Feargus O'Sullivan reviews
Wednesday, September 09, 2009 - Retitled Apsleys - a Heinz Beck Restaurant, they're clearly aiming for more stars with an inventive, astronomically expensive menu of delicate but rich Italian haute cuisine...Pretty much everything is gorgeous - a starter of lobster and artichoke heart with strips of mild liquorice jelly and Jerusalem artichoke cream. Sounds weird, but the perfumey artichoke and tangy liquorice blend perfectly. Carbonara fagotelli - delicate pasta parcels filled with a wobbly, whipped cheesy custard, sprinkled with flecks of pancetta and courgette - are rich enough to knock you flat.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - An offshoot of a smaller place up the road in East Sheen, Valentina combines a delicatessen, restaurant and spuntino bar (Italian tapas to you and me)...My starter of cold meats was as good as it should be for a restaurant above a deli, with tender cured ham and intense herb-crusted salami. Less successful was a main of tagliatelle and pork meatballs, baked in a ball of speck ham and served with ragu. It looked impressive but the itsy-bitsy amount of too-soft tagliatelle was overpowered by its lake of rich slop...A respectable, if not mould-breaking sort of place, but one distinguished by eager, friendly service.
Tenore - 3/5
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - Islington's Tenore may have an uninspiring location on a busy road and slightly weird decor, but it still knocks most London pizzerias into a cocked hat...Fresh from Tenore's wood-fired oven, their bases are crisp, springy and thin. Toppings are a welcome break from the norm, with Sardinian specialities such as bottarga (salted grey mullet roe) and oddball choices like avocado keeping things interesting...Tenore may not make it as a city-wide destination, but as a low-key easygoing local, it puts barely a foot wrong.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - The menu at Yalla Yalla is all classic Lebanese meze and wraps, but there's real love and attention lavished on the simplest of dishes. A plate of battered prawns, squid and whitebait came served on exemplary thin aubergine slices of perfect crispness, while hummus tasted properly fresh and lemony. Best of all was Kibbe Nayyeh, raw lamb patties with bulgur wheat and cumin, the meat meltingly gorgeous and given a nice hefty, grainy feel by the wheat. A main of sea bass fillet sang of crisped skin and moist flaky flesh.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 - A 'plank' of meat antipasti - a wooden block perched on two tins of tomatoes - came scattered with chewy salami, soft drapes of mortadella and a fantastic sliver of melting San Daniele proscuitto. A dollop of chilli jam on a mini slice of pecorino was too sweet, but clearly some love has been put into getting the selection right. Despite Jamie's Italophile ravings, my pappardelle in a sausage and wine sauce was just (only just) the wrong side of al dente, but the dish was gutsy and rich. A second course of lightly battered soft-shell crab with mayo, served on paper, was fresh and crispy, if oily.
Hi Sushi Izakaya - 2/5
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - The first impression when you enter Covent Garden's Hi Sushi Izakaya is relief. In a grid of streets full of tawdry eating holes for clueless out-of-towners, the calm stylishness of this Japanese grill and sushi bar is like a cool drink in a desert. Decked out in traditional Japanese tavern style, its pale wood and bamboo interior, trickling waterfall and tables sunk into tatami mat-lined benches could make it a wonderfully soothing place for an after-work or pre-theatre pitstop.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - Villandry Kitchen, it turns out, is actually quite good. Already crammed on weekday lunchtimes, the menu's pricing is perfectly poised to lure in workers...My starter of duck rillette with fig chutney would be too mild for pate die-hards, but had a nice chunky richness to it. Likewise, there wasn't much sausage in my plateful of Toulouse sausage rigatoni with capers and chilli, but the sauce was still punchy enough to be moreish. With service at this early stage still so keen, I wonder how they can possibly keep it up.
