John Walsh reviews
Union Street Cafe - 11/15
Saturday, October 05, 2013 - From the antipasti, calamari fritti offered a handsome selection of battered squid, arrayed in a teetering pile on a single hefty slice of beef tomato. The shellfish was tasty and the batter (made with polenta flour) just right. Sardinian artichokes were cooked to a perfect al dente texture and whacked with flavour by Ligurian olives surmounted by shaved pecorino: dead simple but delicious...I'm not sure Gordon Ramsay has pulled off the Brooklyn-comes-to-London effect he may have wanted, but he's certainly established a terrific new Italian in drab SE1.
Gymkhana - 12/15
Saturday, September 21, 2013 - We shared lasooni wild tiger prawns, marinated for hours, astonishingly soft, tomatoey, garlicky and fiery, calmed down by red-pepper chutney. Main-course-sized lamb nalli barra meant best-end chops and lamb shank chops, marinated in turmeric, ginger and cayenne pepper, that were falling-apart tender and tasty. In a side order of spiced okra, the often-slimy ladies' fingers were chopped up small and extremely yummy...I predict a great future for the brilliant Mr Sethi's new venture.
Shoryu Ramen (Soho) - 9/15
Saturday, August 24, 2013 - Angie had the house signature dish, Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu, featuring all the above with added spinach and garlic. "The broth is both milky and buttery," she said. "If I could imagine myself as a Japanese truck driver, I'd enjoy it." My Hokkaido curry ramen was more pork broth, an un-milky version, and tasted fine...The management at Shoryu insist that their food is 100 per cent authentic, prepared by a chap born and raised in Hakata. I'm sure for the south Japan locals, it's the last word in ramen paradise. For some of us, I'm afraid it remains an acquired taste.
Paesan - 12/15
Saturday, August 10, 2013 - These were dishes from a canteen or from an Italian mamma's kitchen, doled out to her weary peasant family after a hard day plying the zappa in a vineyard. If you want more from a restaurant – more drama, more elegance, more artifice, more of a climax – maybe Paesan isn't for you. I liked it a lot, however. I liked the buzz of the place, and the wine list (which offers several vintages in half-litres).
Casa Negra - 10/15
Saturday, July 27, 2013 - The charming waiting staff ferried small plate after small plate of things to fight over. Beef tartare on a tostado with lemon, chilli and onion, lifted by slivers of avocado. Chihuahua and Monterey Jack cheese smokily delicious like a sexy mozzarella, served with homemade chorizo. Cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican dish of pork marinated in orange juice, given colour and flavour by the achiote flower, and slow-braised in a banana leaf, was earthy and unctuous, served with black beans.
Red House - 9/15
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - This was like no vongole dish I'd ever seen; to charge £21 for it bordered on insult. The manager, Jack, was charming, offered to replace it, and fast-tracked Scottish salmon with spring vegetables to our table. It was OK, but the moment of gustatory bliss had passed. My onglette steak was nicely done, tender and soft, sliced in the Tuscan tagliata style, drizzled with pesto and served with shaved fennel and fries: fine, though hardly demonstrating much cuisinal skill.
The Fish & Chip Shop - 12/15
Saturday, June 15, 2013 - The cooking (the chef is Lee Bull, formerly at Le Caprice) isn't exactly adventurous but it's very high quality, full of forethought and care. The personnel were chatty, friendly and knowledgable. Even the coffee was terrific, sourced from a special roast café in Old Street. Mr McDonald's choice of a Victorian retro fish'n'chip joint was an eccentric one for a first casting, but he's reeled in an undoubted success.
Oblix at The Shard - 12/15
Saturday, June 01, 2013 - The view from the 32nd floor is terrific (what's that cruise liner doing beside HMS Belfast?) but the room is lovely, the décor light and airy...Angie's rotisseried rosemary chicken scented with skordalia – bread sauce with aioli – packed a double punch. Tenderstem broccoli with chilli lemon rind, and a terrific dish of cauliflower roasted with almonds and caper berries, both lifted the proceedings. We were eating steak, chicken, broccoli and cauliflower; it was amazing how interesting they made it.
Mozzarella & More - 8/15
Saturday, April 20, 2013 - Two of us tried the evening's special dish, chicken stuffed with pancetta, breadcrumbs and herbs. It was the last word in Italian home cooking – rather short on presentation, a little pale and as-made-by-your-grandmama, but amazingly rich and toothsome. Sea bream was beautifully cooked and presented, but a little boring...This was a perfectly OK, simple, down-home Italian supper, but the bill (£260 for five people) seemed to have strayed in from another establishment. Made in Italy seems to be suffering from a touch of Made in Chelsea.
