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Plush Mayfair Pile The Betterment Gets Another Dressing Down for ‘Robotic’ Food

Jason Atherton’s new restaurant really could do better

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Steak tartare with caviar in a glass bowl at Jason Atherton’s The Betterment The Betterment [Official Photo]

My Neighbours the Dumplings

Hackney’s Mare Street might legitimately claim to be the single most delicious thoroughfare in London — especially if the tributaries that feed into it are included in the assessment. Strengthening the case even further is the new branch of My Neighbours The Dumplings — a mere stone’s throw away on Victoria Park Road and — in the eyes of Grace Dent — both “bigger” and “better” than the Clapton original.

With a name like that, it’s no surprise that the kitchen nails “the perfect crisp, moist potsticker” — or that the har gow are nothing short of “thrilling”: “firm, satisfying bullets of joy” with “stretchy, nigh-translucent skins” and “a buoyant whack of pink prawn, sesame and oyster sauce” inside. But the other stuff is also worth ordering: pickled mushroom with goji berries and apple makes for a “fabulous” side; mackerel yakitori are a “deligh,t” too. Factor in a “gorgeous” interior and Dent’s closing advice is understandably succinct: “Go early, beat the rush, order the har gow.”

Wun’s / Black Roe

There’s similarly stunning yum cha-inspired fare over in Soho, where Giles Coren discovers “delight after delight” at the latest venture from the Bunhouse team, Wun’s.

Crispy tofu comprises “lovely fresh fat little triangles of smooth, pale tofu in a light salty crust and delicate dipping sauce”; soy-braised aubergine rice is a winning pairing of “fat, tangy juices” and crispy rice that must be “scraped out and crunched, with a delirious rolling back of the eyes, like the socarrat under a paella.” And if the wok-fried cheung fun with egg and mince is “comprehensively stratospheric,” perhaps even better is the sugar skin iberico char siu, “slow-roasted so that it’s crimson like a traffic light,” the meat “smoky and tangy,” the meat “sweet and sticky and buttery smooth,” the skin a “toffee apple-style sugar carapace.”

It’s “deliriously good”, which makes it a fairly marked contrast to the Times man’s other destination this week, Black Roe in Mayfair. Duck spring roll features “thick, floury pastry” and the “bald, elderly flavour of English provincial leftovers jazzed up for ‘Chinese night’”; shu mai dumplings are “served cold as a dead mouse on a foggy morning” with a cherry hoisin “as sour as a witch’s piss on the summer solstice”; sautéed chilli broccoli has a “rank, sour taste.” There’s nothing worse than “wasting a lunch” — and perhaps it’s the memory of those “dud calories” that inspires a fairly direct final summation. If Wun’s Team Room “rocks,” Black Roe is quite simply “shit.”

The Betterment

Marina O’Loughlin doesn’t quite go that far in her review of Jason Atherton’s latest, although for the second week running there’s a sense that The Betterment really could do better.

Given its super prime Grosvenor Square location, it’s not surprising that the décor has been given “the full swank.” Much as the menu rich in equally super prime proteins might be “attempting a nod to a more alluring past,” really this is “a restaurant with no real identity”: a kitchen seemingly “in love with process and technique, all anally retentive turning of tiny turnips and textbook stocks and glazes,” is only capable of producing dishes that leave guests feeling a little “processed” too. Everything arrives literally and metaphorically “tepid,” from a pair of king crab legs “denuded of their natural sweetness” to “bullyingly one-note” short-rib, its “fat collops of meat worryingly yielding, like a Fray Bentos pie filling.”

O’Loughlin diagnoses Atherton’s media profile as that of “a frosty, overgroomed automaton,” and deems his food equally “robotic”: “an assembly line of dishes with repetitive, button-pushing notes.” All this, and “shameless upselling, in case any love might seep in” — though based on the rest of O’Loughlin’s verdict, that seems highly unlikely anyway. Perhaps more worryingly for Atherton and co, the time to make amends appears to be dwindling rapidly. O’Loughlin reports bumping into a few fellow critics during her visit, and the consensus on any prospective return is ominous: “No chance.”

