Shoreditch’s new Italian gaff, Gloria, has already gained a reputation for not doing things by halves — so it’s only fitting that Big Mamma restaurant group’s London debut receives not one, but two visits from the major critics this week.
Both of them end up in a similarly contented place: Grace Dent rejoices in a venue “completely at odds with London’s restaurant scene right now,” emphasising Gloria’s “hopelessly optimistic, wanton fun.” This means “purposefully naff, twinkly, 1970s Capri glam” in the décor, “young, hyperactive, apparently-Italians-but-who-cares” among the staff, and an “utterly indecipherable” menu that blends “pseudo-Italian” with “nudgy-winky, Carry On movie English.”
Fay Maschler diagnoses much the same, plus the presence of some “excruciating puns.” Just like Dent, though, she’s in thrall to the food when it does arrive. Carbonara comes “gilded with egg yolk” and “rendered sexy and funky with crisp chips of guanciale, rugged Parmesan and lots of black pepper”; pasta al tartufo is anointed with “a hallucinogenic amount of black Molise truffle smoothed with mascarpone”; Youporn pizza — yeesh — is “made particularly emphatic with fennel sausage” and boasts an authentically “thin, bendy base and swollen, puffy crust.”
It’s telling that both critics mention Brexit in their reviews: Maschler wonders out loud whether this is “restaurants’ last hurrah before Brexit”; a visibly giddy Dent celebrates a venue “kicking Brexit gloom up the arse with 120mm Miu Miu stiletto pumps.” Call Gloria “jolly, precisely orchestrated chaos”; call it “pleasantly deranged”: In a scene that can so often feel “joyless,” “you can’t help but admire its balls.”
Beck at Brown’s
There’s a different kind of Italianate cheek on offer at Beck at Browns in Mayfair — and it’s much less welcome for William Sitwell.
This is courtesy of a “wretched” sommelier, who — when asked to suggest a glass of red to go with the main courses — provides a Barolo clocking in at £34 (thirty-four pounds sterling) per 125ml glass. Unsurprisingly, this rather takes the enjoyment out of dinner itself, which is a shame. Heinz Beck’s food may sometimes be “over-imagined,” but dishes like an “original” take on pasta alla carbonara, or a “startlingly successful” riff on tiramisu suggest that a “rather clever sensibility” lies behind all the culinary tinkering. What could have been a “triumph” ends up a “travesty” — however delicious that Barolo might be, it’s a case of “nice wine, horrible price. Naughty sommelier.”
Giles Coren finds himself at another of 2018’s spendier openings — but he also finds rather more satisfaction, with suitable bang delivered for considerable buck.
He’s at Greek-meets-Asian-fusion spot Onima for a charity lunch, and finds some excellent food as part of a bill whose final cost is rather less on the charitable side. Saganaki cheese is quite simply “the most delicious saganaki ever” — served with a “really excellent little bowl of salad on the side,” actively “historic”. But, at £13, actively “punchy.” A similar equation is at play with Sicilian red prawns — “delicious, warmish, sweet, melty bodies,” “exactly what you want from a Sicilian prawn,” but is it exactly what you want for the “pretty mental” price of £34?
And so it goes on: “brilliant” tempura prawns for £24; “lovely” spanakopita for £14; “pellucid” guazzetto featuring “really good” red mullet for £32. It’s all excellent, and it’s also £700 for four people. To which, closing-scene-of-Chinatown-style, perhaps a shrug is the only reasonable reaction. “This is Mayfair, after all.”
Slightly less refined but markedly less expensive pleasures on offer at next week’s destination — Jay Rayner is at Philadelphia-inspired-food-truck-turned-bricks-and-mortar-restaurant Passyunk Avenue.
This is not “somewhere in which to linger”: the food is fast, its appeal direct. The signature cheesesteak is “a serious amount of sandwich for £11”; buffalo wings are “deep fried then turned in exactly the right pounding sauce with the perfect lip-tingling smack of heat and salt and sour”; according to taste, tater tots can come “doused in more cheese wiz and a blitzed bacon crumb.” There is a “cracking” iceberg wedge salad on offer — suggesting that the kitchen can do “refreshing” as well as artery-clogging — but its arrival, dredged in bacon and blue cheese, gives a pretty clear indication of where Passyunk Avenue’s priorities lie. “Subtle, it ain’t.” But does it deliver on flavour? “Oh God yes.”
Jimi Famurewa closes out one of the wider-ranging weeks in recent memory with a trip to Chiswick newcomer The Crown. It’s another knot in Henry Harris’ critically acclaimed string of Francophone gastropubs — although there’s just the first hint that the formula may be losing its lustre a tad.
Nothing is bad, per se, but it never really scales the heights, either. Steak tartare is “terrifically seasoned,” but is also “unfortunately redolent of a dropped burger” in appearance; red mullet looks “very inviting” but is in need of something “to cut through the various coalescing blasts of salt and stodge and surf.” Grilled rabbit leg with Dijon mustard sauce is perfectly “pleasant,” but only “in the way that a gently poshed-up Côte mainstay might be.” Closing things off, Armagnac tiramisu is “merely a quite nice tiramisu” — a perfect emblem of The Crown more generally, which seems an “instant neighbourhood hit” but could do with finding “the extra gear needed to make this genre of heartening, bistrofied simplicity really purr.”