Little Social - 13/15
Saturday, April 06, 2013 - It's not every day you can give a restaurant five stars for design and atmosphere, but Little Social's intimate room is irresistible. The food nearly gets five stars for invention, polish and presentation; and the sausage-and-beefburger heartiness that robs it of top billing is, paradoxically, one of its great attractions. Hats off to the brilliant Mr Atherton.
Allium Brasserie - 10/15
Saturday, March 23, 2013 - Atlantic haddock was surrounded by tugboats of Cornish mussels and (excellent idea) chorizo with butternut squash – a very orange plateful, but intensely satisfying. Slow-cooked belly of pork was soft but al dente, given a blood-and-ashes kick by salty black pudding, the piggy earthiness of both balanced by crispy carrots and curly kale...Not all of it worked, but I hope you get to experience Staines's liberality and boldness of ambition when you're next in the badlands of Bath. He's a chef in a million.
Naamyaa Cafe - 7/15
Saturday, March 09, 2013 - It was a weird meal. The first half was so promising, the second so disastrous – as if the chap who understands about cooking simply took off at 2pm. There's something slapdash about the food that's at odds with the smartness of the décor and the service. There'll soon be a Naamyaa Café in a street near you, apparently. Try it by all means, for the spectacle – but it might be wise to leave soon after the ribs.
Cafe Also - 10/15
Saturday, February 09, 2013 - There's something rather lived-in and bashed-around about both Café Also and Joseph's Bookstore that won't appeal to everyone. The menu is small, and the wine list not madly interesting. But goodness, what a find in the gastro-wasteland of north London. The cooking is a series of small revelations from a chef with utter confidence in his seasoning and display. And the restaurant is as cosy as opening an old leather-bound volume of Dombey and Son. It's a one-off. Do try it.
Manuka Kitchen - 8/15
Saturday, January 26, 2013 - Bone marrow and saffron arancini are a beautiful sight, the risotto rice subtly flavourful, the crumb-coating miraculously light. Crispy squid came with nam jim sauce, a name that's fatally redolent of pyjamas but tastes delicious – a blend of soy and Thai nam pla with lime, chilli, garlic and ginger, that floods the squid flesh and legs with Pacific rim flavours. Steamed mussels with tomato and sweet potato were handsomely presented in a dramatic black iron skillet; a nice change from the usual mountain of shells, and the liquid's good enough to dip your bread in.
Goode & Wright - 11/15
Saturday, January 12, 2013 - The food, prepared by Finlay Logan, is remarkable. Mr Logan is a Scot of precision and flair. He's a whizz with oysters. A buttermilk-fried-then-grilled oyster served with spinach on a sourdough bun to resemble a 'slider' was a delightful miniature. My duck tartare with oysters was served with raw egg yolk to mix in – it was slimy and slithery in texture but tasted delicious cut with cornichons, capers, parsley and pickled chilli, the whole assembly offset by the crunch of sourdough toast.
Bodo's Schloss - 6/15
Saturday, December 01, 2012 - As we looked around, we agreed that it was all thinly realised, as if the owners had nipped into a shop called Alpine Party Props, rather than pillaged an actual ski resort in Gstaad...Angie's Chicken Weiner Schnitzel was served in a cold frying pan (why?) and accompanied by lumps of potato salad that were actually freezing. The chicken itself was so bland in its breadcrumbed carapace, it had no actual identity. My veal goulash was hot, thank heavens, though the casserole dish in which it came was tepid... I know food isn't the main point here, but it was still a dispiriting experience.
Beard to Tail - 9/15
Saturday, November 03, 2012 - Angie's rump steak was charred and textured to perfection, the horseradish cream nicely judged. A side order of bubble-and-squeak was soon demolished. Bone marrow and watercress, however, was dry and unappetising. My sweet-cured saddleback pork chop was lovingly cooked, nicely flavoured with sage and cockles and scattered with slices of apple; having already had apple slices with my starter, I'd have preferred a purée, but you don't argue with the management in such a hard-nut environment.
Colbert - 10/15
Saturday, October 20, 2012 - Angie ordered a Fletan Grille, or grilled halibut. It was enormous, like a lump of Moby Dick. Several inches thick, it glowed with health and whiter-than-white, flaky purity. A helping of spinach lay underneath it like an unsuspecting, green-cagouled rambler crushed by a fallen boulder. Bearnaise sauce was served separately and drew raptures...Corbin and King have pulled off a brilliant coup in nailing this location, and making it half-convincingly French.
