelit meal at Noble Rot Soho. Each is its own distinct thing, magnified by specific context.”

*****

Also in The Standard, a meaty article from David Ellis on the “remarkable resilience of restaurants battling through Lockdown 2.0”; “furlough and rates relief only go so far and without the usual boozy work dos and last-minute lunches with friends, restaurants are facing a catastrophic lack of cash”.

Interviews with Elizabeth Haigh of Mei Mei, Jackson Boxer of Orasay and Brunswick House and Tom Aikens, among many others, demonstrate the incredible lengths to which proprietors are going to keep their restaurants open, their staff in work and the public well fed.

*****

David also reports on the homelessness charity StreetSmart, which usually raises money in the pre-Christmas run-up “by adding a voluntary £1 donation to restaurant bills”; it’s set to lose £500k this year.

*****

Fay Maschler reviewed the takeaway roast chicken “with stuffing of brioche, foie gras and black truffle” from Davies & Brook, a year on from her review of the (then new) restaurant; D&B To Go provides cook-at-home ingredients “complete with vegetable side dishes, salad, truffle gravy and dessert”. Not all of us, however, would receive the additional “present” of a bottle of the wine she enjoyed when she reviewed (“They keep tabs on you it would seem… but in this instance I don’t mind at all”).

“It is one of the best roast chickens I have ever eaten — and I have tried a few. Dessert of apple tart with maple and almond could have come straight from a Parisian patisserie.”

*****

The Guardian

“Travelling around Britain for work during the pandemic, I’m reminded constantly of how curious and muted a land is without restaurants, bars and cafes.”

Grace Dent has been designated a keyworker (“I know, stop laughing”), so, even though she’s unable to visit her father in a care home, she can travel around the UK “filming television shows for the Christmas schedule”. As she passes through airports and train stations, she has been mourning the loss of the ‘grab-and-go’  fare she used to rely on, and now packs emergency snacks in case hotels have no restaurant open, and has to sneak out to off licences in order to drink with dinner.

“What I’ve learned while travelling about Britain is not to assume there will be food everywhere, and to buy willy-nilly whenever you need it.”

*****

The Times

Giles Coren’s lockdown column with his wife, Esther Walker, focuses this week on schools, which are staying open during lockdown 2. For Esther, it’s a total change and a welcome one – in the last lockdown, “while the child-free bustled about making kombucha”, she suddenly became “an unpaid nanny, cook, cleaner and psychiatrist with no August off”, and “crawled through the day, hand over hand”.

“So far, it’s all been like one of those rare sequels that is better than the first movie. I’m raring to go for the third instalment! Just keep those schools open – or it’ll be a horror film.”

Giles, on the other hand, enjoyed the first lockdown. With no restaurants, tennis courts or shops open, and no filming happening, it became painfully clear that all his work could be fitted into a day (especially when his wife wrote half of this column), so he relished the time with his children, teaching them history from Ladybird books (luckily they are now at school so it can all be corrected) and going out on illicit walks. He could have claimed keyworker status (like Grace Dent), but “how could I deprive my kids of the Great National Bunk that will be the fundamental unifying memory of their generation?”

Now, he’s missing them and can’t even clean the house as the cleaner and gardener are still allowed to work. “If the first lockdown was like being in prison… this one is like being in solitary confinement.”

*****

The Mail on Sunday

Tom Parker Bowles in The Mail’s YOU magazine made a surprisingly moving and “impassioned plea on behalf of our embattled neighbourhood restaurants” this week.

The “low key, modest and unassuming” Hereford Road in Bayswater has been “quietly cooking some of the most reliably excellent food in the country” for “over a decade”; it’s “eternally consistent and unerringly joyous, a neighbourhood restaurant to worship and adore”, perfect for “yet another long and languorous lunch”.

Chef proprietor Tom Pemberton was previously head chef at St John Food & Wine; his menu here “follows the seasons without ever banging on about doing so” and the set lunch (three courses for £15.50) is “the best deal in town”.

“Like all good restaurants, Hereford Road is about so much more than just food. Providing work and hospitality, supporting farmers, growers, bakers, wine makers, knife sellers, crockery dealers, kitchen-kit suppliers and launderers alike. Restaurants are an essential part of civilised life. And I, like so many others, am praying that those doors will open once more. As soon as they possibly can.”

*****

And also…

The Scotsman reported on the temporary closure of The Three Chimneys from Wednesday “for the foreseeable future due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions”. Owner Gordon Campbell Gray encouraged Twitter followers to buy vouchers for a meal or stay at the famous restaurant-with-rooms.

*****

Bristol Live reported on the news that The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna has revealed plans for a second site, in Bedminster, south Bristol.

*****

Birmingham Live reported on the news that up to 4,000 restaurants face investigations over Eat Out to Help Out fraud.

*****

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