Giles Coren reviews Ella Canta, London W1 in the Times: ‘The rest of the food is utterly filthy. I’d say this is the worst restaurant I have ever reviewed.’
I first heard about Ella Canta towards the end of last year and liked the sound of it. And according to the website, “Mexico’s natural bounty is chef Martha Ortiz’s inspiration. Her art is a response to the colours, textures, stories and spirit of her beloved country. Modernist expressions of customary cuisine.” So how could I not go?
The guacamole and tortilla chips (£9) [are] nutty and crisp and the guac pepped with ricotta and pomegranate seeds for a red, white and green effect. On top is a “gold grasshopper”. Same as all the other grasshoppers I’ve eaten: dry, faintly shrimpy, like chewing the cardboard sarcophagus of a long interred prawn.
The rest of the food is utterly filthy. Tamal mexicano, queso y crema (£12) is just a square of soggy carbohydrate on a posh black plate. As if someone has folded a wet handkerchief around three beermats and left it overnight. Inexplicable.
Not as disgusting, mind, as a mulch of stinky brown button mushrooms on a sad old banana leaf (mixotes de hongos – £9), which reminds me of the time my garden water butt got blocked when a mouse died in the pipe and I had to blow it out to get the flow back.
Much worse, though, is the ceviche vampiro con el esplendor del mango y aguanieve de sangrita. Or “chewy offcuts of sea bass in ketchup”, to give it a more literal name. My three Mexicanophile friends each take a bite and then go green around the gills – Mexican Day of the Dead faces.
Across all areas, I would say this is the worst restaurant I have ever reviewed. Yes, they served better nachos than I’d had at lunchtime but for everything else – vibes, service, fun, value and all your other food – I’d head to the Hollywood Bowl, next door to the Finchley Vue complex on Leisure Way, just off the A406.
Marina O’Loughlin reviews Bombay Bustle in London’s Mayfair in the Sunday Times, the “rather beautiful newcomer” from the restaurateurs behind Michelin-starred Jamavar.
The restaurant’s original chef, Rohit Ghai, was the man behind Gymkhana’s triumph before going on to win Jamavar its star. His evening menu stars some greatest hits from his previous gigs: here’s the duck dosa, the whole spit-roast Suffolk chicken, the goat keema pao.
The last is a must-order, the gamey meat minced and chopped and spiced with an enthusiastic hand: it thrums with flavour, with the fluffiest little buttered white-bread buns to drink up the aromatic liquor like thirsty sponges. Microscopically diced red onion and a wedge of lime finish off this tour de force.
But since launching, management has managed to mislay Rohit Ghai. (Rumour has it that he’s off to Annabel’s, which would be quite a departure for that bastion of Establishment ravers.) Perhaps this change of personnel is why our main courses don’t quite come off. The chicken, a small weaselly item, has an offputtingly woolly, loose consistency, as though it had been steamed before roasting, its spicing timid and superficial. Nilgiri jheenga curry offers large, muscular prawns in a green slurry medicinal with blitzed coriander and mint: not a patch on the scintillating starter. And breads — normally an Indian meal highlight for this carbphile — lack airy buoyancy, rapidly stiffening in their tea-towelled basket as they cool. I’d have liked the authentically dun-coloured lamb dum biryani to come with the dough titfer suggested by its title — for the drama — but the quality of the delicate, leggy basmati is ravishing. Because the rest is so good, it’s more notable when the food doesn’t thrill, doesn’t have the vivid, exhilarating spicing, the judicious chilli heat, the chiffonades of curry leaves, the almost alien pulse of particularly potent clove.
The Observer’s Jay Rayner reviews the Greyhound Café near London’s Oxford Circus, the first British outpost of the Thai restaurant chain.
