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Reviews: Jay Rayner finds Gridiron at Park Lane’s Como Metropolitan hotel falls short; while Grace Dent finds hype may be setting the bar too high for Din Tai Fung in London’s Covent Garden

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Reviews: Jay Rayner finds Gridiron at Park Lane’s Como Metropolitan hotel falls short; while Grace Dent finds hype may be setting the bar too high for Din Tai Fung in London’s Covent Garden

The Observer‘s Jay Rayner finds Gridiron at Park Lane’s Como Metropolitan hotel falls short of the sample menu that had him “sat at my desk, pawing my mouse and trying not to dribble”

Gridiron is a case of so nearly but not quite. It really is all but impossible to disguise the hotel side-room location. It’s not helped by the route to the loo down a gloomy, winter-cold stairwell. There’s also the punchy pricing which seems to be the words “What did you expect on Park Lane?” in numerals. The wine list has jolly section headings, such as “lush whites”, “big gorgeous reds” and “pinot and friends” but nothing under £29.

The scallop dish on the specimen menu has, sadly, been replaced by a scallop with smoked roe and paprika butter. It’s odd and underwhelming. What looks like one cat paw-sized scallop, sliced into four for £12, seems to have been steamed to flaccid. The orange-coloured butter sauce is underpowered. I throw enough salt at it to distress a cardiologist, and the whole thing improves markedly.

Even so, it’s bested by a single leek which has been burnt whole over the flames. Those singed outer leaves have been opened up to reveal the soft, sweet, green innards, which have been dressed with pistachios and a lightly acidic beurre blanc.

Happily, Tunworth mash with trotter and crackling really is all kinds of everything. It reminds me of aligot, the mash sodden with the likes of Gruyère or raclette until it goes stringy when spooned. This is aligot with added outrageousness and intent. I dredge at the potato with shards of crackling, scooping up mash with cubes of long-braised trotter in a lip-smacking jus. It is one edible Peter Greenaway movie: rich, deep and intense. This is what I came here for.

Price: snacks and starters: £7-£25; mains: £20-£40; desserts: £8-£9; wines: from £29

gridiron


The Times‘ Julia Brookes is impressed by the £85m facelit of the once “gloomy old grande dame” on Russell Square, now relaunched as the Kimpton Fitzroy London

The 334 rooms and suites are cool, calm and comfortable, thanks to the interior designer Tara Bernerd & Partners and a glossily neutral colour palette. Singles and “urban” doubles are tiny, however, and should be swerved in favour of superior or deluxe rooms, which barely cost more. Beds have custom-made, dreamy mattresses and the marble bathrooms are beautiful (this was the first hotel in London with all en suites).

The main restaurant, Neptune, is full of fin de siècle, peach-hued frothiness and serves luscious seafood platters, as well as meat and fish cooked on a wood-fired grill. My butterflied mackerel on a bed of red peppers (£14) was superb and the Spanish cheesecake (£7) that followed was luscious. The only disappointment was that the natural wines by the glass were a bit insipid.

Room rates are dynamic (book early) and are generally a steal for a hotel of such a high standard in this area.

Price: Singles, from £161; doubles, £212. Score: 8.5/10

Principal Hotel Russell Square London
Principal Hotel Russell Square London

In his first review for The Telegraph after resigning from Waitrose Food magazine for joking about killing vegans, William Sitwell visits Wulf & Lamb in Chelsea, London, with “vegan mentor” Selene Nelson – at whom his comments were directed

As this place prides itself on meat alternatives – surely not quite the point, but there we are – I order the Wulf Burger, chargrilled broccoli and mac and cheese. Cheese, you ask? Yep, made from coconuts, but it could be sprouts for all I care.

The ‘burger’ is a reheated (yes, I promise) concoction of dried nothingness – seitan, which is gluten extracted from wheat and first appeared in the sixth century. I wish it hadn’t.

It comes with ‘roast’ wedges, except they aren’t; just reheated, flabby sweet potato. The broccoli, overcooked and limp, is covered with some nutty dust. And, oh my, the mac and something: again it didn’t strike me as freshly cooked – just old and tired, not deep and warming.

“Honestly,” says my distraught VM, “It was so much better the last time I came.” I’m not brave enough to try the ‘tiramisù’ made with cream from almonds, or the vanilla ‘ice-cream’, made from cashews. So, instead, sip some very decent green tea.

