After slagging off young people and their silly faddy restaurants mere days ago, Marina O’Loughlin will spend a second week polling strongly among The ST’s core audience as she laments the passing of the boozy, prolonged, capital-L Lunch.
Her choice of venue for trying to catch a glimpse of this increasingly endangered beast in the wild — Corrigan’s in Mayfair — initially appears auspicious: surely this “clubby,” “velvet- and leather-clad” space, all “carved hunting panels” and “feathered table lamps” will be the perfect place to celebrate everything “indiscretion-encouraging,” “untowardness-enabling,” “calorie-denying,” “third-martini-ordering” and “trouser-loosening” in life.
The odd gesture towards modernity aside, the food is the right sort of old-school: soup, game, pie, game pie. And although those attempts to be a bit more au courant do fall short and feel a bit “last year” in places — deconstructed lemon meringue pie and a riff on the full English both just look “hackneyed” in 2018 — this is far from a past-it kitchen. Even in “these butter-obsessed times,” bread and butter is notably stellar; that soup is “beautifully silky”; that game pie (pheasant and smoked sausage, yes mate) is “great,” “a beautiful thing,” presented unadorned on a white plate, “stark in its perfection.”
Unfortunately, Corrigan’s falls short of capital-L Lunch capital-P Perfection in other areas. The setup is old-fashioned, but “comically” so, all starchy waitstaff quick on the upsell and crap cruise ship / jazz muzak vibes. Two dishes are “seconds away from being stone cold”; overall, there’s a “fiddliness and archness” on the plate inimical to the comfortably replete state of mind that marks a true Lunch for the ages. Whatever her high hopes going in, O’Loughlin leaves Corrigan’s lowercase-d “dissatisfied.”
A few million-pound Mayfair square metres away, the owners of The Square will no doubt spend this week glancing enviously at Corrigans, with its facility for leaving critics merely slightly peeved.
This on the back of an all-timer from Giles Coren, a compendium of ways in which a restaurant can inflict “joylessness” on its customers. Canapes are “vile”, reminiscent of “a very young child’s sick”. Starters are slightly better (“not terrible”), but just as something reflective of chef Clément Leroy’s pedigree appears to be coalescing — in the form of a “sweet and unctuous” veal sweetbread “perfectly crisped in the pan” — it all falls apart: the dish is ruined (more accurately, “f***ed”) by “a disgusting tangle of fishy-tasting squid rings” served alongside. Pausing ever so briefly to award this week’s gif to Coren’s description of truffled tortelloni as “off-cuts of a quadruple sea-lion circumcision,” it’s on to the mains, and the “horrifying” vivisection-as-haute-cuisine dish that is Leroy’s lamb fillet threaded with razor clams (LOL srsly wut). Pudding is “more sweet foaming jizz” and something “sickly” involving sweet potato.
This is criticism as incisor-licking bloodsport; arguments against it on the grounds of its cruelty run up hard against its sheer virtuosity. As a critic, there are times when it’s necessary to give an honest verdict on a well-intentioned but disappointing experience — from personal experience, these are no fun to write. But sometimes the sheer idiocy on display is so maddening — the lack of thought given to the customer’s enjoyment so close to contempt — that a righteous kicking is necessary. In another writer’s hands, a drubbing like this could look cheap and nasty; its brilliance lies in leaving the reader convinced, even by the end, that The Square is still the real villain.
Presented free from further context:
“Dig in with the tiny fork. Probe the crevices of the now empty shell with your tongue. Then get to work with torn-off pieces of bread, dredging and dredging again at the garlic butter. When my half-dozen land on the table, the tray lies under a foaming mass of melted garlic butter, the green of watercress. Do I eat it or bathe in it? Afterwards, and through the night, I will stink. I know this while eating my snails but that doesn’t stop me.”
This shiver-inducing boakmageddon appears unprompted in the midst of Jay Rayner’s otherwise perfectly normal review of Soho institution L’Escargot. In his defence, it’s an extreme but effective way of communicating the sheer sensual totality of the experience at L’Escargot. From the snails, to the tournedos Rossini, to the “whacking” platefuls of cassoulet and duck confit, to the Grand Marnier soufflé, this is a winningly “old school”, “retro” kinda joint in Soho — somewhere a party interested in them can find “every glorious Gallic cliché” (avec “prices to wince over,” bien sûr.)
