clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

One of London’s Best Restaurant Residencies Leaves Critic With ‘Numbed Lips’

Liu Xiaomian’s Chongqing noodles thrill Marina O’Loughlin, while much-hyped Decimo misfires in King’s Cross

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Liu Xiaomian’s spicy numbing noodles in an ornate blue, navy, and white bowl. Liu Xiaomian [Twitter]


Nestled ten floors up above King’s Cross, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ Decimo is one of the city’s most vertiginous new openings, and this much-hyped London debut from a star of Bristol’s restaurant scene has curious punters wondering whether it can truly hit the heights.

Per Fay Maschler: Sort of. The room is an “atmospheric treat to discover,” all “mid-century American” meets “design classics”, plus a variety of plush fabrics that “absorb noise, allowing an appealing soundtrack to enhance rather than smother conversations.”

The food is a little less assured. A “short, crisp and eye-poppingly expensive” menu features more than a couple of dishes for what Maschler’s friend calls the “luxe w**ker market,” including a caviar-loaded tortilla which is “left unordered.” Even less ritzy dishes come with a hefty tag: a “tiny” fish taco is £6; croquetas de jamon are £3.50 each; three “not very thrilling” carrots come in at £6; a suckling pig shoulder lacks “the crisp carapace anticipated” at £45.

Other dishes reassure Maschler that Sanchez-Iglesias is capable of “rewarding” cooking: a “lush” crab and jalapeno aguachile; a mushroom bomba rice — “a thing of beauty, visually and in one’s tum.” Same goes for turbot, “almost a bargain at £24”; a “dainty” pudding of set cream “polished with Arbequina olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and accompanied by a roasted fig” is “a kind of perfection.”

The investment here is “blatantly huge”, and the “sensory wrap-around” of the spenny dining room is an undeniable “delight.” Overall, though, a muted 3/5 stars suggest the kitchen needs a little more consistency to justify what will be a monumental outlay for the average diner: at these dizzying prices, “anything less than an impeccable result is disappointing.”

Mama Fuego

If Decimo doesn’t quite serve 10s across the board, then the O2 Arena-adjacent Mama Fuego is an even more curious case study in nominative non-determinism, as Aussie-meets-Latin-American fare strikes Jimi Famurewa as somewhat less than [fire emoji].

“Money has clearly been spent” on the fit-out; there is a “commendable, intriguing ambition” to the concept. So it’s “a bit of a downer” to report that otherwise, it’s “one of the more dispiriting, oomph-less places” Famurewa has endured this year.

“Eager but jittery” service is the first red flag, followed swiftly by some truly “scattergun” food. Pea pancake may be “capably fried,” but it’s “buried beneath a watery hedgerow of leaves and cucumber ribbons, and strewn with pointless rubbled pistachio.” An “unpalatable quantity of wholegrain mustard” obliterates the “stodgy,” “slightly grey” brisket Cubano; tomato soup served with a cheese toastie and rebranded as “Big Dippers” is merely “fine,” in “a ‘most reliable order at a park café’ sort of way.” “Characterful” cakes offer “partial respite,” but in general this is “fussy” and “joy-free” food whose “tired presentational gimmickry” fails to mask a total lack of “common sense desirability”. Mama Fuego may be positioning itself as a local joint, but on balance, SE10’s locals probably “deserve better”.

E&O Chelsea

The misses keep coming over Chelsea, as William Sitwell is left decidedly cold by the refurbished Chelsea branch of pan-Asian mini-chain E&O.

Wine is “slow to arrive” — in marked contrast to the opening salvo of dishes, which burst forth from the kitchen “within seconds.” Prawn and chive dumplings are “lovely,” but chilli salt squid comes as “flattened, teeth-breaking tempura,” including several pieces that are just “dull bits of batter”. Watermelon and duck salad arrives “a messy dollop on a plate,” drowned in “a sugary sauce so cloying and sweet as to ruin any semblance of flavour and subtlety.” The wine finally arrives, “infuriatingly late” — though not as “bonkers tardy” as the next set of dishes, which come “a good hour later.” Sadly, it’s hardly worth it: shrimp tempura comes with a “pointlessly trendy” truffle aioli; “overcooked” sea bream comes “drenched” in a “thick and gloopy” Szechuan sauce. In the Asian-fusion craze of the early 90s, E&O might have been a “glowing star” — these days, dinner is a farce that verges on “tragedy.”

La Dame de Pic

Things are marginally better at Anne-Sophie Pic’s newly two-Michelin-starred La Dame de Pic, where Giles Coren puts aside his feelings about “multicourse French tasting menus in international business hotels with restaurants named after chefs who live and work 1,000 miles away” to see what all the fuss is about.

An opening amuse of wild berry and pepper ice cream is “very pretty,” but little more than “cold and blackcurranty” in the mouth; cheese-stuffed berlingots are “very good,” “dainty” pasta floating in a “delicate” consommé. Scottish langoustines in “a shimmering copper-coloured foam of shellfish butter” elicit “not a bad word from anyone”; kagoshima wagyu marinated in absinthe, pepper and green anise is little short of “sublime”, its “buttery softness” buttressed by a “dense caramelly taste with just a touch of proper English roast at the edges.” A “vomit-scented Cornetto” of a closing treat, courtesy of a chilled Stilton meringue with white chocolate, isn’t the most felicitous of parting shots, but perhaps that’s no surprise: in the words of one of Coren’s guests, “the whole Michelin thing is a fooking mystery”.

Liu Xiaomian at The Jackalope

A week generally low on whelm reaches a happy conclusion, as Marina O’Loughlin thrills to former street food stall Liu Xiaomian’s Chongqing noodles at the refurbed Jackalope pub.

Working with “an oversized chemistry set of flavours”, flatmates Liu Qian and Charlene Liu knock out the “tiniest” handful of dishes from their native Chongqing, each of which “manages to taste entirely different” despite sharing many fundamental ingredients.

The slick of scarlet chilli oil that adorns most dishes “might frighten the timorous,” but it doesn’t take long for the “hauntingly floral” Sichuan pepper to work its magic: a dish of sweet potato starch noodles in particular “has a soup of such perfumed, potent depth” that O’Loughlin and co “fight over its glossy dregs.” Anyone who descends into this Marylebone basement — and loves ma la — will surely “leave cheerfully unable to feel” their “numbed lips.”


10 Argyle Street, , England WC1H 8EG 020 3981 8888 Visit Website

Mama Fuego

69 Olympian Way, Greenwich Peninsula, London, Greater London SE10 0NE Visit Website

E&O Chelsea

392 King's Road, London, SW3 5UZ

La Dame de Pic

10 Trinity Square, London, Greater London EC3N 4AJ +44 20 3297 9200 Visit Website

Liu Xiaomian at The Jackalope

43 Weymouth Mews, , W1G 7EH