Review of the reviews

Here is our weekly round-up of what the national and local restaurant critics are writing about, for the week ending 25 April 2021.

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England now has a ‘roadmap’ of dates for the re-opening of restaurants and pubs, which are now allowed to serve single households seated outdoors. Inside dining can start from 17 May at the earliest: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-spring-2021/covid-19-response-spring-2021-summary

All of Wales is at alert level 4, but the stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted, and outdoor hospitality can start from 26 April: https://gov.wales/coronavirus

Like Wales, in mainland Scotland, outdoor hospitality can start from 26 April https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-protection-levels/

Northern Ireland hospitality remains closed; restrictions which will be reviewed on 13 May: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-what-restrictions-mean-you

Please continue to order takeaways, cook-at-home kits, vouchers, merchandise and deliveries from your favourite restaurants if you can (we include links to those mentioned); the restaurant industry and everyone involved in it need our continued support.

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The Guardian

“I am in the marketplace to be treated like a cosseted child in numerous establishments for the remainder of 2021, being spoonfed delightful, made-from-scratch morsels by people, nay, angels, who have made it their actual career to make members of the public happier. I’ve been in the house for too long. It’s time to test the limitations of my waistband.”

Already onto her second post-lockdown review, Grace Dent ventured to Peckham’s hot newcomer, Mike’s, a “wooden refuge from all the pain of the past 12 months”.

Having “watched agog on Instagram as an ambitious timber pergola with a corrugated plastic roof was hammered, glued and hoisted together”, she knew she was in for a meal that was both Covid-safe and weatherproof. “Think Noah’s ark, but with slow-fermented, twice-baked dough festooned with ostentatious toppings and served with cold bottles of Breton cider in the back of a business park/artistic space.”

The joint is “deceptively down-at-heel” with paper menus and limited choice, but she soon realised that it’s “clandestine fancy”, serving “serious, rather heavy-going” pizzas their own way, laden with top ingredients.

“Mike’s pizza is secretly posh and definitely ever so pleasing. Even the humble gem lettuce side salad… is a delight.” And the “supplì” (a “sort of Italian croquette, or an arancino on steroids”) was “a strong example of why we bother to put on pants with zips and leave the house to eat out at all” (“order at least six”).

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The Evening Standard

The Evening Standard’s chief restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa is the first to visit to re-opened Light Bar on Shoreditch, a “a loving, restaurant revamp of a storied Noughties bar that blazed a day raving trail in a former power station before closing in 2014”. He went for lunch and returned later in the week for Saturday evening drinks.

Even dining in a marquee alongside a clanking building site “hardly diminished” the experience; “not everything… was perfect” but “the food was surprising and effervescent, the mood was determinedly celebratory, and the ambition was as lofty as the double-height ceilings”.

Much of the reincarnated Light’s “boldness flows from the menu” which has “East Asian inflections, careful provenance and, for better or worse, a veritable bingo card of buzzy “modern British” mainstays”.

“I would rather have Light Bar’s freewheeling exuberance than, say, a post-pandemic culinary landscape populated with nothing but low-risk sourdough pizza joints. There is an adventurousness, craft and committed seasonality here.” And, “unaccountably, an Ibizan sunset atmosphere” on the first open Saturday night since lockdown ended.

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Also in The Standard, David Ellis is the saviour of those of us without a laundry list of reservations already under our belts, with his article on London’s restaurants, pubs and bars that are accepting walk-ins. (Thanks, David!)

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Another article features the top afternoon teas in London, mostly available from 17 May.

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The Observer

“We are overcome with gratitude for the ministrations of these cheery waiters in their loose denim uniforms” serving up “deft, sensitive cooking in the service of seriously classy ingredients”.

On his “first night out of lockdown captivity”, Jay Rayner enoyed “swoon-worthy small plates in Hackney” at Brat at Climpson’s Arch, where “wood-fired grills flick blood-red sparks into the night sky”. A sturdy converted railway arch proved to be a wise choice for the day of restaurants reopening, as “like the punchline to a dark British joke”, it snowed all morning.

Tomos Parry actually started his career here with a pop-up before working at Kitty Fishers, then opening Brat; the return was to circumnavigate Covid restrictions temporarily, but has been permanent since January 2021.

“I loved the bricks-and-mortar version of Brat… But I love this space a little more. It has a rackety, freestyle vibe. And oh, how the food sings.” Albeit at prices that “will make the comments section below this piece online froth and bubble like a fart-filled bath”, but prices (like £135 for a whole turbot that will feed four) include sides and there’s always the “cheaper” small plates, which is what Jay went for. His juicy description of the “slurpage and suckage” of a plate of crabs and mussels almost makes lockdown a distant memory.