Julie’s

After encountering The Betterment’s chilly mediocrity last week, Fay Maschler could be forgiven for wanting to rediscover a little joie de vivre. Fortunately, in Holland Park’s rehabilitated enfant terrible Julie’s, she finds plenty to perk up even the lowest spirits — especially in new head chef Shay Cooper’s food.

“Delectable” buttermilk fried quail with white miso comes on like “Mother Clucker for aesthetes”; beef tartare with spiced shallots, French beans, nasturtium and onion mayonnaise is also “impeccably constructed.” Main courses display “advanced comprehension of ideal dance partners,” too, though the “standout assembly” may well be lemon curd, lemon sorbet, coconut and fennel crumble, its “simple sensuality” making for “one of the best desserts” Maschler has encountered “in a very long time.” It may have lost some of its former reputation for “naughtiness, nookie and fun”; the welcome may be a bit of a downer — somehow people are still greeting guests with “Do you have a reservation with us?” in Anno Domini 2019 — and the “higgledy-piggledy” wine list may be a “work in progress.” Overall, though, Maschler finds grounds for a resounding “thumbs up.”

The Sea, The Sea

There’s similar positivity over on Pavilion Road, where William Sitwell on balance enjoys dinner at The Sea, The Sea — even if some of the flavour combinations are, to put it mildly, “rather unusual”.

A dish of mussels and girolles sandwiched between miso crisps and covered in grated cheese definitely “sounds gross,” but in fact results in “a fabulous concoction of crunch and creaminess, salt and umami” — ditto “beautiful” dressed crab with seaweed waffles, a “startling” confit red mullet with caviar and capers, and lobster with nori and sticky rice that is little less than a “triumph.” After all this, the stratospheric bill comes as “an epithet of cruel awakening”, but it’s a (not really) small price to pay for food of such “strange but successful inventiveness”.

Sons and Daughters

The creativity may not be quite as dialled up to eleven over in Coal Drops Yard, but the latest entrants in The Fancy Sandwich Wars have won at least one influential fan — Jimi Famurewa heaping praise upon Sons and Daughters as lavishly as truffle crisps rain down upon the house riff on an egg mayo.

It’s one thing to have the sort of “come-hither menu” that promises this sort of thing; it’s quite another to deliver it with the “poise, attentiveness and flair” that the team here do. The sandwiches, “tight-wrapped in sexy brown butcher’s paper”, are frequently so “hefty” they “practically have their own gravitational field.” But underneath all that “bulk” there is clearly “nuance and careful engineering”: the outwardly “daunting” Merguez sandwich actually tastes pretty “phenomenal” — as does the chicken, courtesy of a “a knockout textural frenzy of flavoursome Swaledale bird, crackled chicken skin, gem lettuce and crumbling sheafs of soy-aged parmesan.” Sides are “capable”; a choice of soft serve to finish reads alternatively “conventional” — peanut butter and jelly — and “lightly challenging” — focaccia vanilla — but either selection results in “smart, diverting fun.” But clearly, the main event is those sandwiches — “structurally precise monsters” that “prompt inexpressible joy and tend to be physical acts of antisocial concentration.” Famurewa finds that co-owners James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy have created something “that spills over with lively imagination and a detectable, dogged urge to satisfy” — the only logical thing to do is “grab it with both hands.”

Coal Drops Yard

Stable Street, , England N1C 4DQ 020 3883 2087 Visit Website

My Neighbours the Dumplings

165 Lower Clapton Road, , England E5 8EQ 020 3327 1556 Visit Website

The Sea, The Sea

174 Pavilion Road, , England SW1X 0AW 020 7824 8090 Visit Website

The Betterment

44 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 2HP Visit Website

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