The Caterer

Reviews: London's Drunken Butler, Aktar Islam's Legna in Birmingham and more

05 March 2019 by
Reviews: London's Drunken Butler, Aktar Islam's Legna in Birmingham and more

The Persian Sunday menu at London'sDrunken Butleris a magical mystery tour de force, says Marina O'Loughlin in The Sunday Times

And, oh, dear lord, the tahdig. If you've never had this emperor of rice dishes before, seek it out immediately: fragrant rice cooked in a heavy pan so it forms a dense, crunchy crust around itself. (Tah: "bottom", dig: "pot".) Hashemi's version is the best I've tried: sabzi polo (hectically herbed rice) so light and fluffy, its crust so bronzed and heady with butter that it floods the senses, head-spinningly good. This comes with the third wave of dishes: gheimeh, a warming casserole of lamb and yellow split peas, with a pleasing back note of sharpness, perhaps dried lime. And a roast chicken, little larger than a poussin and perfect for two. In fact, just perfect will do: this is sensational, burnished to golden, scattered with softened barberries and a mulch of spiced onion, its meat insanely juicy, its skin crisp … You must excuse me here: I'm having a bit of a moment.

Price: £55 for the Persian Sunday set menu per person

The interiors are pretty and the service warm and effusive at Aktar Islam's newest restaurant,Legnain Birmingham, writes Grace Dent in The Guardian - however, the food misses a beat

Dinner began with promise: great focaccia with aged balsamic, and complementary oysters dressed intricately with vinegary diced capers. No one in the kitchen could tell us what type of oyster, though, which is an answer that cast a shadow on the dishes that followed. Kitchens need to know what they've bought and are pushing out.

To clarify, Islam was not himself cooking that evening. An antipasto of smoked eel was breadcrumbed, which stodgily gilds that lily, and turned up on a thick "jam" of blackberries with a horseradish cream. It was neither hideous nor delicious; it simply existed. Some fine-quality bresaola appeared on a plate shielding an unattractive tartare of beef and truffle.

By now, my heart felt heavy. I have eaten a lot of celeriac cut into pasta ribbons this year, in many restaurants, and Legna's version was a slightly sickly affair. The "caponata", a ratatouille autopsy, was centred rather mystifyingly around two large lumps of stewed, unseasoned, peeled aubergine. The courses rattled on: salt-baked cod on another riff on ratatouille, then a tiny, inelegant panettone pudding that felt microwaved and would have left you feeling shortchanged if you'd bought it at M&S.

Price: about £40 a head; set lunch, £17 for two courses, £20 for three, all plus drinks and service. Score: food: 4/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 7/10


"Yeniweds underwhelming, occasionally disastrous dishes with the kind of in-yer-face pricing that gives the entire restaurant business a wretched name," writes The Observer‘s Jay Rayner of the restaurant in London's Soho

We get a small disc of beef tartare for £16, with a potato croquette filled with liquid egg yolk. It might have worked if the beef hadn't been minced to such a paste it could be embraced by someone without the benefit of their own teeth. It is served overly chilled. A kind of relief comes in a cheery dish of scallops with a spiced carrot purée and a dollop of sprightly herb sauce and walnuts. The scallops are well cooked, the sauces engaging. On the other, there are only two scallops and it's £17.

Ah yes, those damn prices. The nadir is the £21 charged for a huge slumping package of muddy-grey vine leaves filled with chickpeas, the sour, bile-ridden tang of labneh and more leaf mulch. I stare at the dish, then mutter to my companion: "We'd better get the vet in; that cow's not right." We try to eat it, really we do, but it's less food than a traumatic experience designed to be character forming.

Apparently, the star dish is the "roasted beef ribs, isot pepper, cumin, sourdough". It reads well, as it should for £26. I'll have to take their word for it on the roasting. What arrives are ravaged strands of the sort that come with long braising, seemingly mixed with quantities of sticky jus. The other flavourings are obscured. Beneath is a tombstone of now soggy bread. It's a Turkish dish, but one apparently from that bit of Turkey just to the west of the Pennines. It's the kind of thing a Lancashire pub would slap on the menu for a tenner and for which we'd all applaud. Nobody is clapping now.

Price: Starters £9-£17. Mains £21-£32. Desserts £9. Wines from £29


Ed Cumming of The Independent describes Berenjak in London's Soho as a loud, lively new entry where the air smells of meat and charcoal smoke and you can eat well for £35 a head

Our waiter insisted we begin the solid part of our meal with one of each kind of bread: a Taftoon and a Sangak. I couldn't tell you which was which, but they were hot out of the oven, pillowy inside and covered in sesame seeds. They are only meant as a tearable shovel for the mazeh dips, which followed them across the counter in little brass trays.

Ikask E Bademjoon comprised the flesh of a flame-blackened aubergine, stirred through with walnuts. Mast O Esfanaj was a ball of thick yogurt with spinach and more garlic than you might want on a Hinge date, but with a rich dairy sourness which suggested confidence in the chefs. On another trip I'd try the livers. We didn't get the hummus. Two people have told me it was "so-so", and isn't that the best a hummus can hope for?

Next the kababs. The individual elements of the Torki were difficult to discern but the overall effect was not unpleasant, in a late-night-who-cares kind of way.