Saturday, October 06, 2012 - The menu is unambitious, but the cooking is superior to pub standard; the chef, Jan Ostle, worked at Gordon Ramsay's Chelsea flagship restaurant and at The Square. "Hand-chopped" steak tartare came with green pepper, onions and gherkin, plus an egg to be mixed in, and was fine, if under-seasoned. Fritto misto di verdura offered lightly battered fennel, courgettes and too many onion rings, but was OK...A pudding of chocolate mousse with salted honeycomb sticking out of it reminded everyone of a Crunchie bar; the tarte tatin was fine, apart from being burnt on the bottom. It brought to a close a meal distinguished by its provincial, slapdash quality in a pub that quivered with pretensions to being something else.
Saturday, September 22, 2012 - The menu is very English Heritage, but full of nice touches. Queen scallops are given a peck on their white cheeks by some lovely chorizo. A salad of ham hock with English peas benefited from the ham being served warm in a soft croquette. Smoked eel fishcake with crispy bacon and endive lettuce filled the mouth with flavour and added thick tranches of actual smoked eel as a contrast to the cake...I was relieved the food is good at Perkin Reveller. So much money and effort have been spent on bringing the place to life in this prime location, they could easily have cut corners.
LIMA - 10/15
Saturday, September 08, 2012 - Main courses were less exciting because they were more familiar. There are only six dishes to choose from, three fish, three meat. Louise's confit of suckling pig was essentially pork belly, beautifully roasted, with 'Amazonian cashews' on top, fat lentils in a bed underneath and a counterpoint of pear purée. It was pure piggy comfort food, unctuous and yummy. My lamb shoulder had been braised in a coriander and pisco jus that rendered it amazingly soft, the meat meltingly fibrous, while a sideshow of poached white grapes on black quinoa offered a tasty contrast.
Dock Kitchen - 10/15
Saturday, August 11, 2012 - Lucy admired the properly charcoal-scarred blackness of the skin on her salmon and the dainty pinkness of the interior. A side order of greens, spinach and celery, was "as fresh as the lark ascending". Dan's chargrilled rabbit, marinated in mustard and fennel, was moist and substantial, though the pommes persillades could have come from Marks & Spencer's TV-dinner shelf. Star of the show was my Gloucester Old Spot pork chop, the biggest chop I've ever eaten (or seen), a plate- and gut-filling monster, simply cooked over charcoal to a glorious ochre tan,
Reform Social & Grill - 8/15
Saturday, July 28, 2012 - There's nothing wrong with the food, even if it's a little hit-and-miss. My Duck Scotch Egg was heaven, the duck egg's creamy yolk creeping like sunrise across the rough casing of black pudding and oats. I finished both halves feeling as though I'd consumed an epic breakfast. A mini-bowl of apple sauce was redundant, though. I mean – apple with egg? Simon's Cornish mackerel lacked plumpness and excitement, but its accompanying army of squid roundels was slightly and tantalisingly smoked, and blended well with sea pickle and watercress...There's a lot to relish in this protein-heavy, clubby slab of Olde England. But the management has its work cut out in bringing its delights to public attention.
Donostia - 8/15
Saturday, July 14, 2012 - Of the five pintxos (snacks), the octopus in Basque marinade stood out for its bonsai mosaic of chives and red pepper dusted with paprika, and served in crusty bread saturated with olive oil. Tempura prawns interspersed teeny slices of Bayonne ham between prawn and batter and soothed the resulting saltiness with cubes of mango...We felt very well fed on a succession of dishes that were small but vivid, constructed and cooked with focus and love. For a modest-looking place, this colony of Basque cuisine already punches well above its weight.
Mazi - 12/15
Saturday, June 30, 2012 - Their version of taramasalata is 'fish-roe mousse' - a stunningly light, just-frothed-up cream of fish eggs, breadcrumbs and olive oil came with ribbons of lemon confit and vanished leaving a light kiss on the taste buds. Spanakopita is a melange of spinach and feta, crushed against thin wafers of filo pastry; the triple texture's a delight. From the hot starters we had Grand Mama's meatballs, served on sliced cucumber. They looked overcooked but exploded with flavour, heightened by a mint and sesame dip...You must try it for its artful cooking, that honours the cuisine of Hellas while putting before the happy diner a succession of tastes that are blissfully new.
