Harden’s review of the reviews

It seems as though a few of the usual suspects were off on holiday last week, so here’s a somewhat truncated version of our review of the reviews. Find out where the critics ate this week…

First up, did you know that Pret a Manger had launched an evening service restaurant on The Strand? Surely something that nobody wanted or needed. Now, we don’t often see eye to eye with Jay Rayner but on this particular issue we must admit that The Observer’s critic-in-chief has hit the nail on the head.

“My companion, flummoxed by the multiple branches nearby, loses her way and is a few minutes late. Orders are taken at the counter and then brought to you. I choose a £25 bottle of prosecco and sit drinking it alone staring out at the office workers hurrying home. These may be among the most depressing 10 minutes of my life. It strikes me that going to a branch of Pret A Manger for a classy night out of prosecco drinking is a bit like going to a brothel in search of true love. It could happen but, frankly, we all know it’s a victory of hope over expectation.”

The Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin got the much sweeter end of the deal with her visit to the (possibly overly?) eccentric Albina in the Liverpudlian suburb of Crosby. Dishes are all accompanied by the year they were created – ‘Chip shop scallops’ (1740 – really?); a menu split into categories like “nostalgia”, ‘historical’ and ‘colonial’; and a wacky interior.

“They call themselves “eccentric”. You don’t say. Other menu items include a “palaver” of short rib, kale, shrimp butter and okra, and a “Scottish” mixed grill heaving with venison, battered haggis, square sausage, neeps, pork faggot and oatmealed egg. Albina is as eccentric as Charlie Hawtrey at Portmeirion listening to Julian Cope with Lauren Harries. The food may sound bananas, but it tastes entirely sane. I take my feathered tricorn hat (1667) off to them.”

Back in London Fay Maschler takes a trip to the newly revamped Newman Arms in Fitzrovia. This old boozer, thought to be the setting of the ‘Proles’ Pub’ in Orwell’s 1984, is now under the auspices of Matt Chatfield and promotes Cornish seafood.

“The short menu, based mainly on what has been delivered that day, offers three choices in the first and main course and handily we are a party of three. The sweetness of fresh scallops is a phrase often bandied about. Thinly sliced horizontally, their douce quality is pointed up by a pearly lustre and also the crunch and trenchant flavour of fermented gherkin cut in slices of similar size. Sliced almonds squeaky in their freshness elaborate the tastes and textures.”

And Grace Dent dreams of a simpler time, when food was served to diners on plates, after her Ibérico ham arrives dangling from a mini washing line at the new Hotel Chantelle behind Selfridges. Worse still is the restaurant’s ‘strict dress code’ of ‘dressy chic’ which make the Evening Standard reviewer see red.

These pissy little pass-agg messages reminding us to wear clean pants and accept that dinner might be cancelled — accepting this is more dangerous to British civility than the removal of our plates! Also: you cannot enforce a dress code ‘strictly’ if it’s a term that’s pulled from the air. ‘Formal’ is a thing. ‘No beachwear’ is a thing. ‘Dressy chic’ is not a thing.

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