With a lyrical, jaunty name that cannot help but bring to mind the best supporting character in Hamilton, Daffodil Mulligan has arrived in Shoreditch with an all-singing, all-dancing approach to hospitality.
Fay Maschler is swept up in the merriment, swept up by head chef Simon Merrick’s “immediate, responsive, creative ideas applied to pristine ingredients.” Making the most of a “culinary freedom” that “the regular clientele of [Mayfair seafood bastion] Bentley’s doesn’t bestow,” co-owner Richard Corrigan pushes the boat out, in one case bringing back “impeccable, beautiful” red mullet seasoned with cumin and coriander, which proves a little “overbearing.” More convincing is celeriac, “steamed to exactly the appropriate point of resistance,” topped with Beaufort cheese and “a storm of grated truffle”; or a whole chicken baked in a salt dough crust — the bird “exceptionally tender and juicy,” its flavour “enhanced” by a chicken liver and mushroom duxelles, and the legs “cunningly” removed beforehand “to be roasted crisply and conventionally.” Smaller assemblies are just as good, from the “irresistible” signature soda bread, to the “palpable hit” that is spatchcocked partridge in a “potent” Mangalitza pork gravy. Add on some mash with bone marrow and Daffodil Mulligan has all the makings of a deeply hedonistic destination. After all, “’tis the season to be jolly.”
Meson Don Felipe
There’s a similar jovial vibe — with a very different regional accent — over on The Cut, as Jimi Famurewa gets into the swing of things at longstanding Spanish institution Meson Don Felipe.
There is little about this restaurant that “makes any kind of logical sense on paper.” The space is “starkly lit” and “dominated by a wooden horseshoe bar that stretches out so far you often have to crab-walk around the ever-thrumming room,” The tables are “so small any sizeable food order will involve a Tetris-like plate arrangement.” There’s even an in-house guitarist, “teetering on a comically tiny elevated stage like a sort of Flamenco Elf on the Shelf.”
And yet. 32 years in business tells some sort of story – the formula somehow worked back then, and “absolutely does now.” “Bronzed, hot orbs of tuna croquette” have an “appealing savoury honk”; patatas bravas hum with “a creeping, mellow heat”; deep fried chorizo tastes “exactly how you would hope, in the kind of undemanding manner that works particularly well with the spiced warmth of a bottle of 2015 Muga Rioja.” And the specials — pork belly with “the perfect marriage of frazzled crunch and succulent squish”; a “tremendously unattractive” lentil stew, “teeming with potato, scrags of chorizo and patiently conjured, fragrant depth” — might be even better, the sort of “unusual, homespun triumphs” to catch an unsuspecting or cynical visitor “off guard.”
But Meson Don Felipe’s enduring success is due to more than just tasty food. Somehow, the “accumulative, intoxicating effect of alcohol, agile service, prime people-watching and fond nostalgia” comes together to create something special. Far from feeling like a “tired museum exhibit,” it still feels “rambunctious, spry and utterly unique” three decades on — a “long-running culinary production” with “plenty of life in it yet.”
Baozi Inn / Wild by Tart
Things aren’t quite so cheery at BaoziInn, where Giles Coren endures a “grisly” time at two separate branches of the burgeoning mini-chain. Popcorn chicken is “overcooked, dark brown, chewy, gritty and mostly stodge, with just a faint chickeny tang”; steamed pork dumplings are “thick in the pasta and bland in the filling”; steamed bao are “squat, a little bit flattened on top and sweaty-looking,” their filling still “frozen hard,” “not remotely defrosted or close to edible.” All in all, one of those experiences that leads diners to conclude that they are “never going back.”
More promising, perhaps, is Wild by Tart — where the Tamworth pork and prawn dumplings are “absolutely ripping”, with a “wonderfully thin, springy casing.” Other highlights include a “very well balanced” trout crudo, and a “beautifully done” dish of turbot with onion and capers — if tagliatelle with crab, fennel and chilli is a “bit muddled”, and pumpkin with feta is lacking a little “pizazz”, most of the food here is “very good.” The whole shebang might be “a bit mad,” but the service is “smart” and “clued-up” and the kitchen does “all the right things with seriously good, fresh, seasonal, local produce”. Like the miso caramel cookie skillet with which Coren concludes his meal, Wild by Tart has the potential to be a real “knockout.”
If Wild by Tart is the good kind of bonkers, Marina O’Loughlin is less convinced by Ed Sheeran’s Notting Hill project, Bertie Blossoms, “without a doubt” the “oddest” restaurant she has visited “in a long time.”
To start with, it just “looks odd.” There’s a “vast, overbright chandelier”; there’s “paintwork in a pugnacious shade of municipal green”; there are “faux trophy heads of hippo and lion”; there are “paintings of Elvis and photos of Dolly Parton.”
The wine list is “bemusing,” too — a selection of “sought-after, hip and desirable” bottles that “appears to have wandered in from another establishment altogether, one where the owners had a bit of a clue.”
“Oddest of all,” though, is the menu. “Nothing seems to connect the dishes, no narrative or cohesion” — and they don’t make a particularly compelling case on the plate, either. The best is gets is some lamb meatballs that taste like “an escapee from a better episode of Come Dine with Me.” From there things fall apart quite quickly, descending through “marshy” risotto “overloaded” with mushroom and “rubbery” Manchego all the way through to straight-up “demented.” The flatbreads are especially bad: “Dead Sea salty” salt beef, sauerkraut, and mustard form a “flattened, manic Reuben sandwich designed to flay the palate”; tandoori chicken and curried hummus comes on “like something you’d knock up from the back of your fridge after a night on the ket.”
And yet O’Loughlin can’t quite bring herself to “loathe” this singularly “daft” restaurant. Perhaps because it’s “absolutely comical?” One thing is for sure: flying in the face of his thoroughly anodyne public persona, Sheeran has stewarded nothing less than a “a copper-bottomed weirdo.”