Still, he’s very upfront about any potential conflict of interest that might cloud his perception of newly opened Zheng, in Chelsea, even going so far as to provide a blended final score on account of his “relative closeness to the establishment.”
He does make it sound very good, all the same: “perfect” salt and pepper squid, “extraordinary” Crispy Cereal King Prawns, “wonderful” sambal seabass and “unctuous and ripe” roast duck all summing to “southeast Asian on a par with anything in the land.” A future Eater 38 candidate?
Meanwhile, over at The Sunday Times, Lisa Hilton takes time away from her day job — drowning puppies, probably, or blinding kittens — to rain all manner of Venice Biennale-level snobbery down on poor old Himalayan restaurant, Madame D, in Shoreditch.
We kick off with a nice long digression about “Deidre the Swedish sommelier” (hi, Deidre!), before shots are fired, pot-kettle-blackishly, at the “pompous conceit” of Madame D’s “invented ancestry”, how it “apparently substitutes for any kind of ability in the kitchen or effort in the décor.”
It gets worse, but I’ll spare you the gory details: it’s a pretty nasty hatchet-job. There is a grim irony in the fact that Marina O’Loughlin was the last high-profile critic to file a (very positive) review of this restaurant: this is a clear-cut case where “each to their own” simply doesn’t cut it. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to write prose like Hilton’s, let alone read it.
She even manages to shoehorn in a panning of Gunpowder, Devina and Harneet Baweja’s other restaurant: “the kale was inoffensively dreary, the chat actively horrible.” No arguments with that final clause, at least.
The Garden Café
Following the acrid nastiness of the Sunday Times review, Jay Rayner’s take on The Garden Café in Lambeth is positively delightful, a mug of warm milk after one of those Vietnamese bravado-drinks made from grain alcohol and snake bile.
Rayner celebrates the pleasing economy of the cooking — its “robust flavours”, its “restrained approach to the global larder” — and picks out some especially tempting combinations (grilled onions with nduja, yes please). His only criticism? He wishes it could stay open longer — currently everything shuts down by 5.30.
Whilst her colleague Fay Maschler takes a break (posting some jealous-making Instas in the process), Grace Dent carries the torch for the Evening Standard over to Darjeeling Express, in Kingly Court. She thrills to proprietress Asma Khan’s homestyle cooking, flagging a couple of especially essential must-dos — the beetroot raita, “fearsomely spiced” croquettes, the “outstanding” carrot halwa — within the regularly changing menu.
But it’s the broader story that’s every bit as interesting as the food: within this “bright, beautiful” room, Khan cooks alongside a brigade of female friends with very little by way of professional kitchen training behind them. It’s about as far from blokey, cheffy pretension as it’s possible to get.
But just what is “blokey, cheffy pretension” in the first place? It’s a question intriguingly raised by Marina O’Loughlin’s trip to Henrietta (off Covent Garden) for The Guardian. Ollie Dabbous is cooking in a “light, airy” setting a million miles away from the “brooding”, bathrooms-at-Berghain décor of his namesake restaurant; on the plate here — in stark contrast to his famous bistronomic take on mash and gravy, say — it’s Addisonian New Romanticism all the way.
It’s not all successful — “daft” pencil shaving-infused chocolate truffles are especially unwelcome — but in general things taste every bit as good as they look, especially a crab flatbread modishly accessorised with “a rainbow of blooms”.
A recap like this — written by a man, no less — is probably not the place to get into the real meat of the article, but it’s still worth dwelling briefly on the intriguing assertion that this represents “an antidote to the proliferation of heat-blasted, meaty, fatty, salty bro food”; the question of whether Dabbous is “deliberately targeting a female audience”. Are men really from lard, and women from verjus? Like I said: this is not the place. But don’t expect the question to go away.