If American Psycho were rewritten for the current age, a few things would need to change. Even Bret Easton Ellis couldn’t have predicted the role the internet and social media would play in fuelling the self-obsession skewered so viciously in his work, so modern day Patrick Bateman would definitely be an Instagram basic.
He’d have to eat at different places, too. In Grace Dent’s eyes, the contemporary equivalent of 1980s Manhattan’s restaurant scene could well be found at Gazelle, the “very, very cool” new restaurant and bar from Tony Conigliaro and Rob Roy Cameron, sort-of sequel to their “ever-puzzling,” “beyond-parody” Dalston bar Untitled.
Here, the vibe is equal parts “experimental and gastronomically challenging” — dishes border on “offputting” in how they are described on the menu, and arrive as “teensy,” “tiny” assemblages modishly “made to share.” The word “small” recurs three times in the review, indicating quite how frequently the stuff happening on the plate is undermined by quite how little of it there is: a “delicious” dish of enoki mushrooms made to look like pasta “would struggle to cover the floor of a Barbie paddling pool”; turbot (“doubtlessly premium-grade”) arrives as “roughly a fishfinger’s worth” of protein. Bread is discovered “lurking at the bottom of the menu,” “as if it’s ashamed of its carby stomach-filling abilities.”
These complaints will be familiar to anyone who has read Fay Maschler’s review of the same restaurant, with its intimations that the timidity of Gazelle’s namesake animal has carried over into its approach to providing actual sustenance. Dent’s verdict, after ordering seven dishes without really feeling like she has eaten, is more direct: “Bugger this — I am going to Gymkhana”.
Dent, of course, was a key part of the thrilling restaurant critic transfer-deadline-day that took place earlier this year, as she vacated her Grace and Flavour column at ES Magazine to occupy Marina O’Loughlin’s former position at The Guardian. Dent’s former post has been vacant ever since, occupied by a rotating cast of interim dinner guests. This week we finally received welcome confirmation that a full-time replacement was in role and ready to go.
The obligatory my-life-in-food throat-clearer of an introductory essay means we will have to wait until next week for Jimi Famurewa’s first review as ES Magazine’s restaurant critic proper, and for the exciting reveal of his column’s name (shortlist: Jimi Eats World, Jimi’s Buffet, Jimi Choux). So for now, it’s over to the sister paper, where Frankie McCoy joins the critical caravanserai making dutiful pilgrimage to Cora Pearl.
Michael Deacon and Giles Coren have already paid this particular courtesan a visit, and there’s the same ever-so-slightly-measured praise: despite the “rammed”, borderline “awkward” space, this is somewhere you come to find “really nice” food, from “spanking fresh” Bloody Mary mackerel to a “gussied up” cheese toastie that still boasts the “unsubtle, hangover-quenching slap of cheesy, salty pork.” Service-wise, there are occasional “hiccups”; and food-wise, we’re not in the domain of the “inventive” or even “particularly adventurous” (all that chef George Barson has done is to “take things people really like and cook them”). But this is “forgivable” when the results are so “tasty” — McCoy may not have had her understanding of gastronomy reconfigured but she nevertheless leaves “feeling deeply content.”
McCoy’s description of the “pipettes of nettle juice and obscure bits of offal” that characterise the menus of other, more thrusting restaurants on the London scene could be purpose-written about Native, whose right-onness Marina O’Loughlin finds a little off-putting at first: offerings like Chefs wasting snacks do, after all, read as comprehensively “unalluring.”
But O’Loughlin leaves Native’s new Flat Iron Square HQ almost entirely “seduced” — those snacks transcend “snowflaky worthiness” and are quite simply “gorgeous”; pigeon and grouse dishes combine to create something “bosky, exciting, thrilling.” Sweet dishes long on savoury notes (white chocolate and bone marrow bonbons) scan as “perfect madness” but somehow “come off”; these “fireworks” on the culinary front are matched with the “infectious, joyful enthusiasm” of co-owner Imogen Davis. With its heritage encapsulated by modish buzzwords like low waste, foraging and crowdfunding, Native could be “hard work,” just another worthy slog around a Dan Barber obsessive’s shrine to their hero. But the net effect of the team’s passion and skill is “little short of ravishing.”
There’s much less ideology for sale over in Victoria, though Jay Rayner is perhaps even more pleasantly surprised than his former stablemate. The initial signs at Tozi — a “desperation booking” chosen on the grounds of geographical expediency, and appended, terrifyingly, to the Park Plaza hotel — are not promising; for Rayner, as for any critic worth their pink Himalayan, “snobbery springs eternal.”
But what’s this? A mixed board of salume, all of them “exceptionally well looked after?” A plate-sized pizzetta, “blistered and burnt prettily at the edges”, boosted with a “profound slap of spicy nduja?” The sheer “loveliness” of fried artichokes, a “classic” saltimbocca, hand-cut tagliolini under a “generous” shower of truffle, its “shiny emulsion of butter and pasta water” oozing “quality?” Tozi, on reflection, offers “one of those subtle pleasures”: “the lunch that gently exceeds your underwhelming expectations by some distance.”