The Lawn Bistro - 10/15
Saturday, June 16, 2012 - Tthe main thing you experience in The Lawn is the eager chattering of a Friday-night crowd unintimidated by serious high-end cuisine or hefty prices...My chargrilled Gloucester Old Spot pork chop was a thing of beauty, resembling, with its sticking-out bone, an antique brown frying-pan. Somehow the chef had packed sage inside it, and the chop's porky richness was underscored by a fume of incense. It sat on an assembly of Jersey royals, apples, fennel and asparagus, and reeked of health and summer.
Briciole - 8/15
Saturday, May 12, 2012 - We both found the pasta disappointing: veal ravioli with butter and sage lacked softness, butteriness and seasoning (until the waiter smothered it in black pepper). Tagliatelli with artichokes lacked salience...The only real highlight of the meal was my polpette fritte in agrodolce, namely sweet and sour fried meatballs, done Palermo-style. The meatballs were alarmingly baby-pink inside, but incontrovertibly tasty...It's essentially a simple trattoria with lots of charm but one or two delusions of grandeur.
Saturday, April 21, 2012 - The food mostly matches the monochrome decor, but from start to finish is full of vivid flavours. An amuse-bouche of rum jelly with granita whacks your tongue with cold mint and vanishes. Another, of goat's cheese with red pepper and black olive, is a tiny gazpacho with a hint of Milk of Magnesia. Crab salad is a girlishly pretty mosaic of tiny crab molecules, dots of avocado puree and transparent squares of kohlrabi - subtle and pungent but gone too soon...The food's delicious - but you can't help feeling you've strayed into some absentee monarch's very pale kingdom.
Le Pont de la Tour - 10/15
Saturday, April 07, 2012 - Tim and I sat under the Pont's wide awnings, admiring the silver tubs of greenery, lit by fairy lights, that give the restaurant's frontage a shimmery glow. We liked the views of the City - the red lights like eyes at the top of the Gherkin, the glowing blue of the Lloyds building...I wish I could rhapsodise and say the food matched the setting, but it didn't. Tim's poached lobster salad was nicely, squidgily chewy with a touch of balsamic and whisper of cucumber, but its 'apple reduction' was over-reduced to vanishing point.
Gregg's Bar & Grill - 6/15
Saturday, March 24, 2012 - Some of the food was OK. Avocado with prawns looked and tasted good - the avocado mandolined into thin slices, the prawns piled up in a juicy hillock with a genuine Rose Marie sauce. The Spam fritters, however, didn't offer Spam, only some pathetic ham-hock fibres deep-fried in a batter...My main-course boiled beef and carrots was a tranche of salt-beef, left in its cooking liquid for hours to the point of disintegration, accompanied by thumb-size lumps of potato, carrot and turnip. Just as I was tucking in, the waitress arrived with a teapotful of beef stock and upended it on my plate. The result wasn't soup, it wasn't solid, it was just a watery mess.
10 Greek Street - 10/15
Saturday, March 10, 2012 - If the first courses tended to the fishy (trout, sardines, octopus), the mains were big on game and gutsy flavours. House speciality is a sensational rack of Brecon lamb with parsnips and broccoli (40 for two) served as a mountain of coral-pink cutlets. Angie's sea bream was a tad underdone - when did we all agree that it's OK for fish to be pink at the bone? - but she loved the accompanying mix of cooked (artichokes) and salad (fennel and olive) vegetables. My haunch of venison was a thing of beauty, four hefty tranches of deer perfectly cooked, lividly purple in the middle.
The Crooked Well - 9/15
Saturday, January 28, 2012 - The mains on offer didn't endear themselves. Luckily, an evening special was announced - duck leg with chorizo and chickpea stew. Could there be a more butch, more comfort-foodie dish? I had reservations about combining chorizo sausage with duck, but it worked out fine, the tiny cubes of Hispanic spice nuzzling against the steaming dark slithery morsels of Anatidae. The chickpeas, though, were a step too far...Nonetheless, we left The Crooked Well feeling well-disposed to the chefs who seemed to know how to warm the cockles of the January punter.
The Delaunay - 13/15
Saturday, January 14, 2012 - The Delaunay instantly zooms to the top of my list of Restaurants to Take Special Friends For a Big Treat. It's lovely just to hang out there. The waiting staff are friendly and attentive. The prices aren't astronomical. You can't help feel it's your kinda place. It offers very up-market comfort food rather than chef-tastic brilliance, and that's fine with me. I'll be returning again and again (but next time, maybe I won't start with a hot dog).
