Marina O'Loughlin reviews
Friday, March 07, 2014 - Presentation is as overwrought as the concept, a multiplicity of swoops and swirls and little jugs. With guinea fowl (overcooked and dry; thank goodness for the "nib-infused organic milk yoghurt") comes a disembodied poultry limb standing to attention like a guardsman. I've ordered slow-roast shoulder of Herdwick lamb, the meat – already sticky, almost jammy, with a jug of even stickier "cacao balsamic" gravy...Despite the quality of the chocolate, the cumulative effect on me is a bilious one: I'm as queasy as if I'd necked a family-sized Galaxy selection box.
Friday, February 28, 2014 - Almost every dish trails a wisp of fragrant smoke: fat little anchovies you can eat like lollipops; flatbread oozing smoked butter. The burger is smoked Basque beef, with sticky idiazabal cheese and frilly fried onion rings. There are ribs, falling off the bone, with a sticky quince glaze that makes my pupils dilate. Octopus is a sexy beast indeed, butch but tender, sweetened by a tangle of peperonata. (I'm pausing here for a brief moment at the recollection of chips fried in Ibérico fat, dunked in chorizo ketchup.)
Friday, January 31, 2014 - We have precision-cut slivers of 24-month-aged Trevelez jamón, sweeter and nuttier than more pedestrian Serranos. There's whipped lardo, melting languidly over sourdough toast, meatier than this snowy backfat usually is and packing a porcine punch. Tacos are messy and immoderate, stuffed with slow-cooked pork (of course), their ripe corn still discernible through the sweet-sourness of muscovado sugar and cider vinegar, earthy little black beans and sludge of guacamole. Neatly sliding off the bone, baby back ribs come in a treacly, smoky marinade.
Saturday, January 11, 2014 - Our food is bland and forgettable: from "truffle" popcorn lacking even a ghost of the alleged flavour, to shrimp with grits (a mushy southern US version of polenta), it's like invalid food; they've even managed to find insipid chillies. Fried chicken features flabby bird: more grease-bound chippy, batter thick as a MasterChef greengrocer, than evolved comfort food. It comes with "spicy coleslaw" that isn't. The fries – tepid, pallid, limp – would make McDonald's blush.
Saturday, January 04, 2014 - Our food comes, as is fashionable, at the whim of the kitchen. But these aren't courses anyway, they're canapés. Tacos the size of communion wafers, topped with teaspoons of this and that: pork pibil, sludgy and slow-cooked with a backnote of orange and chilli; a morsel of soft-shell crab, cleanly fried, with heavenly cebollas curtidas on top. Nice enough, but at £12 for three, I'd prefer wow.
Saturday, December 28, 2013 - If I were to try to find a word to sum up Merchants Tavern, it would be confidence. The confidence to accessorise a generous hunk of pork belly with little more than roast cauliflower and savoy cabbage, sophistication coming from an almost throwaway blob of the most intense, bitter grapefruit purée. The confidence to put a cheese and ham toastie on the bar menu...And, of course, to dish up a small saucepan of bloody good mash when everyone else is doing triple-fried chips rammed into flowerpots. This is a restaurant with the chops not to have to try too hard. Sheer class.
Saturday, December 21, 2013 - We resist the blandishments of the trout. But, with the exception of a (tiny) crab starter that features glorious shellfish with delicate, lightly pickled cucumber and the freshness of sorrel, the rest of what we eat is equally austere. Minuscule carrots, again with a touch of acidity, are almost raw and served with mandolined discs of radish. This isn't lunch, it's the 5:2 diet...But I forgive everything because the wine list – long a whispered, greedy little secret among the capital's bibulous – should be preserved for the nation in the galleries above.
Saturday, December 14, 2013 - Pork belly – a huge serving – features a hectic homage to the carrot: orange glazed; purple scattered with bacon-y dust; processed into a mousse-like sauce. Puffed pork rinds provide contrast and crunch. Oh, and there's a slow-braised pig's cheek, too. It's vaguely exhausting...I suspect the gallerists will be delighted to have us uncultured restaurant critic types scratching our heads to make sense of it. But is that art?
Saturday, November 16, 2013 - The dish that sums it all up is a deep-fried Clarence Court duck egg, a sausageless scotch, its orange yolk oozy and rich, on "mushy" peas of equally vivid hue and taste, with crisps of Cumbrian ham. Cocktails are made with "Coco Pops milk" and served in glass cartons with retro straws. It's the Atherton look, and it goes beautifully with its surroundings: a tingly mix of fun and fabulousness...And so, polite burger or not, I'm going back. I'm a sucker for a bit of the ol' razzle-dazzle.
Saturday, November 02, 2013 - Every week there's a different menu. You might find athanu: slices of fresh mango spiked with tingling spices into a kind of instant chutney. Or one of their insanely good bhujias: onion or broccoli, fried till crisp, the batter aerated with a fizz of bicarb. Or mhutia: crunchy wafers laced with ajwain (carom) seeds, like poppadoms with attitude...You get the very real sense that you're enjoying the hospitality of talented Gujarati home cooks, without needing to be invited into actual Gujarati homes. Which is a privilege I'm happy to cross town for.
Saturday, October 26, 2013 - The first Two Fats landed in 1989, and today's menu, bar a few rogue sightings of chorizo and tamarind, wouldn't have looked out of place then. There have been reports of raspberry vinegar, which I thought had been against the law since shoulder pads roamed the Earth. And the plating… Trios and timbales and spears of chive: it's like the millennium never happened. There's a symmetrical drum of white rice perfectly centred on a plain white plate. Around it are five fat, lightly chillied prawns on their salsa of, er, couthy mango, pineapple and pimento. The only sign that we're not time-travelling are a few scattered microherbs. I might scoff, but it gets scoffed, smartish.
Saturday, October 19, 2013 - It does what it does with aplomb: fluffy gnocchi bathed in fruity robiola cheese, punctuated by almost caramelised shards of guanciale (pigs' cheek bacon). Homemade honey gelato – as blowsy as soft-serve, so not really gelato at all – provides a light, sweet finish. The only also-ran is an octopus dish, the muscular tentacle over-charred, its mattress of borlotti and n'duja simply odd: the beans are overcooked, the onions almost raw, and there's just a ghostly suggestion of the sausage. Otherwise, it's all good. These new kids on the block are on to something.
Saturday, October 05, 2013 - It's a shame she won't experience the sweet, pearly scallops with romesco sauce crafted, I'd guess, from peppers blasted by a charcoal grill. And ox cheek, rich as chocolate fondant, savoury as Marmite, with cauliflower cheese that breathes a fug of ripe fromages and inches the dish towards overkill until you stumble across the odd bracingly sharp pickled floret. Or stovies, a traditional Scottish ribsticker, here translated as chunks of just-collapsed potato bathed in a thick lamb jus with tendrils of onion.
Saturday, September 28, 2013 - The mains can't quite handle the pace: there's a tendency to over-reduced, vinous sauces, treacly and overwhelming, especially in an ox cheek dish so overpoweringly beefy it would make a vegetarian faint from several paces. I'm not sure a "burger" made from squid and tuna is altogether a genius idea, but I love pigs' cheeks cooked until crusty outside and almost spoonable within...Still, it's a glamorous gaff. If the staff got a boot up the jacksie, it could be a welcome addition to the shrinking pantheon of London's properly grown-up restaurants.
Saturday, September 14, 2013 - That this derivative throwback exists in the same street as Moro and Caravan smacks of sheer gall. That it's rammed to its walls demonstrates how depressingly easy it is to snow the punters. Paesan's corporate speak whiffles on about "cucina povera" being "a way of life" and talking "from one paesan to another". The owners are also responsible for the tourist trap Pasta Brown in Covent Garden.
Saturday, September 07, 2013 - Our meal is a series of small thrills. From the little explosions of taste in a pea dish – thyme buds, lemon verbena jelly, mint granita – to the almond milk that comes with small rectangles of pork belly, it makes you beam with pleasure at the knowledge there's more to come...I'd far rather be eating Robin Gill's wonderful food here, with his wife Sarah in her slouchy shorts singing the praises of their quirky and alluring wine list than in some constipated temple of haute cuisine.
Saturday, August 31, 2013 - The irritations of the day slip from me as easily as the rabbit slips down my neck. It is gorgeous: the meat silky and slow-cooked, still tasting quite definitely of bunny; the mash of the Robuchon school, rammed with butter, rich and luxurious. There's a light, creamy, mustardy sauce that just – just – stops short of richness overkill. I want to anoint myself in it...I'd come here weekly if I could. This is reasonably priced food designed to deliver pleasure from chaps who know how to have a good time. They've recreated a France viewed through rosé-filled glasses.
Saturday, August 24, 2013 - There's pigeon breast, deep burgundy, just the right side of over-ripeness. It comes with a delicate, pastry-wrapped pastilla of the rest of the bird, confited and scented with cinnamon and scattered with pistachios, garnet-coloured morello cherries and a sauce with the sour-sweet note of rosehips. A surprise: one of those morellos turns out to be intense cherry jelly, with a vanilla crisp as its stalk.
Saturday, August 17, 2013 - In among the short menu of corn dogs and the inevitable burger (with pineapple and bacon jam, obviously) are some lovely, cheffier things: wild seabass with passion fruit and pickled ginger; salad from Keveral Farm. The quality is a little startling: Clarke is obsessive about sourcing, utilising a network of indie suppliers. The aged Dexter ribeye I order is so ripe in flavour and buttery in texture, it's hard not to eat it open-mouthed.
Saturday, August 10, 2013 - Some dishes are successful assemblies: baked beetroots with creamy goat's milk labneh with a sharp, medicinal note from dill oil. (Loubet enjoys the brightness of goat's milk; it turns up again in a dessert of pannacotta with candied cherry tomatoes.) Or a harmonious salad of endive, peas, runner beans and Roquefort...This is sunny food, California dreamin' dishes. I'm tickled by the idea that it's a large Frenchman who's delivering this fresh, almost feminine food.
Saturday, August 03, 2013 - Calamari have the air of items released from decades of cryogenic freezing. They loll off the fork, as flaccid and weary as a Playboy magnate. Their "aïoli" simply isn't: it's a lurid yellow dollop that's never met a clove of garlic in its miserable life. It gets worse: a fine bit of steak, nicely charred and pink, has a new kind of torture inflicted on it: "coffee and chipotle bbq" sauce, aka brown gloop that tastes as though it's had Nescafé and Tabasco flung in...Underneath the cackhandedness, the lumpen crowd-pleasing, there's evidence of fine produce. But it simply doesn't stand a chance against the force of the concept.
Saturday, July 20, 2013 - We have the full 10 courses, at £79. Well, you feel you must. We have spongey boiled sole on to which is poured an onion broth so powerful and jammy, it gums the lips together. Sole is a delicate fish; it doesn't stand a snowball's. There are the inevitable "jokes": pickled mussels whose shells are edible – pastry stained with squid ink – and twigs made of seaweed. I hazard these are more fun to dream up than they are to eat.
Saturday, July 06, 2013 - McHale has a way with a vegetable. Asparagus comes with a dollop of gochujang (Korean fermented chilli paste), mayo and ground black sesame, a feisty trio. What's billed as a salad, a beautiful, painterly dish, delivers bursts of intense pleasure: perfectly slow-poached pheasant's egg, snowy-white almonds, crisp, peppery radishes with their leaves, chive flowers, tendrils of creamy, home-cured lardo, the sweetest, greenest peas… Oh, so much more.
Saturday, June 29, 2013 - I love the clever, urbane menu; I love the wine list, brimming with desirable arcana...Rabbit, as tender as a goodbye kiss, is butched up by slabs of spicy morcilla, then soothed by fresh peas. As the blood sausage is cut, it leaches into the light broth, giving it a sexy, murky depth. Fat roasted scallops are served with lardo di Colonnata and those punchy little scapes. It all just works.
Saturday, June 22, 2013 - Familiar dishes are given clever, pungent twists: smoked bamboo shoots in crisp, airy potsticker dumplings; red-braised pork given woody depth by tea tree mushrooms. The standout for me is catfish with pancakes, a Shandong dish made with huge, fatty fish heads here translated for scaredy westerners into thick, slightly gummy fillets in a dark brown sauce of such savour I want to plunge into it face first. Dried chillies jostle with star anise and more fat cloves of garlic than should be legal, all bound with fermented bean paste. The chewy pancakes, flung into the sauce, become alluringly floppy. Gorgeous.
Saturday, June 15, 2013 - There's wild boar pasta "alla chitarra", cut on guitar-like wires so that the strands have squared edges, the ragù slow-cooked and honking with wine and herbs. Pallotte cac'e ove are squelchy little balls of fried cheese topped with rich tomato sauce and wafers of truffled caciotta cheese – a collection of several kinds of loveliness. Servings are huge, especially "sagne" pasta with chickpeas and pappardelle with spicy rabbit. The menu's rarely less than an adventure.