Price: around £40 without alcohol for lunch for two


Writing in The Guardian, Grace Dent skips the queue and finds hype may be setting the bar too high for Din Tai Fung in London’s Covent Garden

We ordered the classic pork bao, in delicate, accomplished, neatly pinched dough with 18 tiny puckers. To taste, they’re pleasantly inoffensive, neither obscenely soupy nor intensely flavoured. We took the pale green, vegetarian jiaozi, which are pretty to look at and filled with brown, umami-flavoured mulch. A side of black, waxy, soy-drenched wood-ear mushrooms with ginger in vinegar were peculiar yet compelling.

We wanted the prawn and angled gourd, but there was none. We wanted crispy won ton, but there was none of that, either. Almost everything fried on the menu was unavailable, as were all the desserts – the sweet steamed buns filled with red taro or chocolate lava, or any of the jellies, rice or mango puddings. This, I mused, might be a handy thing for one of the managers, of which there are about 17, to go and tell the people queueing for five hours outside.

Here is the rub about hype: there would be nothing at all wrong with Din Tai Fung if you popped in one day, unbesmirched by pre-bluster and expecting nothing. In that case, you’d slurp the dumplings, make a crisp, delicious golden prawn pancake disappear and perhaps a bowl of wobbly won tons in chilli oil, maybe even some bland, white noodles in a puddle of spicy sauce, and leave feeling pleasantly sated. You would observe the aesthetically splendid bowl of prawn and egg fried rice with some gratitude for your lot as a fed, watered, sheltered human being. But, no, you were caught up in hype, so now you can’t accept anything less than being shot in a rocket to the Cantina bar in Star Wars, where the dumplings are served by magical unicorns that lick the oldness off your face between plates, leaving you more youthful by the time the bill arrives. Anything less than that is a letdown.

I will return for pudding when the hype fades, the influencers get bored and the buzz moves on in no more than 12 weeks. Trends come and go, but fickleness never goes out of fashion.

Price: about £30 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 4/10; atmosphere: 5/10; service: 6/10

din-tai-fung


Giles Coren of The Times takes Oxford University paper The Cherwell’s food critic out for lunch – discovering “a perfect bistro” in the city’s Pompette

They have a strong charcuterie game here. Slices of the only rare breed mortadella in the world were ineffably silky and light, curled onto a small pretty plate with a handful of caperberries.

I had a dish of snails with wild mushrooms, garlic, parsley, red wine and shallots in which the molluscs, the waiter informed me, would be cooked very lightly and remain soft. The pretty, wintery plateful was indeed of a different order from the usual gritty snot monsters you get in six little shallow graves on so many French tables. Here, the guys had a bit of life left in them, a bit of – for want of a better word – slime, so that after all the sleek, bosky flavours there was a glutinous follow-through that was startling and quite seductive.

My main was a nailed-on stonker: half a poulet au Riesling, all golden and creamy and tangy and meaty, on a pile of firm, nutty spätzle and chopped mushrooms. The lovely sommelier brought me out a glass of the wine it was cooked in, which was great fun, though the carafe of mid-priced Morgon he selected was obviously a better match. And his chosen Vouvray at the start was also a winner – all of these organic and “natural” but still most definitely beautiful wines, not the grim, cidery facsimiles these “low-intervention” wineries can sometimes trick you into swallowing.

Price: £50 with wine. Score: cooking: 8/10; service: 9/10; for Oxford: 10/10; total: 9/10


In the London Evening Standard, Fay Maschler finds another example of the “posh Indian” scene in Kutir in Chelsea, London, – but doesn’t find consistency

As this is the start of a brand new and, we hope, better year, I will concentrate on what did work well. Little vegetarian cakes of that street snack aloo tikki – based on spiced potato garnished with tamarind and mint chutney – and dhokla made with chickpea flour accompanied by a graceful flavour dance of sweet honey and sharp chilli, provide a diverting introductory skirmish, but at £8 each embellish a bill that mounts up eagerly.

Quail naan, the bread topped with scrambled quail eggs and shavings of truffle, is nice in a novel way. Contrasting crisply deep-fried aubergine slices with spongy scallops – as the tempura squid rings offset stone bass in another assembly – is a fine idea, but the tepid serving temperature detracts.

Nargisi kofta – the Indian riposte to Scotch eggs – would be even better with more minced lamb wrapped around the egg. The advertised garnish of bone marrow floats darkly on the spicy sauce in a puny little bone, presumably from a lamb or kid.

Score: 3/5

nargisikofta_kutirchelsea_photocred_stuartmilne

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