1001 Nights - 3/5
Thursday, July 16, 2009 - With its velvet-backed chairs, midnight-blue flock wallpaper and black sparkle-effect floor, the flashy decor should come across as an unbridled tack-fest, but it's got a moody swagger that actually works...The food see-saws between reasonably good and great. Classic dishes work well: smoky, charcoal-grilled aubergines in our baba ganoush, and a fresh mess of parsley and mint with a touch of cracked wheat in a zingy tabbouleh...Of course, there are places in London where similar food can be had for less, but the care and freshness make 1001 Nights' take on Lebanese cooking worth a look-in.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - This breezy atmosphere could be a winner, except the decor and food can't live up to the ambiance...The food at least shows a commitment to British produce. A main of pigeon in pan juices was fine and gamey, but came with dried-out broad beans. A starter of English snails swam forlornly in a pool of garlic and parsley sauce and my friend's so-so rare-breed sirloin, ordered rare to medium, came faintly pink, with leaden chips. Prices, admittedly, are reasonable - but they should be.
The Britannia - 3/5
Friday, July 10, 2009 - The Britannia pub has just set up a full-sized, open-air shack kitchen in the back yard...its beer garden is a big grassy meadow that sticks out into Victoria Park itself...As for the food, don't expect culinary pyrotechnics. It tastes pretty much like anyone's decent back-garden barbecue. The grilling is well judged, the portions are generous and there's also a good, long-running British gastro menu inside...It's an ideal spot for people who fancy a barbecue but can't be bothered doing it themselves.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009 - In the restaurant, you'll get Anglo-French brasserie dishes similar to those at the Boundary, Conran's recent and acclaimed Shoreditch opening. It's breezy and charming but it's a pity the food isn't either more generous...Lutyens may not exactly be a bargain, but its s seamless mix of drinking, nibbling and dining, resided over by obliging staff, is an object lesson in how to keep - punters happy...So, has he got another winner on his hands? Looks like it.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 - If you find yourself hanging out in Victoria Park, spare a thought for The Pavilion Cafe, a curious gazebo next to the lake that happens to be one of London's best park diners. Food is simple and the choice is small, but owners Rob Green and Brett Redman's choice of top-quality British ingredients makes it stand out. Serving rare-breed meat, Cotswold eggs and fine Ceylon tea, The Pavilion's fine, hearty breakfasts are a particular draw.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 - Tucked away in the crypt, there's barely a clue outside that this simple, understated bistro exists...My starter of English asparagus came with nothing more than a soft poached duck egg to dip them in - a perfect summer lunch. A chunky Barnsley lamb chop, coated with gravy, tasted like the sort of home cooking I'm too lazy for. Best of all was the ice cream with moist, crumbly ginger cake. While the austerity might put some off, this sort of modest, reliable place is what London needs.
The Palm London - 3/5
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 - Prices are spread as widely as a strumpet’s ankles. The USDA prime-graded steaks start at £31, but you can get a generous two-course lunch for £15. And the staff know their meat – our waiter asked if we wanted our steaks pink with a warm centre or pink with a cold one, and gave us exactly what we asked for…The fries are dry ad crisp and a starter of deep-fried ¬calamari was light and delicately spiced… If you fancy an occasional meaty blow-out, The Palm’s formula works a treat. In fact, it blows many London steak joints out of the water.
Eastside Inn - 4/5
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - In the restaurant, a trio of pre-meal bits started things spiffingly…Later, my main of turbot with morels, samphire and champagne veloute boasted of delicate hands in the kitchen, the rich, tangy flavours never swamping the simple fish...For a posh spot, Eastside Inn’s decor is muted beige, while the bistro has stripped-down Parisian-style bench seating and huge mirrors that give the room sparkle. Service is smiley and sweet, giving the place a relaxed, easy atmosphere. All told, it’s delightful. Indeed, it might just be the fancy restaurant for people who hate fancy restaurants.
