Bert's Barges, Canonbury Tavern, Casa Cruz, Farmhouse, Fay Maschler, Giles Coren, Grace Dent, Ink, John Walsh, Marina O'Loughlin, Morden & Lea, Paradise Garage, Rachel Dixon, Richard Ehrlich, Sackville's, Social Wine & Tapas, Suvlaki Athenian Grill, The Independent, the Lanesborough, The Pointer, Time Out, Tom Chesshyre, Zoe Williams
Grace Dent calls newly opened Sackville’s an obscene, “London must-do” in the London Evening Standard
“Obscene isn’t a word many restaurateurs hope to see used in conjunction with their new offering, but in the case of Sackville’s — of Sackville Street, W1 — I trust they’ll understand. They might even take it as a badge of honour. Sackville’s is a newly opened truffle-based restaurant: burgers with truffle mayo, Wagyu rib-eye with truffle dust fries, baked poussin with truffle seasoning. Starters of carpaccio, asparagus and soup all arrive with some sort of truffly flourish. Are you getting the picture? There is an obscene amount of truffle being whipped and blitzed and shaved around here.
“But it works. Sackville’s is genteel, intimate — about 40 seats upstairs, cocktail bar downstairs — with a strong, beautiful cocktail list by the very talented Monica Berg. If one has a passion for fungi of the financially crippling nature, then Sackville’s is a sort of London must-do. It’s fun. Obscene fun, but fun nevertheless.”
The London Evening Standard‘s Fay Maschler reviews Paradise Garage and finds much to enjoy at Robin Gill’s third restaurant
“Young chefs, heavily stamped passports, small plates, unclothed tables, tattoos, Zone Two Tube stops, fizzing lactic acid, S&M butter, no offal left unturned, seeds and weeds, ponderous stoneware, recherché wines, obscure music tracks, approachable bills; it’s commonplace now. And thank the Lord for that.
“After opening The Dairy and The Manor in Clapham, amiable Irish chef Robin Gill has just opened his third restaurant, Paradise Garage, in Bethnal Green.
“The homemade sourdough is sensational. With a chubby cylinder of smoked whisky butter sitting in a puddle of its whey, it takes iron self-control to not — what my mother would inveigh against — spoil my appetite. The style of assembling and cooking attuned to harmony and counterpoint of flavours, with an eye to beauty, an acknowledgement of serendipity and what sometimes seems like input from fairies working their hands to the bone at the bottom of the garden is mercifully these days not so rare. In restaurant form, this Garage (or railway arch) is one more victory in the new way of eating.”
Jay Rayner visits the domestic-feel Lebanese kitchen of Amoul’s Hideaway and finds himself seeking the chef’s approval – a reversal of the traditional food critic role
“Amoul’s Hideaway is very obviously a restaurant. But it is also something else. It is an act of memory. It is the way one Lebanese woman, who settled in London with her English husband more than a quarter of a century ago, has chosen not to let the very essence of who she is fade away.
“Here, in this corner of London’s Little Venice, is a place that is forever the Lebanese kitchen, and very much of the domestic variety rather than the commercial.
This is food of the oven and the stove top. Reflecting the influence of France on Lebanon’s traditions, she makes croissants from scratch for her weekend breakfasts and endless flaky Lebanese pastries; she bakes manoushi – flatbreads topped with a mix of thyme, sesame seeds and the purple citric kick of sumac – and churns her own ice creams.
“This, Amoul says, is her mother’s and her grandmother’s food. These are her memories, refreshed each day at the stove. The star is the dish Amoul insisted we have. Kibbeh bissanyeh is the mothership of meat loafs – the meat loaf all other meat loafs hope to be one day, if they pass the right exams.
“The desserts are the most homely element: there’s a warm chocolate cake with a coal-black sauce, and a caramelised apple cake, both the sort of thing a fretful maiden aunt would give you on a cold winter’s day to make sure the elements didn’t take you down.
