Reviews: Robin Gill's the Yard, Bong Bong's Manila Kanteen and more

04 February 2020
Bong Bong's Manila Kanteen food

Jay Rayner of The Observer says Robin Gill's the Yard at the Great Scotland Yard hotel in London's Whitechapel is "the worst new restaurant from an acclaimed chef"

It's a head-scratcher. The Yard may well be the worst new restaurant from a critically acclaimed chef I have ever reviewed. Robin Gill has been widely praised for the good-value, boisterous cooking at the Dairy and Sorella in Clapham and for Darby's, a New York-inspired oyster and steak place close to the new American Embassy. I loved his now closed Paradise Garage. And now his name is all over this demonstration of the misguided in three courses. Then again, the restaurant is only described as being under his "guidance".

As ever, the money could be justified if it was all "praise be" and "hallelujah", and there are a couple of dishes that get the nod. There's a very jolly long-cooked pork jowl, pan- burnished, sticky-glazed and laid under a crisp crumb; a louche version of a Japanese tonkatsu breaded pork cutlet. It's £28. There's a clever chocolate mousse in a crisp pastry shell and a lemon custard tart with sticks of meringue and mascarpone ice-cream. Both feel like consolation prizes. Both are £9.50.

It's the vegetarian main that has me eyeing the knuckle-dusters; don't blame me, I'm not the one who put weapons in the dining room. It's a plate of doughy fried gnocchi like those dental swabs inserted between teeth and gum. They come with roasted cauliflower florets, leaves which are less bitter than we're quickly becoming, and that £26 price tag. It tastes of laziness and gross profit margin.

The main courses top out at £30, for two small pieces of monkfish with XO sauce, a condiment that makes me think lunch up the road in Chinatown would be delightful right now.

The bill returns and, because this is a hotel restaurant, as well as adding a 12.5% service charge of £27.50, they have left open a space for an extra tip. I decline to pay more – £82.50 each is already taking the piss and my bladder is completely empty. Would somebody mind calling the emergency services?

Price: starters, £14-16; mains, £26-£30; desserts, £9.50; wines, from £38

The Yard
The Yard

The Guardian's Grace Dent finds that Bong Bong's Manila Kanteen in London's Bethnal Green is a Filipino restaurant that refuses to play by the rules

At Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell's first restaurant, they intend to feed: pleasing bowls of aubergine kare kare (a curry of turmeric, coconut and peanut) and crisp pata (pork hock with liver sauce), daikon noodle salads, satay duck hearts on skewers and plenty of jasmine rice and adobo-glazed chicken wings.

Bong Bong's is not a stand-on-ceremony kind of place. Harking back to its street food era, it's a take your family and friends and get stuck in kind of joint. And, yes, it might get messy, so don't fret about dripping coconut milk or lime aïoli down your front. Johnson, who is of Filipino heritage and says that the food is inspired by his time in Manila, tells me that for his Sunday kamayan (feast) sharing plates, he has dreams of doing away with the cutlery altogether, because who needs it for soy'n'ginger ribs and adobo cauliflower?

There's a quietly bubbling sense of rebellion in the heart of each and every street food operator who opens a "proper restaurant". It's almost as if they've already seen the very best and very worst of human beings, which leaves them uncowed and slightly unflappable. Also, they refuse to play by known rules of restaurant conduct.

Bong Bong's is an object lesson in this. I can't say it's the best food I've eaten in 2020, but the place is warm-hearted and definitely weird, decked out with pot plants, plays Gil Scott-Heron and serves White Russians made with Milo chocolate and malt milk powder and Maltesers. It is childlike and slightly chaotic, but also very confident.

Price: about £20-£25 a head, plus drinks and service. Rating: food: 7/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 9/10

Bong Bongs Manila Kanteen
Bong Bongs Manila Kanteen

The London Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa describes Mei Mei near London's Borough Market as "truly breathtaking"

This tiny counter café from former Pidgin head chef and Michelin star-winner Elizabeth Haigh – a meticulous, loving riff on the thrumming ‘kopitiam' coffee shops that are an institution in her native Singapore – only has 14 seats, barely 10 items on its menu and precisely one table, parked beneath the gusting maw of an overworked outdoor heater. And its position, underneath the tooth-loosening clatter of a Borough Market railway bridge, can make you feel like the weary inhabitant of a panic-rented house on a Heathrow flight path.

