Pity Bank, that strange corner of central London that — after the Hackney- and Oval-shaming of recent weeks — becomes the latest neighbourhood to be roundly disparaged by a visiting restaurant critic.
This week, it’s Frankie McCoy’s turn (“People don’t travel to Bank to eat. People don’t travel to Bank full stop, unless they work there”); she’s there visiting Brigadiers, the latest opening in the Bloomberg Arcade development no doubt desperately hoping to avoid what might be termed the St James’ Market curse: offering brilliant, interesting food but ending up underloved and under-visited due to a thoroughly soulless setting.
In an attempt to escape this fate, the restaurant is “skewed specifically to its City boy surroundings”: lots of a beer, lots of fine wine, and even a “a pool room slash ultimate man cave”. Food is also configured with blokey tastes in mind: chaat masala pork scratchings with 2018’s most ubiquitous ingredient, cod’s roe, are “purely delicious booze food”; “superb” ghee-enriched barbecue butter chicken wings promise to rival the biryani at Gymkhana or the suckling pig at Sabor as a JKS empire icon dish, their “barbecue tang” slicing agreeably through the “butter-slicked sublimity”.
Mission accomplished for the Sethis, then — but with one small caveat. Everything may be “brilliantly executed”, but it’s so “unabashedly” configured towards the imaginary desires of “big-spending City sorts” and “sports fans who care less about the authenticity of achari beef than the self-serving beer machines” that it may not appeal quite so much to everyone else. It’s probably a canny business move — targeting loyal locals rather than “transient” food nerds — but as much as McCoy admires what Brigadiers is trying to do (and she does “really like” it), she’s content to admit it’s “not for me”.
Two more resounding cries of “not for me” over at Roka / Zuma founder Rainer Becker’s new joint Inko Nito, with one of London’s longest-serving critics coming to much the same verdict as one of the city’s newest.
New kid on the block, Jimi Famurewa, is probably the more positive of the two: he’s not unimpressed by the “obvious pedigree and slickness” on show, and acknowledges that some dishes — like the yolk-topped kimchi rice, “an ugly-delicious, claggy marvel” — aren’t bad as far as “booze-soaking, Japanese-Korean crowd-pleasers” go. But other combinations are “punily flavoured” and really rather “drab”; rather than offering “wit” and “mind-expanding flavour” this is a meal long moments that are “just… well, fine”.
For Giles Coren, “fine” covers it pretty well too. As “charming” as the staff are, and as winning as the odd dish might be — check out the Portland crab with wasabi mayo and chicken crackling, a “definite 9/10 beer snack” — this feels like a “cynical”, “efficient” play from a “master operator” with no higher aim than attracting “some entry-level mugs into his ambit”. For sure, “nothing’s terrible”, but given the range of choice and quality on offer in London today that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Inko Nito feels targeted at “young, foreign, rich, phone-hooked, social media-obsessed neophytes”, not so much an actual restaurant as a “pretend” one.
How different, then, from Parsons, the other restaurant reviewed in Coren’s column this week. Just like The Coach last week, this is somewhere that has attracted raves from the Tim Haywards and Jay Rayners of this world; there is a similar timeless charm on offer at both that has critics of a certain age swooning.
For Coren, this “lovely little room” (and especially its “brilliant” suspended coatrack) is a “wonderful” setting for what follows: “beautifully cut” sea trout, “beautiful” vichyssoise with crab, “wonderful” prawns on gem lettuce, and a “wonderful” salad of haricot and green beans and anchovy. Accompanied by “relaxed” and “helpful” service and with presentation handled “seductively but artlessly”, the overall impression is of a place that “has been there for 100 years”. Which (see above, and the phone-obsessed neophytes “changing this town and the way we eat in it before our very eyes”) simply makes it a “wonderful, wonderful thing”.
Coren, of course, was almost as exuberant last week in his review of La Goccia; this time round, though, Grace Dent is less enamoured.
It’s got nothing to do with the setting — this, like its older sibling in Richmond, is “a petal-strewn Ikea experience for fragrant, pilates-honed fiftysomethings”; “Lebensraum for people who fart nasturtium pollen from all the edible flowers they consume”. The problem, really, is the cooking, which in more than one place feels a little “loveless”. Foccaccia is “dry” and “unappetising”; the batter on some courgette fritti is naggingly “not quite right”; ricotta ravioli are simply “forgettable”. And whilst there are occasional highlights — “warm”, “fresh” pizzetta “smeared thickly with a sea-green, garlic-honking, oily, crunchy pistachio butter”; asparagus risotto that tiptoes the high wire between “green vitality and buttery sluttishness” — it’s hard to shake the feeling that they aren’t enough to redeem the restaurant entirely. As praise goes, Dent’s in this case is “damnably faint”.
For inexpensive central London Italian done right, look no further than Lina Stores, where chef Masha Rener’s menu is nothing less than a “hymn to the joys of Italian food — all sunshine and seductive simplicity”.
This per News International’s resident Glasweg-Italian, Marina O’Loughlin, who feels no little sympathy for Rener and the homesickness she suffered when she first moved to London; O’Loughlin, too, understands the feeling of “longing for the familiar in a strange land”. Fortunately, just days after opening, Lina Stores already “feels like home”, offering dishes that “wander happily all over Italy’s boot”. Pappardelle are “almost translucent in their delicacy”, the rabbit and olive ragu alongside combining to create a “plateful to make the Tuscan émigrés weep into their americano”. Gnudi can often be a disappointment but the “pneumatic” specimens on offer here are the “must-order dish”, “fat dumplings of outstanding lightness”. Tortelloni stuffed with courgettes and bathed in an “incredibly fragrant” sauce of blitzed raw tomatoes emphasises just how much “the quality of ingredients beams out” at every opportunity.
Food this “gorgeous” is matched by a “simply beautiful” setting offering pure “enchantment” (not to mention “lust-inducing” displays of produce). Those mourning the passing of Soho’s more “rackety” corners as it becomes increasingly “homogenised” and “sanitised” needn’t worry; those looking to jump on the very-now pro-carb bandwagon have the perfect place to start. Simply put, Lina Stores is a “perfectly formed beauty”.