Soif - 10/15
Saturday, December 10, 2011 - Main courses brought more novelty tastes. Angie's roasted hake ('Delicious, fresh and meaty') was given a nice counterpoint of crunchy chickpeas, sexed up by Romesco, the Spanish sauce that combines tomato with hazelnuts crushed together with pimento peppers. It was delicious. My roast partridge was served whole with a kilo of choucroute (or sauerkraut) and a fat Montbeliard sausage the size of a baby's arm...We left Soif feeling stuffed, but impressed by the gutsy intensity of the chef's cooking.
The Hansom Cab - 8/15
Saturday, November 12, 2011 - I can describe the main courses in a few words. Clementine's rib-eye steak, ordered rare, was served medium and strangely tasteless. My veal T-bone steak was 35 per cent fat and its extremities were chewy cartilage: not nice at all. Angie's Dover sole was fresh, plainly-cooked and nicely presented, the accompanying tartare sauce perfect. Sophie's halibut was well executed and served, 'but it's very ordinary,' she said...I wanted to like The Hansom Cab but on its present showing the food isn't good enough, and the cooking not complex or subtle enough, to justify the absurd prices. In short, it's a restaurant that's too flipping pleased with itself.
Saturday, October 29, 2011 - My Grey Leg Partridge was served whole, and was a terrific sight. Around it, like respectful hierophants, were arrayed bread sauce, gravy (they don't say 'jus' at Rules), redcurrant jelly, celeriac gratin, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnip and bacon crisps. Such an orchestra of tastes. In the middle, the partridge yielded up its chickeny-ducky flesh only after a struggle, but the combination of tastes was astounding...You end a meal in Rules beaming at your great good fortune in being alive, having all five senses and being able to eat God's English bounty, expertly cooked and served as it might have been for Graham Greene or Ava Gardner, only probably much better.
Chez Bruce - 11/15
Saturday, September 03, 2011 - Her main-course navarin of lamb was another long-cooking classic. Instead of the usual lamb neck, the head chef Matt Christmas dished up tranches of rump and shoulder. The rump was a delicate, virginal, lambkin's-ear pink, sublimely textured, while the shoulder was a tougher, sterner, altogether more grown-up cut; it had clearly been braised for several years in white wine, chicken stock, and rosemary, then finished off with some kind of roux. The pair offered a brilliant contrast, as if you were eating both mother and daughter in the same dish. My risotto nero with sea bass was an amazing sight - the beautiful red-orange fish pertly arrayed on a miniature island of blackened rice, it resembled a fascinator at Ascot.
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms - 9/15
Saturday, August 06, 2011 - Visiting the bathroom, I got a bit lost and found myself in the back corridors of the Montcalm Hotel. Suddenly, everything was plush, carpeted, hushed and corporate. It occurred to me that the food at Chiswell Street was like that, too. It's perfectly OK as a fuelling stop for City folk, to break up their knackering day at the financial coalface, but the food isn't cooked with much interest or passion. Like the Grub Street hackers of old, there's a faint suggestion that they're just going through the motions.
Medlar - 10/15
Saturday, July 09, 2011 - Medlar is easy to admire for competence in every department - meat cooking, sauces, flavour combinations, pudding techniques - but a little hard to love. There's something constrained and buttoned-up, dainty and polite about its dishes, where you'd like an occasional suggestion of blood and guts, gore and derring-do. Chelsea-ites are lucky to have it on their doorstep. But they may find themselves wishing for more a flavour of the Football Club than the Flower Show.
San Lorenzo Fuoriporta - 11/15
Saturday, June 25, 2011 - Whitebait were for once not deep-fried, just fried with a spicy tomato sauce – substantial and delicious (but don't eat the tails or they'll stick in your throat, as one did in mine for five minutes). Crayfish in creamed flageolet beans were a treat, the creamed beans like an Italianate hummus. Three crostini of pulled pork with raw red onion, chilli and fruit mustard were heftily satisfying open sandwiches. Spiced chicken in garlic with black olives, tomato and wine had a nice Provencal punch...Do try the Berni brothers' generous-hearted, imaginative re-thinking of Italian food if you get a chance.
Roussillon - 11/15
Saturday, May 28, 2011 - My date's lobster salad with mango, avocado and chorizo may sound like simple food combining but it's not. The ingredients all embraced each other in an orange-hued, subtly-spiced group hug. My pan-seared scallops offered the usual challenge of finding some gutsy accompaniment to their plump and juicy innocence: Gill's solution was a fabulously tasty rectangle of ham hock that had been boiled for hours, shredded, pressed overnight with capers, gherkins, parsley and tarragon, rolled in breadcrumbs and lightly fried. All this labour paid off - it ran rings of savoury gorgeousness around the scallops.