Whatever the poutine police tell you, chips are never improved by being a soggy base layer for other sauces. Better was the Jujeh, chicken that had been flavoured and stained yellow by its saffron marinade, then charcoal-grilled until lightly charred on the outside but still plump and glistening with its own juices within.

The Financial Times‘ Tim Hayward finds "predictable things with unexpected brilliance" atL'Escargotin London's Soho

There is not a trace of innovation in a single item on the menu at L'Escargot, aside from a decently creative cocktail list, but that's because novelty is not the point.

The Roquefort, endive, pear and walnut] salad starts with a base of some of the smaller, sweeter leaves of red and white endive… The dressing has walnut oil and some sweet vinegar, which sets off the piquancy of the Roquefort, and the walnuts are so fresh they're damp with their own milk. The whole thing has been put together with precise balance and finest judgment and it is, Deo gratias, big enough to fill a washing-up bowl.

French onion soup is another trope that, on the face of it, is going to bore the pants off a neophiliac. Except that, with one sip of the deep broth, the colour and texture of something your nan would use to polish a sideboard, you are suddenly forced into reappraisal. Why - if a pho from a roadside truck can be life-affirming and a tonkotsu from a pop-up can inspire poesy - shouldn't a classic French style-stock that someone has nurtured for days be every bit as pleasing? On the first fat spoonful, a dirty little shiver of pleasure crawled up my spine.

It's glee-inspiring to see L'Escargot reawakening and reconnecting so comfortably with its own tradition. It's an unspoilt, luxurious, romantic environment in which to eat reliable food, made outstandingly well and served by skilled staff.

Price: starters £8-£18, mains £18-£39

TheWaterside Bistroin Shipley near Bradford has "a real touch of class", writes Giles Coren in The Times

The winter menu was exceptionally well balanced: five starters of which three were vegetarian with one fish and one poultry, and five mains featuring one veggie, two fish and two meat, plus the offer of more vegetarian and vegan options on request.

I had a couple of starters, a lovely rare pigeon breast (£7.50), full of gamey flavour, with a good crispy, spicy pigeon samosa (the chef might consider dusting it with icing sugar and calling it a pastilla for added poshness - although maybe the Indian reference is more relevant for Bradford) with cavolo nero and blobs of mushroom ketchup (the same stuff that I poncily called "duxelle" a few sentences ago - I'll have to get over meself), and also the bubble and squeak cake (£6), which was chunky and fresh tasting with some carrot for sweetness and colour and a perfectly done duck yolk on top with just a circle of the white left round it, with winter chanterelles and a white bean purée, all presented really, really prettily.

For my main, I had cute, rare, sweet noisettes of butter-poached local venison loin (£18) with a sweet carrot purée and red wine sauce that came with a shepherd's pie of braised leg (or possibly shoulder) meat. Not a little pie of the kind you used to get from the likes of Gary Rhodes alongside your posh meat in the 1990s, but a proper big old bubbling shepherd's pie in an iron skillet that you could feed a family with.

Now, normally I don't do pudding. But I just had the sense I'd have been missing out. So I had the Bakewell tart made to Paul's gran's recipe, which was warm and rich with terrific pastry, sitting on zigzags of redcurrant coulis with a pink sphere of ice cream on the top. A picture, it was.

This place has not just charm but a real touch of class. Good local ingredients, modern ideas, regional twists, the odd gentle joke (rhubarb and custard), first-class presentation, incredibly friendly service.

Price: £18 for two courses; £22 for three. Score: cooking: 7/10; service: 8/10; space: 7/10; total: 7.33/10.


The Telegraph‘s William Sitwell reviewsBrasserie of Lightat Selfridges on London's Oxford Street, the latest venue from Richard Caring's Caprice Holdings

The menu is big and blowsy, like an all-day brasserie's should be, except every dish has bells, or should I say crystals, on. So the sourdough is salt-crusted, the pumpkin soup is ironbark (I don't know what that is either), the dressing for the crab is lobster, the chicken dumpling comes with truffle… you get the picture.

I went for tuna carpaccio, which came in a citrus ponzu dressing. Actually, let's say swimming in, or washed away in a flood of… The tangy sauce simply became the dish. But the tuna was good, with rich dollops of wasabi mayo and some crunchy deep-fried stuff scattered on top.

We shared some excellent zucchini fritti too. The courgette sliced beautifully thin, with light batter fried in fresh oil, so they achieved that perfect degree of moreish crunch with just a hint of grease. A far cry from the worst type of Italian restaurant where the courgette is thickly chopped, fried in old oil that lingers in the mouth, and you almost need Swarfega to get it off your fingers. My spaghettini with lobster was similarly accomplished. The chilli and garlic didn't drown the soft, buttery lobster, which had been cooked to tender greatness.

I then went nuts on your behalf and ordered the 'chocolate bubble', a mixture of mousse, brownie, chocolate pearls and milk ice-cream that could have been a little too Ben & Jerry's for a posh gaff like this. In fact, it was an elegant lucky dip. Crunchy chocolate 'bubble wrap' studded with chocolate pearls surfed on the softest mousse, lightly sprinkled with texturally perfect choccy 'soil'. The brownie was not too rich, and the whole thing was cooled further by the ice-cream.


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