Saturday, June 15, 2013 - A red Berkel meat slicer and dangling charcuterie give hints to the provenance. In Parma is largely concerned with cheese and salumi. The meats arrive sliced as finely as raw filo, silky and ripe, lapping over the large boards they're served on. Cheeses – fontina, robbiola and, of course, parmigiano – are perfectly kept, and there are vinegary little borettane onions for wrapping in fatty coppa, fleshy bresaola or majestic culatello di Zibello.
Saturday, June 08, 2013 - We have a few slivers of beef on a large plate. The beef might be fabulous, but there's no way of knowing: its gingery-soy-garlicky dressing has sent all other flavour packing. Our mains are entirely forgettable: upscale ingredients served with fruity sidekicks...Oblix is designed to crowd-please a specific clientele: they can eat familiar-looking food surrounded by familiar-looking people – a Maccy D's approach for the internationally minted. I find it eminently unlovable.
Saturday, June 01, 2013 - It's not awful (well, not all of it), but neither do I want to eat any of it again. House-cured fish – one salmon in star anise, one halibut in beetroot – are pleasing enough, but come in slivers the size and thickness of Band-Aids and cost £7 a pop. Then there's the prawn cocktail which comes under one of those desperate smoke-filled domes...There's no doubting the majesty of the Savoy – the impressive swoop down to Kaspar's makes you fear that someone will spot you as a common interloper and throw you out on your ear – but I'm not sure this is the restaurant it deserves.
Saturday, May 25, 2013 - There's tartare of Angus beef, lightly smoked and hand-chopped, pungent with mustard leaves and horseradish, and soothed by egg yolk. Hood is no slouch when it comes to fish, either: plaice with chewy brown shrimp and the lightest mousseline freshened with cucumber. Or hake, lightly curried and baked, with roast cauliflower, nutty and cheesy: the cleverest of stuff...It's a punchbowl of different ingredients that manages to end up being quintessentially Soho.
Saturday, May 18, 2013 - It's the sort of place that people who adore prodding and sniffing their food, and who're happy only if meat comes in a brace of different cooking styles accessorised with dots of things and cubes and sploshes of other things, will love. They'll love it with a polite, slightly long-winded passion.
Saturday, May 04, 2013 - A candle made from beef dripping pools into the holder; dense, dark sourdough for dipping; and a relish of finely cubed veal tongue, celery and jellied chicken consommé in a sharp-sweet dressing. Bloody lovely: earthy, piquant, meaty flavours and wobbly, crunchy, fatty textures, all in one mouthful...Sellers may be cocky enough to call his warm-up London and New York pop-ups "Foreword" and "Preface", but he can walk the walk: his food is genuinely directional.
Saturday, April 27, 2013 - Presentation is delicious. A nest of shredded filo cradles slow-cooked tea-smoked eggs dusted with satay powder. If that's not sensory overload enough, a burning stick of cinnamon breathes scented smoke over it. There's a celebration of vegetables – gai lan, bok choy, choy sum, crisped lotus roots – with a burp of pleasingly evil fermented bean curd and nutty shrimp butter. Scotch beef (the quality of ingredients is notable) comes with Yunnan truffle and fat, wriggly ho fun noodles.
Saturday, April 13, 2013 - I'm sure the food – we have the tasting menu – is delivering exactly what it has set out to, but it's weirdly forgettable. You get a sense of robotic, rote perfection. The scene is set by the contrived aperitivos on their steel contraptions: a trademark scorpion fish lollipop thing, wrapped in Weetabix-like kataifi pastry; puffed rice wafers sandwiching a fish mousse about as thrilling as tuna mayo; and, weirdest of all, what's described as "cheese puzzle", the puzzle being why anyone would want to torture good cheese until it tasted like ossified Dairylea and looked like a Wall's Funny Feet ice lolly.
Saturday, April 06, 2013 - There's an obscene-looking hotdog – brioche bun, smoky, dense sausage with just the right amount of snap, onion jam. Chopped liver is a Jewish deli classic, rich with chicken fat and arriving with a tub of butter in case your arteries aren't packing up fast enough. Everything comes with brioche...If you fancy killing yourself with what might be styled "grande bouffe, yo", this is as good a place to do it as any.
Saturday, March 30, 2013 - The 30-day beef is impressive, but it's the older, riper cut that leaves a lasting impression – as rich as anything I've eaten here or the States, almost gamey, cutting like butter even though we've asked for it rare...Our other choices are mostly a bit on the sad side: limp roasted vegetables, "roast potatoes" that look like frozen oven wedges, anodyne caponata with none of the sweet-sour bravura of the real Sicilian thing. Gnocchi with pesto should be aced – Genoa is pesto's homeland – but although the little dumplings are handmade, the sauce lacks seasoning and vibrancy.
Saturday, March 16, 2013 - Nothing we eat is worth its hefty price tag. A "salad" features slimy, over-balsamiced grilled radicchio, decent prosciutto and "house-smoked bocconcini", which translates as rubbery little dollops of bog-standard mozzarella that are strangers to the smoker. A steak – USDA prime sirloin, apparently – tastes only of char...It's a theme restaurant. And the theme is Sex And The City circa 1999.
Saturday, March 09, 2013 - I'm bedazzled and occasionally bewildered. Every dish that's arriving – tiny, but perfectly formed, each on a distinct and beautiful piece of Japanese crockery – offers something to make you shake your head in wonder and curiosity...Sure, it's expensive, but good kaiseki is eyewateringly spendy in the homeland, too. Plus there's all that washing-up. At the risk of coming over all M&S, this isn't just dinner, it's a merry-go-round for the senses, a series of revelatory little pleasures. It's an education.
Saturday, March 02, 2013 - The menu changes three times a day. Imagine. Inevitably, sometimes you'll hit a day of joy – Cornish fish in tempura-light batter with aïoli made with smoked garlic; razor clams with a rubble of migas-like breadcrumbs spiked with morcilla...The new custodians of the Chop House are gleefully aware of the treasure on their hands. It gladdens the heart.
Saturday, February 23, 2013 - Partridge for two, exquisitely juicy and with a whiff of mulchy earth and hedgerow from its ageing, is majestic: served on a silver charger with fruity, relish-like red cabbage and that pithivier, a dome of crisp pastry stuffed with the bird's innards and garlicky French sausage, it's a complex, memorable little number that shoots straight to the top of my list of deathbed dishes.
Saturday, February 16, 2013 - There's a board of charcuterie: rosette de Lyon sausage; silky rillettes with the subtlest caress of spice; a dense, meaty pork terrine; velvet-textured folds of Bayonne ham; pickled cornichons and baby onions. Frites are chips, really, not their slender French cousins, but they're triple-fried and excellent, especially dunked into the pungent, demi-glace pepper sauce on a slab of entrecote...It's like a big, French family happy to welcome new rosbif members.
Saturday, February 02, 2013 - I genuinely believe Yau is some kind of genius. From that easily Google-able name to the faux-sleazy LED light display, Naamyaa is like nothing else in town. I'd be happy to eat beans on toast here, cosseted by beaming cult members and blessed by glittering Bodhisattvas, but you can get Hakkasan-style jasmine tea-smoked baby back ribs and Mekhong whisky and grüner veltliner. Yau, the consummate restaurateur, has done it again.
Saturday, January 26, 2013 - Much of it is mesmerising. One flawless oyster on a sliver of seaweed jelly, bathed in sherry-like Shaoxing wine with lime, ginger and onion, is an exhilarating earth-and-sea slurp. "Tomato" brings three treatments of the fruit: one almost confit in sweet Chinese vinegar, one wrapped in an armadillo-like shell of lightest pastry, one a snowy "marshmallow" that combines fairy-wing lightness with astonishing intensity. Wagyu beef comes in a bouillon of limpid purity and staggering savour.
Saturday, January 19, 2013 - There are decorative assemblies: shallots roasted into luxurious, sweet petals and partnered with golden and purple beetroot, anya potatoes and soothing clouds of goat's curd with a spritz of balsamic for acidity. Warming ribstickers: ox cheeks, slow-stewed with roots collapsing into the clutches of the gravy. And playful novelties: "crispy beef brisket salad", pleasingly chewy, crumbed meat with mustard-dressed and vinegar-soused veg – like a reinvention of crispy shredded beef, but with decent produce...This is food, and hospitality, with its heart in the right place.
Friday, January 11, 2013 - "My brasseries," it says on the menu, "are places where you can relax and enjoy honest French cooking." I don't know about you, M Blanc, but I find it hard to relax in an environment of deafening noise levels, stressed and overstretched staff, and legions of people processed like so many frozen frites...According to Caterer mag, there are plans to grow the chain to 40 sites in the next five years. I'm sure this expansion strategy will continue to keep standards lofty, and people who genuinely care about food will continue to pile in. Oh yes.
Friday, December 28, 2012 - Empanadas stuffed with smoky grilled peppers, chicken and cumin are fine little things: crumbly pastry caving into a savoury, spiced squidge. A juicy, rough-hewn chorizo tastes homemade, subtler than the familiar paprika-red jobs, and comes with squares of polenta and tomato – that Italian influence...It's a "small plates" place, so, as ever, unless you have the appetite of a Olsen twin, you end up with a bill the size of an Olsen twin's boyfriend. Otherwise, it's lovely: beautiful Marylebone townhouse, dramatic entrance via a heavy curtain leading on to a cosy space – bare brick and dark wood, twinkling bar.
Friday, December 21, 2012 - They use Hakata-style hosamen noodles: thin, pale and straight, with nice springiness and bite. But the chashu pork in the tonkotsu has a greyish, cheap roast dinner quality, and the soup lacks body, its glutinous pigginess leavened with chicken stock. There's a forest of beansprouts to negotiate before you get to the good stuff: papery nori that faints into the broth; wood ear mushrooms; strips of red ginger. The piri piri version has a cough-making belt of chilli. Gyoza are good: thin skin, juicy, porky filling.
Friday, December 21, 2012 - The best tonkotsu has cleanliness despite its fatty content – more soul food than junk food. At Bone Daddies, from Ross Shonhan (ex-Zuma and Nobu), it gets down and dirty. Imagine liquidising a roast pig and straining it into a bowl, and you'll get an idea of his kotteri-style broth. Textured like gravy, glossy with fat, gummy with collagen, it defeats me...I love the extras: ni-tamago (egg marinated and semi-boiled); chilli oil; garlic cloves and crusher at each table. Bone Daddies isn't subtle, and testosterone is ratcheted up with a soundtrack of what can only be described as raawwk.
Friday, December 14, 2012 - White onion soup, rich and sweet with a base of remarkably good stock, is topped with crisp, oily croutons and seasonal salers cheese. There are slender leeks, braised into silkiness, scattered with egg yolk mimosa and little brown shrimps. A flawless slab of wild turbot comes in a lake of beurre blanc as soothing and lush as a warm spring day in the Loire Valley...Green Man & French Horn doesn't pretend to be a destination restaurant; the food isn't astonishing or groundbreaking, it's just good.
Friday, December 07, 2012 - I loved his food at Roganic, and there are dishes here that surprise and bewitch: the bright coral of rainbow trout salted and bathed as gently as a newborn in maple syrup, with the washing-up liquid astringency of kaffir lime and toasted almonds. There's risotto, rich with seasonal, honky vacherin, nuggets of duck skin on top and vinaigrette made with toasted cucumber...Spalding has got what it takes, but I suspect it was Rogan's firm hand that helped create the pyrotechnics at Roganic. Here, it's all gone a bit rogue catherine wheel: occasionally thrilling, occasionally alarming.
Thursday, November 22, 2012 - There's some fine, burgundy-fleshed pigeon, gamey and ripe with a gin-perfumed note of juniper. It comes on top of another fried cake, this time a heavy dod of mulchy black pudding. Food is piled into towers, things teetering on top of things, frequently fried things. Monkfish in a sticky, honeyed glaze reclines on a vast wodge of crumbed potato and salmon. Or, rather, thanks to the fish's overcooked rigidity, planks on it...The Rose Garden is a lovely neighbourhood restaurant that has become a shade too pleased with itself thanks to a devoted local audience and the oily ministrations of Tripadvisor.
Friday, November 16, 2012 - Sushi des Artistes is heroically ugly: dark and moody but sheeny-shiny, red-and-black stripes everywhere. It's like eating inside a migraine...Portions are tiny; we keep ordering in the hope that something truly satisfying will keel up. But no: squares of fridge-cold "wagyu" accessorised by cut blooms; beef "ravioli" (yep, with truffle) of dense, plasticky chewiness; "three types of foie gras" that are, in fact, one type of foie gras on three different-coloured bases.