Pollen Street Social - 12/15
Saturday, May 07, 2011 - Irish ox cheek was dark as a rainy Connemara bog; inside it was sexy purple. It steamed with dense and unctuous savouriness. A loose-textured roundel of tongue was tender to the point of disintegration. Both cheek and tongue reeked of carnivorous intimacy; it was like snogging an expiring water buffalo. Harmony carrots and horseradish mash contributed extra sweetness and bite. Max's roasted Scottish halibut, exalted by a yummy mussel sauce, twined itself around asparagus, and battled with a side-dish of Catalan paella. These were vivid and extravagant flavours I'd travel miles to experience.
Ilia - 7/15
Saturday, April 23, 2011 - My date was brought a huge platter of San Daniele ham and salami, artfully folded and, she observed, 'miraculously thin, like this girl at the next table'. My 'porchetta-style' rabbit with shallots was four oval slices of bunny, stuffed with parsley, breadcrumbs and jus de lapin camouflaged with shredded lettuce and faintly dressed with a sauce that involved parmesan, orange, lemon and spinach. It came and went without leaving much impression...As we left, feeling distinctly underwhelmed, the owner was being gallant to the babes at the next table, and the joint was loud with kissing. Do try Ilia for its convivial atmosphere - but you may feel you're dining in a club of which you're not really a member.
Saturday, April 09, 2011 - The menu promised monkfish tail wrapped in air-dried ham with spinach and gremolata, plus a crayfish risotto. They'd got the emphasis wrong. This was a plate of perfectly acceptable crayfish risotto, with an apologetically shrunk, ham-wrapped monkfish like an afterthought. The ham was lovely, but the monkfish - the most solid and meaty of white fish - decidedly mushy. Bennett's fish pie was 50/50 fish and potato, which I guess is about right for fish pie, and tasted fine...Until the kitchen clarifies its USP, refines its menu and stops adding otiose flavours to simple dishes, it'll be an uphill struggle.
Saturday, March 05, 2011 - The food seemed an afterthought to the decor. Cauliflower soup, pumpkin and Stilton souffle, foie gras terrine - these are not starters to inspire great art...The RA restaurant looks lovely, the wine list is appealing and well-priced, and our Lithuanian waitress Karolina was completely charming. The cooking, though, has a pinched, defeatist, uncertain quality about it. The menu needs a re-think, the chef needs a trip to some decent meat and poultry suppliers, and Mr Peyton should get some blood and guts into the kitchen.
Aubaine (Kensington) - 8/15
Saturday, February 19, 2011 - The decor is faux-rustic, possibly ordered from the Baileys mail-order catalogue. The menu is unadventurous French cuisine...The main courses arrived with dizzying speed. Madeleine was enthusing about its pan-fried, lightly seared, charcoaled fishiness, how well it balanced the fennel, all of it soothed by a green pea sauce. My free-range pork chop was delicious, bonding with the soft chunks of lightly-cooked apple like Julie Andrews encountering the junior von Trapps. In spite of my earlier sneers about the decor and clientele, Aubaine was working out well.
Brawn - 10/15
Saturday, January 22, 2011 - Reasoning that, in a restaurant whose logo is a bottle-shaped pig, I should try a pig dish, I chose the Finocchiona. Imagine a large, semi-soft, porky saucisse whose contents you spoon into your mouth. It was fine at first; then I felt I was eating a large helping of sausagemeat dotted with lardons, and couldn't continue...The wedges of charcuterie, the helpings-for-two that you end up eating solo, the procession of raw-meat-after-raw-meat, the blizzard of pulses, beans, lentils (and sprouts) guaranteed to make you fart like a wizard, the strange incoherence of the menu - it made for an uncomfortable eating experience.
Barbecoa - 8/15
Saturday, December 18, 2010 - My starter of crispy pig cheeks was a classic case of over-production. The pig's head had been roasted until the flesh fell off, the cheeks had been boned, mixed with celery and carrots, rolled up, sliced, then cooked until the top was blackened. Its porkiness was muted rather than enhanced by all this activity. Lisa's baby back ribs, though, were excellent...The war-zone aspect of Barbecoa is hard to love, but when it gets it right (as with the steak) you can forgive the slapdash approach to anything which isn't carnivore-related. Time will tell, but I'm not convinced this is a place to which Oliver's army will flock.
