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Review of the reviews… what the critics say about Bacchus in east London and others

25 October 2006

Metro, 25 OctoberMarina O'Loughlin finds excitement and original vision at Bacchus in east London

Does it taste good? Yes, it damn well does. The five-course tasting menu gives a good idea of what [head chef] Nuno Mendes's kitchen can do. My starter of sous-vide scallops "gelée" with green apple air, cauliflower purée and pine nuts was a dish to be cherished. The seafood turned into a curious collision between texture and taste and the cauliflower, both in the purée and a grainy little "couscous", became a truly luxury ingredient. Fatty, chewy pork jowl sat well with cinnamon oil and a pillowy langoustine; leek and rosewater purée and soy "paint" contributed to a meaty, fragranced and harmonious whole. And I loved the pudding, a dense squidgy roast pear financier (almondy sponge cake) with shards of candied lemon, the sting of black pepper oil and a sharp, pungent dolcelatte cheese ice cream. (Tasting menu for two with wine pairing, water and service £110)

The Guardian, 21 OctoberMatthew Norman is disappointed for a second time with a cathedral-attached restaurant, when he visits the Old Fire Engine House, Ely, Cambridgeshire.

Determined to like this restaurant for so many reasons, we looked at each other and nodded with pious satisfaction at the first mouthful, and at the second, and even the third. My friend might even have made it to the bottom of his bowl unbowed, because his chilled pea soup, although a little watery and insipid, was far from terrible. My "crayfish au gratin", on the other hand, exploded the pretence by the fourth forkful. It wasn't really au gratin at all, but a sort of cheese bake, the dish cooked for so long on such a high flame that the cheese - possibly Cheddar or Gruyère; though without DNA testing, there was no knowing - had lost its integrity and its taste, what flavour it had being a rancid, greasy tang that obliterated the shellfish.
Rating: 5 out of 10. Price: £45-£50 a head for three courses with wine.

The Sunday Telegraph, 22 October.Zoe Williams eats at the Hand & Flowers, Marlow, renowned for its fish and chips, but mistakenly orders gnocci instead.

There followed the fabled cod and chips, only not for me. Mine was the pan-fried calf's liver with beetroot purée, gnocchi and sage butter (£15.75). It was like being in a marriage with young children. I was so determined to love it, but the harder I tried, the more I couldn't; the promised "pink" liver was actually "grey". The sage I think had had the wisdom to avoid the whole plate, leaving just the butter, and the gnocchi stuck my mouth together. Well, gnocchi is wont to, that's part of its charm. But you really don't want you mouth stuck together when it also contains some overcooked liver.
Rating: 6/10. Price £32 for three courses.

Time Out, 24 OctoberGuy Dimond goes badly wrong at the experimental Bacchus, Hoxton, London N1

The dish called "fresh calamari linguini blanco y negro, black paella paint, candied garlic and lemony mayonnaise sponge" was intended to look impressive but to our eyes looked like a make-up bag tipped on a plate. And it was one of the better dishes - the strips of squid were tender and appealing, even though the black smear of "mascara" on the plate added nothing but visual effect, and the candied garlic was superfluous. Another starter of "rabbit mousse in potato leaves with a fluid centre" wasn't recognisable as any of its constituents, though I did identify the cherries marinated in cassis syrup with hazelnuts and seed sprouts. But what, I wondered, is the point of a dish like this?
Rating: 2/6. Price: Meal for two with wine and service: around £100.

The Sunday Times, 22 OctoberRod Liddle experiences the result of fusion food between two unlikely contenders, the US and the Japanese at London's new West End restaurant Kobe Jones.

