What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

16 May 2011 by
What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

The Times
14 May
Giles Coren enjoys immaculate service and skilful cooking at Phil Howard's two-Michelin-starred Square, London W1, but adds that he finds it hard to get real joy from this sort of procession
But this food was immaculately done, from start to finish. The spring vegetable salad with goats' milk purée was wonderfully delicate and suggested that I might, just might, make it through the eight subsequent courses. Next up was a light spring minestrone with Dorset crab that Trevor thought was bland - but in whose plainness I rejoiced, thinking again of my chances of making the finish line. Then a sauté of Scottish langoustine with sublime Parmesan gnocchi (I think this was the dish that Trevor, in true Mummy Bear style, thought was "too hot"), and then a foie gras terrine (of course) and then a roast fillet of sea bass with lemon and thyme butter, new-season garlic and morels that was standout stunning and served with the best potato crisps you'll ever eat: translucent and shimmering and starchy-salty-staggering. For me, just a big plate of that and a nice big glass of the Meursault would have been perfect.
Score: 6/10 (Cooking 8/10)
Price £805.50 for four, including two bottles of wine
The Square review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>

The Sunday Times
15 May
AA Gill says the food at the St John Hotel, London WC2, may not offer precise flavours but its heart is in the right place
Pudding was a burnt prune custard, crème brûlée with prunes mixed in. Not an improvement on either, it gave the egg a slimy texture. The brown sugar and praline ice-cream was nice. A chocolate pot was closer to Nesquik than heaven. Best of all were the biblically hot madeleines - and, at £4 for the half dozen, the best value. Henderson appeared at the table, beaming, seraphic, arms outstretched in supplication and crucifixion, emoting warmly in tongues. He is a remarkable and admirably good man, a prophet of English cuisine, an inspired and inspiring feeder of souls. St John and all its many, many acolytes and apostles have changed the way we sit at table, and changed the way the rest of the world thinks of our food. In truth, this kitchen is not the best advocate of the message. It's well intentioned, its heart and all its other organs are in the right places, but its seasoning isn't. The flavours are smudged and imprecise. The dishes aren't clear, or doctrinal enough. And a lot of it is decent, but righteously boring. But then I can't not wish it God speed, and a safe passage here in the stew of heathens and sinners, the Sodom and Gomorrah of London. Even when it's not at its best, St John is still on the side of the angels.
Score: 3/5
Price: £88 plus drinks
St John Hotel review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>

Daily Telegraph
14 May
While Matthew Norman finds brutally minimalist decor but a superbly rich menu at St John Hotel, London WC2
"I can't remember relishing food like this in ages," enthused my friend as the plates were cleared, and the cooing and oohing continued over two main courses presented with rustic simplicity and without a shred of fuss. His Duroc pork chop (a very fancy porcine breed) served with turnip tops had a luxuriously fatty taste, yet despite describing it as "stunning", he daintily left some scraps on the bone. Why do people do this? I grabbed it and gnawed like a deranged caveman. To put Henderson's kitchen proconsul Tom Harris to the ultimate test, I ordered something I have loathed for 40 years. Here, veal tongue was sensational: incredibly melty without being too squishy, mellow without being bland, its rich sweetness drawn out by beetroot and offset by sharp pickled walnut. Every dish was in perfect balance, every ingredient tasted purely and vibrantly of itself, only more so. Harris is clearly quite a star himself, and his puddings were predictably gorgeous. My friend felt about ginger as I used to about tongue, but was mad about a ginger loaf with cider caramel, as well as a two-tone chocolate terrine with Armagnac ice-cream.
Score: 8/10
Price: Three courses with wine and coffee, £50-£60
St John Hotel review in full >>

