Harden’s review of the reviews

We already know that The Sunday Times’s Marina O’Loughlin isn’t the biggest fan of the great British pub (read her Eater article here). So what will she make of the food at Spoons’ newest outpost in Ramsgate? We would guess not much…

“’Fried buttermilk chicken burger’ (598 calories) delivers a flat, damp sandwich secured with a wooden skewer, as if its flabby contents are in any danger of escaping from their woolly bun. ‘I like it,’ says the Spoon’s fan. Probably the best dish we order is a mixed grill on the grounds that — fag-ash peas and pasty, superprocessed banger excepted — it’s not actively unpleasant. And the worst: a ‘side’ of ribs (who orders a side of ribs?), the meat pappy and exhausted, the barbecue sauce as sugary as fudge. It’s the sort of thing you might scoop out of the bottom of Hannibal Lecter’s recycling bin.

“Yes, it’s cheap. But, to quote my mama, I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it. This is cheap not because it’s good value, but because it’s nasty. At least I can now slag it off from a position of authority. The terrace that wraps around this ravishing piece of seaside architecture is quite the place to sit with a pint, looking out to sea. But only if you smuggle in your own picnic. Don’t, for God’s sake, order the food.”

Jay Rayner in The Observer reviews The Game Bird at The Stafford London and decides he could happily live there…

“It takes guts to write a menu full of original dishes nobody has ever heard of before. But just how much more courage does it take to write a menu full of the blindingly familiar; of dishes most people have tried and have opinions on?

“laughs in the face of novelty… has no interest in the cutting edge, the startling or the innovative. It sells itself on one thing and one thing only: execution. Can it offer the very best versions of the familiar? The answer is, yes it can, and how.

“British grill classics, cooked with jugs full of French technique… in a series of plump-cushioned, bloomed and perfumed lounges at the Stafford… brilliant green pea soup with the textural shock of crisped bacon… the theatre of the smoked fish trolley… a list of pies, puddings and stews, including a venison stew, a hotpot of hogget and best of all – cease my aching heart – a beef and ale steamed suet pudding.

“I could live here. Perhaps I should. Lyle’s Golden Syrup sponge with custard…the sponge is light on top, and sodden below. The custard is warm and silky… Some restaurant reviews are a list of dishes. Some are social commentary. This one is a love letter.”

Felicity Cloake in The Guardian dubs Covent Garden’s recently opened outpost of America’s PF Chang’s chain an ‘international embarrassment’…

“The dining room has the carefully neutral glamour of a high-end airport restaurant. Clearly they’re hoping to be more than just the place you go to argue over John Lewis curtain swatches. I’m not sure whether I’m enjoying the Xiang Xiang fizz’s daring blend of pistachio vodka and soy sauce enough to finish it.

“I feel duty bound to order Chang’s famous dynamite shrimp… the plump prawns wear their gluey batter like damp, shrink-fit jeans… everything else is all too easy to push aside… the black cod and lotus chips is an insult, rather than a respectful nod, to the head chef’s former employer, the fish’s delicate flesh reduced to tempura-battered mush… egg-fried rice comes packed with beansprouts and carrot shavings but no discernible flavour. Singapore noodles, a matted tangle of angry orange vermicelli laden with so much curry powder that each mouthful has the vicious bite of a dose of TCP.

“We don’t get much change from £100. I’m not tearing into PF Chang’s because it’s a very big fish in a pool of fry … but this place is a truly international embarrassment.”

Giles Coren in The Times reviews Jean-Georges at the Connaught where he enjoys a truffled cheeseburger which must be ‘hunched over, fox-in-a-dustbin style’…

“I ordered the truffled cheeseburger, obviously. It looked a treat, stacked high with a stick poked into its sesame seed bun to hold it on to the good, thick burger under melting brie, a lettuce leaf and a pretty fan of pickles.

“The first bite was fat and wet and sprayed juices like a whoopee cushion full of hot butter (an image I intended to be positive but may have muffed slightly). There was no way of carrying it to the mouth – it had to be hunched over, fox-in-a-dustbin style, which is not a great look in the Connaught. And after the first couple of chews, it began to bore me. It was bland and salty. The yuzu pickles had no pep, I couldn’t really feel the truffle and in the absence of ketchup and mustard it all got a bit one-note. The thing about a cheeseburger is that a really great traditional one for about eight quid is as good as it can get. Push it to £25 and add premium garnishes, and it’s ever decreasing circles, I’m afraid. Very good chips though.

“With a double espresso each, the bill came to £248.63 for two courses. That included £55 for 3 glasses of burgundy and a regal £15 for the aforementioned pair of small coffees. It’s a hell of a bill for a lunchtime burger and a glass.”

Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard gives a rare four stars to Fitzrovia’s new Noizé (on the former site of Dabbous)…

“Nice people serving extremely pleasant food and wine efficiently in a comfortable place. What else do you want? Upholstered in part in persimmon velvet and softly lit with opaque globes. Fine white linen clothes the tables.

“Cheddar cheese gougères should not be missed as a drink-accompanying snack… squid, smoked bacon and apple, a felicitous chaos of flavours and textures with just a twinkle of foam… glazed sautéed sweetbreads with fawn-like woodsy morels and a punchy, glossy reduction.

“A small hedgehog-shaped baked Alaska with a row of guardsmen in the shape of blackberries with mint leaves for hats… admirable notion of flexibility and customer consideration. Oh, my God, look, there printed on the menu is the restaurant’s phone number. You can ring up, someone genial will answer (I can vouch for it).”

Grace Dent in the Evening Standard, heads to the recently refurbished Salon in Brixton and loves it…

“Brixton Village… is still far from tediously sanitised. It’s still higgledy-piggledy and in places it’s still whiffy… the growing buzz about Salon; small, independent, a little tatty and a lot ostentatious, offering brunch menus… if three-cheese cornbread doesn’t make you a bit smiley-with-heart-eyes emoji, I don’t think we can be friends.

“Closed recently for refurbishment and a re-ponder. This was a notion I rather loved. All people and places should be permitted second acts… more space for pickling, preserving, butchery, syrup-making and all the things the team loves to do.

“Dinners at no-faff places like Salon are pure joy for me. Salon’s ‘nduja croquettes are certainly one of the nicest things I’ve eaten in 2017. They’re friendly and not remotely earnest… bowls of smoked squash with girolles and trompettes… a pretty plate of cod with kohlrabi infused in elderflower with some sesame.

“Salon’s dinner menu is sweetly pretentious but lovable.”


Keith Miller in The Telegraph reviews The Clock House, Ripley

“This time last year, The Clock House was known as Drake’s, after the couple who ran it along with the Anchor over the road. Steve and Serina Drake split up; Steve handed sole ownership of Drake’s to Serina in a divorce settlement; a former chef de partie called Fred Clapperton took over from Steve as head chef… a handsome dining room, done out in expensive mushroomy neutrals, but faintly bleak and – on a midweek evening – far from full.

“Staff were expert and suave, eager in a sober and vaguely sorrowful way, like a trailblazing firm of undertakers… the food – and the enthusiasm of our sommelier – topped up our depleted serotonin levels.”


Michael Deacon in The Telegraph loves Pascere in Brighton, where “the chefs were practically cooking in my lap”…

Kathryn Flett in The Telegraph heads to Islington’s Cajan/Creole joint Plaquemine Lock…

“Adjacent to the Regent’s Canal, the nearest metaphorical levée to which north Londoners might wish to drive their metaphorical Chevys… dark and concentrated meaty swill of a gumbo… the venue is cheerful and welcoming; there is a Mississippi mural and live jazz.

“Blackened chicken… comes with red refried beans and chicken andouille and mirliton (aka chayote, a small South American squash) slaw… shrimps, grits and bacon … a side of collard greens stewed in a ham hock “potliquor”. To tell the truth, none of this stuff arrives looking very lovely.

“Upshot: we both liked everything we ate … without quite loving any of it.”


And Tom Parker Bowles in The Daily Mail sings the praises of Martha Oritz’s Ella Canta, the chef’s new dining room at Park Lane’s InterContinental hotel…

“Martha Ortiz, Ella Canta’s immensely talented executive chef. ‘Nationalistic’ guacamole : green (lusciously creamy avocado), white (crumbs of ricotta) and red (pomegranate seeds) of the Mexican flag, topped with a nutty-tasting grasshopper, coated, Aztec-style, in gold.

“Ancient and cutting edge sit merrily together, and her plates glow with the vibrant primary colours straight out of Mexican folk art. Flavours are bold, deep and gloriously unfettered… soft chunks of octopus wear a warmly smoky chilli sauce, threaded through with crisp slivers of deep-fried shallot. Chew and crunch.

“The power of the street, with the refinement of a Michelin-starred kitchen. Old classics like carnitas and cochinita pibil are given new life… the surroundings may be resolutely grand, but the juices still run lasciviously down one’s arm. Prices are Park Lane high too.

“If you’ve never eaten real Mexican, prepare to be dazzled. And if, like me, you sit in utter thrall to one of the greatest countries on Earth, Ella Canta is a true gran dama: bold, beautiful and quietly brilliant.”

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