One of the capital’s longest-gestating restaurants finally opened its doors this month — it has been so long since Guillaume Depoix announced the arrival of Folie that Londoners could be forgiven for wondering if it had joined the long-rumoured Fatty Crab as a restaurant that existed purely in the realm of the imagination.
After a pretty withering first look from Fay Maschler, Depoix may be wishing it had stayed that way. The room is fine — “inviting” and “comfortable”, even. But the food? As Depoix might say: bof. Marseille-style chickpea panisses are “feeble”; underpowered Brissaouda “impacts little” on its topping of crab; Sasizzella di tonno “adds a sour, spiteful note” to spaghetti merely “described” as “coming with clams and mussels.” Choices on the lunch-time prix fixe border on “punitive” and aren’t much better to eat: otherwise “yielding” chargrilled octopus tentacle finds itself embroiled “in an inappropriate relationship with butternut squash purée”, much to its detriment.
It’s a shame, really, since the “charming” staff probably deserve better. But food like this, at prices this “importunate”, simply “does not succeed” in whisking Maschler and co to “longed-for sunny climes”; nor does it “satisfy daydreams of Riviera romance.” At this stage, the suggestion of madness inherent in Folie’s name feels alarmingly “apt”.
There’s more folly on show over in the kitchens of west London, as Jimi Famurewa finds that the food at Ed Sheeran’s bar-slash-restaurant Bertie Blossoms really fails to… sing?
Initial impressions are promising, with the “lived-in, personal, laid-back” space responsible for a “beer-loosened party atmosphere” that is “brilliantly pleasant”. Unfortunately — “tragically” — dishes then start arriving from the “short, waywardly Mediterranean” menu. Baby artichokes are “pale, oil-steeped nubbins lacking the necessary jolt of fragrant brine”; mushroom risotto arrives as an “unappetising, claggy puddle”, with a garnish of hazelnuts lending it a “properly unwelcome, mealy air”; “gnarled” lamb meatballs are only “a little better” — and only then in “a slightly repeaty, home-cooked sort of way”. Of course, “rowdy, darkened pubs are not known for the nuanced adventurousness of their cuisine”, but drinking food can still be “majestic” when “done with some care”. Sheeran’s celebrity will “undoubtedly bring plenty of people” through the doors of Bertie Blossoms. But “a few decent things to eat” might actually “make them want to come back.”
In a crowded field, Pan of the Week honours go to Grace Dent, who finds precious little to write home about the latest (seventh!) shopping centre branch of Omar Allibhoy’s Tapas Revolution, this time in Westfield Stratford.
Salt cod fritters are deeply “unlovable”; pan con tomate is “soggy”; paella is “weird” and “oily”. Worst of the lot may be the churros — “sad, tasteless turds of dough, deep-fried in jaded oil and served with a jar of separated cocoa and water masquerading as chocolate dipping sauce”. There might be “good intent” somewhere in the mix at this “growing chain”, but “in the rush to expand and feed the masses, flavour and care have taken a hit.” The end result is less romantic Andalusian sojourn, more a meal that tastes like “being punished incrementally for Brexit”.
At this point, things start to take a turn for the more positive. First up, it’s Giles Coren’s turn through the doors at Sticky Mango, which — like Fay Maschler before him — he finds in fairly rude health.
Softshell crab bao, crab dumplings, and Thai green mango salad are all “exemplary”; char kway teow benefits from “revelatory” wok hei; black pepper prawns with dehydrated pineapple are “an unexpected tour de force”. Best of the lot might be the Malaysian chicken curry puffs — the sort of “flaky”, “meaty” delight that leaves socks “comprehensively knocked off” — or half a “delicious” Singapore chilli lobster (even if the single bun furnished with it verges on the “mean”). Factor in “wonderful” teas and the service provided by a waitress “with the memory skills of a circus act but ten times the charm” and it’s easy to recommend chef Peter Lloyd’s latest venture as somewhere “tapping into the resurgent Anglo-southeast Asian thing with gusto and great skill.”
The outlook remains sunny over in Shoreditch, too, as William Sitwell reinforces the critical consensus to date that has found Bubala a riotous — if occasionally heavy-handed — celebration of Middle Eastern flavours.
Every dish here is “tempting and hospitable, like endless naughty hugs from the chef” — so much so that it’s all too easy to “order most of the menu”. And if the kitchen could “go easier on the oils and salts” — and maybe redress the “acrid” nature of the house pickles — there’s nevertheless some “excellent” and “inviting” cooking on offer, “full of taste and originality”, priced to provide “excellent value”, to boot. Take in a room full of “atmosphere and bustle”, be just a little “modest with your order”, and it’s hard to imagine how punters won’t “leave very happy”.
After some time away, Tim Hayward returns to the capital to wrap up for this week — and delivers a resounding endorsement of Leandro Carreira’s The Sea, The Sea.
Hayward had previously bucked against Carreira’s “competent but cold” cooking at Londrino, but in this more “informal”, more “offbeat” setting he finds things much more to his liking. Monkfish liver parfait, “extra rich with fats and oils”, is “profoundly satisfying”; seared sardines “smack of the ocean”; dry-aged kingfish arrives “sliced into thick, raw chunks with a dollop of fermented corn and a sprinkling of powdered almond and, dear Lord, he is good.” Cockles come “barely cooked, popping with sea-fresh fat and counterbalanced by the stingingly spicy, deep funk of the XO”; they are followed with “a superbly sharp and cleansing plate of raw tuna and tiny tomatoes in red-pepper miso.”
It’s “tremendously exciting” cooking — all the more so because Carreira, in a tiny, constrained kitchen, is having to cook without any of the “accoutrements of chefdom”. The Sea, The Sea offers customers a front-row seat to a virtuoso display of “the talents and creativity of a Michelin-quality chef” operating “with the tools of a small snack bar” — it’s not just “anything but an average fish restaurant” but (in Hayward’s eyes) the “best thing” that Carreira has “ever done”.