Young National Chef of the Year 2012, WorldSkills 2011 gold medal winner and Pierre Koffmann protégé, Ben Murphy, adds to the accolades this week with five stars from the Sunday Times’ AA Gill for his new restaurant the Woodford in South Woodford, East London.
“I don’t quite know where to lay the emphasis of this review. It could go either way. This is all a strikingly old-fashioned concept that celebrates lots of things that contemporary restaurants are trying to get away from. But they make the type of food I have loved for years, with a precision I feared was vanishing. The three-course set lunch was £29 — by far and away the best value in Greater London. It is offered not to the bored, irony-sated sophisticates of the east, but to the children of the cashed-up and comfortable working class. And what is that if not the aesthetic radicalism that Morris, Attlee and Pankhurst would all have approved of — not to make the bankers sup in soup kitchens, but to lift the workers so that they could have their potatoes in truffled ravioli.”
From the alarm to the locked loo, few things went right for the Observer’s Jay Rayner at Tapas 37 at the Ecclestone Square Hotel in Pimlico, but he was left with only one regret…
“The best dish of the day was a slightly overset plug of mango cheesecake with an unadvertised scoop of refreshing blackcurrant sorbet. The three rectangles of pastry in a chocolate and pear millefeuille were dry, tired and under-sweetened. The two lumps of pear were completely unripe. They were hard to the edge of my knife. And that detail sums up the place. Why would an experienced chef, one with time at Arzak on his CV, choose to serve an unripe pear? It baffles me. But not quite as much as the £120 bill we were presented with.”
London’s Club Gascon once seemed revolutionary but it has stiffened with age, says the Times‘ Giles Coren.
“I remember how revolutionary Club Gascon felt when it opened at the end of the last century. How much more relaxed and modern than other top-class French restaurants, with their “hors d’oeuvres”, “entrees” and “plats”, their escargots and their soufflés, their expanses of carpet and their deadly hush, where an Englishman felt always that one foot wrong could lead to ejection and possibly war.
“In essence, this was a very decent (expensive) lunch. But it was a lesson too about how that which seems youthful and revolutionary in one decade can seem like a lot of elderly twiddle and faff in the next but one. Club Gascon has stiffened up only a little with age, I suspect, but the rest of us have relaxed so much as to leave it looking positively rigid.”
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler takes a competition winner to lunch at Jason Atherton’s newest restaurant Sosharu, where she experiences some definite culinary hits.
“Under the heading Chilled, bream sashimi with shavings of vegetable, microherbs, flowers and surprising crisp potato shreds all speckled with seven-spice shichimi is an uplifting beginning. In Kyoto-style chirashi — meaning scattered — vigorous tossing results in a delectable moshpit of raw fish, egg threads, seaweed, salad vegetables and sushi rice. Miyazaki wagyu tataki — a handful of seared beef cubes — with turnip and radish kinpira, a sort of quick pickle, served with scoops made from deep-fried kale is another ingenious assembly I recommend if the £19 price doesn’t offend. It is wagyu after all.
Vince, having studied the menu online, is set on ordering chashu — like Chinese char siu — pork belly with udon king oyster (mushroom) and ramen sauce. The slow-cooked cylinders of meltingly tender meat are shrewdly offset by crisp narrow sheets of nori fried in tempura batter. Noodles in the savoury broth are tantalisingly few.”
The food isn’t really the point at Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy 2 in Notting Hill, says Marina O’laughlin in the Guardian.
“As ever with a Hix joint, I’m made to feel on arrival as if I’ve turned up to the orgy dressed in Country Casuals, and wafted straight to the worst table in the room. The food? Ach. Despite the presence of Hix, glad-handing cronies (all furnished with a nice, pill-embroidered banquette. Bitter? Me? Hell, yes), the food isn’t really the point. It’s
all fine, in a designed-by-committee-for-a-new-Wetherspoons-concept kind of way: a curry, a pasta, breakfasts and roasts, pies and steaks; truffles for the poshness and (too sweet) pineapple upside-down cake for the laydeez. Lots of provenance-ticking. And it’s largely well executed – Hix’s right-hand man, Kevin Gratton, is in the kitchen, so it should be – but, unlike the pills emblazoned on everything from chair backs to floors, cushions to crockery, isn’t likely to alter consciousness in any way.”
Conversely, the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent is charmed by the balls and continuing bizarreness at Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy 2 and needs a repeat prescription.
“The menu — by Mark Hix — is my perfect sort of list. Imaginative but comforting. Bewitching not bewildering. There are starters of polenta with duck egg and truffle, hunan spiced pork broth and snacks of cuttlefish croquettes. There are mains of Launceston lamb pie and Swainson House duck curry with apple pakora. It’s a rare menu that would appeal to a foodie as well as your out-of-town grandmother. We shared a starter of almost preposterously fishy cod chitterlings on a bed of sea purslane and oily, outstanding guanciale by Hannan Meats.
“A plate of linguine with Portland crab and chilli was pretty much perfect: fresh pasta cooked with a bite, idiotically creamy, delicately crabby and with an assertive kick. A pretty, red dish of prawn Arak arrived with a side of distinctly perfumed wild garlic and fennel pilaf.”
The Painswick in Painswick, Gloucestershire, has thrown off the trendy look of old with a more refined and elegant design. However, Tom Chessyhyre of the Times describes the food as “odd”.
“It was previously Cotswolds88, an ostentatious hotel with striking avant-garde wallpaper and modern art (that rather jarred). Last week it reopened with its new name. The interiors have been much toned down with soft blue-grey walls, oatmeal carpets, directional lights and paintings of country scenes.
“The menu is uncomplicated yet eclectic, with dishes such as “crispy pig ears with apple salad”, lobster pizza and chicken kiev. My lobster and black pudding pie with “lobster gravy” was superb, with perfect pastry. The roasted cod with kale was chunky, buttery and fresh; but the lobster on the pizza tasted as though the flavour had been baked out.”
Robert Hull of the Guardian is unsure of the juxtaposition of hotel, restaurant, music venue and members’ club on offer at the Convent, South Woodchester, Gloucestershire.
“The building’s heritage remains prominent in its interior design: stained-glass windows, cloister-like corridors, sturdy benches and a pulpit in the stylish members-only bar, known as Dirty Habit. But the aesthetic also references the Convent’s focus on music and literature.
“The rooms are spacious and sumptuous – though ours, room one, catches soundcheck noise from the chapel. Each has its own character and colour scheme: room one majors on salmon pink and yellow and its en suite has a clawfoot bath and underfloor heating. All rooms have Molton Brown bathroom “condiments” and luxurious Soak & Sleep towels. Rest and relaxation aren’t hard to find here.”