The big story this week was of course the news — subtweet-hinted in this very column, painting nails emoji — that Marina O’Loughlin would be stepping into Ed Balls’ clodhoppers on a permanent basis as the full-time restaurant critic for The Sunday Times.
This is not just a good call from Eleanor Mills et al: it’s both excellent and the only conceivably correct one. And it does open up all sorts of intriguing possibilities, both in the critic job market — John Walsh to The Guardian on a free, anyone? — and at The Sunday Times itself, where a “Fuck-the-Tories” necklace is more likely to scan as a frank expression of sexual preference than a token of political dissent.
But all that is to come! For now, at least, it’s back to self-professed “bastard turncoat” O’Loughlin’s current beat, and on to The Wigmore, which last appeared in this column a mere fortnight ago, where Grace Dent took a fairly pronounced dislike to it.
This time around, the reception is much warmer: this is pub grub “reimagined by angels” (albeit ones that could pay their staff more equitably.) There is a “behemoth” of a cheese toastie oozing “excellent aged cheddar”; there is “a prince among pies”, described as “proper, with sides and a bottom” and “slumpy where it needs to be.”
It’s not all immaculate: some of the prep work is shoddy; some of the seasoning is excessive; some stuff seems “designed more for social media than palates.” But really, as pubs go, this is “as far removed from Wetherspoons as it’s possible to be.” A definite upgrade, then, as captured in a resounding closing statement: “I know absolutely where I’d rather be. Don’t bother @ing me.” If this is her last Guardian column, that’s certainly one way of signing off.
O’Loughlin, of course, is currently enjoying a large chunk of her newly-minted Murdoch money in Ibiza with none other than Fay Maschler (the bidding war for the TV rights starts now.) This means it’s David Sexton’s turn again at the Standard; he uses the opening of his review of Cubé to rail against the horrors of supermarket sushi.
Unfortunately, not everything at chef Osamu Mizuno’s new opening is a convincing argument for the superiority of the properly made Japanese food: miso soup is “fair rather than ravishing”; the texture of some braised beef with burdock is “challenging” to Sexton’s palate; Mentai renkon cheese is an absolute “shocker.” But there are some highlights in there, too: aburi salmon carpaccio is “delectable”; tofu with watercress and truffles “delightful,” rich in “umami yumminess” (note to all critics: nope.)
As the three stars Sexton awards would suggest, it’s a bit hit-and-miss, really: “it would, with conservative ordering for conservative eaters, be very easy to have a fine time here”, he suggests, without really sounding like he had an especially fine time himself. Possibly one to watch, but in a city where innovative, interesting restaurants (including ones serving sushi) are popping up all over the place, it’ll be hard to stay patient for long.
Among the weekend supplements, both Jay Rayner and the latest Sunday Times Make A Wish Foundation winner are out of town, so it’s only The Times that carries a London-focused review. Giles is off on yet another jolly, and it’s his sort-of-boss, Tony Turnbull, who steps up to the plate with a review of an all-day dining concession tacked on to a Burberry megastore just off Regent Street, which he visits with his family en route to the Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy.
The menu is about a tastefully, facelessly, ruthlessly middle class as that introduction suggests: cheese croquettes with shallot purée packing “saltiness, sweetness and crunch in every perfect mouthful,” smoked salmon with pickled cucumber that is “sweet and sour in all the right places,” Sutton Hoo chicken salad that “stands out for its restraint.” Sprinkle in a dad joke or two (Bertha is a woman’s name and also the brand name of a type of wood-fired oven, haha!); season judiciously with just a soupçon of snobbery (“lobster needs a bit of decent PR now that it’s knocked out for a fiver as a Christmas come-on at Lidl”), finish up with a final paragraph that does not so much conclude the piece as leave it to bleed out unattended, and it’s enough to make a reader start pining for the return of London’s most criticised arts critic. The one ray of light: an instant This Gif Hall of Fame entrant, in Turnbull’s description of some Irish oysters as “the plumpest, creamiest specimens I can recall.” Delicacies worth coming for? Do behave.
Quick closing Q: how is everyone saying Mother!, the title of the new Darren Aronofsky film that is apparently terrible, or amazing, or amazingly terrible? It can’t be just how anyone would normally say “mother”: there’s an exclamation mark in there! So what is it? A fey Buster Bluth? Mike Pence on his birthday? An angry post-punk scream?
If it’s Grace Dent saying it, it’s probably just with a resigned sigh, conveying the trauma of a thoroughly “odd”, deeply unsuccessful experience at the Copenhagen sourdough pizza import bearing the same name.
It’s missing the exclamation mark, of course, which in this case feels about right: nothing lands with anything approaching oomph. From the broader setting in Circus West Village — ubervom at the name; also, the building work “isn’t remotely finished” — to the food (variously “taste-free,” “lacklustre,” “odd,” “underseasoned,” “forlorn,” “meh-inducing,” and “uninspiring”) it’s a fairly grim sequence of missed opportunities and failures of execution. The “lovely waitresses” are a rare bright spot in an otherwise wholly underwhelming experience, information that will surely come as a major downer to London’s growing flock of pizza nerds. This week’s exit music courtesy of The Eels, in their honour.