Swan at the Globe - 4/5
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - It has one of the best Thames views of any London riverside restaurant. St Paul’s is almost directly opposite, while most tables offer an eyeful of the Millennium Bridge, a perfect backdrop to a sunny dinner…As for the food, it’s broadly modern British, fresh, unfussy and good. My Sunday lunchtime Galloway roast beef came in great juicy slabs, with oozily rich gravy to spoon over – an impressive plateful let down only by an overcooked cauliflower cheese. My friend’s Cornish fish soup was an intense affair, so pleasantly fishy you could ¬almost taste the wriggle.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009 - The venue is the former Dell restaurant, a beautiful site right on the Serpentine, with hungry ducks loitering in hope of snacks from the open-air tables…A shadowy little lounge has sprung up in the cafe’s central core, with love seats and cushions perhaps more suitable for a smoochy winter cocktail than a sunny lunch. The Anglo-Italian menu is by Benugo, and a rather nice mix of light nibbles and heftier plates it is too. Quality is mixed, but mostly good. A dish of cold lamb with haricot puree was generous but the meat a tad dry. A little pot of prawns and crayfish in creamy dressing was fresh and flavourful, and a mammoth ham calzone from the wood-fired oven spilled its ample filling from a crispy case.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 - Well, it looks the part. Its decor of snakeskin-effect chairs, studded booths in golden beige and fat gold-rimmed columns is flashier than an Elvis jumpsuit, and scarcely easier on the eye… So why is the food so conservative? Whatever rock shenanigans might go on upstairs, the menu couldn’t be tamer. It’s a familiar British gastropubby hotchpotch: shellfish, some salads and nods to tapas, pedigree meats, the odd old-school hot pudding – you get the idea. It’s hard to get excited about such things, but the kitchen definitely knows its business.
Dastarkhan - 14/20
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - Dastarkhan is without doubt the best Kazakh ¬restaurant in London. Admittedly there aren’t many, but don’t let that put you off. Kazakh cooking is a curious mix of east Asian and ¬Russian influences, plus the odd Turkish twist…Dastarkhan’s version of this cuisine is basic but ¬filling. A main of beshparmak, a bland dish of ribbon noodles, potato, lamb and veg, is translated as “five ¬fingers” (though it tastes more like two). Far better are manti, huge dumplings halfway between Chinese baozi and jumbo Ukrainian ¬pierogi. Stuffed with lamb and pumpkin and served with sour cream, they’re chunky, juicy, good.
Thursday, March 12, 2009 - Straits Chinese food is a melting pot hailing from the long-standing Chinese ¬communities in Malaysia and Singapore. Rasa Sayang’s version is straightforward and ¬moreish; plus it’s cheap by London standards…Just a few steps from Shaftesbury Avenue, Rasa Sayang is hardly a hidden gem. But for its price, its filling and ¬interesting nosh is as good as London gets. With manageable prices and friendly service, it’s no wonder Rasa Sayang is already packed.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - There’s a clear American influence at work in the menu’s main choices of burgers and grilled sandwiches, but vegetarians aren’t ¬neglected. Salads are lively, and my springy smoked tofu sandwich with portobello mushrooms and melted cheese was – dare I say it – more intense than your average bit of burger… the ingredients are good, the place is pretty, the service is quick. Don’t forget, though, that Barny’s Place is a fast-food joint, not a gastro palace.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - Dockmaster’s House is no ordinary curryhouse. It’s a smart, business-oriented venture dealing in haute Indian nosh, all dished up in ye olde nouvelle cuisine style, with little ¬towers of food and lines of sauce ¬perfectly dribbled at right angles. This might sound a little poncey – and it would be if the food wasn’t so bloody good, which, trust me, it is.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - Let’s start with the decor: the place has nice old wooden pub fittings to keep it cosy, but the layout is a bit off. With bar stools directly behind our ¬table and a pavement’s worth of human traffic trundling by in front of it, we felt like we were eating in a corridor. The modern British food is good-ish, with the accent on fresh seafood and great meat. We were more or less satisfied – but there was nothing quite delectable enough to lure us back.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - With Angelina and Brad, Robert Downey Jr and Claudia Schiffer all turning up to eat there this week, humble little Noor Jahan has never had it so good…And I can see why they liked it. Noor Jahan's the sort of place you’d drop into weekly if it were on your street: a good but totally standard cheap curry house that just happens to be in a plush part of town.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - The meaty stuff looks good, but it can’t compete with all that fish, with an ice cabinet filled with lobsters beckoning us to eat them with their outstretched claws. The fish quality lives up to its promise, with a starter of squeezably plump mussels in white wine. An octopus and ham hock cassoulet also turned out to be a winner, the chunks of tentacle and hock flaking into a sauce that, at a stretch, could have packed a bit more punch.
