A bumper crop of London-based reviews starts in semi-familiar territory, as Grace Dent visits Soane’s Kitchen — previously the recipient of a meh-out-of-five review from Jimi Famurewa.
It’s more of the same here, really: this is an “elegant, bright, airy, beautifully situated space” let down by so-so cooking and service that borders on “mayhem.” Dent is there at lunch time, but is handed a short brunch menu instead — even though other people are clearly eating lunch — her companion is also handed a brunch menu, but not the same one as Dent. It’s all very Victoria Wood.
When the food does arrive, it’s underwhelming: a fishfinger sandwich features “untoasted, rather dry sourdough,” “soggy” cod, and tartare sauce that “tastes of very little”; a full English is a “drab, sterile affair to look at.” Puddings are “Celebrity Masterchef” at best: a “dense” chocolate tart with “soggy” pastry; roasted peach with an “abrasive,” “completely awful” thyme yoghurt. Dent claims she’s happy to go back “once everything gets better”; both her review, and that of her Evening Standard Magazine successor, suggest that this may take some time.
Meanwhile, over at The Sunday Times, ruthless Jamie’s Italianicide Marina O’Loughlin follows in David Sexton’s footsteps to Kensington Japanese restaurant Akira.
Where Sexton struggled with what he perceived as “fussy,” “over-rich” cooking, O’Loughlin seems altogether more positive, praising the “exquisite” presentation of the house bento box in particular — “it isn’t so much lunch as an artwork, an event.” Sexton also had beef with the vast quantities of wagyu on offer, but in O’Loughlin’s eyes its “star billing” is thoroughly “deserved”: whether it arrives atop “excellent” rice or seared on the robata to form a “blackened, beefy crust,” this is meat of “such rich butteriness” that it is almost “overwhelming.”
Perhaps their proximity to so much of it has had an effect on the staff, who are generally in need of “a sharp toe to the jacksie”; this, twinned with steep prices and “ridiculously” stingy wine measures, makes the experience feel a little less special. One dish doesn’t arrive, fish is “pre-sliced” for later services, and O’Loughlin and companion are peremptorily “huckled” out of the door rather than being allowed to linger. There’s much to be “celebrated” about a restaurant this “ambitious” opening in the west London culinary badlands, but in a few key areas there’s clearly a need for “a bit more work.”
Kerridge’s Bar & Grill
Unusual scenes over at O’Loughlin’s sister paper, as The Times critic Giles Coren wins the first-through-the-door bragging rights at one of the autumn’s biggest, and most Instagrammed openings, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill.
Far from the agenda-setting review of Kerridge’s new restaurant, this is more of a cursory check-in than a detailed technical critique. But it will still please the backers at Corinthia London no end, since Coren is fulsome in his praise: truffled egg with Charlotte potato and Ogleshield fondue is a “magnificent dish,” “properly seasoned” and (a very Tom Kerridge word, this) “lush.” Lamb is of “great, great” quality, “thick with flavour”; Kerridge’s edible homage to his friends Claude Bosi and Daniel Clifford — a mushroom fauxsotto topped with crispy egg — is a “bullseye,” too. Brill and chips is “possibly the triumph of the day,” its batter “wonderfully delicate,” whilst blackcurrant sorbet to close is quite simply “perfectly made.” Given the sheer volume of grandees invited during the restaurant’s opening weeks, there was always going to be plenty of interest in whether the food truly walked the walk. There may be a couple of missteps here — pommes boulangère that are short on the requisite “naughtiness”; triple-fried chips that are “just a vector for cooking oil” — but the early signs look pretty positive. Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, in Coren’s eyes at least, is “boss.”
Festa sul Prato
Jay Rayner may not describe it as “boss”, but he’s similarly enamoured with Festa sul Prato in Deptford. Here, a former public toilet block has been repurposed into a “whitewashed,” “airy” space complete with open kitchen and “killer” espresso machine; encouragingly, there’s a regularly changing blackboard menu.
The food is “good” — “solid and reliable,” and “at a fair price” to boot. It’s long on simple assemblies of good ingredients — antipasti, cheese plates, toasts topped with avocado or cherry tomatoes “roasted to a sweet squidge.” Perhaps the “star” of the menu is the daily pasta — penne with sausage ragu in this case — there’s also praise for the sides, from “crisp, nutty rosemary-roasted new potatoes” to “properly sautéed” mushrooms “golden and brown in all the right places,” these are “vegetables taken seriously.” Even if the execution is occasionally awry — steak tagliata is “well cooked” but served, confusingly, in a single chunk — it’s hard to come down too hard on somewhere “so utterly cheery and fun and good-hearted.” At its core, Festa sul Prato is a café “priced within reach for as many as possible.” But the charm of the place and the generosity of the cooking mean that “it also happens to be a hell of a lot more.”
There was always a similar endearing quality to Rita’s on Mare Street — before it went the way of so many others and joined the great pop-up in the sky. But now it’s back, and Evening Standard Magazine’s Jimi Famurewa is on hand to chronicle its second coming.
A few holdouts from the previous incarnation are still on the menu, but it seems even more eclectic than before, a compendium of “assorted things lovingly purloined from Latin American and Asian culinary cultures.” From those holdouts, the patty melt is still “gorgeous,” whilst the green chile mac and cheese remains a “fantastic brow-dampener of a dish.” Among the new stuff, a hot bean devilled egg is “hypnotically creamy,” smacked cucumbers are “umami-jacked,” and the ‘everything cheese puffs’ court actual “magnificence” in their “glossy,” “squidgy,” “mind-blowingly cheesy” sensual overload.
There are a few bum notes, and there is a danger of descending into palate confusion among so much “bold, tongue-zapping flavour.” On balance, though, Famurewa is far more in favour of this “fairly priced, ambitious cooking” than he is against it; his closing recommendation is simple: “just go.”
A more conflicted and complex endorsement to close this week, as Fay Maschler finds a mixed bag at revamped Charlotte Street Greek taverna Ousia.
Whilst some staples “do not disappoint” — souvlaki and lamb chops are good; dips are a genuine “highlight” — there’s more than enough to suggest all is not quite right behind the scenes. A dish of black eyed peas with chard “would benefit from better draining and sprightlier seasoning”; fried courgettes with tzatziki would probably have been better “at the moment the courgettes were lifted from hot oil”; ‘catch of the day’ red mullet has probably “resided in the freezer.” All together, whilst an “intriguing” Tetramythos Organic Retsina is enough to leave Maschler planning her next flight to Greece, she’d probably have to drink more than a bottle of the stuff before she’d contemplate returning to this specific branch of the country’s diaspora.