“Is it a grand gastronomic experience? Of course not. It’s nowhere near that tiresome. It is a snapshot of someone else’s life, delivered one delicate plateful at a time.”
AA Gill of the Sunday Times visits Le Chabanais and finds the restaurant has gone way beyond mockery, with “a good fish” in the middle
“Le Chabanais, the new restaurant on Mount Street that has had an awkward and troubled gestation. It is a commercial offshoot of Le Chateaubriand in Paris, home of the autodidact Basque chef Inaki Aizpitarte, in conjunction with a Bollywood film producer. They’ve come up with a restaurant named after a famous defunct brothel, where Edward VII, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cary Grant got seen to. The basement bar is called One Two Two, after another old Parisian maison de relief de main.
“Inside, it looks like a million dollars. No, really, it looks like a million dollars. It looks like someone has said: “Make me a restaurant that looks like a great deal of money.” The walls are polished brass or copper or the melted-down hip replacements of oligarchs. Everything else is marble. It’s a cross between a safety-deposit box and a urinal. There is barely anything you want to eat.
“I started with a frisée salad made with good lettuce, but instead of lardons, they’d added thin slivers of warm bacon fat, as if a moisturising leper had done jazz hands over the bowl. I ate it because I can’t resist a dare, but I can’t pretend it was a pleasure.
“I had a dover sole, cooked in brown butter with a coating of chopped green herbs, with a side of pomme purée that was correctly made with two-thirds more butter than potato. And blow me if it wasn’t the very best dover sole I’ve had for ages — really, really perfectly excellent.
“This is a horrible, inhospitable, lifeless, brassy knocking-shop of a restaurant that’s gone way beyond mockery, with a good fish in the middle.”
Richard Ehrlich at Time Out London finds the Suvlaki Athenian Grill, a relaunch of Greek restaurant 21 Bateman Street, serving souvlaki, Greek wines and craft beers, a real pleasure
“This tiny venue has been an outpost of Greece for a while, but Suvlaki has made big changes in décor and even bigger changes in the level of cooking. Its predecessor here, simply named 21 Bateman Street, was nothing more than average. Suvlaki is well above that, and more.
“The décor, however, needs more than a passing nod. This is a seriously good-looking place, showing clear evidence of careful thought and liberal spending. If you’re sitting with your back to them, make sure you check out the fluted columns along the side wall. We assumed they were cast in concrete, perhaps in south London. In fact they’re the real thing, reclaimed, and Italian. The marble table-tops are from Greece, tiles from Morocco. All this makes Suvlaki a real pleasure to sit in.
“When the food arrives, you realise it’s also a pleasure to eat in. The pork is from rare breeds. Succulent chicken thighs are rich with herby flavour. All the wraps are garnished individually, a nice touch. The Greek salad is of superior quality, even if the portion could be a bit more generous, and the tzaziki features notably tangy, creamy yoghurt. Greek coffee is properly made.”
The dining space at Oldroyd in north London might be small but, writing in the Independent, Lisa Markwell thinks it has a big future
“Tom Oldroyd was the chef for the Polpo group. Most things there were small, too – the bijoux rooms, the brisk menus and the small plates. After leaving the Russell Norman empire, Oldroyd has taken the small is beautiful ethos and created a cool, calm little haven in north London,” she explains.
The Telegraph‘s Joseph Connolly is suffocated by the service at the Dower House restaurant within Bath’s Royal Crescent hotel.
“The room was muted, and so were the diners – who on earth’s idea would this be of a good night out? The “service” could suffocate you, all done by numbers: at every table, each gesture and phrase never varies. You are ceaselessly instructed to “enjoy” and asked, “Is everything all right?” until you feel quite thoroughly pummelled, and at bay – though still the waitress is talking right through you to robotically utter these things, while blithely stretching across your face to pour the wine.”
The décor of Casa Cruz in Notting Hill reminds the Independent‘s John Walsh more of Spearmint Rhino than a restaurant, but the food compensated for the garish room.