Cigalon - 13/15
Saturday, November 20, 2010 - My cannelloni de daube de taureau resembled two spring rolls covered in Branston Pickle, but was delicious. The beef had been braised until caramelised, and it melted into the shallots-and-red-wine-with-bone-marrow sauce...There was nothing ambiguous about the aioli de cabillaud, or poached line-caught cod. I've seldom seen a fish so perkily solid, so pristinely white. It had been steamed rather than poached, I suspect, as had been the perfect lumps of vegetable that sat in a tiny puddle of broth, while the aioli puree (potato, garlic and olive oil) was a beautifully subtle partner. A side dish of black olive mashed potato was tasty as hell.
Tinello - 11/15
Saturday, November 06, 2010 - The mains were electrifying. Angie's roast fillet of cod with celeriac and anchovy sauce drew cries of rapture. 'It's rare to find a piece of cod so fresh and delicious you could eat it by itself, but the celeriac goes with it so beautifully, it's overwhelming.'...My veal chop, slow-roasted for ages with bay leaves and juniper berries, was wondrous, a big butch steak on a bone the size of a handlebar. But the highlight of my dish was the fennel - sliced in half and slow-braised until it was sweet and melting.
Samarqand - 6/15
Saturday, October 16, 2010 - I chose the Russian herring with boiled potatoes because it had the virtue of bluntness. It was terrific: pink-and-grey, nicely salted, beautifully textured, both meaty and fishy at the same time. The accompanying potatoes were four halves of peeled, boiled spud, arrayed on the plate without sophistication. It looked like lunch for a long-stay dissident in the gulag. But it tasted fine...Perhaps Russo-Uzbek-Kazakhstani cuisine is an acquired taste. Perhaps there's a reason why no one in the kitchen wants to flavour dishes with anything but chilli sauce or herbs-and-yoghurt.
Saturday, October 02, 2010 - How does one describe the food at Harvey Nicks? Very pretty, very svelte and very anxious not to appal or upset gentle palates with rough textures or butch flavours...My smoked-salmon starter was marinated in elderflower and served with fennel and apple creme fraiche. A beautiful sight but I longed for a wedge of lemon to bring some excitement into its life. Max's roast scallops with braised chicken wings promised a hearty wallop of flavour; the tiny pieces of boneless chicken were delicious, and the scallops, barely touched by an oven, were given a tiny crunch by the molecules of hazelnut in the jus.
Polpetto - 9/15
Saturday, September 11, 2010 - Madeleine declared herself full up and I knew I was sunk. The pigeon saltimbocca was a lovely variant on the classic veal dish, the flavour of game far from overwhelmed by the Parma ham wrap. But I couldn't do justice to the osso buco. Tender, unctuous and melting, it was served on a lovely saffron risotto which would have satisfied a platoon of trenchermen. As I tried to find an abdominal corner for the scrumptious pannacotta with blackberries and biscotti, and basked in Polpetto's lovely informality at 3pm, I wondered if I'd ever complained before about a restaurant serving too much food.
All Star Lanes (Holborn) - 10/15
Saturday, August 28, 2010 - We left the All Star Lanes determined to return. Perhaps next time, we'll head for the one in Brick Lane. It's a very invigorating experience - what with the juleps, the rumble and crash of the bowling alley, the milkshakes (did I mention the Oh Sweet Jeez!, with peanut butter, banana, chocolate and caramel? It's like a liquefied Dime Bar) and the excellent chips, you can ignore the patchiness of the food. But a bit more quality control in the kitchen would lift this four-star night out into something even better.
Belvedere - 8/15
Saturday, July 31, 2010 - The food was good but a little short on dressing. As though to make up for it - as though the chef had overheard us (and the irascible Marco Pierre White, who used to co-own the place, still acts as consultant here) - all the main courses arrived fairly drenched in sauce, or jus or gravy. Four plates glistened with identical shiny brown puddles...There's something disappointing about the Belvedere at present. It's one of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in London, but it doesn't feel friendly or romantic.
Cafe Luc - 11/15
Saturday, July 17, 2010 - The menu is 'classic' French-Mediterranean, and you tick off the predictable dishes with a yawn. The food, though, was terrific. Madeleine's crab tian was a little work of art, a roundel of crab and avocado sitting on a spirograph of pink radish slices, surmounted by a quail's egg. The crab tasted good, although I'd question the addition of a wodge of cream cheese. My Scottish scallops were, unusually, steamed in a wine mariniere rather than seared in a pan, and given a wallop of basil pesto. How odd to find, amid such sophistication, an awful lot of roughly-diced carrots that added nothing but crunch.