Friday, November 09, 2012 - This meal is something special. Each of the 11 little courses delivers eyebrow-raising surprises or sheer, sensual gratification, frequently both. They resonate and haunt for days afterwards, pleasure-bombs the lot of them...I feel sorry for Knappett, who introduces each course with bushy-tailed enthusiasm and real knowledge, having to perform for this self-obsessed, show-off audience of conspicuous consumers. When he and Chang get a place with actual tables, I'll be biting off hands for a booking.
Friday, November 02, 2012 - All the mod-Italian signifiers are present and correct: one or two beautiful ingredients loafing on an otherwise unadorned plate; licks of good oil; studied rusticity; name-droppable headscratchers such as puntarelle, misticanza, frigitelli. But from here on in they don't quite pull it off...I don't doubt Ghignoni's ability and commitment: the open kitchen is a hive of activity – we watch bread being baked and what look like pumpkin gnocchi being prepared by hand. But I'm far from wowed. Perhaps I've gone with too high hopes. Damn you, Twitter.
Friday, October 26, 2012 - I'm devastated to report that I don't hate the cooking. Sure, it's nothing too elevated: little more than comfort food done with a sensitive touch and good ingredients – just the sort of unchallenging stuff a busy, well-off chap likes to eat...Lobster "mac" is translated as long tubes of pasta (a good impersonation of hand-rolled pasta al ceppo) with hollandaise and generous chunks of lobster. There's a "Kashmiri" lamb curry, ordered in the schadenfreude-tinged belief it would deliver something sub-Vesta. Alas, no, it's excellent: melting, slow-cooked meat spiked with fresh-tasting spices and served with good rice, a chunky, tangy mango chutney and cucumber raita, all in pretty beaten copper bowls. It's also huge.
Friday, October 19, 2012 - The food is almost entirely terrific, be it the rib-sticking simplicity of a vast wodge of mustard-laced rarebit with a salad plucked from the garden, or the intricacy of soused mackerel, sweet and sharp, dunked in a clear, saffron-tinted broth with rock samphire, ribbons of cucumber and carrot, and a bracing mint granita. There's suitably gamey pigeon breast on a nutty, pearl barley orzotto, all rich with sauce bordelaise...If this is the face of worthy, I like it.
Friday, October 12, 2012 - Nadra is not afraid of a big flavour: glazes and reductions come with mighty whacks of bone-stock meatiness and there are meadows of herbs. After being assaulted by the amount of garlic in a dish of lamb rump with tiny violet artichokes, a polite-looking ratatouille and rosemary gnocchi, I smell like a puttanesca for days. He's better when he reins it in a bit: pasta parcels of duckmeat in a brown (yes) consommé that at first tastes underseasoned until the depth of sheer duckiness slaps you in the chops.
Friday, October 05, 2012 - Lamb is cooked overnight at the lowest of heats and served with plums and a confetti of rose petals, with couscous for soaking up the aromatic juices. I've tried chicken, its skin almost toffeed from blasting pomegranate molasses at high heat, freshened with mint leaves; and with maftoul, perfectly ripe tomatoes and what tastes like newly-made feta...None of this is going to blow you away with its molecular wit, painstaking technique or dude food filthiness. But it's food you would always be happy to eat.
Friday, September 28, 2012 - Every dish we try is as exhilarating as the setting. Young uses n'duja to add musky heat to plump palourde clams with octopus; and sumac to deliver a hit of refreshing sourness to a slab of cod, its Basque-style pil-pil sauce daringly slicked with dill oil...Wapping Food is never going to be everyone's cup of matcha: too cerebral and uncompromising. Even the wine list refuses to countenance anything that doesn't come from Australia, but it's rammed with well-priced dazzlers, so who's complaining?
Friday, September 07, 2012 - There's some top stuff here. Meat is a particular strength. Pluma, that lusciously-marbled cut of Iberian pig here described as "shoulder" (it's a bit more complicated than that) is lustworthy: smoky crust, juicy, rosy-pink centre, with a romesco of roast peppers and almonds. Lamb chops are equally good, chomped like lollipops from their charred wee bones; and steak is from O'Shea's, which is as good as having "bloody gorgeous" branded on to its flank.
Friday, August 31, 2012 - Zedel's onglet is butch to the point of overpowering, ropey-textured with a sweet, almost horse-meaty quality. Boeuf bourguignon – OK, it's less than a tenner and comes with decent mash, but oh dear: dry, overstewed meat, a couple of teeny onions and, weirdly, carrots in various stages of cookedness from mushy to near-raw. The dish I like best is a simple celeri remoulade...Am I being petty? It's not as if anyone chooses The Wolseley or The Delaunay primarily for the food.
Banca - 2/5
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - Gnocchi: these are soggy, depressed little dumplings, their taleggio cheese sauce has split, girolle mushrooms are chewy and summer truffle is devoid of fragrance or flavour. Spaghetti House, two minutes away, would blush at this. But there's brilliant stuff too: wonderful octopus that tastes as though it has been cooked 'in umido' before being seared on the grill into tender smokiness; Milanese-style 'riso al salto', a delicate cake of saffroned rice usually made from leftover risotto flipped like a pancake so it 'jumps'...This seems a sterile, joyless place to drop nearly 200 quid on dinner. Still, it's already heaving at the seams. I guess I'm not the target audience: I lack the requisite helmet hair and Rolex.
Caravan (King's Cross) - 4/5
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - The menu, like the Exmouth Market original, romps around the globe and does it well. New for this location is a range of excellent pizzas, topped with the likes of smoked trout or pastrami. Home-made bread is a strength: dense soda bread with a chunky ham terrine on minty, smashed peas; cornbread oozing jalapeno butter...Grits – like polenta – are made luxurious with chanterelles and truffles. Bloody Marys at brunch are superb: spicy and spiked with coriander. This is a great, bustling place already colonised by the cool kids from Saint Martins – and it takes bookings: even cooler.
Almost Famous - 4/5
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - It's excellent stuff: pink, juicy, pure beef patties; the now mandatory semi-brioche bun, pillowy and just sweet enough. Many of the sauces are 'secret' but seem to rely on the cheap thrills of salt, sugar and chilli. The burgers are blissfully sloppy, the cheese almost liquid – the kitchen roll that's dumped on every table is well needed...However, as we're chomping away at chilli cheese fries and a rather splendid roll stuffed with baby back pork rib meat spiked with barbecue sauce, I wonder if we might not love it quite so much without the drunken munchies and a wait of nearly two hours for the pleasure.
SUSHISAMBA - 3/5
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - There are teeny tacos, stuffed with yellowtail, its delicate flesh trampled by 'aji panco miso', lime and lemongrass. These are delicious, in entirely the same way that salt'n'vinegar crisps are delicious.I don’t quite get the point of wagyu beef outside Japan. And I'm not sold on ladling it with salt and wrapping it in pastry for gyoza. And then glueing it on to the plate with a blob of pureed courgette...It's already massively oversubscribed, just like similar über-luxe chain Nobu. If it were at ground level, we might be a whole lot sniffier. Because the real star of SushiSamba isn’t the design, or the service, or the food. It's London.
Charlie Rocks - 1/5
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - From the moment we enter this 'American diner' and the staff check their watches in irritation, this shoddy establishment makes me seethe with rage. The quality of the ingredients is appalling, the execution worse, and nobody in the place seems to give a toss. That burger: lurking in a vast, stale bun; mahogany brown, gristly, tasting how dog food smells, in a condom of sweaty blue cheese...If we awarded zero stars, I would. Charlie Rocks? More like Charlie blows giant chunks.
Lardo - 4/5
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 - We chomp our way through a fat ball of burrata, its elasticky mozzarella skin tumescent with fresh creaminess; astonishingly vibrant broad beans and shoots in a dressing piquant with mint and pecorino; and arancini, fried rice balls sticky with mozzarella and flecked with pungent n'duja sausage. We try an excellent slow-cooked rabbit stew with a soothing, vegetal braise of peas and lettuce...That blingy oven is pressed into excellent service: focaccia, open-crumbed, oily and fragrant with herbs; pizzas, their crusts airy, the bases thin, topped with imaginative ingredients: truffle-shaped, spicy Belper Knolle cheese and their own-made, gorgeous, black anise pepperoni.
Tramshed - 2/5
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 - The steak is good. But it's not brilliant and, for this money, I want brilliant. Our poussin for one is a dry little beastie, about enough meat on it to feed a toddler...But the place is mobbed. Maybe it's a Proustian thing, popular because the food alchemically apes childhood's greatest hits: the nugget of stuffing rammed in the chicken's jacksie tastes like Paxo; the gravy that pools round the bird bears a haunting resemblance to Chicken Bisto. The fries are configured exactly like Maccy D's, with a seasoning that suggests Knorr stock cubes. It's spooky and, if deliberate, some kind of warped genius.
Portal Restaurant & Bar - 3/5
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 - The food offers refined versions of rustic Portuguese classics: bisaro – part pig, part boar, entirely delicious – braised for several hours until the interior is supple and tender, the exterior a ripe, black crust, served with acorda, that curious and addictive bread porridge, spiked with chorizo. Or duck rice, crammed into a crisp pastry wrapper like a vast cracker; a bit dry, perhaps, but there's enough of the acorda to share...The largely suited and booted clientele reflects the steepish prices. But as far as the cooking goes, it's better than I've had in upscale restaurants in Lisbon and Porto.
Tonkotsu - 4/5
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - The noodles themselves are springy and chewy, wriggling off the wooden ladles with a satisfying, wet 'sluurrup'. We also have a 'Tokyo Spicy' version, which isn’t spicy in the slightest. It's more of a beginner's ramen: a clear soup base and shredded, almost pulled, pork. It works but doesn't have the quality of the tonkotsu. Side dishes are up there, too: thin-skinned gyoza dumplings, delivering crispness and squidge, with a juicy pork and prawn filling. And kara-age - crisp-fried, deboned chicken thighs - trashy in the best possible way. Even edamame seem fresher and greener than usual.
Ittenbari - 3/5
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - This is a baby cousin of an Osaka original, so you'd expect it to knock its hybrid rival (Tonkotsu) out of the stockpot. But it's not as good: it doesn't do tonkotsu, but shoyu (soy), shio (salt) and miso-based ramen bowls. The stocks don't have the depth of slow-cooked flavour and the toppings are miserly - one greyish slice of chashu on top? Gyoza, stuck together like dumpling centipedes, are fine but greasy kara-age is a disappointment. However, I'm tickled by the supersize option - kaedama - where they dump an extra nest of noodles in your remaining broth for £1.50.
The Bull Steak Expert - 4/5
Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - In an off-piste Holborn byway, you'll find some of the finest steak in town...After some meaty, marinated aubergine, and a couple of the best empanadas I've had in this country - short, crisp pastry stuffed with beef or cheese and sweetcorn – we try a thick-cut angosto (sirloin), perfectly seared, rested and seasoned. The knife glides through its rosy interior, each bite bursting with ripe, beefy juiciness. A cuadril (rump), though tougher, has an even greater depth of flavour.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - Chicharron are less the puffy, Quaver-like pork rinds of Latin America and more good old, tooth-challenging Brit crackling. Nice guacamole dip, though. There's ceviche with more avocado (there's a lot of avo) and somewhat cardboardy fried plantains. Nobody seems to know what the fish is; I'm guessing seabass but it's hard to tell through its over-limed leche de tigre dressing...But I love Shrimpy's despite the hiccups, love the heightened sense of camp, whimsical humour and undeniable buzz. She's a game gal who'll brighten the dullest day. Fun, sometimes, is just what it's all about.
