Chucs at The Serpentine
Richard Godwin’s Law is simple: do not go to Chucs at The Serpentine. Even worse than the usual “premium mediocre” fare found in this sort of setting, Chucs — fittingly, given its location in “London’s blandest, richest park” — strains for “a more rarefied niche”: “luxe desultory”.
And, boy, does it hit the mark: super green salad, a “will-this-do bowl of Tesco Metro-grade cos and irregularly chopped avocado,” is “the sort of thing you offer a rabbit that unexpectedly turns up for dinner”; yellowfin tartare tastes “like someone had raided an all-you-can-eat poké bar — last week”. Sea bream and broad bean purée is “outstandingly mediocre,” while vongole with tagliatelle are probably frozen, and house-branded ‘Chucs’ tiramisu is “like normal tiramisu but meh.”
After the joys of Ben Machell last week, this is another funny, incisive review in the formerly-troubled ES Magazine spot. As for poor old Chucs, that bastion of “compromise and mediocrity” — it might not have prompted invocation of the other Godwin’s law, but given a few hundred extra words who knows where things may have ended up.
Altogether more benevolent comparisons over at the FT, where Tim Hayward is entranced by Ramael Scully’s global pantry (terrible band name) and how unshackling the “cultural melange” of his heritage allows him to range even further than former employer Yotam Ottolenghi did under the banner of “fearless cultural eclecticism”.
There are basically two schools of thought on Scully (the restaurant) to date. One: it’s a lot. Two: it’s a lot, and that’s a good thing. Hayward definitely falls firmly into the latter camp: despite a word of caution about the setting in St James’s Square (“where otherwise promising restaurants seem to go to die”), this is a ringing endorsement. The arepa with aubergine sambal and bergamot labneh is the product of “promiscuous culinary miscegenation” but is, in the final analysis, “so bloody good”; a “creditable” composition of tomato and coconut is elevated so much by the accompanying tomato shrub that it “will change the way you think about salads”. Dishes of ‘forbidden rice’ with vegetarian XO sauce, chargrilled white sprouting broccoli, monkfish with sambal belacan, and halibut with wild garlic and vadouvan are a collective of “complex”, “brilliant combinations”.
“Exotic flavours” abound here, as do striking amounts of “provenance, inspiration, and oddness”. It is both the “craziest” and “most inspired” cooking that Hayward has seen in some time, but for all its complexity the final verdict can be boiled down into a simple imperative: “Go. Now.”
“Go. Now.” has also been the critical consensus to date about Ollie Dabbous’ new restaurant Hide (here’s another five-star rave from The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett, to go with Frankie McCoy’s, for those keeping score). So it’s interesting to see the narrative complicated just a little by Grace Dent at The Guardian, who refuses to let the hype influence her perception of either the food itself or the overall experience.
Hide, per Dent, is “basically a whopping, glass-fronted luxury car showroom with Ollie Dabbous at the stoves” — the sort of thing that happens “when umpteen billion Russian mobile-phone shop roubles collide with a talented, albeit baldly whimsical wunderkind chef”. Which is not to say it’s bad, necessarily: the soon-to-be-Insta-famous religieuse pudding is “heart-flutteringly splendid”; a pre-dessert of garden ripple ice cream is “delightful”, too. Charred kale and goose is “unforgettable”, and white asparagus with hazelnut praline leaves Dent “hair-tossingly ecstatic”.
Beyond, that, though? Mostly a “harmless woodland ramble”; typical fare at the sort of place you come to “eat and eat” but “without really eating at all”. Dent leaves “not entirely certain if Hide was a good time”, but definitely “relieved” to have “witnessed it”; considering she is also relieved of some 420 British pounds for the privilege, it does begin to feel a little “ridiculous”.
Dent may claim to enjoy ridiculous things — she is more than happy to admit to being one herself — but the average punter not visiting on expenses may see things differently. 210 quid a head may feel like value if you’re getting a five star experience, but anything less than that, and Dabbous and co may run out of places to hide.
At the other end of the cost-benefit spectrum is newly-opened Lina Stores; younger sibling to the iconic Brewer St delicatessen of the same name, and its first foray into the restaurant world proper.
It’s reviewed by Standard stand-in Susannah Butter, who begins with a curious introduction that suggests that Soho has an inadequate supply of decent Italian restaurants. This will surely be news to Bocca di Lupo (discounted and, in fact, never actually visited by Butter because the main courses are, apparently, too expensive) — not to mention Pastaio, Mele e Pere, Vasco & Piero, and others who were discounted for reasons undisclosed.
Anyway. Lina Stores is just OK, as Butter’s 3/5 score suggests; this relatively average mark being more the product of high highs and lowish lows than everything being flatly mediocre. Among the high highs: a “heady” starter of Gorgonzola extra dolce, pear chutney and crackers; the “perfect” quality of the handmade pasta itself, an “expertly judged” chocolate cake. Among the low lows are an off-balance salad of radicchio and anchovy that is “overwhelmed” by the “potent” fish, and the saucing of that perfect pasta: pappardelle comes short on the advertised rabbit ragu; spaghetti with Dorset crab is “subsumed” by tomato sugo.
Butter doesn’t quite melt, in other words, but there’s enough here to suggest that Lina Stores — “with its noble mission of feeding people good quality, affordable dishes” — “could be the future of Soho”. If this feels like another ever-so-slightly simplistic interpretation (see: Pastaio, Rambla, the area’s history of low-cost trattorie), it’s clearly one without malice: when it comes to the prospects of this newest addition to a central London “institution”, Butter has her “fingers crossed”.
Beck at Browns
To finish up this week, it’s Giles Coren who, midway through his review, hands the reins over to Russell Chambers, who pronounces much of the fare on offer “bland and unmemorable”. In a signature style that suggests he probably shouldn’t give up the day job, he goes on to observe how “nothing sings” — the product, no doubt, of the parachuted-in chef cooking from “a solid colour-by-numbers playbook” that “he has to follow rigidly”. The “exact opposite of, say, a River Café,” argues Chambers, “where the chef of the day arrives to find staff shelling peas and peeling langoustines before discussing together what might go on the lunch and evening menu.”
Notwithstanding the single greatest rhetorical question ever committed to paper — “who deep-fries a caper that has its own provenance acronym?” — this sort of misty-eyed (Rose-tinted?) codswallop is enough to make one miss Coren himself, really: even he could never bring himself to tut that “There were no special dishes of the day. No pasta just thought up. No fish just arrived”.
When Coren does take back control of the piece, it’s to add a few points in mitigation: the room is “plush and comfortable”, the staff “truly know how to make middle-aged scoffers feel welcome at the end of a long day”, and any flaws in execution may be attributable to the fact that the place was still in its soft opening phase, with 50% off. The 1995 Haut-Brion that Chambers brought along as his meal ticket doubtless went down like a dream, but for a variety of reasons it’s hard not to feel that this is a review that should be half-discounted, too.