An edition largely built on reviews of places people have already reviewed starts promisingly enough with a bona fide big deal new opening: Da Terra, the heady mix of Michelin-starred priors and storied east London culinary history located in the space formerly occupied by Lee Westcott’s Typing Room and Nuno Mendes’ Viajante.
It’s reviewed by Fay Maschler on just its second day, and the early signs are promising: “charming” staff, “simultaneously dainty and hefty” cutlery, appealingly “slender” Zalto-esque stemware. The food delivers, too: at times “delicate,” at times “truly wicked,” almost always consistently “dazzling.” Like the rest of the meal, petits fours to finish are “exquisite” and “exhilarating,” perfectly “in balance” — a neat summation of an experience that leaves the Evening Standard’s critic full of “admiration.”
Monsieur Le Duck
Much more limited in scope — but just as skilled in execution — is Monsieur Le Duck, a Gascony-inspired pop-up / residency near Liverpool Street station. It bangs out a short set menu of vaguely French, decidedly anatine fare for people who want better bang for their duck than the £100 offering at Imperial Treasure.
Jay Rayner’s a big fan, at any rate. He enjoys the opening mixed salad of “butch, hefty leaves” and finds the sides “exactly as you would wish them to be”; he encounters an “exceedingly well-made” crème brulee to finish, alongside an apple tarte with crème fraiche that is “all kinds of encouraging loveliness.” But mainly he’s here for the various permutations of duck, all of which live up to expectations. The breast is just barely coaxed to “deep purple” rare, its fat rendered — “as it damn well should be.” A minced burger is “pleasingly dense” and “constantly on point to leak juices down your chin”; the duck confit is absolutely “up to scratch,” “crisp and bronzed and salty and rich.” Perhaps there’s a tiny “niggle” to be registered, given that it’s imported from France rather than done in-house, but then again, if it’s “the good stuff,” why “overcomplicate matters”? Monsieur Le Duck is a perfect example of how keeping it simple can reap its own rewards: how a handful of good things cooked well can result in “a delightful night out.”
His issue is a pretty fundamental one: the food “tastes crap.” Dishes like foie gras and strawberry tart or pastrami egg rolls may scan as “witty”; “audacious”; “clever,” even, but the cooking so frequently “falls flat on delivery” that these nods towards “irreverent iconoclasm” all too often “land with a dull thud.” Food is “priced like it’s high-end” but is long on “coarse” flavours that are probably “best appreciated drunk”; factor in some “clumsily themed décor” and it’s hard not to detect “the queasy smell of the focus group” or to distinguish “a titanium exoskeleton of cynicism” underneath its “gingham frills.” More than anything, somewhere like this, which “manages to compound half a dozen cultures without transmitting an iota of soul from any of them,” just feels fundamentally “misjudged”. Its nudge-nudge-wink-wink “shtick” suggests a strain of New York wise-guy D.N.A. running through the place, and Hayward’s advice to the prospective punter is clear: “fuhgeddaboudit.”
At the other end of the spectrum — in terms of both simplicity of approach and overall satisfaction in the end result — comes Hicce in Coal Drops Yard, which doesn’t quite chime with William Sitwell in much the same way it hasn’t quite charmed with some other noted visitors.
The food here is certainly “intriguing” but “hand on heart” it’s hard to find it “entirely enjoyable”: it’s long on “clever juxtapositions” of “beautifully” selected or prepared ingredients, but really all this delivers is a bunch of things that are “entirely unrelated and unsuited to one another” occupying the same tabletop. Much of the execution here is “faultless,” but it’s also terminally “incongruous.” Hicce may be “interesting,” but in a market as crowded as London’s it’s an open question as to whether that’s really “good enough.”
For a better synthesis of the interesting and the enjoyable, trek on up to Newington Green, where Grace Dent becomes just the latest to sing the praises of a certain bakery-cum-restaurant-cum-Dolly-Parton-invocation.
Everything at Jolene, from the “immaculate” service to “beautiful, candlelit” space, seems precision-calibrated to appeal to the Guardian critic, and this absolutely applies to the “wonderful” food, too: it’s “earthy, imaginative, slightly saintly, but with a dirty underbelly of oily, salty largesse in each forkful of spelt, cruciferous veg or sustainably harvested, starchy carb.” Dent acknowledges that the “ever so slightly pretentious” approach — and divisive wine lists — may not “be for everyone,” but she encounters a reception that is never less than “completely welcoming.” Crucially, she also leaves “well fed.”
Stem + Glory
How unlike poor old Giles Coren, who travels to the first London outpost of Cambridge’s vegan mini-chain Stem and Glory, and finds plenty of the former but precious little of the latter for his trouble. The issue, really, is homogeneity: the way a bunch of “vegetable matter” — however skilfully cooked — eventually “all chews down into a limited number of flavours”: all “at the front of the mouth, tangy, nothing at the back where the fats normally stick.” So, much as the house cauliflower gratin may be “a paragon of vegan cooking,” the prospect of more courses of essentially the “same, sweet, composty flavour” is hardly an appealing one — and that’s assuming this stuff is well cooked, which, in the case of an “awful” jackfruit bao, it absolutely isn’t. At its best, this is “harmless” food, food to “tolerate,” food “you only want to eat until you are full.” What it certainly isn’t is “delicious.”
Unlike her former Observer colleague, she finds the “uneasy mix” of pizza and “mildly Ottolenghi-ish” small plates a tough one to swallow — and that’s before sampling the “remarkable,” “Ryvita-dry” pizzas, which taste “like the 1980s,” or like “the third wave of U.K. pizzaioli never happened.” Factor in the punchy prices and a cheeky bit of upselling on the wine front and the end result is “a bill of pain” — every bit the predictable outcome at somewhere so “bougie,” “blingy,” and “fake.” Pucci seeks to evoke the spirit of a less complicated, more buzzy time in London culinary history: instead, sadly, “it’s about as swinging as a lobbed bread roll.”