Saturday, December 20, 2008 - Dinner at The Double Club is possibly the weirdest meal in London. This pop-up place behind Angel station is the idea of artist Carsten Holler, who installed the slides in Tate Modern. For the next five months, the club is dishing up a mix of Anglo-Congolese food in a space that’s half-African, half- European. On one side you have a Congolese shebeen with plastic chairs, oil drum barbecue, Congolese DJs and dance floor; on the other you have a restaurant with formal service and white cloths.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - Brazil actually has the largest ethnic Japanese population in the world outside of Japan. Accordingly, the two cultures have been mixing it up for some time, producing a new fusion cuisine which, if Sushinho is anything to go by, is just like Japanese food with Brazilian stuff in it. The Brazilian bits of the menu – black beans, plantain and barbecued meat – are actually the strongest. A little cup of black bean soup had great meaty stock while slow-roasted pork belly had its richness nicely spiked with mango.
Thursday, November 27, 2008 - The place is a real looker, its handsome, spacious Victorian dining room updated but not ruined by huge lamps that look like the tassels on a burlesque dancer. Coming in off loud, scuzzy Liverpool Street, there’s a palpable sense of relief at finding somewhere so calm and airy. But it’s the food that’s the main draw. The well-sourced Anglo-French menu boasts intricate dishes that somehow never feel fussy.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - Flash comes from the team behind Bethnal Green’s Bistrotheque, who also opened London’s first pop-up restaurant, The Reindeer, two¬ Christmases ago. But Flash is a whole lot slicker, and arguably less buzzy…more sedate, and doesn’t have such a strong sense of cultural crossover. Diners are a more West London-ish crowd and few seemed interested in looking around the galleries, which were all but empty. Flash still charms, but I missed a little of the rawness that gave its guerrilla forerunner its spark. That said, Flash is a damn fine place to eat.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - Finding a proper, non-chain restaurant in the now-soulless Spitalfields Market is also a great relief. Since this once-handsome Victorian building was gutted and replaced by a hideously bland plate-glass mini-mall, most of the restaurants look like they’ve escaped from an airport concourse, so Le Bouchon’s relative individuality is most welcome.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008 - The Swiss may be great with clocks, chocolate and money, but they can’t bloody spell. At least, that’s my conclusion after visiting the first London branch of the Swiss vegetarian restaurant chain Tibits – surely they meant to call it “Titbits”, or did they just think that sounded rude?
Wednesday, October 01, 2008 - Just the one thought on walking into the new St Pancras Grand: “Wow.” With its vaulted gold ¬ceilings and ye olde globe lamps, this handsome new restaurant upstairs at St Pancras station looks like a fancy Victorian brothel. A brothel with a view, mind: peeping out ¬towards St Pancras’s stunning roof, it’s got one of London’s most swoon-worthy locations.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - Calling Tendido Cuatro to make my booking, I was haughtily informed we were allowed the table for a measly, churlish, rubbish 90 minutes. Naturally, I wasn’t best pleased, having made a personal pledge to avoid both Yauatcha and Hakkasan in the past for similar treatment (pay attention, Alan Yau). But, for the good of journalism, I behaved myself, arrived bang on time, ordered and ate briskly.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - Battersea’s Northcote Road is such a honey pot for local diners that if you set up a bijou bistro dishing up deep-fried cardboard there’d probably still be queues around the block. Given the strip’s popularity, it’s hardly surprising that new gastropub The Bolingbroke seems already to be a hit in its opening week.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - Ever wondered what it would be like to eat dinner inside a life-sized video game? OK, I'm guessing not, but if the idea has piqued your interest anyway, you might like to get down to new Soho opening Inamo.
Thursday, July 24, 2008 - Is it ok to be average sometimes? Speaking as someone of average height, build and, frankly, looks, I'd like to think it is. So I'm reluctant to be too grudging about Devonshire Terrace, a welcoming new restaurant near Liverpool Street that just happens to be a little, well, ordinary.