The Sunday Telegraph
15 May
Zoe Williams says Yotam Ottolenghi's new Soho restaurant Nopi, London W1, does not live up to her expectations of the chef
Ottolenghi's schtick, as I understand it, is spanking freshness, brilliantly vivid ingredients sprinkled on just ahead of time. That's what makes his cooking such a faff, and so delicious. This dish was a bit fatty, the walnut salsa was waxy and, again, underseasoned, and the pomegranate molasses dressing was out of step, too zingy for the rest of this sleepy dish. Worse still, though, was the "Asian slaw" on the side of my brisket croquettes (£9) - long strips of root veg, parched and dying on the plate, like the breakfast from a wedding that had been extremely fashionable, but that you'd missed by many hours. The croquettes were quite nice, but my enjoyment was marred by the feeling that they were crying out for a delicious side of coleslaw, with a punchy dressing, a nice crunch or even, for the love of God, some basic moisture, a bit of salad cream.
Score: 6/10
Price: Three savoury dishes, plus pudding £35.25
Nopi review in full >>

The Independent on Sunday
15 May
Lisa Markwell says if you're caught in the maelstrom of Oxford Street's shopping hell, the Riding House Café, London W1, offers respite

Do they need to say there's a New York feel to the place? It's now said so often that I wonder whether, by osmosis and the explosion of gastropubs in NYC, we can assume both sides of the Atlantic have merged. Anyway, the menu's the thing: there's a deal of good things on offer - from chorizo hash browns to spiced whiting to steaks to rack of pork - once you're past the small-plate bit (which I daren't comment on, for fear of boring myself I've banged on about it so much). I'll say just this - a place that sees at least 20 walk-ins a night in search of cocktails and some bits and bobs to soak them up is the ideal venue for little plates everyone's forks can fight over. Me, I'm in the restaurant bit, about to plunge a steak knife into today's special, a 6oz fillet with Béarnaise sauce, thin-cut crisps and a cursory grilled tomato (£25). No, it's not original, but sometimes (well, almost always when I'm in W1 and have had the lifeblood drained out of me) I just want a decent steak and chips.
Score: 6/10
Price: About £100 for two including wine
The Riding House Cafe review in full >>

The Guardian
14 May
Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social is fun, informal and customer-friendly, the polar opposite of what we've come to expect of "fine dining". And it's also properly brilliant, says John Lanchester
The cooking carries on this theme of enjoyment and fun. That might sound self-evident - shouldn't all restaurant food be fun? - but there's too often something anxious and strained about ambitious cooking. Atherton's food isn't like that; it has a playfulness that is one of the hardest things for a cook to bring off. One of the starters, for instance, is a Full English Breakfast - in practice, a slow-cooked (and just-cooked) egg on top of a vivid tomato sauce accompanied by croutons and emphasised by the dark undernote of mushrooms underneath. It tasted like a cooked breakfast, while also tasting and looking like an elaborate restaurant dish - quite a trick. Even better was another starter of chopped squid and cauliflower, where the two white al dente ingredients blended into each other in such a way that it was hard to tell which was which; the dish was taken to an even higher level by a sauce of dark, roasted squid juice that looked like a clearer, more flavourful version of squid ink. It was sublime.
Price: A la carte, about £130 for two with drinks and servicePollen Street Social review in full >>

The Observer
15 May
Jay Rayner says Spuntino, London W1, the third venture from the team behind Polpo and Polpetto, is the capital's best Brooklyn diner

You don't need to be drunk to eat at Spuntino, but it helps. Everything about the place - the food, the fully inked staff, the u-shaped counter-top all the better for slumping upon - is engineered for people who've downed a skinful. I would describe it as effortlessly cool, were it not for the obvious effort that has clearly gone into achieving the effect: the distressed, glazed tiled walls, the way the low-wattage lights dangle, the seemingly anonymous frontage with the name scribbled off to one side. There is no telephone number. They do not take reservations. You have to know what it is to know what it is. By rights, therefore, I should absolutely hate this place, like I hated those kids at school who made drainpipes look good, when they made me look like Max Wall. But I don't, and that's because the food, most of which costs about £5 a go, delivers on its promise.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £80Spuntino review in full >>

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