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

lukeprIn July this year Luke Mackay announced plans to open the Hour Glass pub on Brompton Road with hopes of recruiting a ‘GM with bonhomie’ and ‘a chef who isn’t a dick’. Tall order, but The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler believes the Mackay (the man behind Brompton Food Market in Thurloe Place) has found it in chef Tim Parsons.

“The stated philosophy of chef Tim Parsons — “the best-tasting ingredients left alone” — chimes with the owners’ approach but undersells his own skills, insight and tenderness. We both start with items from quite a long list of bar snacks, all priced at £4.50. Rare breed Cumberland Scotch egg has punchy sausage meat with a carapace of crisp crumbs encasing egg with a molten centre, served with a little salad as well dressed as you would expect in the area. I discover later that it will not be entered for the annual Scotch Egg Challenge held this year at The Canonbury in Islington, but as Marlon Brando would almost certainly have said, it “coulda been a contender”.”

 

Meanwhile in the ES Magazine, Grace Dent recounts her very successful trip to Dalston’s new jerk chicken spot, Rudie’s. After a mind-meltingly dull meeting it seems some fiery food and a couple of good cocktails are just what the doctor ordered…

“I went to Rudie’s on a cold Tuesday night after a stupefying meeting, wearing a face like fermented cat sick, and can certify that after a Colony (Brandy de Jerez, Blackwell and Appleton rums, tea, ginger and sorrel), I felt decidedly lighter. Hopeful even. Then I drank a Ting Ray (rum and grapefruit) and by this point the thought of tolerating London during the forthcoming long, damp wintry drag seemed not just a sensible act but a noble one. This was assisted by the fact that I’d ordered almost half of the menu.”

 

AA Gill is off again this week but his Sunday Times Table Talk column is ably filled by Rod Liddle who recounts the beginning of his love affair with Indian food, which started in Redcar at the age of 18. Just a few years later and he finds himself five miles down the coast eating at Jadoo in Cleveland and pondering just how much sub-continental cuisine has done for this country…

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those first Bengali, Pakistani and Indian restaurateurs, and also, I suppose, to the Anglo-Indians who returned from the empire with recipes for kedgeree and mulligatawny…Anglo-Indian dishes lack the complexity of proper subcontinental food and were, of course, a watered-down compromise for the most part. So the real debt is to those who arrived here after Partition and, having eaten their first British meal, must have thought: “God help us all — these mugs surely cannot enjoy this bland slop, can they? We’ll give them something better, then.”

 

Over at The Times, Giles Coren ponders whether the newly renovated Horseshoe and the recently opened Truscott Cellar in ‘Hampy’ are far too good to actually survive there. But surely, Giles, all those ‘terrible orange mums’ need somewhere to show off their ‘two grand handbags’ while quaffing a glass of wine?

“Hampstead actively loves bad restaurants. It explains so, so much. And also bodes very badly for the Truscott Cellar – a new arrival on Haverstock Hill on the site of the utterly ghastly but much missed Weng Wah House – because it is extremely good. I was at first a bit unenthused by the no-bookings policy, which seemed weird in a place that was going to have to survive, I reckoned, on wealthy middle-aged locals booking a baby-sitter on a weeknight, and not being prepared to come out on the off-chance of a nosh. But I guess those are outmoded assumptions about the area, because the place was rammed to the gills with youngish singletons at small tables guzzling 80-odd wonderfully chosen wines by the glass and eating some excellent small plates.”

 

Oh dear, another mediocre review for Vico in Cambridge Circus, this time from The Observer’s Jay Rayner. Perhaps it is the knowledge that this Italian street food joint comes from the founders of Bocca di Lupo, such a wonderful restaurant, that means their newcomer is almost bound to disappoint. Or perhaps, as Jay states, the concept is just a little too contrived to work?

The food is lined up in four sections along the counter: one for pizzas, another for seafood, a third for fried foods – arancini and the like – and a section for salads. Almost everything is charged at £3 per 100g. You order what you like, it’s weighed on the same platter and off you go. Anything that needs cooking is brought over to you. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t. I have complained in the past about restaurants that insist upon explaining the concept of the menu to you, mostly because if a concept needs explaining, it’s too bloody complicated.

 

Luckily Jay’s colleague Marina O’Laughlin at the Guardian has a much more enjoyable time at Hackney’s Pidgin, a restaurant with a considerably simpler concept than Vico – set menu-only.

Inevitably with a set, no-choice menu, there’s one dish that makes me think “nope”, but the squash spaghetti turns out to be our dinner’s dazzling turn. It’s not, as I’d imagined, spaghetti squash, but the less squelchy butternut, spiralised and dressed with brown butter and a nut-laced dukkah spice mix. At a time when many chefs think they need to dial flavours up to 11, the subtlety here is sexy: seductive interplay between textures, various degrees of nuttiness, including what looks alarmingly maggoty but turns out to be clever – puffed wild rice. If I’d seen this on a conventional menu, I’d never have ordered it. There’s a definite benefit to having your hands tied.

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