Welcome to the weekly round-up of the national critics’ restaurant reviews by Oliver Thring.
‘The dishes never quite came together’ for Tracey Macleod at Edinburgh’s annoyingly-named 21212. Paul Kitching’s food is ‘stimulating and frustrating in equal measure’: a dish of sea bass arrived cluttered with sweet potato, chorizo, hazelnuts, dried basil and several more unidentified ingredients. Though there are occasional ‘hits of flavour’, the chef’s ‘eccentricities’ are ‘challenging’.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester was ‘good and sporadically brilliant,’ says Matthew Norman. Michelin bumped the place up to three stars in the last bout, and though the food is ‘beautiful to the eye’ it isn’t quite as ‘memorable to the tastebud’. The signature, a chicken soufflé with lobster and sweetbreads, was an ‘expression of genius,’ while a variant on tournedos Rossini was ‘delicate, but a touch forgettable’. Puddings are ‘irksomely named’ (‘The Girl From Ipanema,’ anyone?), but overall this was a ‘great evening’.
The Artichoke, Old Amersham, is a ‘deft mix of olde worlde and crisp newness’, says Lisa Markwell. An amuse of pineapple soup with coconut ‘should be too sickly but isn’t,’ while a starter of curried scallops with pickled carrot is ‘sumptuous’. Mains are all ‘perfectly balanced’ and puddings ‘exemplary’; the place is ‘serious without being pompous’.
Guy Dimond is at The Empress of Sichuan, on the site of the unlamented Keelung. ‘Sichuan is flavour of the moment in London’, he accurately says. The food is ‘mixed,’ though: ‘bear’s paw tofu’ was ‘excellent’ but dan dan noodles were closer to ‘linguine bolognese’. Dimond intriguingly mentions a ‘mystery blogger’ at a nearby table ‘boasting about his blogging contacts and his love of Chinese food’. Who can he be?
Wheeler’s of St James’s ‘delivers,’ says a surprised Marina O’Loughlin at Marco Pierre White’s latest. The room is ‘dark’, but staff are ‘incredibly friendly and helpful’. Crab bisque is the ‘purest essence’ of the creature, calamari are ‘greaseless’ and ‘golden’, and chips are ‘triple-cooked, fat beauties’. It’s the next-best thing to Scott’s.
The ‘browny-beige’ carpet and chairs of The Bingham in Surrey left Fay Maschler feeling like she was ‘sitting in a mushroom’, but her meal sounds better than OK. A mackerel tartare amuse with beetroot purée was ‘coarse and earthy’; cauliflower risotto was a ‘masterful assembly’ and passion fruit curd was ‘notable’.
A. A. Gill offers a touching if faintly patronising review of Milan, somewhere deep in the wilds of Northumberland. The menu is an ‘eclectic grab from around the TV and magazine world’, featuring everything from hoi sin duck pizza (viz. the horror at Fire and Stone), to chicken breast stuffed with haggis, or puttanesca (à la Jamie Oliver) with tuna. The restaurant ‘serves a community with good food and an occasion,’ he says: it gives ‘local people what they want without telling them what they should have.’
Jasper Gerard, at The Royal Oak in Kent, is the delighted recipient of a ‘warm’ and ‘charming’ reader’s letter – but once again he’s silent on the deluge of emails he must have received over Underhillgate. Local scallops with a Chinese-style seasoning have a ‘plump juiciness’, lamb’s liver is ‘delightfully tender’ and treacle tart is ‘fabulous’. It’s a ‘great little boozer’, if somewhat empty.
‘Of course you don’t go for the food,’ says Zoe Williams at Supperclub, a restaurant coupled unhappily with performance art, and not somewhere I’ll be rushing to. She and her guest both had sea bass: the fish was inconsistently cooked, and a celeriac and apple soup was ‘stylish, lemony and buttery’ but can only have cost the kitchen ’25p’. ‘It’s not great,’ she says limply.
Giles Coren reckons Galvin La Chapelle to be ‘one of London’s grandest restaurants’. The bigger room is ‘cinematically fancy,’ while the café is better for a ‘quick scoff’. In the latter, squash risotto was ‘great’, and pissaladière was ‘lovely, crisp, dry’. The place is doing ‘raging business’ and is ‘brilliant, original’ and ‘top-end.’
And MiMi Aye of Meemalee’s Kitchen has a terrific meal at Launceston Place. The ‘lighting is perfect,’ the atmosphere ‘relaxed’. Venison tartare was ‘explosion of flavour,’ a ‘pleasingly traditional’ stargazey pie looked ‘gorgeous’ but was ‘too sharp and pungent,’ while a deconstructed Waldorf salad was ‘refreshing’ and ‘thrilling’. Puddings are all ‘ruddy magnificent’.