After last week’s Tristram Shandyesque digression-fest about a place no restaurant nerd worth their Maldon would ever visit, Giles Coren is back on the Proper Critic beat. First sounding authoritative about the demise of the Galvin Bros, he’s then the first big name through the door of one of London’s most buzzed-about new openings.
He’s at The Coach, the first in Henry Harris’s planned mini-armada of renovated, titivated pubs. And whilst — on first appearances, at least — this is still “unquestionably a boozer”, there’s plenty to suggest that in the “handsome little dining area” some of the old Racine magic still finds its way to the table.
Like so many of the best things in life, tête de veau is “warm and sloppy”; “good” ham comes with “excellent” remoulade”; the “famous” grilled rabbit with mustard sauce and smoked bacon remains historically “great.” Side dishes — hasselback potatoes, spinach cream with foie gras — may be a little “weird” compared to more standard fare but are nevertheless “tremendous”; while this is a little “homelier” than Harris’ cooking in Knightsbridge, it’s arguably all the “rarer” and “more interesting” for it. Despite general industry pessimism and the more specific malaise occasioned by the deaths of Racine and Galvin Bistro de Luxe, for now, at least, it seems that “great French bistro cooking” is just about “clinging on.”
There can’t have been many who wept for the demise of Simon Rogan’s Fera, or indeed clamoured for him to return to London by reviving the corpse of a long-since-popped pop up.
But here we are, and here’s Grace Dent, in need of a new reviewer’s pseudonym (reviewdonym?) after the “suspiciously alert” staff have very obviously sussed her previous one (as she observes, it might be easier simply to go by ‘That Bitch’ in future). She comes into the experience a little wary of the various gusts of “hot air” emitted in Roganic’s direction — the assorted “chefs, writers, bloggers, blaggers and miscellaneous food chunterers” declaring their “vocal intention” to visit one of 2018’s hottest (re)launches. After all, the “gargantuan task” of a 14-course tasting menu is not for everyone; the unspoken truth about restaurants like this is that “few people truly want to spend their free time in them.”
But the “joyous”, “affable” staff and some fairly “gorgeous” food conspire to make the experience at the very least bearable. There are undeniable “highs and lows”, and perhaps it’s pointless to go into more detail when dinner at somewhere like Roganic is always a “deeply subjective” experience. A column with more inches to dedicate to complex philosophical questions could perhaps ponder how questions of subjectivity and objectivity are especially fertile in restaurant criticism, but for now it’s probably best just to note that puddings are “the stars of the show” during Dent’s visit, especially that “bewildering” and much-Instagrammed douglas fir tarte tatin.
This food won’t be for everyone. But — as Chris Pople’s Rogasmic verdict suggests — it will definitely be for some. And isn’t London’s ability to act as an incubator for all sorts of different places appealing to all sorts of different people part of what makes it so very special in the first place?
That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone finding major fault with Sorella, Robin Gill’s reimagining of The Manor that ticks all sorts of people-pleasing boxes. Certainly, it’s enough to win over Fay Maschler, who’s impressed both by the “authentic Italian passion for pristine produce” and the very-now “emphasis on curing, fermenting, bottling, pickling and potatoes.” House-made coppa is the perfect synthesis of these two approaches: a “thing of beauty to look at, ruffle up, lay on the semolina sourdough and eat.” There’s a worthy, thoroughly “appropriate” simplicity to everything on offer here, a “plainness in presentation” that matches the directness of the flavours. Whilst it’s not all successful — fennel with crab linguine is “unwelcome” — there is “comfort and joy” on offer for both those who can and cannot “be bothered to dwell on nationality.”
If only Katie Glass had bothered to dwell on nationality a little more. In another age her review of a successful Tinder date with some dinner thrown in might have slipped by unnoticed. But in a week where Mimi Aye decried the trivialisation and sloppy shorthand often employed to write about different Asian cuisines, it’s at the very least unfortunate timing to write things like “Vietnamese is the new Thai. Korean is the new Vietnamese.”
A bit of perspective, as ever, would be helpful: as journalistic debacles go, this is hardly Leverson-worthy. It’s certainly not malicious, but its very carelessness displays a lack of thought and curiosity about other cultures; it’s just basic courtesy to get this stuff right and basic laziness to get it wrong.
It also risks undermining the thrust of whatever argument a writer is making. And Glass’ point is a simple one: the food at Greyhound Café just isn’t very good. Even if her yardstick is a little dubious — she asserts that “those of us who’ve been to Thailand know the real cuisine is street food”, which might come as a shock to all the home and restaurant cooks over there — it is hard to disagree with her assessment of dishes from a “slipshod” menu that arrive “in the wrong order, and cold”. Beef is “overcooked”, mussels are “chewy”, only some “surprisingly good” fried pupae and decent lamb avert a total calamity.
Far superior Thai food — and writing — can be found over at The Sunday Times, where Marina O’Loughlin reprises one of her most-beloved roles from The Granleese Years, off on an adventure to somewhere totally unheralded.
Like Supawan itself, those unexpected discoveries always used to come as a “thrilling kapow to the palate”. It’s refreshing for readers, and surely for writers too, to enjoy a varied diet — places happened upon through “sheer serendipity” to go alongside the “obvious targets”.
And oof, Supawan sounds good. It’s nominally Southern Thai, with a menu rich in both established classics and “less conventional thrills.” Under “less conventional” file yum khao tod, “all crusty toastiness, hot and sharp with bursts of astringent lime leaves.” Somewhere in the middle, put peek gai yud sai, “exhilarating” deboned and stuffed chicken wings. Under classics, an “intense” yellow curry, a “gorgeous” duck noodle soup, and an upgrade on the “common-or-garden” penang curry that packs “a mighty thwack of sultry fire in its unassuming depths.”
“Kapow”, “thwack” — comic-book onomatopoeia feels about right. Like Supawan’s riff on miang, this is a piece that reads like “a Roman candle of flavours: just as you get over one, another one comes along to slap you in the chops.” As O’Loughlin reels, “gobsmacked with pleasure”, out onto chilly Caledonian Road, it’s not a stretch to imagine a readership immediately checking opening times, planning visits, cancelling dinners elsewhere. Katie Glass is wrong: you don’t need a plane ticket to taste excellent Thai food. Sometimes, all you need is a review like this.