Sir Terence Conran’s fingerprints are all over London’s restaurant scene — erase him from its history and there would be no Bibendum, no Quaglino’s, no Pont de la Tour. So for him to be back in business with Wilder — the new restaurant at Shoreditch hotel Boundary — is big news; big enough, in fact, that the Evening Standard sends not one but two critics to cover it.
First up, Fay Maschler, with a broadly positive take that never quite rises to the fully ecstatic. The menu is “written shopping list-style”, offering “groupings of ingredients with no clue as to how they will be prepared — and sometimes not much elucidation coming from the staff.” Sometimes, the Russian roulette this occasions can end very positively: pig’s head, beremeal, walnut is “a luscious take on brawn”; roasted pheasant comes with a “notably good” red cabbage stew; a pudding of apple, soured cream, lemon thyme, and oats pulls off the “tightrope walk” of “sour/sweet, smooth/crunchy, pure/smoky” and is an uncomplicated “delight.”
At other points, though, things aren’t quite as successful. The “innate sweetness” of carrot puree “overrules” its accompaniments; curd, girolles, pear, linseeds is a “somewhat random assembly”; cod with trotter and cured yolk is diagnosed by Maschler’s dining companion as “having been made by someone in an advanced stage of hipster ennui.” Factor in occasionally “grudging” portion sizes and a final score of 3/5 seems amply justified.
Things are slightly more positive when seen from Jimi Famurewa’s perspective. He’s not a fan of the “starkly decked, sombre” décor, and there’s more than a suggestion of an eye-roll of the “haute Dark Ages menu thick with the likes of gutweed, mugwort, and other things that sound like JK Rowling inventions.” But as soon as he starts eating misgivings about the “unfashionably serious” approach give way to admiration for the “exceptionally skilled and distinctive” cooking.
Unlike some other restaurants in thrall to New Nordic’s “self-limiting philosophy”, here the “worthiness of the enterprise” is “crucially underpinned by warm hospitality and unexpected, fortifying deliciousness.” The meal starts strong with “amazing” elderflower-sprinkled oysters and “belting” nettle tempura, takes a couple of steps in the wrong direction with “custard-sweet” carrot dip and “monotone” egg in chanterelle broth, before the mains bring back some “sparkle” in the form of “luscious cod aboard soothing chicken trotter liquor” and mallard with a hemp porridge with all the charm of “supercharged Paxo.” Add on an “addictive, ultra-whiffy blob” of Tunworth cheese and a “pretty extraordinary” pudding of chocolate-dusted Jerusalem artichoke mousse, and it’s enough to send Famurewa out into the world “stuffed, giddy and lightly drunk” — and in philosophical mood. We are clearly in a “wider dining moment” where “bombast draws the biggest crowds, hypey signature dishes are a must and noisy revelry tends to reign.” In amidst all this, Wilder “feels different.” It may struggle “to be heard above the din”, but “it holds your attention all the same.”
Wild by Tart
The feral theme continues over in Belgravia, as William Sitwell takes a bite out of catering company and delicatessen sibling Wild by Tart.
All of the problems happen on the food front. Autumn vegetable tempura is a “travesty of the concept”: “thick, flabby and covered in grease.” An “inelegantly large” chunk of halloumi is “nice and squeaky to eat”, but the chopped chilli alongside “has no bite”, and the coriander garnish is “tired and curled.” Sticky lamb rack with spicy dipping sauce is “as depressing as a broken manifesto commitment” — its fat far from “properly rendered”, the dipping sauce far from “suitably tempered.”
It’s a shame, because these “dull notes” undermine a restaurant that otherwise “aches to be great.” It’s set in a “fabulous space”, all “high ceilings and industrial steel frames” — the sort of place it’s all too easy to imagine “coming alive for wild Christmas parties.” It is, in Wild by Tart’s defence, still “early days” — with a little more “precision at the pass” and some more “gutsy flavouring”, it’s easy to “believe this place will thrive.”
There’s no need for such wholesale improvement over in Soho, where Giles Coren thrills to the cooking at the recently opened Sussex.
Things start encouragingly with “impeccable” tempura garden herbs (“wonderfully crispy-chewy and aromatic”) and “compelling”, “savoury”, “squishy” mushroom marmite éclairs. Things continue in a similar vein with “juicy” partridge saltimbocca in pancetta, monkfish carpaccio “prettily belaboured” with aubergine, lemon, chilli, pine nuts and red amaranth, and tortellini filled with braised squirrel in a “not-at-all-yukky” Tunworth foam. It’s “all good”, really — with the exception of the “liverish” and “unyielding” filling of a mallard Wellington. After a string of openings in west London, this is the Gladwin brothers’ first foray in the town centre — and opening in a site formerly occupied by Bruno Loubet, Jason Atherton, Anthony Demetre, (and Flavour Bastard) is certainly “a hell of a lineage to inherit.” But in Coren’s eyes, the Gladwin bros have “pretty much nailed it.”
45 Jermyn Street
There are a few hiccups along the way: arriving early, O’Loughlin is refused admission until the time of her reservation, which if nothing else seems “peevishly short of the old Christmas spirit.” It is, “of course, expensive.” And (perhaps worst of all) the door to the loos is “cringeworthily” titled ‘Leaks and Peas’.
And yet O’Loughlin still leaves “suffused” with a “Ready Brek glow of pleasure.” Partly, it’s because whilst nothing on the menu is “revelatory”, “there’s nothing that’s not good” there, either. Raw mackerel tacos read like a “classic pratfall dish” but are in fact “perfect” — “crisp shells, fine, clean fish, a creamy dressing pulling the whole thing together, a scattering of inky pearls of caviar the icing on the savoury cake.” Portland crab with frisée and quail’s eggs is “a hymn to beautiful produce and the pleasures of not trying too hard.” Even the more old-school “culinary fossils” on the menu are lent a “touch of modernity”: “textbook” calf’s liver comes with a “sultry” puree of onions and “frilly little fried rings” of the same; with some “crisp, fat” chips alongside it results in “retro dreaminess.”
The real reason for O’Loughlin’s joy, though, comes earlier in the piece, in the form of a cheese toastie. But (extremely M&S ad campaign voice) this is not just any toastie, it’s a “toastie from heaven”: “fine sourdough masquerading as sliced square white, outsides almost caramelised with butter, insides oozing ripe, whiffy raclette cheese”, with a white truffle “generously microplaned” on top delivering “a heady taupe snowdrift of sheerest luxury.” With a chilled glass of wine alongside, it’s like all the Sunday Times critic’s Christmases “have come at once.”