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Hubris Outstrips Execution at Flavour Bastard Says Critic Fay Maschler

Plus a look at the rest of last week’s restaurant reviews

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Flavour Bastard’s roast sweet potato with yoghurt, red onion, mint and togarishi popcorn
Courtesy Flavour Bastard

Flavour Bastard

So far the loudest voice trumpeting Flavour Bastard has belonged to none other than Flavour Bastard itself, with its shouty lapel-grabbing concept (tiny, small and large plates — sigh) and that name.

Fay Maschler is on hand to provide a quietly devastating rebuttal, an even more successful foray into formal inventiveness than her Jean-Georges review providing the conduit for a dissection not just of this very, uh, divisive restaurant but a whole mode of service. If the front-of-house is too matey for its own good, the food is just too darn full of its own inventiveness: with fermentation, poké and “meddled with” butter on offer, “every current menu trope” is present but not necessarily correct — dishes are adjudged variously “dun-coloured,” “wan,” and resembling “a boiled sponge.”

The whole chummy “you-guys” front of house style and Flavour Bastard's food offering seem bound by a similar imperviousness to what and how people might actually want to eat: it is surely only a very narrow subset of asbestos-palated foodies who are so desperate for stimulus and dinner-adjacent ROFLs that they will prove receptive to a menu championing “Flavours, Idea, Fun” and boasting outré combos like quinoa and cucumber pudding. Sometimes, places like this (and like this?) can come on a little too strong for most people's tastes (whether or not the chefs behind them want to hear it) — more often than not, “hubris outstrips execution.”

The Wigmore

Last week The Quality Chop House relaunched, with a new kitchen and refreshed menu. A quick look at the top / most recent Instagram posts from an event to mark it indicates that a third to a half of the photos are of one dish, the genuinely iconic confit potato with caviar. This combo is pretty good, but arguably it isn’t perfect: a little one-dimensional perhaps, maybe lacking in a bit of acidity and mouthfeel — certainly not as exceptional as some of the food produced by Shaun Searley’s kitchen.

The hidden point of that cool Laura Shapiro New York Times piece doing the rounds this last week is that Instagram is a context-free medium. And without context, it’s much easier to get a weird groupthink; the same people seeking out the same specific things at the same specific places only to say the same specific things about them. Which is how you get twenty borderline identical photos of the same combination of tuber and fish eggs (here’s another one!)

It’s not, like, dangerous or anything. It’s just a slightly inaccurate mirror that is being held up to the restaurant scene. Take The Wigmore — its haute-pub classics are currently the darling of any number of feeds but, as Grace Dent’s visit this week suggests, this may be a case of style over substance. Certainly the décor (“like Anouska Hempel had a go designing a Toby Carvery”) suggests an attempt has been made to do up the fairly ordinary; probably a legacy of the “fearful amount of covers” the kitchen is forced to bang out, when the food arrives, it, too, fails to deliver: Scotch egg is “pretty” but packs “inoffensive” flavours; veal-stuffed olives taste of “very little.” As Dent acknowledges, this is a place that nevertheless “appears to be making some people happy”; it remains to be seen whether this buzz is merited or yet another side effect of our ever-worsening addiction to one particular medium.

Shikumen

Giles Coren's review this week feels texted-in during the narrow window between the closing of the plane doors and the instruction to all passengers to switch their phones onto flight mode. BUT it's worth noting that there's another offshoot of west London dumpling shop Shikumen, except now it's in north London, but it's still quite good. Har gau and shui mai are “firm and trim”; pan-fried turnip cakes pack the requisite “richness and tang”; spare ribs are “perfect in texture, soft as marshmallow.” Also good are the margaritas, a surprising pairing for “accessible top-notch Cantonese” but not an utterly implausible one, especially in the context of a one-last-jolly dinner at the tail end of a long summer of Scott Dunn-enabled vacationing (it’s a tough life.) One caveat: the expansion of the Shikumen empire means that a lot of this stuff is probably made centrally, and likely cooked from deep-chilled or frozen. Not ideal for the customer in the market for cheung fun — but fine for anyone not craving something made à la minute and fresh.

Westerns Laundry

Freshness of produce isn't a problem at Westerns Laundry, though the freshness of John Walsh’s writing for The Sunday Times — currently at "mackerel left out in Qatari midday sun" levels — undeniably is.

What to make of the snoresome opening anecdote about how The Bleeding Heart Tavern got its name, or Walsh's apparent total unfamiliarity with the inner logic of the simile? Quail legs are “like umami lollipops,” which maybe makes sense. But to call sardines "smooth as a mariachi band" is to — impressively, really — comprehensively misrepresent both vehicle and tenor.

Still — praise where it's due for the Westerns Laundry lads; and even more praise where it's due for a man of Walsh’s, uh, experience broadening horizons to encompass the “intensely interesting” pleasures of natural wine. Perhaps less praise due to Walsh’s introduction of the information that "baba" means "granny" mere sentences before asserting that Westerns' is "the best baba I've ever had (and I've eaten Alain Ducasse's)." Time for a gif upgrade: farewell, old friend; hello, new one.

Straight and Narrow

Hello, Jay Rayner, too. Though sailing perilously close to gif keyboard territory with its admiring glances at Vaughn George Eunson’s “boisterous left hand,” his review is a pretty glowing appraisal of The Straight and Narrow, in Limehouse. It’s a restaurant that doubles as a Jazz bar, and “inside they are both playing and cooking up a storm”: British tapas in place of starters; “European-inspired, bistro cooking utilising British ingredients” for the mains; “exceptionally good” desserts to round things off. Not, perhaps, the sort of place to feature on a list of the so hot right now, or to threaten the crown of the truly essential, but “the neighbourhood restaurant you want around the corner.” Jazz-loving foodies on the other side of London from The Straight and Narrow needn’t fear, either – Rayner helpfully provides the hyperlink for a recording they can stick on the stereo wherever they’re eating; after all, “food and music are meant to go together.” He’s always got the customer’s back, has Jay — within reason, of course.

Quality Chop House

94 Farringdon Rd, London, Greater London EC1R 3EA +44 20 3490 6228 Visit Website

Westerns Laundry

34 Drayton Park, , England N5 1PB 020 7700 3700 Visit Website

Flavour Bastard

63-64 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 3JW, London,

Texture

34 Portman Street, London, W1H 7BY Visit Website

Shikumen

58 Shepherd's Bush Green, , England W12 8QE 020 8749 9978 Visit Website

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