But none of this matters. Because Mei Mei might be one of the best new operations of any size currently trading in the capital. It's a vividly expressed, generous and wholly addictive act of cultural celebration that punches wildly above its culinary weight.

The food (a tickbox menu that encompasses an all-day brunch and a few hawker market-derived specials) made everything else melt away. Fried carrot cake was a racy, bubble and squeak-like heap of flash-fried egg batter and softened, ghostly hunks of mooli, electrified by coriander.

Mei Mei is a concentrated showcase for a specific brand of cheap, fast Singaporean hospitality, presented without awkward fusion flourishes or nervous concessions to Western sensibilities. It may merely be an act of transition; a stop-off as Haigh edges towards a bigger, more polished operation. But it turns this professional voyage of discovery into something truly breathtaking.

Rating: ambience: 3/5; food: 5/5

Giles Coren of The Times says Circolo Popolare in London's Fitzrovia "looks like a bomb's gone off at a garden centre"

When Time Out magazine went so far as to describe Circolo Popolare as "the most atmospheric dining room in London", I thought maybe I should have a look.

Atmospheric? It looks like a bomb's gone off at a garden centre. The interior is the size of St Paul's Cathedral and they've done that ghastly 1970s suburban trattoria thing of "decorating" the place with bottles.

The bruschetta was wonderful, though. Rich and umami-filled, the vegan aïoli sharp and confident, the crispy onions on top a perfect complement. It was a many-layered mouth experience and nothing had had to die. Or even live.

Dunk's "pizza fritta" was okay, too, if crude. A puffy slap of dough with a splash of tomato sauce and some grated Parmesan. Warm, harmless. Our colleague Lisa had an "empanada con caponata" that looked like something from an Iceland dim-sum party plate and didn't get finished.

Coffee was a warmish double espresso with a thin, gappy crema. A Nando's espresso. Very hard to imagine an Italian drinking it without an enormous fuss. But then the owners of Circolo Popolare are not Italian, they are French. Perhaps the whole plan is to give France's faltering culinary reputation a boost by besmirching its neighbour's good name with a chain of dodgy Italians.

Price: £35 a head, plus alcohol. Rating: food: 5/10; service: 5/10; space: 2/10; score: 4/10

Liz Edwards of The Times finds the "slightly bonkers mix of decorative themes" of the newly opened Gyle hotel in London's King's Cross to be somewhat overthought

This is no cookie-cutter hotel-by-numbers job… The focal point, running across the back of the hotel's three converted 19th-century townhouses, is a bar decorated with steampunk teapots, a wall of Scottish bun moss, a fake-grass ceiling and a sit-in-me swing.

Sporrans on the wall, Scottie- dog cushions on the bed, Arran shower gel (moisturiser on request, oddly) and Highland cattle on the airline-trolley bathroom cabinets – kookiness and Scottishness are writ large in all 33 rooms. They are still pretty plush (robes are wonderfully soft) and cannily laid out, although the soundproofing isn't great. On the ground floor, thick drapes and green net curtains keep out street noise and light; they're a bit gloomy.

There's no restaurant, though you can order snacks from the whisky-focused bar, which is open 24 hours – charcuterie platters, Scotch eggs (from £5). Breakfast is a help-yourself affair of yogurt, pastries, fruit and warm bread.

Price: B&B doubles from £159. Rating: 7.5/10

The Gyle
The Gyle

Sherelle Jacobs of The Sunday Telegraph says that the Glass House health resort in Bulphan, Essex, feeds the demand for guests looking for life-enhancing reboots

Apart from its gruelling food menu, which is better suited to guests who are looking to drop a dress size, the Glass House retreat is hard to fault. The place smells like one giant Jo Malone candle, so that you don't so much walk as ethereally glide through the hallways. With a wooden spliced sculpture here, a gently psychedelic watercolour there, the light-touch decor has skilfully strong character. And, from the dusky, velvet sofa-cosseted lounge, to the bedrooms decked out in cool grey fabrics that contrast with white orchids, the interiors are almost scientifically engineered for deep relaxation.

The activities are outstanding. Mornings usually start with a glass of warm water with lemon followed by a crisp country walk, as the sun creeps up hopefully through the corn rows of the surrounding fields. After breakfast (not so much a helping as an Instagram-artful sprinkling of granola, in my case) there is usually an array of high-cardio morning fitness classes, from boxercise to toning and water aerobics.

Price: Two-day packages from £579

Glass House
Glass House

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