Petersham Nurseries - 3/5
Wednesday, July 04, 2012 - At first, we're powerless to resist its charms. But after being ignored, we're left with the distinct impression that they feel they're doing us the most enormous favour. Main courses, when they finally arrive, are also excellent: a slab of pearly halibut with borlotti beans and - I think - freekeh grains, plus whole datterini tomatoes that burst their sunshiney sweetness over the dish...If I want bucolic, I'll head for the countryside with a picnic, saving myself approximately 150 quid on our lunch. And I'll leave lovely Petersham to the panama hats and rust-coloured trousers.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012 - This third arrival in Soho looks brilliant - probably the most handsome of the bunch with its floor-to-ceiling windows (very SoHo NY), bar adorned with a twinkling battalion of glasses and lustworthy light-fittings. But I'm not as impressed with the food as I have been at its other outposts...There's a pigeon breast, hung till it's almost high and served blood-clot red that also manages to be dauntingly tough; I like its little 'risotto' of barley and peas, though. And we love 'confit' garlic with pungent creamed pecorino and some almost Quavers-light pork crackling curls with apple sauce.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - Much of the food has an Asian/Middle Eastern flavour, probably because the original owners, brothers Michael and Adrian Daniel, are Indo-Iraqi-Jewish, which means lots of spicing, pickled lemons and a wicked way with an aubergine. Simple stuff becomes sophisticated: their falafel takes a late-night guilty pleasure and zhuzhes it into poshness: broad bean puree, deep-fried into crisp quenelles, served with fluffy, light pita bread for ballast, a blob of baba ganoush (aubergine puree) for silky, smoky lubricant, a pool of pepper puree for heat and the crunch of raw pickled vegetables in the Middle Eastern style...The Gate isn't a good vegetarian restaurant, it's simply a good restaurant.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - Laab ped - finely chopped duck salad - delivers a massive thwack of flavour from quantities of lime juice, Thai basil, nippy little pink shallots and threads of kaffir lime leaves. They've correctly included ground, toasted rice and snake beans - this is rare, even in good Thai restaurants - but I wish they'd either roasted off the clods of flabby duck fat or omitted it altogether. There's a thick, oily Penang curry ('red' spices, peanuts and loads of coconut cream). 'Drunken sizzling beef' shows no evidence of either booze or sizzle and the meat is greyish and sinewy. With a royal ransom's-worth of interior design, it seems reductive to skimp on ingredients. Maybe they figure we'll be too dazzled by the surroundings to notice.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - It's not what you'd call great but it is mostly passable. A potentially well-flavoured rough terrine of veal and bacon is served far too fridge-cold but comes with a nice, punchy caper dressing. Sea bass, cooked for a good couple of minutes too long, sits on a pleasingly mustardy tangle of leeks with fat, fresh mussels. What's the unbilled yellow sauce? 'It's grain mustard.' (It's actually saffron.) There's an excellent, slumpy, crisp-based treacle tart...The smiley staff deliver the bill. In the face of their charm, I feel bad I can't engage with the place more.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - The food is good, in a 'that was a lovely tea, now what's on telly?' kind of way, kicking off with currently modish twigs of pork crackling with a too-sweet apple sauce. Mussels in a herby broth scented with perry are served by good chips and mayo; onion soup is as thick and dark as it should be, laced with beer and served with gloopy, pungent rarebit to make it British rather than French. Cauliflower mac'n'cheese isn't as sinful as I'd like: stodgy and a touch worthy. But I'm besotted with the sausage and sage puffs, as posh as pithiviers, and could have happily eaten these all night. In fact, I reckon propping up the bar with a constant stream of the excellent bar snacks is the way to go.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - Almost everything we eat is good, and some of it - a limpid, wildly fruity ring of red raspberry jelly, studded with golden raspberries like some kind of wobbly coronet, framing a scoop of stellar raspberry ripple ice cream - is wonderful. As is a flattened poussin. Despite its charred, squat little carcass, it's terrific; the chicken tender, the skin toasty and caramelised, its topping of pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds and freekeh giving tang, grassiness and nuttiness...Sadly, it's being served in a restaurant with no perceptible appeal - I can't imagine wanting to go back.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012 - The less impressive, Italian-accented main dishes have a River Cafe simplicity to them but sadly lack the River Cafe's punctilious sourcing, attention to timings and elan. Seared squid with peas admirably features fresh, not frozen, vegetables but they're hard little pellets, the squid tastes of nothing but char and it's stone cold...Market Cafe appears to be trying to be all things to all scenesters. Sure, there's nothing new under the sun, but the place ticks me off for two reasons: it's blatantly attempting to sell the hipster ethic, pushed through a corporate filter, back to the hipsters - right in their heartland. Sadly, they appear to be swallowing it wholesale: you can't see the food for the beards.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - You have to have some kind of confidence to offer egg mayonnaise as a starter. But how lovely it is: just-oozing eggs, draped in yellow, home-made mayo, a criss-cross of anchovy for punch and a quarter of dressed baby gem lettuce for crunch. There could be a genius combo such as sopressata simply dressed with orange rind, the fatty, pressed pig's head sparked into porky life by the citrus. Or earthy, vegetable-heavy braises...What I like most about this unassuming place is its demonstration that you can create a really good restaurant from the most unlikely of ingredients.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - Perfectly al dente lobster macaroni lacks cheese - not that it's billed as having any, just a Pavlovian response to 'macaroni' - but is big on sweet lobster bisque flavours and chunks of crustacean. Pink lamb with green beans may look a bit perfunctory, but the quality and flavours are all there...There's a lot to like in this unlikely setting: excellent home-baking; moody downstairs bar; a terrific breakfast menu (kedgeree or omelette Arnold Bennett: yes, please); those concrete benches come with internal heating for toasty bums. Karpo is a rare beast in that it's far nicer than you expect.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - The night we visit there are some stellar choices: a properly made risotto, rich with silky shreds of wild boar and fragrant with new season's garlic; baby squid stuffed with that Mallorcan smoky and spreadable chorizo, sobrasada - like a play on tapas classic, stuffed piquillo peppers, with the ingredients reversed. Thick, rosy and juicy slabs of Welsh (Brecon) lamb leg are matched by the almost toffee flavour of caramelised sweet potato and the saltiness of anchovy. A vast Cornish sole demonstrates the beauty of simplicity: sweet flesh bathed in a buttery ointment of capers and teeny brown shrimps.
GB Grill & Bar - 1/5
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - Here it comes, laaahvly stuff: mulligatawny soup that tastes like Vesta curry. Chicken Kiev: a worryingly vast, pappy chicken breast, viciously deep-fried in a crumb coffin and stuffed with raw-tasting garlic - its bullying reek perfumes the large, echoey room - and flanked by a turdy, piped sausage of bad mash...There's nothing wrong with having a bit of a culinary laugh - riffing on childhood favourites is a trope that gets even top chefs all misty-eyed and moist. But Wallace is no chef, and you get the sense that he suspects all our palates are secretly as unreconstructed as his.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - The succinct, daily changing menu is as butch as a barrelful of cage fighters: trotters and scratchings, tete de veau and black pudding. Monkfish comes with the liquoricey kiss of fennel. We love smoky, rosy-centred chicken livers laced with anchovy and capers; and rich, honking hare stew (hare is so now, schweedies) on a moat of wet polenta...And if flavours are in yer face, prices are anything but. For me and this enterprising little group, it's third time lucky.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - I love my emerald green, home-made pasta cannelloni (or cannellono - there's only one) stuffed with lobster and langoustine in a tarragon-scented cream. The bisque on top is so intense it speaks of the carapaces of endless sea creatures. A meaty chunk of seared halibut comes with a fruity vin jaune sauce, punctuated with the woodiness of morels - sorry, it's the kind of cooking that prompts pomposity...I doubt this will rock the world of the foodie young guns. Their loss: the food is fantastic.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - There's game pudding with celeriac mash, remarkably achieving both delicacy and stodge. Its suet crust, toasty at the edges, is crammed with venison and hare and, I think, duck, slow-cooked in rich, very English gravy. Guinea fowl can be dry; Sykes's version is not, leg and breast both luscious and perfectly matched with a slightly sweet stewed red cabbage. Puddings? How about profiteroles stuffed with silky blood orange ice cream and chocolate sauce? Or a bread pudding made from the killer - almost literally - Chelsea buns? Clever wine list, too.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - There have been no charm-school lessons for the staff. They stop short of actual rudeness but there's little welcome or warmth to be found...Still, Royal China's dim sum offering is still up there with the best in town. The har gau are smaller than the mass-produced dumplings you'll find elsewhere. The wrappers are elastic and translucent, pregnant with fresh, crunchy prawns. In addition to the classics, there's a separate menu of pimped-up dumplings: a version of those insanely addictive flaky pastry puffs stuffed with beef and black pepper instead of jammy pork.
Copita - 4/5
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - On repeat visits, I wise up, ordering the likes of 'mussels and chips': fat shellfish in a garlicky broth, with an earthenware dish 'hat' of fried potatoes. Or boquerones, fat, meaty sardines rather than anchovies, slicked with the clean flavours of good oil and fresh lemon. But this is the straightforward stuff. More impressive is ajo blanco; wonderfully complex white gazpacho made with garlic and almonds with tiny cubes of almost candied beetroot and cool slivers of grape. It's summer in a dish, despite grey London skies. Or veal cheek, so meltingly tender we eat it with spoons, in a sticky pool of its own juices boosted by the raisiny, honeyed sweetness of Pedro Ximenez sherry.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - Everything we eat is almost excellent. Almost. It speaks of a well-drilled kitchen but I'm not really feeling the love. Onion tart of nearly tarte tatin-like toffeed depth of flavour, for instance, whose sweetbreads on top are overcooked into rubbery toughness rather than creamy delicacy. I'd like grass-fed Scottish steak - I prefer the texture and minerality of grass-fed rather than grain-fed beef - but it's sold out. Grilled Creekstone Farms Black Angus New York strip steak - a trimmed sirloin cut - has exactly that sweetish, pillowy quality that comes from corn-fed cows' intensive marbling. It has been well cooked but it becomes boring half-way through. Give me Hawksmoor any day. Chips and onion rings, in a silver bucket and piled up like a child's stacking toy on a silver spike, are fine if unremarkable.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - Sourcing is admirably Scottish, even if many of the dishes aren't. Their own-make haggis is wonderful: earthy and satisfying with a little nip of spice. I like my sticky Vietnamese pork salad: wiry, al dente noodles and chunks of caramelised meat with a sparky, citrusy dressing. There's pork belly from Ramsay of Carluke, a terrific marriage of slow-cooked squidge and crackling crunch, served with sprout and potato dauphinoise (yes: far nicer than it sounds) and the clean fruitiness of apple compote and cider.
Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - Tarte flambee (aka flammekueche) is a large disc of wafer-thin, crisp dough, topped with cream, smoked bacon and tendrils of onion. Crab cocktail, in its deep silver goblet, features finely shredded lettuce and sparkly fresh crustacean. Moules are plump and sweet, frites crisp and salty; that old warhorse beef stroganoff is tender and rich, given punch with the properly Russian touch of pickled cukes. Our cakes - coffee eclair and rhubarb and custard tart of serious finesse - would make you weep with pleasure. But I'm fed-up of being made to feel like a second-class citizen in the establishments of these superlative social engineers. No amount of flawless patisserie, silver coffee pots and expensive design can compensate.
Union Jacks (St Giles) - 3/5
Wednesday, December 07, 2011 - While Union Jacks' toppings are imaginative (sardine and fennel, maybe, or immensely fiery, multicoloured chillies with a cooling pot of lemony goat's curd) and smartly sourced, they're a touch on the sparse side. My 'Old Spot' sounds like a heaving plate of lavishness but delivers scrapings of Cropwell Bishop Stilton, six crouton-sized dice of crackling, a thin layer of (good) squidgy pork, and a scattering of apple matchsticks. The only generosity comes from its forest of watercress. It's classy stuff but it's also an intelligent business construct: giving the impression of munificence while maintaining the beadiest eye on the bottom line.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - We have a good buffalo mozzarella, slicked with oil and pepper; and casarecce - Puglian in origin, twisted short, dense pasta tubes, splendidly niche - with a rather brilliant duck liver and sausage ragu. There are lamb chops served, depending on your point of view, either bravely unadorned or boringly unaccompanied (especially for 14 quid). They're excellent quality but this is perfunctory cooking: bung in pan, fry, add lemon and salt. There's one dish that appears to be a celebration of muddy flavours: egg deep-fried into hard-boiledness, mulchy morcilla (blood sausage) and girolle mushrooms...Despite an allergic reaction to the internet-hyped, I like Ducksoup. But what will it be like next year when the novelty-seekers have moved on?
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - Comforting dish follows comforting dish: a stout, twice-baked Stilton souffle in a pool of Comte cheese cream with a tangle of accurately dressed leaves; mussels mariniere on a sourdough Welsh rarebit. The apotheosis is a cast-iron dish of Scottish beef and chanterelle mushroom cottage pie, the buttery potato grilled until toasty, and topped with three fat, salt crystal-dotted slabs of foie gras, which melt into its searing heat. This, without doubt, is the richest dish I've ever eaten. It verges on cartoon luxury...If it's sophisticated comfort you're after, The Balcon will embrace you like a feather-fingered poule de luxe between 500 thread count sheets.