But still — this is a hell of a passage to foist on an unprepared readership — the probing, the crevices, the dredging, the foaming, the bathing, the stink.
Harry’s Dolce Vita
Grace Dent’s departure for pastures Graun has had the rumour-mill running at double speed of late. Would ES sub in a feisty young thing from within their own walls, perhaps, or would they repeat the dose and bring in another journalist from outside the world of fashion and food? Could it be a well-known influencer, adept at writing #hashtags, as well as the occasional review? Or would it be a gossip-inducing celeb stunt-casting in the model of David “anyone can be a food critic” Baddiel at The Sunday Times?
No, no, no, no, no. Instead, for the new (and cleverly named) Dinner Guest slot, they’ve gone with…
*furtively checks Wikipedia*
*checks Wikipedia again*
Welp, it’s Julie Burchill. Someone who allegedly left the Guardian after five years either because of anti-Semitism or because instead of a pay rise they offered her a sofa. This is plainly no shrinking violet, no stranger to controversy: this is a divisive character not shy of voicing an opinion, however unpopular.
Which makes it a little disappointing to read her verdict on Harry’s Dolce Vita and discover a pretty unremarkable paint-by-numbers, bang-average Michael Deacon of a review, complete with laboured opening gag (this Harry is “the older brother of Frankie & Benny,” NLOL) and hoary old food-reviewing descriptors like “life-affirming” and “gorgeous.”
There are glimmers of something a bit more idiosyncratic: an enjoyably unhinged digression on being pescatarian, the description of some vin santo as “a sweet and tender hooligan” taunting “you want some of me, yeah? You want some?” But rather like the food she describes, Burchill’s ES debut is “somewhat underwhelming.” Possibly, also like the food she describes, “very overpriced,” too. That is, if she ate there at all. Given her history, there’s a good chance she made the whole thing up.
The Drunken Butler
TO CLOSE WITH THE BIGGEST STORY OF THE WEEK — WRITTEN IN UPPER CASE, NATURELLEMENT.
YES, IT’S FAY VERSUS THE DRUNKEN BATTLER. RE-READING HER REVIEW IN THE WAKE OF HIS LOONYTUNES (IF NEWSWORTHY) RANT, THOUGH, THE STRIKING THING IS THAT THIS IS FAR FROM A CRITICAL SAVAGING.
THERE’S EVEN SOME PRAISE FOLDED IN THERE: A SCALLOP IS “NICELY BURNISHED”; ONSEN TAMAGO OFFERS “SEDUCTIVELY SILKY” WHITE AND YOLK “GLOWING THROUGH LIKE ROSY-FINGERED DAWN IN A MIST” (LUCKY DAWN!)
SURE, NOT EVERYTHING FAY EATS IS THIS “SUCCESSFUL”. EXECUTION IS SIMPLY OFF IN PLACES: SERVICE THOUGH “SWEET” HAS THE TIMING OF “A BADLY TOLD JOKE”; KUKU (TALKING OF BADLY TOLD JOKES: YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT KUKU TO BE HERE, BUT IT HELPS?) “HAS SEEMINGLY BEEN MADE SOME WHILE AGO”; SEA BASS IS EXPENSIVE “FOR SUCH A SMALL PIECE” (TBF, IT’S SMALL AND IT’S A PIECE). BURNED LEEK IS “UNMANAGEABLY UNDERCOOKED,” WHILE SAUCE (SORRY, JUS) WITH EQUALLY PUNCHILY-PRICED BEEF IS “OVER-REDUCED.”
ON TOP OF THIS, SOME THINGS COULD DO WITH FURTHER REDUCTION, LIKE THE “OVERBEARING” MUSIC, OR ALL THE PHOTOS OF OWNER S YUMA HASHEMI, SO REFLECTIVE OF THE “SELF-LOVE” THAT IS APPARENTLY AT THE HEART OF HIS RESPONSE. THAT’S PROBABLY WHY IT PLAYED SO BADLY ONLINE, ACTUALLY. SELF-LOVE MAY FEEL RIGHT IN THE MOMENT (EVEN QUITE SENSUAL?) BUT TO THE DISINTERESTED BYSTANDER IT MAINLY LOOKS GROSS.