Harden’s review of the reviews

When our reporters praise Bray’s Hind’s Head it is because the picturesque pub is “thankfully not over-Hestoned” but The Sunday Times’s Lisa Markwell has the opposite problem – she can’t find any evidence of Blumenthal’s pseudo-scientific cooking at all, nor the influence of his trusty lieutenant Ashley Palmer-Watts – and it leaves her disappointed…

“I feel sure things will rally with “chocolate wine” — it sounds like classic Blumenthal tomfoolery; something clever done with disparate, delicious components. But no, one sip reveals the unappetising truth, confirmed by the waitress (who has until now delivered every dish without a word of explanation). It’s hot chocolate mixed with red wine. And it’s as nasty as that sounds.

“When we visited, the Hind’s Head had been (re)opened for just over a week. I didn’t expect to find Blumenthal, or his trusted lieutenant, Ashley Palmer-Watts, in the kitchen, but I did think I’d get the fruits of their direction. Famous names, fabulous location, appealing menu. But all that’s left in my mouth as we drive off is a misplaced taste of entitlement. What on earth happened?”

The Observer’s Jay Rayner takes a trip to Northern Ireland where he finds stupendous cooking to help you forget the region’s horrendous politics at Noble in Holywood, just outside Belfast. Founders Saul McConnell, who runs front of house as if it’s his living room, and chef Pearson Morris have both worked with Michael Deane (of Deane’s et al in Belfast).

“For their location they have escaped to the well-to-do suburbs and this upstairs space, with blue banquettes, textured walls in earthy shades and a blackboard for the scribbling of specials. There are puffy pork scratchings with apple sauce and glossy olives, wet with brine, to nibble on while you choose. There are their own rolls made with Guinness. Mostly there is the sense that everything in here will be OK.

“The closest thing to innovation is a brisk salad of picked white crab with peanuts, ginger, chilli and coriander. It’s fresh and sweet and salty and invigorating. By contrast a pea soup flavoured with mint, the lactic push of buttermilk and the high notes of spring onions, is soothing and hearty. It is soup made by someone who understands that it’s not just a way of using up ingredients on the turn, but a place for vegetables to give the best of themselves.”

When Marina O’Laughlin first heard about Spitalfield’s newcomer Madame D she was understandably sceptical. After all it is a self styled ‘Himalayan sharing plates’ restaurant with communal tables, set above a pub on Commercial Street – sounds like hipster noise right? Wrong! The Guardian critic leaves with every fibre of her palate fully stimulated…

“If something as mundane as prawn crackers is transformed into a thrill ride, it’s clear there’s something special going on. In their takeaway-style polythene bag, these are sparky with the tingly heat of Szechuan peppercorn and come with little bowls of Newari achaar (Nepal-style pickles): these include what looks like a slightly pickled and fermented (and fiery. Actually, just take fiery as read from now on) coleslaw; a mint dip of deep, resonating sweet vibrancy; a red chilli ditto; and small, meaty prawns pickled with methi seeds and chillies. We’re told that the longer they pickle, the more intense they become. Aged prawns? Really? But I’m sold: they are extraordinary little explosions of almost fish-saucy flavour.”

Keith Millar at the Telegraph pays a visit to Steven Edwards’ tasting menu-only newcomer Etch in Hove. He’s prepared to dislike it on its tasting menu approach alone, but is disarmed by the charming staff and good food…

“But I was on the back foot after being late, and then I was KO’d by how much I liked the room and everybody working in it, and to be honest I loved my lunch and didn’t really pay much mind to the tasting menu thing at all, and I feel a bit silly bringing it up now, like Baudelaire or Ruskin crying hoarsely that photography may be all the rage but it’ll never be Art.

“I’m not sure how much use it will be to go through it all dish by dish, as of course it’ll change all the time. But then I’m not sure the headlines – local, seasonal, Masterchef, yada yada – will do it justice.

“I’m not even sure the food was flawless, though it was good: there were a couple of what, if this was “real” art, you’d maybe call false assonances or mixed metaphors – tastes and textures that recurred not for emphasis or to make parallels, but it seemed accidentally, so the second usage diminished your memory of the first.”
And ES Magazine’s Grace Dent enjoys the generous portions at Shoreditch newcomer Red Rooster – a London outpost of the famous Harlem original, which counts Barack Obama among its fans…
“I’m chalking up Red Rooster as a hit, because if you sweep aside the staging and the story, Samuelsson’s food is very good. It’s comforting, decadent and restorative — no wonder Obama is a fan. Service is warm and generous spirited. I’d eat there any day. The cornbread was gorgeously warm and damp and appeared with sweet tomato jam and whipped honey butter. A starter of ‘Uncle T’s herring’ was so intensely up my street, I felt sad I didn’t know Uncle T personally. Soused herring lay in a pool of brown butter, horseradish, fermented rice and pickled turnip. The meatballs with lingonberry were delicious, even if for £9 you get three small tastes.”
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