For the tiny and faintly tragic subgroup that readily self-identifies as restaurant review nerds, the release of a new verdict always carries a frisson of anticipation: where will we find ourselves this week? Reading reviews week-on-week is enough to develop something of a sixth sense for what’s to come: these days, a Kerridge’s or a Kym’s might well be on the cards; the recent Michelin announcement might lead to a few reappraisals of spots like Ikoyi that missed out first time around. And — surely — the pedigree of Shoreditch’s Two Lights means it can’t be long before the first review trickles through.
It’s always nice to be surprised, too — to see a spotlight shone on somewhere a little more out of the way. See, for example, Korean restaurant Paranhodu: per Jimi Famurewa, a south east London gem — and one of five restaurants to try at the weekend — that has all the attributes of an “amazing neighbourhood place.” The room is “unadorned but welcoming”; the menu is equal parts “things you’d expect to see” and “flashes of beguiling weirdness.”
Pumpkin croquettes are “tremendous”; crispy chicken comes in a “gorgeously syrupy” honey-soy sauce; the house version of bibimbap, meanwhile, is an “incredible rendering” of this classic dish: a “gloriously claggy, eggy mass” that’s “enlivened” by a “fearsome” gochujang-based hot sauce.
New Cross may be a little closer to Zone One than London’s biggest Korean community in New Malden, but this still feels like a “rare, special place”: the sort of restaurant where “the food arrives rapidly,” the flavours are “deeply comforting,” and “the bill doesn’t faintly depress you.” Its idiosyncratic attributes are enough to render Paranhodu “its own sort of miracle.”
Marina O’Loughlin, of course, is no stranger to seeking out hidden gems (consider her role in promoting the Malaysian trifecta of Melur, Dapur, and Roti King). So there’s a certain poignancy to the fact that — after helping to put Andrew Wong’s then-unheralded first restaurant on the map — she is now just one of many making pilgrimage to his second.
She acknowledges this irony at the start of her review of Kym’s, but it’s not like she’s especially bothered by it: she’s having too much fun getting amongst Wong’s renditions of “canonical, quintessential” Chinese dishes. Soy-poached chicken is “insanely moist,” and “a much more sophisticated number than its name suggests”; other classics — like crispy duck, its flesh “so tender and juicy, it falls apart at the touch of a spoon” — are given “intriguing flourishes.” Even if seasoning is occasionally injudicious, it does have the happy side-effect of making for “spectacularly fine drinking food.”
There’s a quick shiv to the ribs of the Bloomberg Arcade, (“a complex of expensive banality”) and O’Loughlin does note that the “dramatic” faux-cherry-tree doesn’t quite “disguise” the “innate blockiness” of this restaurant within it. This hasn’t been enough to deter most visitors, and it doesn’t deter the Sunday Times critic, either. Kym’s’ jargon-heavy modern-premium-casual concept may have “the work of moneymen stamped all over it,” but that doesn’t make the end result any less of a “palpable, scalable, eminently saleable hit.”
Also a hit — and, who knows, maybe also designed with a rollout in mind — is Kyseri, visited only slightly belatedly this week by Giles Coren.
House-cured pastirma to kick things off is “very good,” packing an enjoyably “salty, grainy heft.” Manti are “squeaky fresh,” sweetbreads “golden and nutty,” Jerusalem artichokes cooked in beef fat (oof) are both “crunchy” and “covered in insistent tangles of aged ricotta.” Pick of the lot, though, is the ‘Sultan’s Delight’, an “exquisitely dense collapse of slow-cooked short rib into a puree of aubergine and eski kasar cheese”; its accompanying Cyprus potato and pastirma gratin comprising “two beautiful, marbled rectangles of, essentially, corned beef hash, zigzagged with confit garlic mayo.” There’s praise for the “wild and brilliant” wine list; there’s praise for the “prettily designed” room “full of natural light”; there’s praise, really, for pretty much every element of Selin Kiazim’s restaurant. A straight run of 8/10s (including an extra entry for ‘Vibes’) tells its own story: anyone overlooking this Fitrovia gem will have well and truly “missed out.”
Fay Maschler wraps things up for us this week with the first look at Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari’s new Notting Hill concept, Caractère.
Somehow she’s able to survey a menu divided into ‘traits’ like “Curious,” “Subtle,” “Strong,” and “Greedy” — instead of actual courses — without reaching for the word “insufferable,” and perhaps it’s just as well. The food that arrives under these definitions is, at its best: “innovative”; “on the ball”; “of the moment,” and — crucially — “delicious.”
Celeriac cacio e pepe is the “star of the show,” though it has competition from ‘Acquarello’ risotto (“properly all’onda — in waves”) as well as cured and seared pollock topped with lardo di Colonnata, a genuinely “terrific combo.” Pudding, too, is a strong suit, especially an “extraordinarily good” chocolate cake with pecan praline, salted caramel sauce, and mascarpone ice cream.
It’s not all perfect — wild duck comes “overcooked and tough”; seared oxtail ravioli, ahem, “unfortunately resemble condoms on an island of cubed root vegetables” — but these occasional missteps are perhaps to be expected in such an ambitious new opening. This is clearly a “knowledgeable” kitchen; it is clear, too, that “a lot of thought” informs every aspect of the presentation. Even if Maschler occasionally implies that Roux and Ferrari could perhaps think a little less, inquisitiveness nevertheless, ultimately, “pays off”. To borrow a trait not on the official bill of fare: Caractère is good.