There’s a bowl of still warm cashews and peanuts, oily from their dry pan roasting, with fish-slab funky crisp-dried shrimp and friable Thai basil leaves to nibble on as we work to put together a meal. The three region khao tung is as good a place to start as any: rice crackers alongside three bowls of the good stuff to dip them in. There’s a beef massamun in a deep broth heavy with roasted spice and coconut, a long-cooked curry of richly sauced ground pork and a larb of finely diced mushrooms dressed with lime juice, fish sauce and lots of chillies. Satay of rib-eye is a generous portion of extremely tender beef for £7.80, smoky and seared in all the right places, with a dish of a powerful, chilli-boosted peanut sauce to dredge it through.
We go for a slow-cooked herb garden and vegetable broth, which is a Ronseal name for something that tastes like it cares about your welfare: a deep seafood soup, bobbing with fat prawns and vegetables ripped from the ground while still practically foetal. It’s both powerful and soothing. From the side of the menu costed in the teens come pearly flakes of poached cod, drenched in chilli, lime and fish sauce on a vibrant Asian take on sauerkraut. Finally, we have a scallop pad Thai, which is generous with the shellfish, as it should be for £15.50. By the time we get to it, the noodles have seized up a little. A squeeze of fresh lime and a poke around and it all gets moving. It’s the Fisher-Price Activity Centre of dishes: what happens if I push this up against that against this? The answer is, lots.
‘Not all vegan-friendly restaurants are created equal. Some are flashy setups with mission statements but no idea what customers want’ says Grace Dent in the Guardian about Wulf & Lamb, London SW1.
We sit at a crumb-covered table for the next half-hour, untroubled by basic hospitality. Eventually, a bowl of emerald green, Thai-influenced sauce appears with a splodge of mashed sweet potato floating in it, like Necker Island. This is the “curry”. I see little evidence of “winter veg”. It’s just sauce. Despite having no texture at all, however, it is beautifully seasoned, so will be my go-to lunch if I am ever roused from a coma and find chewing arduous. The beetroot and quinoa salad, meanwhile, is a vast pile of spinach sodden with unlovable vinaigrette. This is a vegan restaurant that can’t dress spinach. A bowl of dry, reheated, unseasoned potato wedges could have been served with less care only if they’d opened the kitchen door and pelted me with them, and the cashew-cream mac’n’cheese was dry and welded to its bowl.
Wulf & Lamb may well have operational difficulties, but it cannot choose its customers. And one of the biggest ball-aches for any vegan restaurant is that alongside all the chipper, grateful animal- and nature-lovers merely trying not to kill things, it also attracts a constant stream of mollycoddled, malnourished berks demanding that their other allergies/dislikes be catered for. Three such furious types stormed out during my first visit, in full umbrage over some coeliac- or legume-intolerant-based slight. On my second visit, another customer flounced off about something she found in her porridge that was not to her satisfaction.
Joris Minne reviews the Michelin-starred Eipic in Belfast for the Belfast Telegraph.
Even though Belfast’s international foodie destination reputation basks in the glory of its two Michelin-starred assets, Ox and Eipic, there has always been a debate over which one is better. Their prices are similar, the food in both is of international standard and the service is as polished in Eipic as it is Ox.
It’s a beautiful dining room, elegant and spacious with plenty of distance between tables to allow utter privacy and yet still be within nodding distance of acquaintances and maintain access to the openness.
The dishes start arriving. There is a firm and fresh langoustine embedded in a dark squid ink ravioli with a sprinkling of shiitake, leek and bacon. This is an outstanding and memorable starter which sets the bar and we wonder can this be maintained in the following courses.
And of course, they just get even more exciting. If this is the £30 menu we vow to come back for the £70 one. There is brill, plain and virginal but supported by little tiny flutes of rolled salsify, made firm with white bread. A little nod of respect to Danni Barry is in the form of that famous roast bone sauce (which she has transported successfully to Clenaghans). The dish spans all the flavours and textures in a few bites. It is extraordinary and satisfying and we complete it smiling.
Desserts of chocolate with the citrus notes of yuzu fruit, coconut and coffee gel are a reminder that not all sweets have to be sugary.