The 10 Cases - 3/5
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - We also have excellent main courses: slabs of rolled suckling pig, tender and sweet with an appley jus and layers of crackling that's as crisp and translucent as sugar caramel; perfectly rare fillet of good beef is topped by a wibbly slab of seared foie gras and a punchy, reduced red wine sauce. The food is as matter-of-fact as the surroundings: free from garnishes or flounces, accessorised with maybe a few roast potatoes or reduced meat juices...I like it so much that after our meal we sit outside wrapped in scarves, sipping a lemony, delicate Badajo Rueda Verdejo, vaguely fretful that once its ten cases are drunk that's the end of it.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - Casa Morita's menu is short and smart; even house wine, Chilean Rio del Bio Bio at 11 quid a bottle, holds its own against the robust flavours. Portions aren't huge and salads are typically of the iceberg lettuce, tomato and onion ring variety. But there's authenticity and freshness: stickily cheesy quesadillas and tacos made from excellent white corn tortillas; smooth guacamole; fragrant, meaty chorizo; prawns honking with garlic. There are frequent specials: carnitas, maybe, or pescadillas and they're beginning to sell authentic Mexican ingredients: tinned chipotle and tomatillo, and those tortillas. Casa Morita is a cutely decorated little bastion of Mexico in Brixton. Married owners, chef Carlos Figueroa Gonzalez and Sarahgwen Sheldon front of house, are a welcome addition to the area's rapidly burgeoning food scene.
The Northall - 2/5
Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - I quite like my boiled eggs, topped with homemade mayonnaise and excellent, subtle cured ham from Brit-charcutieres du jour, Trealy Farm. The salt and pepper squid, a nod to today's dining habits (or 1999's?) is quite good, fresh and crisp, featuring whitebait for variety. There's a decent steak served correctly medium-rare and some inoffensive chips. A small burst of excitement at the idea of soused - pickled - lemon with steamed seabass is deflated by its ordinariness: not as vivid as salted, or as radical as candied; fish is perfectly executed but as unsybaritic as only steamed fish can be.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - I'm not expecting great things from a menu peppered with neologisms such as 'som tam bar', or 'small plates' - fish and prawn lollipops, maybe, or long, thin, cigar-shaped crab meat rolls. But we like everything we order. There's a pomelo salad (like a huge, mild grapefruit), the juice-filled, slightly bitter segments dressed with peanut, fish sauce and filaments of lime leaf. Its prawns are a bit flabby and frozen-tasting but the salad is a wow. That street food favourite, barbecued pork moo yang is smoky, pleasingly fat-marbled, perfect for dunking in its sour, hot nahm jim sauce. Maybe it's not as burnished and caramelly as the stuff you'd get from hawkers in Isaan but it's pretty good for Covent Garden.
Bread Street Kitchen - 3/5
Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - Yes, there's the odd heart flutter at two fine, barrel-shaped medallions of rosy venison, cleverly paired with sour cherries and a velvety pool of celeriac puree. And so-now sides of macaroni cheese and a fresh, creamy-crunchy slaw are excellent, as are tamarind chicken wings tasting of real tamarind, tangy, jammy and crisp. But there's a lot not to love: what's described on the menu as 'oven-baked burrata, heritage tomatoes and onion tart' delivers something entirely different: oven-dried tomatoes on pastry, a measly hummock of good, creamy, uncooked cheese and no onion. A veal chop, served pleasingly pink, is weirdly truncated and misshapen, as though it's had a slab shaved off to appease the bottom line.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - Roasted sweet potato with chorizo and rocket is inoffensive. It's one of many 'small plates'; we're encouraged to order several, winding up with a bill that could only be welcomed by someone used to paying 500 quid for shoes. But that lamb, with its greasy slick of pistachio pesto, ceremonially deboned at the table until it's corpse cold, is a tragedy. As is seared squid with haricot beans dosed with so much peppercorn that I'm coughing for hours...If you're in the market for copping off with the likes of Spencer or Hugo from Made In Chelsea, this might be your dream ticket.
Elliot's Cafe - 4/5
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - The food, regularly changing as you'd expect, is terrific: simple stuff cooked well, such as plaice poached into ethereality with wilted radicchio, fennel and tarragon (check out those clever liquoricey combinations); or smart, surprising assemblies such as silky capocollo (aka coppa, cured pig's neck and shoulder), thinly sliced and served with spiced cherries - brilliant...It isn't sophisticated, there's no hi-tech kit or a brigade of silent chefs with tweezers. But it's the sort of food I love to eat, served by lovely people at reasonable prices in surroundings that make me happy. That works for me.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - Roasted sweet potato with chorizo and rocket is inoffensive. It's one of many 'small plates'; we're encouraged to order several, winding up with a bill that could only be welcomed by someone used to paying 500 quid for shoes. But that lamb, with its greasy slick of pistachio pesto, ceremonially deboned at the table until it's corpse cold, is a tragedy. As is seared squid with haricot beans dosed with so much peppercorn that I'm coughing for hours...If you're in the market for copping off with the likes of Spencer or Hugo from Made In Chelsea, this might be your dream ticket.
Hedone - 4/5
Tuesday, September 06, 2011 - Does it come off? Yes and no - sometimes on the same plate. Here's the best lobster I've tasted: sweet, yielding and far more than just an expensive dod of protein. It's female, with a bendiness that suggests it's recently shed its shell and comes with a salty, lightly tangy sauce made from its coral. But its fine slices of white peach are underripe...But good dishes are sensational: mackerel, flame-grilled with subtle and judicious hints of (I'm guessing) sesame and umami paste and a barely dressed slice of little gem lettuce. Bosky Scottish girolles with an egg yolk slow-cooked almost into jelly, with creamy 'chantilly' scented with Banyuls vinegar (a favoured ingredient) and one single blade of wild rocket.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - What a sad, sorry little non-event it is. Like I said, almost deserted, and despite brave attempts to zhuzh up the windowless room with a pallid, faux rusticity (linen napkins tied with straw bows, distressed wicker baskets), it's not very inviting...There's a tartare of flabby, farmed-tasting salmon in thin lemony dressing with capers and an impenetrable forest of prickly, undressed French endive lettuce. My seared carpaccio of yellowfin (again, with a curiously cotton-wool texture) comes with the identical accessories. Better is a dish of two stout Tuscan sausages of rough-hewn, fennel-scented meatiness; but they're plonked on a cannellini mixture with as much allure as beans recently released from the can.
Tsuru (Mansion House) - 3/5
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - The latest branch isn't the warmest of places - a little hard-edged and fast foody. But the sushi is sweet and fresh, the gyoza hand-made daily; there are regularly changing selections of ippin ryori (Japanese small plates) and a good selection of sake, shochu, wines and whiskies. The tonkatsu? Pretty, pretty good. It may not be quite up there with Maisen but it's as good as you'll get in London, and the fruity curry sauce is a winner. Factor in a commitment to sustainability and this is a terrific addition to an underserved neighbourhood. I'm going back at lunchtime for the best-selling katsu sandwich.
Quince - 2/5
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - Some of what we eat is lovely: cigar-shaped borek featuring the lightest carapace of filo stuffed with spiced, stewed lamb; a smoky aubergine dip given sweet depth with tahini and pomegranate molasses. But largely, our dinner is bad. There's 'crispy' 'baby' squid with soggy coating that collapses at the sight of cutlery; tough and pallid, these babies are bruisers. 12-hour Ottoman-style shoulder of lamb, shredded table-side by the waiter like a riff on aromatic crispy duck. If only it managed the flavour of that beast: this is, remarkably, dry and tastes of little other than salt. What was it doing for 12 hours? Sunbathing?
Madison - 2/5
Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - The food arrives and it's laughably style over substance. There's lobster cocktail - crustacean of no discernible flavour and woolliness of texture in a lurid, vinegary sauce - in a double glass arrangement, ice in the bottom, cocktail in the top. Our neighbour takes delivery of a Caesar salad, served in a vast, lidded jar, enthusiastically shaken tableside for a piece of cringeworthy 'theatre'...She leans over to us. What did we think of the place? We struggle for a non-committal platitude: after all, we're paying a lot of money here. She says with some sadness: 'It's like an All Bar One for people with more money than sense.' Yep: that.
Jose - 4/5
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - The regularly changing, equally succinct food menu might feature a few tapas bar cliches - creamy, Iberico ham studded little croquetas (first class), lamb meatballs, patatas bravas with a ferociously garlicky allioli in addition to its spiced tomato sauce. But there are intriguing diversions, too: maybe hake fried in feather-light batter with a dollop of that allioli; or fresh peas topped with a poached egg, cubes of chorizo and migas (fried breadcrumbs). As with every Spanish tapas bar worth its salt, the real excitement comes from the daily specials board. There might be calamari alla plancha marinated in tomato and Txakoli vinegar (heavenly, spritzy, young Basque wine), or sea bass with blood orange, or plancha-ed razor clams.
El Cantara - 3/5
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - There are two good reasons to head for El Cantara. One: the secret roof terrace where you can eat, drink or puff on a shisha. It's at the top of a sprawling, elaborately decorated townhouse that seems to go on forever, from basement bar to roof under the stars...Reason two: a gorgeous chicken pastilla, a Moroccan pie that features layers of crisp, oily filo, spiced chicken and a lot of icing sugar. Other dishes - albondigas (meatballs), calamari, fishcakes with garlic mayo - are serviceable. Sadly, promised belly dancers fail to appear. If you can't score a table at Koya, Barrafina or Polpo, this might work as plan B, especially if the sun ever shines again.
Elephant - 4/5
Tuesday, July 05, 2011 - Owner Imran Bashir isn't formally trained but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in charm and enthusiasm. His dishes are as fresh and vibrant as the best home cooking. All meat is halal; other produce comes from the market itself...Everything we try features judicious spicing and careful cooking. Keema thali delivers generous quantities of minced lamb curry, rice, raita daal, salad and naan. All for 6.95. But it's the samosas that are haunting me: crisp parcels packed with spiced lamb or crammed with vegetables.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - I love the place. I'm marinating in decent Albarino and gung-ho, let's-give-it-five-stars-and-just-move-right-in goodwill. Even when I sit down, the handsome, dreadlocked waiter says to me: 'Hello, beautiful madam.' It's all designed to induce the rosiest of glows. But the arrival of the food makes us crash like a pair of over-Smartied toddlers. The menu is a belter, roaming round the world for dishes designed to appeal to the most jaded palate, many of them 'small plates'. Not only is small something of an understatement - many are weeny - a lot of it just isn't very good.
The Gilbert Scott - 2/5
Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - My 'soles in coffins', basically a large paupiette, is raw inside, an inevitable downside of rolling a bit of delicate lemon sole. Its mash is lasciviously creamy, as is the vermouth sauce; if it weren't for a few brown shrimps I could have sucked the whole thing through a straw. Rabbit and prawn pie looks food-porn perfect but is disappointing: beige seasoning, plasticky prawns, a chasm between crust and filling...I can't imagine ever being, or wanting to be, a regular here: too big; too imposing; too busy trying to be an event.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - You can't avoid the imposing oyster bar, so we have wonderful, sweetly fresh oysters and good-quality, strongly smoked salmon. But how mean: the bread is already buttered. Thinly. Fish and chips are fine, in the way that restaurant f'n'c are, ie not as chip-shoppy as they should be...It appears to be attempting to be a bit of a New York Balthazar super-brasserie but it needs to unclench a little, let itself get more emphatically battered - much like the fish.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - Most of what we eat is good enough. Decent, if improperly trimmed asparagus with fine, buttery hollandaise; anodyne tuna cut into perfectly symmetrical strips and given character with sesame oil, coriander and chilli. A Titchmarsh of a burger: by no means unpleasant but entirely unmemorable. There's a cloying, vanilla-rich cheesecake that I leave half of - and I've never been known to abandon a cheesecake...The shop in East Sussex was the real deal: naturally evolved, run by an individual, a stranger to the stylist. The roll-out is the polar opposite. A corporation-managed machine masquerading as something warm and loveable.
Capote y Toros - 4/5
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - The expertly sliced Cinco Jotas ('five acorns') ham tells you that the short menu isn't just a sidekick to the drinking. We have Iberico pork cheeks, soft as marshmallow and rich as an oligarch, with potato puree and a belt of treacly Pedro Ximenez sherry. And nuggets of cod with a pungent, almond and pepper Romesco sauce. There are little meatballs, with 'Palo Cortado fragrance' and teeny potatoes; and piquillo peppers stuffed with squidgy, slow-cooked oxtail with Oloroso. Ah, that sherry refrain.
Blueprint Cafe - 4/5
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - It all works splendidly. The powerful flavours in my salad of feta, broad beans, mint, slow-cooked tomato and black olive crumbs are like a series of enjoyable miniature mouth explosions. At first, I think pickled prunes and quince jelly might be a bit too sweet for fatless slabs of venison but they bolster the powerful, velvety meat with considerable panache. The only misfire is a dish of hake with horseradish and beetroot, whose wild garlic mash is totally devoid of seasoning. But a magnificently astringent Campari sorbet ends the meal with the equivalent of a smack in the chops. In a good way.