Brasserie Joel - 8/15
Saturday, June 19, 2010 - The main courses brought another surprise, in the shape of a Le Creuset saucepan, in which Angie's Cornish prawns were served. The prawns therein were perfectly well cooked but covered in a too-sweet, tomatoey sauce. Around them, sliced courgettes were a welcome counterpoint; but the ricotta tortelloni most emphatically was not. My honey-glazed roast duck couldn't be faulted, however. The glistening duck leg split open to reveal a juicily pink interior; its honey glaze wasn't too sweet, while baby artichokes and a figgy sauce were just fine. side order of potato puree was gorgeously butter-and-creamed.
Chapter One - 12/15
Saturday, June 05, 2010 - Pan-fried wild halibut was sweet and moist, and the accompanying shredded celeriac danced along with tiny St George mushrooms; the only bum note was a superfluity of lobster foam. (Hasn't foam had its day now? Can we please go back to sauce?) Poached and roasted quail wrapped round melting-away foie gras was a rich choice, lifted by braised red cabbage...Chapter One is my top gastronomic find of the year so far. Hats off to Mr McLeish and his talented team. And when I tell you there's currently a Monday-to-Saturday two-course lunch promotion for 14.50 - what are you waiting for?
Bar Boulud - 10/15
Saturday, May 29, 2010 - The place itself isn't immediately appealing: it's subterranean, with a ceiling so low as to attract only the most gifted limbo dancers. The tables are cheap wood veneer, unburdened by white cloths. The decor is predominantly beige and brown...I tried the 'beer braised feather blade', an old-fashioned beef carbonnade, but with a difference. Instead of lumps of stewing steak, it offered a whole slab of feather-blade that was tender enough to eat with a plastic fork: gooey, fibrous, aching with more flavour than any steak of living memory, it was sensational. (M Boulud told me later it had been cooked sous-vide for 72 hours straight.)
Tangerine Dream Cafe - 13/15
Saturday, May 08, 2010 - Behind us is the garden's handsome tropical-plant greenhouse. Before us is a long, trimmed lawn. In the distance the Thames sulkily twinkles. This is a lovely, peaceful setting for lunch...The five main courses were slightly predictable but welcome none the less: confit of duck with celeriac mash; salmon en croute with stem ginger; seabass; steak; and goat's cheese tart. My steak was served in the Tuscan tagliata fashion, lightly charred and sliced sideways, with a Portobello mushroom and a touch of oil. It was delicious. Even its tepidness seemed right for an al fresco lunch.
Golden Day - 3/15
Saturday, April 24, 2010 - As an exercise in food preparation, display and restaurateurship, the Golden Day is frankly insulting, judging by my experience last week. Whatever may be dished up in the poorer districts of Xiangxi, it's a bloody cheek to chop up what seem like the cheapest cuts of chicken, duck and pig, cook them without subtlety or style, serve them with indifference to your diners and charge a fortune (my duck was 15.80, the cabbage side-dish 7.80) because you're in the middle of Shaftesbury Avenue.
Manson - 10/15
Saturday, April 10, 2010 - It's a warm and welcoming interior, as embracing as a favourite pub. There's nothing pubby about the food, though. Presiding over the kitchen is young Gemma Tuley, who trained as a chef under Gordon Ramsay at Claridges Hotel and in Paris...A main course of stone bass was a triumph, the fish so toastily charred, fresh and delicious, the polenta so unexpectedly creamy, the beetroot and salady leaves so full of aromas of spring. My braised pork belly was a revelation...It was a wonderful lunch. For all its naive rustic charm, the Manson has a star of real urban sophistication in its midst.
Caravan (Exmouth Market) - 8/15
Saturday, March 13, 2010 - The menu strives for simplicity too: it's an 'all-day' affair, divided into Snacks, Small Plates and Big Plates, Sides and Puddings, the object being to mix'n'match, to graze, to chillax...my guests agreed: it's a good restaurant, the decor cool and minimalist, the waiters attentive and the food mostly delicious. But there's an air of confusion about the menu and some of the dishes: small plates that are bigger than tapas, big plates that aren't real main courses, way too much sweet potato.
Kitchen W8 - 12/15
Saturday, February 27, 2010 - My thinly sliced smoked eel with grilled mackerel, leek hearts and sweet mustard didn't reek of Gallic endeavour either. It was laid out in a rectangle of orange, white and brown, as pretty as an English watercolour, the eel shaved so wafer-thin it melted on my fork, the tiny bits of fish beautifully grilled. It was, in fact, so ethereal, it hardly counted as food at all...What they've brought to my professional backyard is a little too pricey and plain to be a neighbourhood drop-in site. But the food and the welcome make it a must-consider for anyone in Kensington with something to celebrate.