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

Shotgun openingLast week The Times’s Giles Coren was drooling over his keyboard at the very thought of another meal at Brad McDonald’s new Deep South-influenced Soho haunt Shotgun. This week his colleague AA Gill over at the Sunday Times takes said shotgun and fires both barrels at the place in his Table Talk column…

“The first mouthful of every dish is exactly the same as the last. There is no subtlety, no chiaroscuro, no real care or understanding of flavour. It’s Lego for big blokes with fat fingers who don’t have much conversation or imagination, and it’s taking over an awful lot of the capital’s restaurants. This is supposed to be a well-meaning, everyman sustenance, and actually it’s just sloppy. When it’s done well, say in Texas or Kansas or the Carolinas or Kentucky, it’s quite unlike this, in atmosphere and pretension. It’s the opposite of trendy. It’s blue-collar, red-neck, bib-and-braces, country-and-western chow that wants to bomb terrorists and make it obligatory for teachers to carry guns in classrooms. Only in London does it embarrassingly have any sort of gauche, amateur-chic bravado, an account with Mr Porter, a Facebook page and a profile on Tinder, but no girlfriend.”

 

Over at the Guardian, Marina O’Laughlin reviews a duo of new London Italians. Both Bernardi’s in Marylebone and Canto Corvino in the City take reservations, have been lavishly fitted-out and boast sophisticated wine and aperitvo lists, but it’s Canto Corvino that comes up with the show-stopping food…

“[It] delivers my favourite pasta dish of the year: gnudi with blood sausage. Are these tricky, delicate little dumplings actually pasta or, as the name suggests, naked pasta filling? Let’s say my favourite primo, then. Whatever: richly stained with blood sausage and in an amatriciana sauce pungent with crisp onions, cured pork (guanciale?) and grated pecorino, they’re deliriously good, conventional-tasting at first and then – boom – the ferrous butchness of the sanguinaccio hits the back of the throat. Wow. I don’t often obsess over dishes, but this one has me firmly in its murky clutches.”

 

The Observer’s critic-in-chief Jay Rayner, meanwhile, heads to chef Alan Pickett’s first solo venture, Piquet in Fitzrovia. It’s received a few mixed reviews of late, but Jay resolutely loves the place – which isn’t trying to flog a concept or follow a trend, just feed its guests good food at good prices…

“Piquet is terrific, but it’s not some gastronomic palace. It is not attempting to break barriers or change any games, and that’s why I love it. This restaurant is simply trying to feed its customers well. Pricing is fair at this level. Starters are between £6.50 and £9, with mains mostly in the teens. That trolley is £17.50. There’s a lunchtime and early evening menu at £19.50 for three courses. Wines start below £20, with roughly half the list below £40 a bottle.”

 

Leaving London for a moment, join Giles Coren’s stand-in Tony Turnbull at the Times as he goes in search of the Old Stamp House in the Lake District’s Ambleside. Ignoring the less-than-romantic location (below a Greggs) and the blunt welcome, the food does show some sparks of genius and marks chef Ryan Blackburn out as ‘one-to-watch’…

“’Here’s the first of your snacks,’ says Peter Kay, putting down two perfect spheres of crispy black pudding with Cumberland sauce, followed by an oaten flatbread known in these parts as havercake, topped with mackerel, I guess a kind of Cumbrian pissaladière. It’s what comes with it, though, that shows the kitchen has really serious intent. A beetroot and horseradish macaroon is a perfect balance of earth and air. It fizzles on the tongue and disappears in a puff. Guys, that’s not a snack, it’s a work of genius.“

 

Back in London again and the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent falls for the Turkish delights of Selin Kiazim’s first solo effort, the recently opened Oklava in Shoreditch. Harden’s concurs with Ms Dent on the baked lamb fat potatoes. Find us on Instagram to check out our photos of said dish.

“We popped into Oklava for a quick snoop and perhaps a couple of plates, took one look at the menu and ended up ordering ferociously, eating until we had to surrender. Firstly, ‘snacks’ of halloumi, richly scented by its time on the grill and glistening with London honey. Then a bowl of vivid green courgette, feta and mint fritters. After this, a plate of baked lamb fat potatoes with fried duck egg and sherry vinegar caramel. Essentially this is the world’s greatest ever potato hash.”

 

Not everything at Alan Yau’s glitzy new Mayfair offering Park Chinois impresses the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler, but the signature dish Duck de Chine (even at £75) earns a rare five stars from the critic…

Then comes the duck, the skin buffed mahogany, boned and sliced, utterly sumptuous. And high style beyond imagining; we are each given a steamer basket of excellent pancakes, a plate of cucumber and spring onion and our own hoisin sauce. Plenty for four, this pricey bird becomes less than £20 a head. After this definite peak, claypot glass vermicelli, lotus root, Chinese celery and dried red chilli — chosen partly with an eye to pricing — is a bit more than the anti-climax you might imagine and the desserts chosen a definite let-down.

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