NOPI - 4/5
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - Ingredients are borrowed from Asia and the Middle East, and flavours are agreeably strong. Take a whole, beautifully cooked fillet of sea bream, its pearly flesh concealing a bed of pomelo shreds (a milder, fleshier relative of the grapefruit) and a burst of tangy tamarind relish. Or the finest, tenderest octopus I've had outside Galicia with salmorejo and morcilla (black pudding studded with rice) - fabulous. And in case you think it's all about the sharp and the clean, along comes a positively messy gratin of slow-cooked truffley potatoes, gooey and creamy and crunchy, with the subtle allium whiff of baby leeks.
Kimchee - 2/5
Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - It is very much Korean-lite. Sure, there are shared references with neighbouring China but this comes across like a Chinese restaurant with a bit of a twist...Beef dolsot bibimbap (in a hot stone pot) features puddingy rice and a few crumbs of ground meat; there's what looks like a Happy Eater fried egg on top. What's supposed to be bean dae duk - (sic, should be bindaetteok, mungbean pancakes) - tastes suspiciously like basic pajeon, spring onion pancake and favourite greasy pub food. Gogi mandu, northern-style dumplings, are more like catering-pack gyoza.
Opera Tavern - 5/5
Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - The logistics of sending out complex mini-dishes to a ravening horde - salt marsh lamb, for instance, comes with a pungent, accurately reduced jus scented with anchovy, mint and brown butter, plus pillowy little pumpkin gnocchi - just boggles my mind. Even salads are intricate. That robata is used to mesmerising effect with little pinchos morunos (grilled skewers), especially tender, smoky Gressingham duck, slightly sweetened with fig...I would genuinely eat here night after night if I could.
Eighty-Six - 3/5
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - The food is mostly better than you'd hope in these overheated surroundings: there's a rosy and generous rack of excellent lamb with new-season peas, broad beans and Jersey royals, simple but effective; and more of that first-class lobster, served coyly on toasted Poilane bread. Not so great are breaded veal - vaguely soggy and tasting weirdly of damp; and a tepid, overblown risotto topped with (good) osso buco ragu...Noise levels ratchet up and booze - from a neat list - flows. It certainly flows pretty fast in our direction if our bill is anything to go by.
5 Pollen Street - 2/5
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - As the evening progresses, the non-Siberia tables fill with sultry, size-zero dames in designer duds and their saturnine swains. It's all Dolce & Gabbana and watches that cost as much as my car. Hell, they cost as much as my flat. Limp, bendy crudites set the tone. The menu is odd...Venison, requested medium rare, is almost blue, matching its over-sweet blueberry sauce, the meat sinewy and unyielding.Pappardelle with hare 'ragout' are ludicrously delicate: slithery, evanescent, bite-less sheets of flat pasta. Clever for clever's sake, they lose the robustness of the dish with a sauce that's equally pale and thin.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011 - The menu, with its local, seasonal, sustainable and slightly quirky slant, will come as no surprise. Here's one entry: 'Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon vs A Little Of What You Fancy whisky-cured salmon with rye' - the two salmons, both good, one saltier and sharper, one sweeter and smokier, battling it out on some superlative, crumbly rye bread. Equally good are plump rope-grown mussels in a wonderfully fragrant broth, spiked with chilli jam. Main courses are generous and well-cooked, no foams, no folderols, just a vast slab of that aromatic pork belly on mustard mash with a smart, spiced-citrus kumquat relish; and rosy duck breast, its skin rendered almost into crackling, with some wonderfully jammy red cabbage.
Koffmann's - 2/5
Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - There's a buttery (there's a lot of butteriness) pissaladiere of puff pastry with caramelised onions and anchovy that kicks things off nicely but from here on in - with the exception of a splendid lemon tart, ravishing chips and mash - it's a carnival of ordinariness...The famous pig's trotter is undoubtedly a technical tour de force but gelatinous skin, cloyingly rich chicken mousseline, sweetbread and morel stuffing and stickily reduced sauce make it a challenge to eat much of.
Kopapa - 3/5
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - It's a blast, seriously. From the sticky, ultimate-Toast-Topper filthiness of bone marrow mixed with Parmesan and squelched on to toast, to the delicate, pungent pleasures of green and red endive spears filled with pork pate, crisply frazzled shallots, gapi (Thai shrimp paste), mint and coriander, it's all good. Daft and overblown it might occasionally be (descriptions require whole paragraphs) but each dish offers a small adventure...A shorter, frequently changing menu without compromising on creativity would work every bit as well, especially for regulars. But Kopapa knows fusion can still be fun. And rather fabulous.
Samarqand - 2/5
Wednesday, February 09, 2011 - I'm glad I'm talked into a frozen shot of super-clean Snow Queen vodka: it serves to deaden the taste of my cured herring. Salt. So much salt. And the flesh a taut, greyish travesty of fish. I love Nordic herring but this is inedible...The only vaguely edible dish is the heavily touted plov, rice shiny from lamb fat (there are a few tough little scraps strewn on top) with a deep, musky savouriness that's comforting if hardly elegant. Things we like: pillowy, sesame-strewn bread from the vast clay ovens, the plov's rice and… well, that's it. We do, however, love Komil, a devastatingly cheekboned sweet talker from Uzbekistan who is almost physically wounded as he removes our still-full plates.
Brunswick House Cafe - 3/5
Wednesday, February 09, 2011 - At the front, you'll find the cafe, as Alice in Wonderlandish as the rest of the place: bits of old building draped about mismatched furniture in grand, high-ceilinged and somewhat draughty rooms. The item that winks at me most from the counter display is a vast, log-sized sausage roll (disappointingly dry and heavy in the eating) but roasted kale salad and thick, spiced parsnip soup are both wholesome and good. There are fat sandwiches oozing mature Cheddar and hand-carved ham; or breakfasty dishes with organic eggs. It's not swanky or sophisticated but it doesn't set out to be. And it's licensed.
MEATEASY - 4/5
Tuesday, February 01, 2011 - When the food finally arrives, is it worth all the hassle and hoo-ha? Hell, yeah. Fat, slightly sloppy burgers made from 100 per cent, 28-day-aged chuck steak. Onion rings of preternatural crispness and sweetness. Or the Dead Hippie, two patties with 'secret sauce', a homage to cult Californian In-N-Out Burger's Double-Double with a touch of Big Mac. There's a priapic hotdog, smoky and juicy, covered in excellent, bean-free chilli and cheese, a thing of exquisite dirtiness. You might hate yourself after cramming it into your face but, boy, is it worth it at the time.
Casa Malevo - 3/5
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - The quality is a notch above some of our other Argentine-style steak joints and it looks good: small and intimate with quirky furnishings and evocative photographs. We like the handsome, flamboyant staff and the buzz of comfortable custom. And most of what we eat - steak imported from Argentina; rich morcilla (black pudding); sherry-dressed, velvet-textured ox tongue; chips honking with garlic, parsley and salt - is pretty good...Casa Malevo has real charm but it's not cheap - unsurprising given the imported meat and the location. Stick to the grill and you won't go far wrong.
Hakkasan Mayfair - 3/5
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - There's quail, arranged like a child's stacking toy, stuffed with red glutinous rice and sauced with foie gras: smoky and luscious. Soft-shell crab, like a mini typhoon crab, both crisp and juicy, buried in a pile of fried egg-yolk threads and chilli, is jaw-droppingly good. But these small dishes cost between 11.00 (for a starter) and 35 quid for the fish...The best bet is to reserve the chic upstairs lounge for excellent, almost affordable lunchtime dim sum. But unless you've wafted across from Hedge Funds R Us, be prepared to feel like the poor relation.
Vinoteca (Marylebone) - 4/5
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - Vinoteca has arrived in Marylebone with barely a whimper. It's in a lovely, offbeat street; it concentrates, as the name announces, on wine; staff are unusually keen and on the ball; the menu is brief and modern, with an emphasis on charcuterie...Yet it's almost empty, even though everything we eat in this unfussy, bentwood chair-furnished room is excellent: steamed clams in a buttery broth heady with wine and tarragon; sweet pickled beetroot with soft-boiled egg, herb crumbs and mustard.
The Savoy Grill - 2/5
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - The food is good, especially for a place of this scale. A warm beetroot and pine nut tart on fine pastry with a cloud of mild goat curd is so delicious I'd eat it again for pudding; an omelette Arnold Bennett (invented here) is rich with cheese and smoked haddock but still pleasingly baveuse; and there's a fine, well-hung steak and decent chips...Service, however, is a bit duff, from the lack of interest at arrival to the moment we leave. I doubt if our distracted waiter could identify us in a police line-up for all the attention he pays us. And then, bizarrely, it kicks into overdrive when you need a wee.
Brawn - 3/5
Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - Undoubtedly, there's clever buying going on here. And we mustn't forget the raison d'etre of the place, a wine list of wit and adventure...It's rather lovely, informal, friendly, sussed, full of cool and earnest young foodies. In fact, earnest is a word I'd apply to the whole set-up. I like it better than Terroirs, especially the service from a tall, sandy-bearded chap and a gal who's a ringer for Penelope Cruz. If it opened on my doorstep, I'd use it a lot; I certainly wouldn't - and won't - make the great pilgrimage across town. But that would appear to be just me.
Cigalon - 4/5
Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - As we mash our way through the menu, dish after dish arriving on faux-pewter platters, there isn't an off note. Flavours vibrate with intensity, ingredients are left to tell their own stories - grilled sardines 'escabeche', for instance, where the meaty little fish are marinated in citrus until they melt in the mouth - and quality is excellent. There are notes of pure butchness: pieds et paquets (an offally speciality of Marseilles) - gelatinous lamb trotters with an almost bone marrow-like savouriness - and brown lamb's tripe with a deep, intense, barnyardy flavour, ripe with the tang of decent red wine.
Barbecoa - 3/5
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - I like most of the food a lot: crunchy, sticky 'scratchings' with an apple and mustard sauce; excellent pulled pork, a delicious, sweet-sour tangle of squidge and char with rich jalapeno cornbread and fresh, tart slaw. Ripely hung, bone-in strip steak, dark-charred on the surface, rosy and juicy inside comes with caramelly endive. I'm not wowed by a small, apologetic crab cake on wimpish salsa and baby back ribs are stringy and tough. They need to tighten up on dozy service, too: dismayingly inept greeters; a 'super-dry' martini is doused in vermouth. But I come away well fed.
North Road - 3/5
Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - My 'Kent vegetables and wild herbs' offers Jerusalem artichokes and pink fir potatoes on an artichoke-y puree with black truffles and little bursts of home-pickled green elderberries. We like rather than love. Also good is perfectly cooked Dorset brill on a bed of creamy salsify, both the root's oystery flavour and the lick of dill oil giving the fish a bit of a fillip. But, eek, sous-vided mutton loin with three different 'textures' of onion tastes of nothing, obliterated by its puddle of violently smoked onion puree.
Les Deux Salons - 3/5
Wednesday, December 01, 2010 - The rose veal 'ravioli': parcels made of the delicate meat itself, pot-roasted, I think, and sliced improbably thin, cradling a forceful stuffing of cavolo nero and goat's curd. Silky, rich salt cod brandade comes with an exploding cromesquis - a little croquette that ejaculates a bright green parsley sauce over the fishy potato...So why don't I adore LDS like everyone else? There's that decor, teetering towards the dreaded theme restaurant. And then there's the service, which is charmless, stressed and unengaging.
Dumplings' Legend - 3/5
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - Quality is better than the Chinatown norm but not as good as the best in town. We like duck, steamed inside translucent wrappers, a blast of chilli oil sloshing round it; Cantonese shrimp dumplings, not the pleated har gau but more like delicate ravioli, notable for the sweetness of the prawns; and spicy pork xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings) that ooze broth on to the spoon at the plunge of a chopstick. The dough is a little dense but I like that: keeps the soup in...It may not be as groundbreaking as it thinks - they need to work on staff training - but Dumplings' Legend offers a fresh approach for Chinatown.
The English Pig - 3/5
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - Signature dish 21-hour cooked pork belly is so rich and tender, it's like a pudding, especially with its jammy red cabbage accompaniment. Its other side is, bizarrely, a dollop of mustard mash with roast potato plonked on top. Curiosities aside, he can certainly cook: there's an excellent, subtle goat's cheese pannacotta with confit beetroot; cinnamon rice pudding with fabulous dulce de leche ice cream. Mountain seems an accomplished guy, committed to turning happy pigs from Goodwood into good food.
Cafe Luc - 2/5
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - Perhaps because the chum and I are younger and not as minted-looking as our fellow diners, we're comprehensively ignored...Partridge is overcooked into impenetrable greyness (although a little lobe of foie gras is handled with care), its caramelised endive leaches bitter oil on to the plate. Dense little gnocchi do not taste home-made, nor are they, as promised, 'pan-fried'; their lurid orange pumpkin sauce is processed into gloop. Apple crumble is bland, insubstantial and too sweet.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials - 4/5
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - The dry-aged Longhorn steaks, via super-butcher Ginger Pig's Yorkshire farm, are the bomb. Huge, thick, breathing smoky fumes from their punishment on the charcoal grill, they manage the remarkable feat of being perfectly black outside and evenly pink within...I don't love the kimchi burger (from the bar menu) after all: the meat is good but it lacks cohesion, falling apart into a squelchy, vaguely Korean cabbage-flavoured car crash. Everything else is a joy. Staff, atmosphere, the most ravishing, crunchy beef dripping chips. Dipped into ambrosial Stilton hollandaise they are, in every way, killer.
