Review of the reviews

Here’s our regular summary of the places national and local restaurant critics have been visiting in the week ending 23 January 2022.

*****

The Sunday Times

Marina O’Loughlin thinks found her restaurant of the year on a visit to Pine, in an old cow barn deep in Northumberland near Hadrians Wall. It’s part of Vallum Farm, where the “huddle of former farm buildings” now houses “gift shops, gym, café” and this restaurant. “It seems an unlikely setting for one of the UK’s most exciting new restaurants.”

In an upstairs room, she found a “half restaurant, half industrious open kitchen” with “so much room between tables it feels completely luxurious: fur throws over chairs, views for miles” and something that “smells heavenly…  utterly delicious”.

Eating the food “is even more special… one exciting mouthful after another”; “the cumulative effect is almost dizzying despite occasionally off-putting titles”. There are “16 small courses — complexity married to simple brilliance” — with “not a duffer dish, misstep or moment of ennui”.

Chef-owner Cal Byerley and his cohorts come via the Forest Side in Grasmere; the brigade has spent multiple lockdowns “plotting wizardry, playing nutty professors with the fruits of their gardens, farms and fields… to find something so life-affirming has been brewing over those dead, bleak months is simply joyful”.

*****

The Observer

“Outside the weather is a cacophony of blues and gunmetal greys; inside it is all riotous colour and wake-me-up flavours.”

Jay Rayner braved Worthing in winter (where a “wolf of a gale attempts to strip the clothes off my back” and “the rain slaps me about the chops”) to sample the delights of Bayside Social, the new “handsome wood and glass pavilion… tucked in among sharp new apartment blocks” that “looks out defiantly at the wind-blasted Channel”.

It’s the “second restaurant from 2018 amateur MasterChef winner Kenny Tutt” (see also Pitch, a “serious… grown-up affair”). Bayside, which opened in September 2021, is “the confident, relaxed second child of a team that now knows what it’s doing” – good thing too, as the beachfront location means it “has to be many things to many people at many different times of day”, which “is harder to pull off than a traditional restaurant”.

There’s a hearty breakfast menu, and an all-day menu that’s “a modish parade of small plates” (at decent prices) and “pleasingly fish-heavy, as it should be this close to the sea”.

“God is in the detail and the detail has been fully attended to.” In summer, this will be “a place of louche afternoons and sunshine”.

*****

The Evening Standard

“It was the flatbread that jerked me to attention.”

Jimi Famurewa headed to the “emergent dining hotspot” that is Queen’s Park to try out Carmel, the “new, Levant-inspired… spot from the Berber & Q team”. Expecting a “pleasant enough afternoon of familiar, Ottolenghian standards”, that flatbread – a “glossy, puffed dome… spotted with angry, oven-blackened bubbles and looking vaguely like a fire damaged blowfish” with toppings – rendered him “speechless”.

It’s a “subtly potent, magical little endeavour”, one of those “alluring, soulful little discoveries that London can somehow still spew out”, and one that he imagines the locals won’t appreciate him shouting about.

“Carmel reinvigorates a perhaps overworked restaurant genre, crowns an emergent dining district and expands a beloved brand with real confidence, craft and cool.”

*****

Also in The Standard David Ellis reveals new of Caia, from two ex-Fiend team members, “just off Portobello, promising wine, music and a seasonal menu of dishes done on an open grill”.

There’s also a delightful article listing theLondon bookshops that contain cafes – or “hybrid book-cafes” which must be the 2022 thing to call them.

*****

The Guardian

“All pub grub is not built the same. Some is sublime, worth booking ahead for and travelling miles to get to; some is the reheated or deep-fried contents of various freezer bags and flung at plates.”

Grace Dent ventured to the Surrey-London border and The Victoria in Oxshott, the local pub which has “newly refurbished and reopened… with Fat Duck alumni at the helm” and “feels instinctively like the sort of place you should force your partner to change into trousers for”.

The menu kicks off with fish and chips or a Trenchmore Farm bavette at £19, “but then prices hurtle upwards rather dramatically, and at a rate that might leave anyone picking up the family’s dinner bill in need of a lie-down in a darkened room afterwards”.

[It might help to note here that Oxshott – the “most expensive village in England” with an average property price topping £2m – is known for its gated estates and private roads, many of them housing Chelsea footballers who train nearby in Cobham.]

Prices aside, Grace’s meal included “almost certainly the finest beef wellington I will eat in this lifetime” (£45 a slice) and a “very, very good” Snickers pudding (“I doubt I’ll eat many finer things this year”).

“The Victoria at Oxshott is a very decent, semi-formal destination restaurant hiding in plain sight inside a village pub near Leatherhead.”

*****

Also in The Guardian, an uplifting article on fifteen “small venues – all run or founded by immigrants to Britain” around the UK, and how they have coped over the past two years; a recipe from each is shared (including those lamb chops from Dastaan near Epsom)

*****

The Times

After a visit to the Dickens Museum with his daughter, Giles Coren kept in theme and lunched at Simpson’s Tavern, “a piece of history not dead but ruddily alive” which “was just as it was when I was last here, 15 years ago, and for 250 years before that”.

It is – as ever – a “meandering, red-walled beehive of brass and polished wood, full of plain, ordinary men, eating plain, ordinary food, in tight booths on narrow benches”. Women “were finally admitted in 1916”, and they seemed accommodating about a 10-year-old girl, too.

Kitty “rolled her eyes with pleasure” at her steak and chips, while Giles’s steak and kidney pudding (“so old-school it lacked only a mortarboard and inkwell”)  “filled my head with happiness”.

“God, it’s wonderful. You don’t have to have done an hour in the Dickens Museum to relish this place, but it helps.” If it were “bought by hipsters and modernised… it would be dead to me”. (46/50)

*****

The Mail on Sunday

“You would be mad to miss the curry puffs.”

Tom Parker Bowles in YOU Magazine popped to Bayswater and Putera Puteri, the “small Malaysian restaurant” you could easily pass “with barely a second glance” – he knows this as he worked around the corner for years and “missed this gem”.

“It took a recent article in the ever-excellent Vittles… to point me in the right direction.”

It’s “as brightly lit as an operating theatre”, only-BYO booze and there’s no toilets, but Tom has “found my happy place”.

*****

The Scotsman

Gaby Soutar reviewed Eleanore, the new wine bar on the former site of – and owned by the same team – The Little Chartroom, whose “fanclub has monopolised it already, as we could only get a Saturday table at noon, and that was bagged weeks in advance”.

Roberta Hall and Shaun McCarron “have transformed the space”, which served “small plates and bigger ones”; the food was “sophisticated and intriguing. It doesn’t always go straight for the obvious salty, sugary, buttery jugular, but draws you in, like a siren song”.

*****

And also…

In The FT’s magazine Tim Hayward listed his go-to restaurants in London – the ones that “never fail to enchant him — and to which he returns time and again”. There’s also a review of Joe Allen in Covent Garden: “The food and the warm hospitality have me convinced: Joe Allen is not a hoary old stager but a weirdly bombproof classic” that even “managed to make baby runner beans appetising”.

*****

On the BirminghamLive website, news of Riva Blu, which replaces the Gino D’Acampo Temple Row restaurant on 27 January, and also the soon-to-be-opened Seoul Bird from TV chef Judy Joo and a new pub/restaurant from Glynn Purnell: The Mount in Henley-in-Arden opens in March 2022.

*****

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