“There’s lots to enjoy about the Casa Cruz, once you’ve got past the over-design of the dining-room,” he says. “The food is gratifyingly simple and often delicious. If they could tone down their obsession with smoke, it would be a great improvement. Or was that (and the mirrors) an input from that “global team of designers, consultants and collaborators”?”
The Pointer in Brill has managed to perfectly combine gastro with pub, says the Telegraph’s Zoe Williams, “enveloping pub loveliness at the front and chic, plush and hush at the back”
And it wasn’t just the ambience that Williams was impressed by. “The same elegant care went into my hake (£19), which was browned to the kind of scrumptiousness normally reserved for meat (no offence, fish), in a pool of lovely, buttery sauce, a single violent artichoke standing up on the plate like a great big show-off, two very good new potatoes and – for glamour – some white Brixham crab meat,” she explains. “I couldn’t fault this dish; it wasn’t surprising, granted, but each flavour spoke simply and boldly together in an inevitable sort of harmony.”
The Guardian‘s Marina O’Loughlin is momentarily surprised by the pork belly cooked in halibut juice at Ink, East London
“I first became aware of Ink when photographs of some extraordinary looking food found their way into my social media feeds. So extraordinary that I dismissed it with an airy, ‘It’ll never last.’
“Yet here Ink still is, in a location so odd it requires serious orienteering. I arrive at an empty, starkly white restaurant. There’s no decor, unless you count a couple of spindly, petrified trees. Neither chef (Martyn Meid, a slight, handsome, tattooed Lithuanian chap) nor waiter quite manages a cheery hello. When the pal finally finds the place, we remain alone for the duration of an evening punctuated only by throbbing house music and quite remarkable food.
“Meid takes turns with Lurch to deliver the food. “The pork,” he intones, “is cooked for 16 hours in halibut juice.” Now, I’ve been doing this gig for a while, and very little surprises me. But that? That drops my jaw and boggles my eyes. There’s no flavour of fish in the fine, treacly meat, and the whole thing is intriguing, thought-provoking, a conundrum to be parsed.”
Giles Coren attempts to be interesting in The Times as he reviews Social Wine & Tapas, Morden & Lea, and the Canonbury Tavern
“A senior restaurant critic recently told a well-known restaurateur of my acquaintance that she was not going to review his restaurant because “it isn’t interesting enough”.
He was gutted, of course. I feel his pain. But I feel hers, too. Because I, too, enjoyed my meal in his place well enough and yet cannot deny that it is one of those places you would have to file under ‘Restaurateur Opens Restaurant – Shock!’
But where I differ from my esteemed colleague is that I do not expect restaurants to be interesting. It is not a restaurant’s job to be interesting. It is a restaurant’s job to serve food and wine. It is my job to be interesting.
“So, in an effort to be interesting this week, I am going to review not one, not two, but three restaurants recently opened (or reopened) by well-known veterans of the industry, at all of which I enjoyed a very pleasant lunch or dinner without there having been anything to make you dash for the payphone at the back and shout, “Hold the front page!” about.”
Social Wine & Tapas
“Jason Atherton has opened another restaurant, which makes it 709 new openings from him in the past three weeks alone. Atherton is the guy, you will remember, who cheffed Maze for Gordon Ramsay back when Gordon could still find England on a map and had some of his own teeth.
“So it’s an odd sort of place to find a new posh sharing restaurant, which is what Social Wine & Tapas is, surprisingly enough. But then this being an Atherton place, everything they put in your mouth is belting. There were veal and foie gras sliders with pulled pork, little mini cheese toasties crowned with sunken quail eggs, szechuan fried chipirones with black mayonnaise, unbelievable seafood and rabbit Spanish rice …
“Oh, and the wine, that’s the whole point. Loads of it, from every echelon of the range, all excellent, picked out for us by Laure Patry, executive sommelier of the Atherton group and Jason’s old mucker from way back. This is her baby, really, this penumbrous grog shop with top snacks, and I applaud it.”