The Blind Tiger - 3/5
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - Beyond the black door is a pretty courtyard garden and then it's into the forbidden restaurant itself. We're led to a crepuscular space that marries boudoir to bordello: squashy leather, dimly glittering chandeliers, a lot of gilt...Chef Marek Novak actually knows what he's doing and his menu is attractive. All he needs to do is rein in the bonkers flourishes. A slab of halibut comes with pungent, earthy cavolo nero, lime, pears and several utterly pointless whole hazelnuts careering around the plate. Assembled dishes are more successful: duck with Jerusalem artichokes, apples and 'wall nuts' (sic), for instance.
Delhi Grill - 4/5
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - With the exception of an uninspiring biryani, the food is a joy. You can tell they're serious when the relishes arrive, no catering pack of jammy mango here but subtle, garlicky chickpea puree, fresh, minty yoghurt and a magnificent beetroot chutney. Then rotis: freshly made, warm, seductive little breads, perfect for mopping up sauces; in the evenings there's a bar where a roti-wallah cooks them up like a dervish. Naan, thinner and crisper than the norm, are also made fresh to order. And the rogan josh is a beauty, each spice thrillingly distinct, the meat slow-cooked until you could cut it with a spoon.
Androuet - 3/5
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - It's mostly a shop, shelves groaning with beautifully kept cheeses but at the back is the teeny restaurant with a few more tables on the market terrace...After Parmesan crisps and olives with feta, we eyeball our fondue, its strings so chewy and, well, cheesy that they offer the very real possibility of death by fromage. The vinous fruitiness of Sydre Argelette helps save our lives. A cheeseboard comes laden with booty from the boutique: granular comte, pungent reblochon, an ashy goat, all in perfect nick.
28-50 (Fetter Lane) - 4/5
Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - Here are some highlights: with duck rillettes and a ham hock ballotine, both silky with fat and served with crunchy cornichons, we have a 2005 Celler Cal Pla, from Spain's Priorat region (takes deep breath, attempts wine-speak), a garnacha carinena grape mix of intense, fruits-of-the-forest succulence with a hint of oak. Then there's onglet steak, chewy and iron-y, all smoky char and depth of flavour with insanely excellent triple-cooked chips. This works wonderfully with biodynamic Soula Rouge Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, earthy and damson-fruity, its minerality a perfect match for the meat.
Dishoom (Covent Garden) - 3/5
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - There isn't a dish that arrives that I dislike. OK, maybe that chilli cheese toast pointlessness. However, the little lamb chops, almost furry from their yoghurty spicing, charred from fiery heat and splendidly tender, are as good as you'll get. There's other good stuff, too. A roomali wrap stuffed with judiciously spiced chicken, fresh herbs and good chutney. Garlic naan bread, lighter and crisper than the usual stodge-fest, is properly blissful. Black daal, though a little on the wimpy side, is a pleasing, buttery sludge, perfect for dunking that naan in. If this is going to be a chain, it's no bad thing.
Drink Shop & Do - 3/5
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - The 'Drink' part is self-evident: it's a cafe. We eat serviceable quiche with a somewhat worthy root veg salad; little triangle sandwiches of pillowy white bread with ham, mustard, cream cheese and cucumber (crusts off, of course); and some excellent syrupy, squidgy spiced orange and almond drizzle cake. 'Shop'? Everything in the place is for sale: the cake stands, the tables and chairs, some glorious vintage finds. And the 'Do' refers to regular workshops, everything from knitting to making a clay head.
Tinello - 4/5
Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - It looks sleek and expensive: brick tiles, dark and sombre colour scheme, clever, flattering lighting so everyone looks like a bella signorina. It breathes class, but effortlessly...Paccheri, short, wide-gauged pasta tubes like shrunken cannelloni, are served thrillingly al dente, their nduja (spicy, spreadable Calabrian sausage) saucing proving the perfect foil for a hummock of cold, ultra-creamy burrata cheese on top. 'Soppressata di testa' is tactfully translated as 'pork salami'; perhaps effete diners couldn't cope with 'head sausage'. Good, silky, porky meat, funked up with shallots, parsley and capers.
Shaka Zulu - 2/5
Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - We try dishes from most sections of the menu and it's all as bland and underwhelming as our surroundings are bananas. It's like they decided we couldn't cope with too much excitement. 'Peri-peri' prawn kebabs and fries look the part but taste of nothing. Kudu fillet from the braai is rosy, lean and tender but has no flavour whatsoever, not even from its barbecue grilling. And the signature dish, free-range Dorper lamb, spit-roasted for seven hours, tastes of very little. Only, unsurprisingly given its treatment, it's also as dry as a warrior's heel pad.
Lupita Central - 3/5
Tuesday, September 07, 2010 - Refreshingly, there's none of the tacky, acid-coloured branding you get with faux-Mexican joints, rather a cool lime paint job butched up with concrete, rough wood and metal tables. It looks good and it's affordable...There are tacos with smoky chorizo, cheese and coriander, a huge plate of nachos (why not home-made?) with good guacamole, a rich pulp of black beans and marinated, seared beef. The little carousel of sauces is excellent: limey avocado; finely chopped, fiery pico de gallo; and wonderfully hot and fragrant molcajete. Elsewhere, I'm disappointed by wussiness on the flavour.
Wallace & Co - 3/5
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - If I had to sum the place up in Hollywood pitch brevity, I'd say it's pleasantly ordinary. There are good things: a marvellous, juicy, flaky sausage roll and decent Scotch egg. There are some excellent salads...There are some OK things: a wibbly tomato and samphire tart. And there are some perfectly nasty things: a cold watercress soup with the colour and consistency of brackish pond and the taste of rusty sprouts; some greyish roast topside beef that could have doubled for a beer mat.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur pours thick custard into the bowls, switches on and tops up with the nitrogen, which spews dry ice all over the shop. The mix freezes so rapidly that crystals don't form and the resultant ice cream is super rich and luxuriously smooth. There are currently only three flavours: Madagascan vanilla and 66 per cent Valrhona chocolate as regulars, with a daily special. Then you pile on toppings: cardamom and pistachio, salted caramel or chocolate popping candy...It's easy to dismiss Chin Chin as a mere novelty act. Instead, it's dishing out excellent ice cream.
Paramount - 3/5
Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - Double-baked Roquefort souffle is a superior dinner-party dish but this is a corker, light with a powerful kick of cheese and crisp-bitter salad of endive and pear. My summer truffle and 'Sweet Pea' risotto defines bland and makes me long for Alexis Gauthier's killer version of a similar dish. Sea bass is beautifully cooked, and its caviar cream suitably swanky, but I'm less than wowed by its unseasonal asparagus and samphire...The bill is as stratospheric as our location. But then you have to pay to hit the heights.
Tom's Terrace - 2/5
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - The Terrace looks suitably striking, a swooping, sail-like roof protecting it from the elements. It also protects it from river views...There's competent stuff here, the parfait, the gazpacho, but mostly it defines ordinary. A small greyish burger (14.50! An extra quid for a pickled gherkin!) has what little taste it possesses flattened by too much lollipop-sweet onion relish (no extra charge!). Steak sandwich features decent, robust meat with another overdose of sweetness.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 - It's an adventure, for sure: whole roasted broad bean pod, filled with its peeled beans and Sao Jorge cheese. Sensational baguettes, looking like seaweed wracks, with almost caramelly butter whipped with roast chicken skin and nubs of crisp Iberico ham...Presentation is painstaking, exquisite, as are specially made plates, especially a vast, rounded pebbly item balancing raw scallops with pickled cucumber: it appears to be made of sparkling ice.
Battery - 2/5
Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - The food is odd. Its fussiness and emphasis on luxurious ingredients speaks of a more spendy, show-off era. Prices, including wines, are brazen in their loftiness. My starter is just weird: wodge of hot mashed potato, glug of truffle oil, cold peas, pea shoots, broad beans, creamy sauce, dandruff of tasteless summer truffle carefully grated, not shaved, on top. It's not unpleasant, just bonkers...There's a good, high-end restaurant in Battery struggling to get out but it needs assistance: simplify, sharpen up, tone down.
Trullo - 3/5
Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - There's real energy and passion here. Staff are super-friendly, wines are marked up at no more than 10 quid a bottle and it's a funky, laid-back space. Dishes are simple and huge on flavour from good oils, fresh herbs, decent pasta and the chargrill. Just like The River Cafe, a lot of the dishes are the result of good buying rather than cooking...Tables are rammed together, wine comes in tumblers, it's loud and clattery and in a far-from-chic corner of Islington. But despite all this, Trullo is a class act. Truly.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - Cox is an assured cook. When he's good - butter-poached langoustines with an intense pea puree and the salty nip of more fine Jabugo; flawlessly cooked sea trout with almost Christmassy spiced white polenta and, my new favourite thing, caramelised chicory - he's very good. But the recipient of a pork belly dish with dense little mustard gnocchi is dejected at the size of his parsimonious cube of this cheap cut. And elsewhere there's a tendency to fussiness and an over-abundance of sweet notes.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - Food is served to everyone at once and we've no idea what we're getting, giving the impression we're on a vast, noisy plane. It's up there quality-wise too, by which I mean it comes in teeny portions, in curious containers and tastes of cardboard and plastic...The supremely irritating website tells us food at Supperclub 'deliberately humiliates cooking dogmas'. You said it, buster. In case we should become ennuied, trannies and semi-clad girls chat us up in a vague, we're-being-paid-for-this way. A random dog wanders around. The whole thing is like a bad disco in Rimini sponsored by Rennie.
Park Terrace Restaurant - 2/5
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - I'm struggling to have a kind word to say about the Park Terrace. The dark wood and swirly carpet decor is so hackneyed it could appear in the Geffrye Museum as 'early 21st-century fairly upmarket hotel, no specific location'...And then puddings. Oh, hello - these are quite astonishingly good: fudgy, blueberry cheesecake with tart blueberry compote; fantastically assured lemongrass crème brûlée scented with rhubarb fritters and the most fabulous crumbly lemon shortbread. I'd come back for afternoon tea. And give the pastry chef a massive pay rise.
Petrus - 2/5
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - The food is entirely fine. There's a now-cliched scallop and cauliflower combo with butter and lemon sauce poured from a teeny jug. Ramsay just loves his teeny jugs. Duck foie gras is served with layers of confit duck and a 'carpaccio' of pear that's somehow been reduced to a too-sweet mush. Meat dishes are assured but unmemorable...Ramsay's restaurants look like they've been created by a man who understands the criteria for Michelin upper-level billing but is trying to tick them off without real feel or flair.
Gauthier Soho - 4/5
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - It's a long time since I've had a meal in London where there doesn't appear to be a single fumbled beat. Take a wild garlic risotto, for instance: rice soupy but with seductive bite in each grain; the garlic flavour deep and almost fruity; a pool of outrageously savoury chicken jus, a fricassee of wild mushrooms and a snowstorm of musky spring truffle...But while the food may be close to perfect, the rest falls a bit short. Staff are incredibly well-meaning but a bit all over the joint. The place, too, is a bit of a buzz-stealer.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - We try dishes from every section of the menu: seared pork salad; 'bun' - cold rice noodles topped with salad, perky Vietnamese mint and perilla, crisp shallots and prawns, served with nuoc cham. It's all good: flavours are vibrant, ingredients often better than some of the East End canteens...Although it's licensed, we stick to intriguing soft drinks: bubble tea with fat, black tapioca pearls and bitter, muddy artichoke tea. Our meal costs about a tenner a head. No wonder it's packed.
The Milroy - 3/5
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 - The Milroy restaurant is a hoot. Jellyfish-like Murano glass chandeliers drip from the ceiling and if it stands still long enough to be swagged, draped or lavishly upholstered, it has been. Staff are very much of the old-school...Our food is fine enough. High spots are a sensational salad of thinly sliced, marinated beetroot with subtle, weeping Kidderton Ash goat's cheese, and a gateau of aubergine from the set 20 pound menu; yes, folks, it exists, meaning this luxury can even be bargainous - if you avoid the wine list.
Bar Boulud - 3/5
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - I try two of those burgers. Boulud's perfectionism is demonstrated by the home-made buns: cheddar-flavoured with the 'Piggie', piled with smoky BBQ pulled pork; and black pepper brioche with the awesome 'Frenchie' - a hypnotising melange of Morbier cheese and confit pork belly...So why isn't it love? It's the room: I can't get on with it at all. Designed by super restaurant designer Adam Tihany, it's as joyless and functional as anywhere recently vacated by Alan Partridge.
