Harden’s review of the reviews: Where the critics ate this week

The Observer’s critic-in-chief Jay Rayner asks himself the all-important question at Cliveden House’s new casual operation, The Astor Grill – would he return here and spend his own money? At £196 for two, the short answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’.

“The wine list is short and more shameless than a 1960s pool party thrown by the Astors. A glass of the Chapel Down blanc de blanc is £13. A whole bottle retails at around £26, before any wholesale discount. The cheapest bottle of white wine is £30. We have the second cheapest, A Pulpo Albarino for £33. It retails for no more than £7.50 (Majestic has it for £6.50). They have marked it up by a factor of at least four if not nearer five. I’m sorry, but no volume of driveways or vistas, chirpy waiters, blooming geraniums or miniature olive trees makes up for a pricing policy like this. Could we have eaten more cheaply? Yes, of course. But we could also have eaten more expensively. The 12oz veal cutlet is £33.”

Giles Coren over at The Times fares rather better with a visit to Clerkenwell’s hot new tasting menu spot, Anglo. He hails it as ‘one of the best British restaurants to open this, or any, year’.

“At nights they serve only a seven-course tasting menu (after three pre-dinner nibbles) and although I am back on posh food after my recent wonder outing at Duende, my heart did sink a little at the prospect of hours at the table. But it was all done with both celerity and humility and the whole business was a joy.”

Meanwhile his colleague AA Gill at the Sunday Times finds himself north of the border and dining at The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh. There’s no doubting the quality of the cuisine and the talent in the kitchen, and although the reviewer enjoys his meal, his pronouncement comes across as just a bit, well.. ‘meh’.

“The food is balanced, smooth and made from exemplary ingredients, with exhausting attention to detail, so it gets good marks. But why would you want to eat here? Why is anyone still creating rooms and menus like this? It all seems so terribly old-fashioned, in the I-haven’t-moved-on sense, weighed down with good manners, good taste and polite small talk. It is food made to feed the reputation of a chef who wants awards and crowns; a dining room where people come to whisper, awed by the brilliance of the kitchen; a place where nothing you say or do is going to live up to the panache of the pre starter.”

Back in London and The Standard’s Fay Maschler heads to hot new opening, Sardine, which straddles the border of Islington and Shoreditch and is backed by Stevie Parle (Dock Kitchen, Rotorino, Craft). It’s chef Alex Jackson doing the cooking here, however, and boy is Ms Maschler impressed…

“The first courses we choose, a fragrant, agreeably dishevelled, haunting soup au pistou and a dish of clams with peas to bob in the juices and saucisson sec to add salinity, underpin the approach… Equally fine is pork collar accompanied by a gratin of Swiss chard, quite the nicest vegetable garnish I have encountered in a long while. Domino potatoes, thinly sliced and baked in plenty of olive oil are worth ordering as a course in their own right.”

And Hoxton Square’s new French bistro, Petit Pois, gets another rave review – this time from ES Magazine’s Grace Dent. Jay Rayner previously dubbed their chocolate mousse ‘the best three minutes you can have in London for a fiver’, and Dent is equally enthusiastic about their croque madame’s ‘oozing Gruyère’.

“The croque madame was rather marvellous. Purists might term it simply ‘ham, egg and béchamel sauce on toast’ as it had no bready upper lid, but to these nitpickers I would say, ‘You snooze, you lose, bozo’ while eating their share. There’s no room for quibbling in the face of heavy carbs, oozing Gruyère and drooling yolk.”

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