“A restaurant is never the sum of its dishes…  It is a mood and a sensibility; it’s the babble of voices, the clink of a glass and the chime of cutlery on porcelain… I leave with the glow of a man who knows he’s chosen well. It was the right place to begin this restaurant reviewing business once more.”

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The Sunday Times

Marina O’Loughlin is full of admiration for the hospitality industry’s inventiveness and tenacity over the past year; “the sheer pig-headed determination is awe-inspiring”.

“Most of all I’m jaw-on-floor with admiration for those who, in defiance of all apparent logic or wisdom, have opened or are planning to open a business during all this madness.”

In this week’s article she lists a selection of those newcomers “laughing in the face of official reports, determined to defy the odds with their new enterprise”. These include Lerpwl, the “popular Barrie brothers’ new restaurant on Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock” that she was actually en route to when lockdown hit (“the air in the car duly turned a vivid shade of blue”).

Other newcomers and future openings that have caught her eye include: the “long-awaited latest from Messrs Corbin and King”, Manzi’s, due to open in autumn; the “ambitious and appealing”-sounding Fern at Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle, from chef Danny Parker (former head chef at the city’s “excellent” House of Tides), Open Kitchen in Manchester’s People’s Museum and Robin Wylde in Dorset from chef Harriet Mansell [who’s already opening a second restaurant, see our news article from last week].

The compelling back story and a menu that “reads like colourful poetry” attract Marina to Imad’s Syrian Kitchen, finally due to open in May after myriad lockdown delays.

“Local pals have waxed lyrical” about tiny Rafa’s Diner in Glasgow, opened “between lockdowns” and serving up barbacoa and carne asada in a style “based on the Arizona style of tacos”.

To finish off her list, there’s Sonny’s Stores, an “alluring deli/restaurant/takeaway” in Bristol from an ex-River Cafe chef, and a  “whisper of a new opening” [that’s now firmly breaking news thanks to this article]of a new Russell Norman project called Brutto in Smithfield that she’s been stalking on the internet.

But there’s more; the anti-list of places that she’s in “no tearing hurry to beat a path to”, consisting of Flower Burger (“I don’t much fancy my food coloured like lurid snacks for Teletubbies”),the 80s-themed Only Fools and Courses or the “much-heralded” Nusr-Et Steakhouse (“if you’re happy to pay nosebleeding loot for a ponytailed poseur to bounce salt off your sirloin, you deserve everything you get”).

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The Telegraph

for his “first chomp back in the saddle” William Sitwell took a trip to Stanley’s in Chelsea, “a fluttering and delicate exotic bird of a place” despite the name and the clientele (“Chelsea yummy mummies and… well-heeled locals”).

“Down a set of steps next to a flower stall on Sydney Street, you’ll find a tranquil haven of beautifully conceived dishes and efficient service”, with the highlight of a “large terrace, under awnings and a forest of beautiful faux flowers with heaters and blankets”. Chef Olivia Burt, formerly of Claridge’s, is a bonus too; she “has turned the practice of whisking into an art form”, serving up “super-posh, high-end stuff”.

“Stanley’s is a beacon of respectable, grown-up dining in an elegant, casual setting, and places young Burt as a serious, ambitious contender. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, you’ll love it.”

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The Mail on Sunday

The headline for Tom Parker Bowles’ review  for YOU Magazine was “London’s best buns”; the article featured the delivery kits that he will ” continue to order from, even when life is, God willing back to usual once more”.

He’d recommend the “15-hour Brisket Bun Box” from Smokestak (£32.50 plus £5.95 delivery, serves four) which showcases their smoked brisket that’s “the stuff of slow-cooked legend” (pictured above) – there’s also a pulled pork option.

He also “loved the sublime fried chicken sandwiches from the ever-brilliant Chick N Sours” (£50 plus £7.95 delivery, serves two to four), recommending to deep-fry if you can – the “instructions are clear and detailed” (“and you even get a playlist to download”).

The ever-changing collaboration between Black Axe Mangal and Bao is another he’ll stay in for again (£30 plus £5 delivery, serves two).”Rich, strident and deeply, unapologetically beefy, it may be a little visceral for some tastes. But I fell in pure carnivorous love.”.

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And also…

Nicholas Lander in The FT Magazine featured “the hospitality industry’s best-kept secret”; “restaurant agents act as matchmakers, looking for a particular alchemy of neighbourhood, space and product”.

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Manchester Evening News reported on the Levenshulme bakery Trove that is opening a city-centre cafe at Bruntwood Works’ Bloc building; the team are also behind the restaurant Erst.

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Birmingham Mail revealed the site of a future Giggling Squid restaurant in Sutton Coldfield.

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