When Evening Standard Magazine critic Jimi Famurewa dropped a so-so score on one half of Marylebone dual concept XR / Xier last week, he left readers with an open question. XR, the more casual, all-day offering, might not be a success — but what of Xier, the chef’s table upstairs?
Just a few days later, Grace Dent returns to the London beat with an emphatic answer: Xier is an “entirely different beast” — a “singular,” “tasteful,” and even “rather romantic” restaurant, where the décor and chef Carlo Scotto’s cooking come together “dreamily.”
A final score of 10/10 for food leaves little room for doubt — from the early “orgasmic” snacks to the “glorious” five-for-the-price-of-one pudding course, this “has all the plates spinning at once.” It’s “surprising and challenging,” but in a good way, with “magical” front-of-house ensuring things are never taken too “solemnly.” In the course of her review, Dent even namechecks two-Michelin-starred Notting Hill stalwart The Ledbury, a “dependable slice of perfection” that she sees as Xier’s most appropriate analogue. Multiple Michelin stars may indeed be in the future — for now, this very easily “could be the best opening of 2019.”
Famurewa himself is at one of London’s best-value restaurants this time round, singing a hymn to the charms of Charlie Boxer’s uber-deli Italo.
The food may offer “a kind of Rochelle Canteen-grade, European simplicity,” but it undeniably delivers on “hearty, affordable pleasure”, too. Toast comes “draped” in wilted monks’ beard, “dotted with squishy, honking” cloves of garlic and “liberally lubed with terrific, fragrant oil”; orecchiette with spiced rabit ragu arrive under “an inviting snowstorm of Parmesan”; harissa lamb neck is equal parts “tender” and “punchily seasoned” — in this setting, a “welcome postcard from the other side of the Mediterranean.” As that selection of dishes suggests, there is a “transfixing eccentricity” on show here — married to a “hustling, British grit,” it makes for something that, to Famurewa, “possesses a twinkly, contagious magic.” Given its somewhat open-air setup, Italo necessarily loses some of its charm in bad weather. But with summer around the corner and countless soulless chain roll-outs dotting our high streets, it has never felt more “vital”.
The Boxer family theme continues over in Notting Hill, where Giles Coren finds contentment at Jackson’s Orasay. Boxer junior may be the “sexpot hipster king of east London” but what he’s delivering here is altogether more “classic”: “well lit and cosy,” with “gentle and friendly” staff and a food offering that is “modest and humble and mostly very good – hipsterish enough to feel relevant, but nothing to scare the horses.”
To start off, “warm puffs of fried bread” arrive with “good salted anchovies astraddle”; radishes, too, are just so, packing all the requisite “crunch.” Mains of grilled cod with white asparagus and grilled halibut with lovage, broad beans and white crab meat are “delicious” and “spring-feeling”; if some “hefty” pasta with beef ragout is somewhat “less thrilling,” Coren finds there is still a lot to recommend Orasay, both in approach and execution. This sort of “relevant”, “youthful” cooking may not feel quite so “revolutionary” outside the confines of west London — but that doesn’t make it any less “lovely.”
There’s a similar sheen of old-school professionalism a few streets away at the recently opened 104 Restaurant, reviewed this week by Fay Maschler.
Things start off strong: sorrel “lends its asperity” to some “sportily crunchy” Puglian asparagus, with lemon zest providing a welcome “clincher.” Among the mains, there are occasional misfires: roast lamb is “a bit feeble in flavour”; Wilkins hasn’t been able to dissuade a Challans duck breast from its usual tendency to “seize up and toughen.” And other elements just feel a little misdirected: a course titled ‘citrus variations’ in 2019 only “brings to mind mildly distressing memories of the symphonies, medleys, arpeggios, rhapsodies, mélanges and so forth that used to crop up on menus of the Eighties.”
It’s not bad, by any means — and there are definitely moments that suggest 104 Restaurant could be the real deal; not least a “heavenly” pudding of Gariguette strawberries with yoghurt and matcha ice cream, or a chocolate moelleux that brings “pure contentment”. This soon after opening, a quiet dining room might be expected; as 104 Restaurant continues to develop, though, “it could even flirt with a tiny bit of recklessness”.
If that is the route that chef Wilkins decides to go down, he could do worse than check in on this week’s final destination, Yopo at the Mandrake Hotel.
Clearly designed by people who didn’t think former occupant Serge et le Phoque was extra enough, this Latin-American-inspired joint offers — per William Sitwell — the “psychoactive” thrills of “an Amazonian trip”: all “Indiana Jones temple of mystery” vibes in the bogs and “gap year around Brazil” signifiers in the décor.
There is, therefore, “a great deal of weird and sexy art” on the walls; perhaps more surprisingly, there is also “a menu of fantastic inventiveness delivered with authentically enthusiastic service” once guests make their way to their respective tables.
Far from succumbing to the usual pitfalls of the self-professed ‘fusion’ restaurant, Yopo “elucidates” the different cuisines in conversation on its menu, across which “ideas swirl” with such vigour it “can leave you giddy.” But from such chaos comes “a new and beautiful order”: champagne granita atop oysters lends them “a sweet and heavenly zing”; anchovies on sourdough with pecorino and harissa are “achingly, beautifully, naughtily moreish bites of salty paradise”; a “harmonious” pairing of duck with quince chutney and braised endives approaches “perfect dish” territory. It isn’t too self-serious, either: in a dish like crushed potatoes with Parmesan and crisps, this is cooking “every bit as good” as it is “funny.”
As restaurants come and go with an occasionally terrifying frequency, it is, in a very real sense, “a jungle out there.” In Yopo, at least, London has somewhere charting at least one potential path to “enlightened discovery.”