The Summerhouse - 2/5
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - It looks great - fat chunk of fish, chips in de rigueur bucket, golden, crisp, puffy batter. But inside its steaming carapace, the fish is super-bland; it says 'cod' on the menu but it has all the allure of pollack. We plod on. 'New England chowder' of quite miraculous blandness; yellowfin sashimi cut so thin it has taken on the texture of dead skin, with a slosh of truffle oil to kill it even deader...The Summerhouse looks more like the work of a marketing committee than passionate foodies.
JW Steakhouse - 2/5
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - Our 14oz New York Strip is flawlessly cooked: smoky char on the exterior, juicy, rosy red inside. It cuts like butter...The hamburger? It's vast and at 17 quid just pipped for most expensive regular burger in town. (Only The Dorchester's is dearer at 19.50 and you get two extra toppings for that). The meat is densely packed, impossible to bite into and lacks juice. I'm not wildly impressed with the dull fries either. We waddle out, considerably poorer. With only one Bloody Mary, our bill has topped 120 for two.
Angels & Gypsies - 3/5
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - This long-awaited tapas restaurant in the funky Church Street Hotel is a looker: brick walls, Spanish tiles and stained glass add up to somewhere that wouldn't look out of place in Seville...There are some well-executed tapas bar standards: creamy, jamon-packed croquetas, tortilla, a selection of hand-carved hams. But the more intriguing stuff delivers too: mackerel with chermoula and saffron potatoes; or tender sirloin steak on a bed of black beans made meaty and unctuous with pork fat.
Koya - 4/5
Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - When hot, like our heavenly buta miso atsu-atsu (pork noodles in a milky miso and pork broth), they have to be eaten fast so the liquid stays hot and the noodles retain their koshi, or elasticity and toothsome bite. Even more koshi are my cold zaru udon served as is traditional on a little bamboo mat with dashi dipping sauce laced with minced ginger, sesame and spring onion. Like eels, they wriggle away from my chopsticks and their slurpy, lipstick-destroying, chewy suppleness is my new definition of addictive.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - It looks good. Proper brasserie style if you don't unpick it too closely: oxblood banquettes, brass rails, crisp napery, super-helpful staff...The fluffiest, most pneumatic Bleu des Causses souffle with a sweet crunch of balsamic walnuts; vampire-fatal garlic-laden escargots...But the bubble bursts. Retro dishes such as slow-cooked veal and beef stroganoff suggest indifferent meat; the stroganoff's sauce tastes of UHT cream. A fishcake is mostly padding. Worst of all is a woolly chicken breast atop a shocker of a risotto: tasteless and gluey. Shame, because everything else is working.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet - 3/5
Wednesday, April 07, 2010 - The dish I'm eating is the richest, stickiest, most savoury thing I've eaten since I absent-mindedly sucked a teaspoon of Marmite. It's hare, long-cooked into yielding, pungent meltiness. The sauce, the treacliest brown imaginable, has a backnote of jammy citrus from a puree of pumpkin and dried mandarin. On top is a single raviolo filled with equally intense onion puree...Even with the niggles, I'm happy to join the daily growing chorus of praise. Bruno's back with a bang.
Zilli Green - 1/5
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - We're not offered any bread and our starters are freezing. How do you manage to serve tempura (more like a minuscule portion of chip shop battered veg) cold? Ditto my Portobello mushroom. Not to mention its slimy horridness...My adland chum chooses a presumably idiot-proof aubergine Milanese with spaghetti arrabiata. Her verdict: 'As greasy and tasteless as Zilli.' She's right.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - The menu might offer a bunch of familiar suspects - well-executed patatas bravas, tortilla, gambas al ajillo - but there's enough of a twist, especially on the tapas del dia menu, to make this a little more interesting than your usual tapas joint. There's mulchy, rich morcilla in crisp, brik pastry; empanadas stuffed with tuna; and good seafood, including octopus a la plancha and calamares. Churros, freshly fried, sweet and slightly salty doughnut strips with a little pot of spiced, dark chocolate for dunking, are worth crossing town for. What really lifts Pinchito above the herd are superb cocktails.
Caravan (Exmouth Market) - 3/5
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - The hectic list of ingredients hints at the dreaded fusion but it generally acquits itself pretty well. There are simple things too, such as a perfectly ripe avocado, cubed, set on top of grain toast and dressed with olive oil, lemon and chilli flakes; doesn't get easier or much nicer. Granular cornbread, studded with sweetcorn kernels, comes with a pat of jalapeno butter that sinks into it to make a sticky, savoury cake. Falafel are light and fluffy, glamourised with a drizzle of tahini and some lovely apple and pepper jelly.
Seventeen - 1/5
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - The efficient dishes, Sichuanese classic 'mapo tofu', aka pockmarked Mother Chen's bean curd, and 'spicy beef salad', are pleasant enough but remarkable for their lack of ballsiness: the tofu itself is slippery and good but Sichuan peppercorns should numb and tingle your lips and tongue; we struggle to get a hit. It's also very light on both pork and red chilli oil...The only way you could be properly impressed with this soulless, inept place is if you were actually 17, loaded with loot and not too bothered about food, labouring under the misapprehension that sub-nightclub design equals unspeakable glamour.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - Ex-Tom Aikens chef Keith Goddard is schmoozing customers when we arrive but he's soon back behind the scenes delivering us some terrific stuff. His strengths seem to be meat and frying: rosemary or truffle-scented chips are terrifyingly good, crisp and fluffy and salty. Whitebait with aioli rustle greaselessly in their inevitable basket...The hanger steak needs, as this cut always does, a good chewing but has superb depth of flavour. I love my rose veal burger, accessorised with fried quail's egg and seared foie...The latest in a line of restaurants at this address, this one looks like a keeper.
L'Art du Fromage - 4/5
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - I make the mistake of thinking that tarte flambee (the Alsacien pizza) might make a good starter: my Perigourdine version is enormous and fabulous - ultra-thin dough, tastefully scorched at the edges, sticky with cream and finely sliced onions, and laden with apple, ham and wibbly, smoky, seared foie gras...We plough on to fondue, a performance that includes a final flambee-ing with a little copper saucepan of kirsch. Our Savoyarde is made up of Emmental, Comte and Beaufort with a little booze, melted into moreish, artery-furring gloop. It may seem pricey but 'ave as much as you like', says Madenspacher engagingly.
Circus - 4/5
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - The most astonishing aspect of Circus is that the food is actually pretty good. Baby squid is light and tender, greaselessly fried, hot with spice. Cornbread is pillowy and perfect. A vast slab of Josper grill-seared fillet steak is a fine hunk of beef and comes with a riot of sides: crisp-fried kale, thyme bearnaise, jalapeno jelly. Pork belly with black-eyed bean fritters; 'adobo' chicken with rice and beans; a beast of a brownie - there isn't a duffer in the bunch. It's calorific, shame-inducing food but very well done.
Babbo - 2/5
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - This is opulent, if you like a dish so rich it's the Trump of pastas, laden with so much cheese and cream that the renowned Chianina beef element is battered into submission...There are nods to Santi's stellar ex-bosses, like Ducasse favourite Acquerello, a rare, aged carnaroli rice used here in a luscious truffle cream risotto. And everywhere luxury ingredients: truffles; Gragnano pasta; that beef; beautiful, milky burrata cheese rather wasted on top of some pedestrian meatballs in tomato sauce.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - Nothing is wildly satisfactory: overcooked chicken livers with balsamic-pickled onions on 'crostone' (er, toast). A hefty, nuked arancino (fried risotto ball) is filled with a greyish ragu, while torta di riso (rice tart) is replaced with a potato version - like we wouldn't notice. Roasted pumpkin with pecorino Sardo and prosciutto is pleasant enough. But more disappointing, since this is an enoteca' - wine bar - is the wine. We order four, from Alto Adige, Sardinia, Campania and Piedmont, and each is thin and mouthpuckeringly sour, as if they'd been left open for some time.
Wheeler's of St James's - 3/5
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 - The menu is as clever as a master forgery: hors d'oeuvres a la Cafe Anglais; layout from the Ivy Group; dishes that could have come from Langan's (old school) or Dean Street Townhouse (so now, sweetie). There are MPW greatest hits too: 'Potage of mussels Billy By', and gentlemen's club classics of grilled fish, pies and nursery puddings. Turn a blind eye to the plagiarism, er, 'hommages', and it's genius. And the kitchen delivers: super-thin petals of pressed calf's tongue with an immaculate celeriac remoulade; greaseless, golden calamari.
Galvin Cafe a Vin - 4/5
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 - The menu is almost pastiche-worthy bistro French: gratinated onion soup - sticky, oozy, flawless; a butch, rough-cut and deeply flavoured rabbit terrine; wooden board of excellent charcuterie: pungent saucisson, fatty rillettes. I love Alsatian-influenced tarte flambee, woodfired, thin dough base topped with smoked bacon, onion and tangy fresh cheese; and a red, minerally slab of rib-eye beef with good, crunchy chips. The Enomatic dispensing system delivers a heady collection of wines. Not as flashy as its neighbour, this is still a class act.
Chilli Cool - 3/5
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - Minced pork dumplings with chilli oil, or zhong shui jiao crescent dumplings, are gorgeously chewy and doused in a stunning homemade chilli oil and garlic sauce. And Chengdu dan dan noodles, spicy, peanutty, savoury and perhaps a little too squelchy. I've had far better in China but these are pretty good for WC1. Double-cooked pork, the fatty meat in wafer-thin slivers, is great, flaming with two kinds of chilli and little black bean flavour bombs...Perhaps the chilli fire has been toned down a touch. But this is still an exhilarating - and cheap! - way to beat the January chills.
Barrica - 3/5
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - There are 20-odd sherries - we have the rare and lovely palo cortado - and a vast selection of wines from the length of Spain. The 'plato del dia' is Asturia's beloved bean and pork fest, fabada, here translated as a sort of floury sub-cassoulet with entirely the wrong beans. The quality of the cured meats is good - paprika-rich sobrasada, acorn-fed Iberico jamon - but portions are weeny...Barrica is beautifully laid-back, welcoming you for simply beer and salted almonds or a full blowout. I'm coming back.
Chinese Cricket Club - 2/5
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - The hot and numbing chicken is the highlight of the meal. Despite a Chinese dim sum chef, Guanghao Wu, dumplings are mixed: good, chewy little chicken 'wor tip' (Cantonese potstickers); workmanlike prawn and pork siu mai; featherlight pork buns with an odd, musty, grey-ish filling. 'Singapore Cricket Club noodles' are a good interpretation of the classic stir-fry; and twice-cooked pork - slow-cooked then stir-fried - is a decent dish, pungent and salty...This pseudo-Chinese food isn't awful. It's the fun-vacuum, soullessness of the place itself that leaves me feeling mugged by the bill.
Kitchen W8 - 4/5
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - Excess is celebrated, whether it's a pastry crust and layer of sultry gelee round pork and rabbit terrine (plus kilner jar of headily spiced chutney and sourdough toast); deep-fried risotto arancini amuses; or the stunningly good salted caramel truffles. Sauces are hefty in flavour, enthusiastically reduced and boosted with cream and butter. Roast Icelandic cod on its bed of lentils laced with shards of Savoy cabbage seems positively blameless...Turning down the rich factor a couple of notches is all it would take to make this baby an unreservedly welcome new arrival.
Dean Street Townhouse - 5/5
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 - The restaurant, with its edgy art and clubby banquettes, its dark wood and copper pillars, gives me a sense of palpable excitement every time I'm booked in. The menu is great, almost comically Brit retro. The hero dish is mince and potatoes, as stark a confection as it sounds. Still, I haven't eaten a proper duffer yet, not that mince, nor bacon sarnie, Scotch egg with caper mayonnaise, or potted smoked mackerel.Some of it is astonishingly good, like a pillowy smoked haddock souffle with little jug of sorrel beurre blanc; and the roast chicken for two is succulent, buttery, with punchy stuffing and crisp, crunchy roasties.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 - The menu is religiously dedicated to all things indigenous - even some decent English wines. There's London Particular, a thick, bacon-laced pea soup named after the notorious fog, quail Scotch eggs, crumbly little biscuits flavoured with rosemary and Montgomery cheddar. OK, so there's the odd rogue risotto for the more ascetic customer, but otherwise it's mostly the well-executed, rib-sticking likes of beef cheeks or venison. Even the much-mocked faggot puts in a show. Sticky, sinful gingerbread sandwiched with Regent's Park honey ice-cream is breathtakingly gorgeous. Hallelujah!