Morden & Lea
“Mark Sargeant has opened another restaurant. Sarge, you will remember, launched Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2001, which really got the great Ramsay rollout phenomenon under way. He was Chef of the Year in 2002, opened Gordon’s pubs and then struck out on his own. He has a couple of places in Kent, has just taken over the reins at the formerly execrable Strand Dining Rooms and has now opened Morden & Lea on Wardour Street.
“In the relaxed, sunlit, baby-blue first-floor interior I had fine roast quail with smoked aubergine and polenta chips; a sort of vitello tonnato done with pork and pickled summer vegetables; and a brilliant dish of cod fillet on black rice and chorizo tangled with baby squid and courgettes. STOP PRESS Mark Sargeant has not, as far as I know, released an aftershave.”
“Oisin Rogers has opened another restaurant. You’ll remember Rogers as the force behind the Ship in Wandsworth, one of London’s best pubs of the past few years. Well, he has now taken over at this neglected Canonbury enormo-pub.
“The best thing about it is the magnificent garden, which is so large you can actually get a table in it on a summer’s afternoon, which is unheard of in this town. What I did there was get lashed on rosé.”
Service, food and technology at the newly relaunched Lanesborough hotel, London, are spot on, says Fiona Duncan of The Telegraph, but the décor is far too formal and fussy
“My room, an Executive Junior Suite, costs from £1,050 per night without breakfast. It was luxurious, certainly, and beautifully planned, but too passé and too busy: loud yellow walls, a blue patterned carpet, multicoloured curtains, fusty paintings and those slightly irritating stencils on wood panels all around the sitting room. It lay queasily between storybook Regency and glam, a bit like Beau Brummell after a visit from Ziggy Stardust. The bathroom was of hand-cut marble but surprisingly tight on space, as are all the bathrooms here, even in the Royal Suite.
“What I didn’t expect to like was the contrastingly super-modern technology, including hotel information, room service, lighting and curtain controls, delivered on two Sony tablets. But I took to it. Wake in pitch dark and at the touch of foot on floor, night-lights automatically switch on to lead you to the bathroom. Wi-Fi (free) has never been faster.”
Rachel Dixon of The Guardian suggests the newly refurbished Farmhouse hotel in Mackworth, near Derby will be fantastic once service glitches are sorted out and the loud music is turned down
“Upstairs, we discovered that the 10 rooms have a (mercifully subtle) Animal Farm theme, presumably a nod to the building’s 18th-century farmhouse origins (though somewhat missing the point of the novel). Our room, Boxer, has a few drawings of horses on the wall. I assume Muriel has goats and Napoleon, the suite, pigs. The room has nice touches, including bare-bulb lamps and an exposed-brick wall, and there’s a sitting area between bedroom and bathroom.
“A hotel is more than the sum of its designer parts, though, and in other ways the Farmhouse fell short. Staff were friendly, but a little artless: the waitress looked blank when I ordered omelette Arnold Bennett from the short, appealing breakfast menu, and it took half an hour to arrive. In the meantime, I nipped upstairs to get my phone, and found our room being cleaned, at 9.30am, before we’d even used the towels.”
The first in what is intended to be a series of hotel barges across Britain has opened in Hackney, east London. Tom Chesshyre of The Times finds Bert’s Barge to be a fun, but expensive, concept
“The room is big enough for a double bed and not much else, although it feels comfortable. When the drop-down bed in the lounge is used the barge can sleep four. The style is pared-down Scandinavian simplicity. Reclaimed wooden boards line the walls. Diamond-shaped reclaimed tiles decorate the decent-sized shower room (which has Aesop toiletries). The lounge opens onto a neat, kitchen with marble tops, and has a dining table with four chairs and a low-slung retro sofa.
“The price of £300 a night — or £250 a night if you book more than one night — includes a welcome hamper of crisps, olives, breads, two beers, mineral water and a bottle of wine. Breakfasts are provided: muesli, croissant, fruit and coffee, which are delivered to the door by the helm.”