Harden’s review of the reviews

Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times gives kudos to the kitchen at Brixton pop-up Smoke & Salt (formerly in Islington) for serving food with bravura…

“We order almost everything from the short menu. (There are only two choices of red or white wines, too: I ain’t glugging prosecco during dinner, so we have a surprisingly lush sauvignon blanc from Gascony, La Bonne Franquette.)

“It’s a bit of a sensory mindwarp: all those techniques frequently jostling in a single dish. So, hispi cabbage is chargrilled to pleasing bitterness, texture and crunch added by pickled peanuts, heat from chilli, its mayo-like dressing smoked, whipped tofu. No, wait, come back — it works perfectly, light and refreshingly… well, new.

“Constant menu changes mean this will be more impression than guide: batons of plantain with fleshy leaves of fresh oregano, a relish made from beer and onions, and — skewered by twigs of rosemary — bouncy little chicken hearts. Carrots, charred into sweetness, with walnuts and pickled raisins and a thin yoghurt dressing whose seasoning you struggle to name until it whispers “cloves”.”

Jay Rayner in The Observer finds a love letter to the humble pie in Piecaramba! Winchester…

“A self-consciously jolly arch name for a bloody good pie shop. Naturally, Piecaramba! is also a quality comic shop; if you want a vintage copy of Fantastic Four or The Thing, they’ll sell it to you.

“All the engineering has gone into the pies… wonders of golden shortcrust, cooked through from side to bottom. At £5.50 ordered at the bar and delivered to your table, they are also a fair bargain.

“What’s impressive is the lack of repetition… game pie of Hampshire partridge, pheasant and venison… sweetened with redcurrant jelly and with the airy waft of bay… extensive vegetarian and vegan list…all the accompaniments are in order.

“Order the lot – pie, mushy peas, mash and sauce – and you’ll get change from a tenner.”

Felicity Cloake in The Guardian steps into Marina’s shoes (after M O’L left for the Sunday Times) and heads to rapidly gentrifying south east London to review Winemakers Deptford…

“The staff are knowledgeable and chatty – a godsend on a list studded with so many obscure names.

“Soused mussels with sweetcorn and smoked Tamworth lardo: it turns out that wafer-thin, melt-on-the-tongue rashers of milky fat are the perfect gilding for plump, vinegary bivalves… poached Yorkshire partridge: juicy as you like, paired with a sweetly meaty, house-made cotechino sausage, for which I would happily travel south of the river, finished with fine slivers of sharp pickled fennel.

“This is seriously assured cooking. Mersea gurnard with a delicate tangle of leeks vinaigrette and crumbled egg is crisp on top and dense within… a pleasingly squidgy ivory meringue with plums and thick vanilla cream.

“We leave feeling just that little bit more hip, and wishing we had somewhere as relaxed but reliably poised just around the corner.”

Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard reviewed Rochelle at the ICA (recently launched by the duo behind Shoreditch’s Rochelle Canteen)…

“How perfect that Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson of Rochelle Canteen are bringing their vision and version of how to eat to the revivified gallery. It is, simply put, a great move, an historic one, even.

“The bar and canteen now spread out, freed up and flooded with natural light and an inevitable level of noise. Aficionados of Rochelle Canteen… will note signifiers on the menus, assemblies such as rillettes and pickled cucumber, celeriac soup and back fat, deep-fried sprats and tartare sauce… items that particularly gratify are a huge heap of fat red radishes alongside a cream of pale pink smoked cod’s roe; spatchcocked quail sprinkled with harissa before fearless roasting served with aioli that hoots garlic; succulent lamb cutlets with bobby beans.

“Desserts deserve a rave of their own, particularly a smooth meringue with a chewy heart served with slices of faintly grainy quince.”

Grace Dent in the Evening Standard, meanwhile, pays a visit to Clare Smyth’s first solo venture Core in Notting Hill…

“I cannot fault the much-plaudited chef Clare Smyth for opening her new place over west… menu-wise, this is still full bells and whistles faff and finery. That’s not criticism — I rather bloody loved it.

“The Core kitchen is an ongoing paean to the beauty of gleaming surfaces… I arrived feeling like Core was merely a box to tick, so as not to have to bluff through end-of-year lists, yet it opened into something more.

“Tiny, sumptuous amuse-bouches began with a small scone-like tomato and basil ball of joy — sorry, ‘gougère.

“Core’s lunchtime clientele are older couples with retirement funds and spare time to squander, so I’d suggest a glass of Chablis and a will to create your own party… The staff are adorable.

“Skate festooned with Morecambe Bay shrimp and Swiss chard in a puddle of brown butter was delightful… fabulous chocolate tart petits fours… I enjoyed west London. What the hell has Smyth started?”


Michael Deacon in The Telegraph declares visiting Fitzrovia’s new Serge et le Phoque is “like stumbling into a high-class underground sex den”…

Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail reviewed Grey’s Brasserie (formerly Le Mazot) at Whatley Manor in Whiltshire…

“The British country house hotel. Five words that, not so long ago, would fill even the most forgiving soul with bleak, existential gloom. Three decades on and it still feels rather odd, exotic, even, leaving the warm fug of my father’s kitchen and venturing out to eat. Not to someone else’s house but to a hotel, a country house hotel.

“Whatley Manor …is a resolutely modern beast, slick, sleek and cashmere-clad.

“Pâté en croûte, a great fat slab of luscious meat, shot through with a thick seam of gentle black pudding, surrounded by a thick layer of wobbling jelly and cloaked in magnificent pastry. With just the right amount of lardy crumble. It’s like a pork pie that’s trained at Le Gavroche.

“A strong start, only let down by a sudden lull in service. Macaroni cheese, its top lavished with burnished breadcrumbs, the sauce joyously thick, lustily stringy and splendidly unfloury… Long wait aside, this is exactly the sort of cooking you crave on a chilly autumnal night.”

The Financial Times delivers its verdict on Covent Garden yearling Frenchie – “food without roots. What fresh cheffery is this? Why would you put crumble on the bit of the artichoke you can’t eat?”

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