Eipic is a wonder. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Ox and yet it provides a massively different experience. Some might say it’s a bit more grown-up, a bit more mature and I say that this is exactly what we need. A bit of decorum, take your elbows off the table, please and thank you and you know what? I will have a drop of that Valdivieso Eclat Semillon 2013 with my chocolate.
Tom Chesshyre of the Times visits the Good Pub Guide’s Pub of the Year, the King’s Head Inn, Bledington, Oxfordshire.
Archie [Orr-Ewing] and his wife, Nicola, bought this 16th-century inn in the quiet village of Bledington in 2000. Inside the old grey-stone building there’s a cosy, eclectic look, with rugs scattered on flagstone floors, framed Bob Dylan and David Bowie album covers on walls, and shiny brass regimental locker plates by a lovely inglenook fireplace (Archie is ex-army). Locals chatter by the bar, supping pints of Butcombe beer and glasses of wine from an impressive list.
[Rooms are] a mixed bag, to be found across the main pub building and a more modern structure at the back. The latter are referred to as “courtyard rooms” (from £140 B&B) and are bigger than the ones above the pub. All have been recently done up with swirly patterned wallpaper, oyster-grey wood panels, espresso machines and Bantam toiletries in the shiny little bathrooms. The cheapest rooms above the pub are pokier but make decent crashpads (from £110 B&B).
Pub staples such as fish and chips, steak and ale pie, and soups are offered. After trying a refreshing rhubarb fizz cocktail by the fire, comprising rhubarb vodka, cranberry and English sparkling wine, I sat down to a flavoursome bowl of onion and thyme soup. The pheasant schnitzel with cabbage and new potatoes was a good solid main course, while the pistachio cake with orange sorbet was delicious. Three courses cost from £28.
Robert Hull of the Guardian suggests that the newly opened Seven hotel brings a luxury, but pricey offer to the town.
“The design and decor of our room is a constant reminder of where we are. Sea-foam greens and beach tones are top of the paint charts and mix with iridescent brass and bronze in details such as lamps, bathroom fittings and the beautiful fretwork by interiors firm Tibbatts-Abel. The palette exudes quality without tipping into the gaudy.
“The hotel’s shining star, though, is its restaurant, Aurum, overseen by Simon Webb – a head chef with experience at London’s Langham Hotel and leader of England’s team at the 2018 Culinary World Cup. Not only does the decor pick up on the colours and accents of the hotel, with the bronze shards of a central light grabbing the attention, it also emphasises local food from both land and sea.
My wife’s Essex burrata starter (mozzarella-like cheese, with beetroot, rye, honey and rocket) is a sweet, light treat, while my London-cure smoked salmon with fennel and dill is a tangy delight. The mains are just as finessed: pork belly can be greasy but this one (served with spiced lentils, cabbage and burnt apple) is succulent, with just the right hit of perfectly crisp crackling. I ask my wife what she thinks of her Creedy Carver chicken with leeks, kale and bread sauce – but she’s too busy devouring it to answer.
The Daily Mail’s hotel inspector says the Andaz London Liverpool Street is “all over the place” with indifferent food and inflated prices
“This is a Hyatt offering, which means that if you book on the telephone and ask questions you end up speaking to someone in Germany who has no idea if there’s parking nearby. ‘Hold the line please and I will get back to you… ’ Do the windows open? ‘Hold the line and I’ll get… ’ What food is served in the pub? ‘Hold the line and… ’
“The lobby and reception areas are modern but gloomy. We walk into Lady Abercorn’s and walk out again. Instead we eat in the brasserie where the acoustics are dreadful, the food indifferent, the prices inflated.We’re paying £175 room-only after rejecting the receptionist’s offer of breakfast for the reduced price of £50 for two. We’ll just have a coffee and croissant, but this turns out not to be possible.At weekends, when breakfast is taken in the ballroom, you either pay £28 per person for the buffet or go without.”