Review of the Reviews

Our round-up of what the nation’s restaurant critics were writing about in the week up to 23rd June 2024

Evening Standard

Café Britaly, Peckham

When this restaurant’s purist-baiting pitch first came to his notice, Jim Famurewa dismissed the whole enterprise as clickbait – “winking Britalian camp” and “a silly play for virality”. But when he tasted the cooking from ex-Boca di Lupo chef Alex Purdie, he realised there was more to the enterprise than provoking rage in Milan.

‘Britalian carbonara’ was a case in point. Cream-laden and topped with a fried egg, it has indeed created a stir in the blogosphere. But in fact the dish is “a consoling, subtly magnetic rib-squeezing hug of pure comfort, ravishingly pan-fresh and a total showcase for Purdie and his team’s palpable experience.” Ditto ‘zuppa inglese’, “a prettily layered, Italianate trifle featuring boozy sponge, luxuriant custard and a crowning sprinkle of toasted almonds”.

Jimi concluded that Café Britaly is in fact a “sensitively rendered, keenly priced, modern rewiring of the neighbourhood bistro” and “a perfect showcase for the bravura intensity of Purdie’s cooking”. 


The Guardian

Assaggini, Glasgow

Grace Dent was thrilled at the prospect of this Glasgow Italian, where 13 different pasta dishes are each matched with a beer from artisan Scottish brewery West, and where a “lengthy list of pizzas, salumifritti and salads, makes the whole affair feel like a futuristic Pizza Express built for a brave new world”. 

“The menu is irresistible,” she added, “which makes the fact that they cannot cook any of it a huge source of dismay.” This failure started with an absence of seasoning which had Grace reaching repeatedly for the salt and pepper, and only deteriorated from that point.

“There is a dramatic dichotomy between the restaurant Assaggini wants to be – modern, fun, good-quality, here to smash all its competitors out of the pasta playing field – and the joint they’re actually running.”


The Observer

Chung’dam, Soho

Jay Rayner was faintly disturbed to try a new venture on the site of a Chinese restaurant he adored, Y Ming. But as he noted life moves on, and this Korean barbecue turned out to be just the sort of place he likes – a hands-on affair involving the searing and charring of cuts of meat and vegetables that “cloud the air above our table with an intense savouriness. I live for clouds of savouriness above my table”.

Chung’dam “styles itself as a refined version of the clattering tabletop barbecue places to be found across Shaftesbury Avenue, and it’s priced accordingly”; on the day Jay visited, it also had an “entirely Asian clientele who clearly know what they’re doing”. 

It is “huge fun but, unlike previous Korean barbecue experiences, it is also low maintenance, save for the slippy metal chopsticks which challenge our dexterity.” And, added Jay, the refinement means “your hair won’t smell” when you get home.


The Times & Sunday Times

Joséphine Bouchon, Chelsea

Giles Coren knew he was going to like uber-chef Claude Bosi’s tribute to the bouchons of his Lyonnais youth, although he made great play of it being in inaccessible Fulham when it is comfortably in Chelsea – unlike Chelsea FC and Chelsea Harbour, which are indeed both across the border in Fulham.

Still, the all-but-empty houses owned by non-resident moneybags in the streets nearby set up Giles’s punchline, that “Joséphine Bouchon is a seriously wonderful neighbourhood restaurant which lacks, to be perfect, only a neighbourhood”.

As for the food, he enjoyed a series of Lyonnais classics: quenelle de brochet “as light as a meringue, wobbly as a blancmange, egg and air and the gentlest savour of the sea… You don’t see it much any more, but it’s hard to imagine it was ever done better than this”; ris de veau “the size and shape of a toddler’s fist, very faintly crisp at the edge but then properly gooey throughout”; rabbit à la moutarde “jointed into a lovely earthenware oval dish under a clingy sauce”; and “an immaculate gratin dauphinois that was “not much smaller than central Lyons”.


Spanish Butcher, Edinburgh

Chitra Ramaswamy ate “the most expensive steak I’ve ever ordered, a chateaubriand at £16 per 100g from a 12-14-year-old Rubia Gallega cow imported from Galicia at Spanish Butcher, the new Edinburgh branch of a Glasgow restaurant.

It was, she said, “sublime. The primordial Euro-steak of your pastoral, pre-Brexit, presolastalgic dreams.” Presolastalgic? Winner of the critics’ ‘word of the week’ award, meaning that blissful age in the past when nobody worried about climate change or air miles, so the idea of flying beef to a country with its own prime beef industry rang no alarm bells.

The meat was “as intensely flavoured as the Galician hills are perfumed, so very soft, making the kind of food memories that will torment me in all my future moments of sharp-toothed hunger.” 

Bizarrely, though, everything else about the restaurant was “… the opposite of great”. Service slow, prawns chewy and under seasoned, garlic potatoes missing the garlic, romesco sauce that “tastes of very old nuts left at the bottom of a bowl in a 1970s pub”. “Go for the Galician beef. And throw every penny you can at it.”


J. Sheekey, Soho

After an unpleasant reaction to eating scallops a while back, Charlotte Ivers decided she was allergic to seafood and gave up attempting to eat it. But a recent self-testing regime revealed that she was “OK with crustaceans — the cheerful pink guys with legs and no backbone, such as prawns and crabs — but not with molluscs, the largely grumpy-grey slug-like beasts in a hinged shell”.

A celebration was called for and there was “only one place for it: J Sheekey. A seafood restaurant. The seafood restaurant. A civilised old place with red fronting that has been shucking oysters since 1896″.

The restaurant separated a “majestic” platter of “whelks, cockles, mussels, fat oysters, dressed crab and prawns that look big enough to have your hand off if you bothered them” into two – crustaceans for Charlotte and molluscs for her boyfriend – and she tucked happily into the “huge, plump, fresh Atlantic prawns cracking in my enthusiastic grip” and a “sweet, nutty, meaty half lobster”. “God, I’ve missed this.”


Daily Telegraph

Hitchen’s Barn, Oakham

William Sitwell enjoyed himself at an “unfussy modern British gastro pub” in Rutland, owned and run by Neil and Louise Hitchen, “a magnificent twosome, with him turning out highly competent and delicious food and her dishing it up with charm and efficiency”.

The highlight of his meal was a “quite wonderful main course of pollock, its flesh faultless. It came in a sweet, rich bisque-like sauce (think fish soup from the finest Parisian bistro) and was teamed with new potatoes, clams and samphire… as good a thing as you might wish to have on a blustery Friday lunchtime in Rutland.”

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