As the enduring success of the — thus far inexplicably under-reviewed — Quality Wines demonstrates, there is still plenty of life yet in the small plates and nice wines formula — provided they’re done right, with care and attention.
Enter Nick Gibson and Damian Clisby’s Emile, which ticks all the right boxes in Fay Maschler’s eyes. There’s “quiet confidence” on show from the get-go — a “short, classic menu” nods towards “slow food,” “plant-led eating,” and “knowledgeable home-style cooking.”
Croquettes ripple with the “uncompromising maturity” of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and benefit from a “light, crisp” coating: “impeccable.” Sunday lunch roast beef is “picture perfect,” the meat “soft” and “rosy”; the dish coming together like “the sort of vision you might have if pining for British food.” Wild duck with cabbage and prunes, and pork chop with cavolo nero, are equally “expert” yet totally “unaffected” — see also “great” pasta and “sternly irresistible” pudding. Emile is only open for six months or so, so Maschler’s advice regarding a particular wine on the ‘Last Chance Bottles’ selection of the list seems fitting to close: “snap it up.”
If Emile’s star is on the rise with all the speed of an express elevator, then Decimo’s fortunes seem to be hovering sky-high after last week’s rave from Giles Coren, as Grace Dent now joins the approving clamour surrounding Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ cooking and the vibey eyrie in which it is served.
For Dent, the setting “feels like the beginning of a whole new era in London restaurants” — a “vast, slick, multi-levelled, painstakingly designed” room with a “dragoon of hostesses”: something genuinely “beautiful,” “entirely Los Angeles in mood.” The food is “slightly ridiculous” and runs the gamut from “sometimes delicious” to “sometimes meh,” but it “aims to challenge,” which is a good thing.
Presentation across a variety of flat surfaces means that dinner somewhat “resembles an autopsy by a highly precise pathologist,” with a quail dish in particular looking more like “a mafia warning” than food. Do not expect to leave hugely satiated, either: “carbs do not play a huge part on Decimo’s menu, or in the lifestyle choice of anyone who works there.” And yet it’s hard not to admire the overall effect — somewhere this “gorgeous,” “sexy,” and “glamorous” doesn’t come around all that often, and it may well be “sweeping the restaurant world into a new decade.” Dent isn’t the first through Decimo’s doors, but that doesn’t matter: it is “more than worth the wait.”
Vardo / Ozone Bethnal Green
By her own admission, Marina O’Loughlin is also a little late to the wave of coffee shops subtly reconfiguring the capital’s dining habits. This week, in the interest of redressing the balance, she collects two stamps on her loyalty card for the price of one — visiting Caravan offshoot Vardo in Chelsea and the new branch of Ozone Coffee in Bethnal Green.
Inside a “singular” building off the Kings Road, Vardo executes a peripatetic menu with “delicious dash”: a “gleeful mess” of grilled corncobs “slathered” with salted pandan coconut milk, sesame and chilli; spiced chickpeas and puffy flatbread “humming” with garam masala-spiked labneh and fenugreek chilli butter. Even a salmon grain bowl is a “great thing,” with “slabs” of “succulent” fish benefitting from a “rainbow of Japanese seasoning.” Old favourites from the Caravan menu — “unmissable” cornbread and “superb” pizzas — remain present and correct, and even some slightly “scorched” lamb can’t prevent Vardo from delivering on lofty expectations: “you expect to be wowed.”
Perhaps “more astonishing,” then, is the Bethnal Green Road branch of Ozone, which delivers “less Costa,” “more San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Manufactory.” Here, trout comes in “the lightest, crispest tempura batter” with a “forceful” sauce gribiche; a “fat tranche of crunchy-skinned hake” arrives with braised onions and globe artichoke stained with herb oil; and “ripe and sticky and gamey” beef mince is “dusted” with smoked cheddar, a “homemade, crisp, mustardy” piccalilli on the side — “pappy” Starbucks muffin, this is not. The coffee, too, is “first class” — add in Ozone’s superb food, and there are few better incentives to “wake up and smell it.”
Alas, things take a turn for the worse, as William Sitwell fails to love Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard’s revamp of Sonny’s in Barnes, which is now Church Road.
The menu may be “evocative,” and certain dishes — a “gorgeous and warming” plate of pasta; a “beautiful” whole grouse — may deliver, but there are also a fair few moments that fail to land. Clam and sweetcorn chowder is “all sweetcorn noise,” above which the clam struggles “to be heard”; the “promise” of charcoal-roasted prawns with masala sauce and aubergine under-delivers “five un-charred, wretched little numbers, a tiny aubergine covered with chopped cucumber and radish, a dollop of yogurt and a charred slice of lemon.” The menu at Church Road may be a “masterclass,” but the execution is a little less than “exemplary” — “especially” with its “very grown-up and brand-spanking-new Church Road price tag.”
Charlie’s at Brown’s
Charlie’s may be shooting for “timeless grandeur,” but Famurewa finds something “inhibited and vibeless” about the “general tableau of sedate oyster lunches and hovering, jumpily deferent staff”: the room is heavy with “perfunctory, moneyed stiffness.”
This is a shame, as chef-director Adam Byatt offers “occasional, unignorable flashes of inspired cooking”. From a menu that “leans into a comforting, reassuringly spendy Britishness” sounds the “rich chime” of a chicken oyster consommé, and a “lavishly filled” chicken and ham pie, “crowned by a puffed, golden plinth of fantastic pastry”. But there is also a “strangely gritty” and “arid” dish of tempura mushrooms, and a chocolate pudding that brings to mind “the very wet, aggressively sweet, chocolate fondant you might tiredly put away in a provincial branch of Strada.” The “unsmiling” nature of a meal here is certainly “disappointing”, but perhaps not altogether surprising: “not every excursion into rarified territory is going to warrant a return trip.”