At Kobe Jones, the collision is at its worst in a main-course dish entitled beef katsu - a vast mountain of dead ruminant, deep-fried in thick batter and marooned in an ocean of glutinous, bile-hued sauce redolent of lemon washing-up liquid to which six tubs of butter have been added. It is a truly appalling dish, the sort of thing that might have been concocted by an educationally subnormal Wisconsin farm hand who could trace his ancestry back to Adolf Hitler - and it will set you back £24. If you were to judge Kobe Jones solely on its extortionately priced main courses, you would consider it an absurdity and an outrage: Chicago Meatpackers fare at Heston Blumenthal prices.
Rating: 3/5.

The Scotsman, 21 OctoberJohn Davidson gets food poisoning at tapas restaurant Nova in Edinburgh.

There's something decidedly disturbing about a restaurant so close to the centre of Edinburgh that can't find more than five diners on a Thursday evening. But I followed my companion to a window table and comforted myself that no-one can go far wrong with tapas. Like most meat that's been baked till its juices run not clear but right off the premises, this trial-size sample of lamb initially had no taste whatsoever. I chewed and chewed, wondering whether I'd been served a piece of chair leg rather than any animal part… until, that is, I began to worry there might be something vaguely toxic about this meat, and decided to resist any temptation to try a second bite. The lamb helped me achieve a dramatic weight loss through a three-day programme of involuntary bulimia.
Price: Dinner for three excluding drinks £64.90

The Independent, 21 OctoberThomas Sutcliffe is happy to come up for air after visiting Korean restaurant Asadal in Holborn, London.

A sesame-dressed beef fillet is cooked on the central barbecue in a way that looks like an object lesson in meat vandalism. The marbled slices, frozen solid when they arrive, are pressed on to the griddle by the waitresses while it is still heating up and then turned repeatedly until they are defrosted, leaking their juices and a uniform grey. Oddly, once smeared with soya bean paste and wrapped, Peking duck style, inside a floppy leaf of butter lettuce, they actually taste pretty good. This and a dish of meat dumplings, fried to a brittle gold on one side and glutinously pallid on the other, are probably the best dishes we eat. Down in the bunker you have no idea what's going on in the outside world, but by the end of the meal, we're happy to climb the steps and take our chances.
Price: £71 for four including service

Independent on Sunday, 22 OctoberTerry Durack savours some culinary masterpieces at Rochelle Canteen, in a facility for artists in east London.

The owners of Rochelle Canteen are Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold, who continued to run the French House Dining Room in Soho when their husbands Fergus Henderson and Jon Spieteri left to start St John. Adding to the St John connection is the presence in the kitchen of chef Kevin McFadden from Bread and Wine. A big thick raft of grilled sourdough is slathered with an autumn-brown jumble of buttery, fleshy ceps (master race of the fungi world), parasol-pretty chanterrelles, nutty girolles and their oozy, parsley-flecked juices (£7). The flavours keep on coming long after I get my seven quid's worth. I also love a big, messy, juicy plate of stewed salt cod with white beansand tomatoes (£9). Only real professionals know how to turn out great food at a great price like this. It's the amateurs who try to copy them that you have to watch out for.
Rating: 15/20. Price: £40 for two, not including service, BYO wine)

The Telegraph, 21 OctoberJan Moir finds stylish and thoughtful cooking at a re-vamped Odette's in Primrose Hill, London.

I have to say I really do like Bryn William's food. He represented Wales in the Great British Menu competition and his winning dish of pan-fired turbot with cockles and oxtail is also on the menu here. He somehow manages to pull together seemingly disparate ingredients - white fish, dark meat and shellfish - into a mellow whole, in this instance with a soulful unifying stock. Tonight we have the six-course tasting menu which consists of scaled down, down, down versions of the following dishes, also available on the main menu: scallops roasted with ginger and served with pumpkin; ballotine of quail with celeriac, apricot and walnut dressing; roast loin of venison with spiced pear and a bitter chocolate sauce; plus a cheese course and pudding. It's all very good yet tasting menus can often be curiously unsatisfying and, in this instance, the paucity of the portions seems more extreme than is strictly necessary.
Dinner for two excluding drinks and service £80. Tasting menu £55

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