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Review of the reviews: what the critics say about London's Hawksmoor restaurant and others

29 November 2006

The Times, 25 November
Giles Coren is happy to find meat supplied by Ginger Pig at London's Hawksmoor restaurant and bar in the Spitalfields area of the capital

It's a cocktail bar and steakhouse, this place, which is apparently a popular combination in America, so we had some refreshing juleps and caipirinhas standing around watching the bar chappies throw tin cups and glasses around and then we sat down and had some steak. They do a hanger steak here, which they are at such pains to warn you off on account of its chewiness and gaminess (two qualities I rather admire in a piece of meat, if not in a fish or a service station sandwich) that I declined it. We had an assortment of bone-in sirloins and rib-eyes from the good old Ginger Pig longhorn herd, and the meat, well fed and hung long, was of the looked-for loveliness. It was perfectly done as well, grilled very hot and quick and then left to rest, and rest and rest some more (a steak is not ready until, from the telltale flicker of the eyelids, you can see that it has entered the REM phase of sleep). (Overall food rating: seven out of 10. Dinner for four with cocktails and wine, £227.93)

The Daily Telegraph, 25 NovemberWilliam Leith braves the car park of the Griffin Inn in Fletching, Sussex, on his way to a satisfying evening of gluttony

I got to the car park - no space at all. Backing out, I was suddenly boxed in by two, gleaming, predatory SUVs - I was far more worried about scratching them than being dented myself. Ah, I thought - the Griffin has been discovered. Anyway [my girlfriend and I] both loved the evening. I had a dish I keep seeing all over the place - rump of lamb, red in the middle and cut into tiny steaks. It was excellent, not at all cold or tough, which can be a problem. Here the lamb was warm and just chewy enough. You could still bite it cleanly apart with your teeth. It was on a bed of risotto, with bits of black cabbage and pumpkin, which made the risotto feel lighter and less starchy than you'd imagine. (Dinner for two, excluding service, £80)

The Guardian, 25 NovemberMatthew Norman heads off to X'ch L™ at Smithfield in the City of London

Every now and then in this job, the attention is drawn to a venture that sounds less like a restaurant than a parody of foodie pretension. You will imagine, then, my concerns on hearing of a Vietnamese-French newcomer presided over by a Norwegian chef whose first name is Odd. The food, however, was vibrant and, at times, superb, "fusion" seemingly little more than a synonym for upmarket, prettily presented or plain delicious. Against all odds, the elaborate main courses were even better than the simple starters. Roast duck breast was eight thick, pink, juicy slices of good meat served with pickled ginger in a dense, tamarind-infused gravy, but the highlight of the meal was the catchily described "whole fish marinated with pesto and fresh herbs, garlic and chives, with a mild chilli sauce and a tower of Vietnamese pickled vegetables" - an absolute classic, in which the nameless but perfectly cooked fish was yoked to a riot of strong but complementary flavourings. (About £15-20 a head at lunch; dinner with wine, £40-£50 a head)

The Independent on Sunday, 26 NovemberTerry Durack thinks that Tom Aikens's new all-day-eating London restaurant, Tom's Kitchen, hasn't quite got "back to basics"

The whole thing is immensely complicated. There are so many bells and whistles, it's cacophonic. There is a see-saw mix [on the menu] of high status foie gras terrine, cote de boeuf and baked sea bass, and low-caff burgers, Caesar salads and macaroni cheeses. This is what happens when British chefs go simple: it's either high table or junk food, and nothing in between. At least the French know how to do back-to-basics, and Tom Aikens knows how to do French. So, it is from the solid canon of French bistro cookery that the best dishes come. A Burgundian persillade of snails has six fat, fleshy molluscs tucked into their shells with snail trails of garlic, parsley and butter. It's flavour without too much fuss. (Dinner, about £100 for two, including wine and service)

The Sunday Telegraph, 26 November
Zoe Williams finds a little bit of Puglia at Secco in Newcastle

Top [starter] for my money was the agnello stracotto con aromi, an absolutely beautiful piece of lamb, cooked so long it probably fell off the bone sometime last season, yielding up a slow-braised sweetness entirely of the creature's own making. My main course, arrosto misto di pesce su la planch, arrived as promised: a slim fillet of red mullet, flash-fried to a straightforward but still wonderful crispness without, succulence within; a scallop; a big prawn - all unadorned but for a bit of salt. It worked brilliantly, but it worked mostly not because Newcastle is anywhere near Puglia, but because it's really near the sea. (Rating: eight out of 10. Three courses, £23)

Time Out, 29 NovemberGuy Dimond loves the food, but not the atmosphere, at Theo Randall at the InterContinental, London

Nearly a dozen staff greeted me in less than a minute, several offering to relieve me of my shopping bags and coat. Had I gone to the bathroom, I'm sure there would have been phalanxes of staff offering to assist me with my zip.The new restaurant is, in the way of the super-rich everywhere, in love with the idea of peasant food. The dishes are the same kind of rustic, mock-Tuscan, utterly delicious, but overpriced fare that I remember from a previous visit to the River Café. To start: some appetisers of toasted ciabatta, olive oil, a few nibbles and some of the freshest, most delicious buffalo mozzarella cheese I've ever tasted. It's all going terribly, terribly well, though we can't help feeling the place has all the atmosphere of a morgue. The Anjou pigeon is hand-fed, like the ones at Trafalgar Square. Maybe that's why it seems surprisingly fleshy with lots of meat on the breast, marinated then wood-roasted and presented on a pile of lentils that are stirred in with pancetta and chopped cavolo nero. We loved the food, all of it. (Meal for two, with wine, about £140)

Metro, 29 November
Marina O'Loughlin struggles to find love at Trinity,4 The Polygon, SW4

Adam Byatt is at the very worst, still better than the herd. What we ate at Trinity showed little slow-down on the competency front, but the brio still seems sucked out of Byatt. Take a dish I ordered specifically because I'd loved his previous version: pot-roasted quail with hazelnut gnocchi, cooking juices and sage. This beige little plateful struggles to imprint itself on my memory as much as it did on my tastebuds. ‘Weaselly' was my overwhelming impression. The chap who got the organic pig's head loved its squelchy porkiness. A full-flavoured and flawlessly turned-out John Dory with courgette beignets and fish soup was beautifully done but I felt this was a dish far better suited to summer. What else didn't I love? The anodyne quality of the place… there's an archness to the staff. If only everyone involved would extract the pokers from their arses and relax a little, then I might just love it.
Trinity, 4 The Polygon, SW4

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