A London marathon of restaurant reviews takes its first steps this week with Jimi Famurewa crossing the start line at London’s only devotedly Awadhi restaurant, Lucknow 49.
Lucknow 49 is just the latest in a plague of “Too Many Nice Indian Places” afflicting the capital, all of them serving “some of the most pleasurable food around.” In this specific instance, that means the “lustfully steamed plumpness” of Awadhi sabzi biryani, the “insistent, face-dampening burn” of Taar gosht lamb leg, and the “beautiful treachery” of pale pink kammal kakdi raita concealing another burst of chilli heat.
There are a couple of “minor disappointments” that take the lustre off slightly: even for a dish reportedly designed by a toothless Nawab, the galouti kebab is disappointingly “lacking texture”; whilst perfectly “fine”, aminabad kulfi is at heart a “shrug of a thing.” But factor in a “shockingly reasonable” bill — especially for Mayfair — and agreeably “humble” surroundings that let the “slow-cooked opulence” of the cooking do the talking, and these minor hiccups are easily forgiven: “people will like this place.”
The welcome may be “brusque,” but on top of a “pretty, shiny chessboard floo,r” some increasingly “pleasing” dishes emerge from the kitchen. Shanghai buns and vegetable dumplings are “neatly made” and boast “bags of seasoning and colour”; Sichuan fish broth is “ebulliently numbing” in its shade of “gorgeous, vivid red”; sweet red bean xiao long bao comprise a basket of “nine, pristine gob-fillers stuffed with an irresistible, salty-sweet, burgundy sludge.” Perhaps the best of the lot is roasted bran dough with assorted fungus: a “magical, slightly gothic-looking bowl of dank sponginess”, the dough a veritable “umami hoover.”
It’s probably not “life-changing”, but this “decent, fairly priced” food is still “comforting” in more ways than one. For Dent, Shanghai Modern is emphatic proof that “some things don’t go out of fashion”.
After looping around Mayfair and Chinatown, the route next takes a turn up towards northwest London, where Giles Coren finds himself at Balady, the Israeli café recently heralded as one of the city’s best value restaurants. His verdict certainly seconds the endorsement: falafels are “unquestionably the best ever: hot and crispy on the golden brown outside, then soft and moist in the emerald green interior, fresh, aromatic” — even “deeply sexual.” Pickled veg and tahini sauce alongside are “spectacular” and “superb,” respectively; on top of that there’s “the best shakshuka in the world,” “properly seasoned salad,” and “the best hummus ever.” It’s a rave, basically — almost certainly because of the “passion,” “laughter,” and “joy” that informs the cooking of the two fraternal co-owners. Other restaurants may boast fancier décor, or more extensive and expensive menus — but it’s hard to compete when there’s so much “love” in the kitchen.
London is of course blessed with a great many excellent Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants; the same cannot be said of its Mexican food offering. When it opened in new south London digs in 2017, Santo Remedio quickly confirmed its status as the leading exponent in the capital; William Sitwell pops in this week to check whether this is still the case.
The answer is a resounding yes — tacos, crucially, are “great,” successfully “merging” a variety of “British ideas and ingredients” with chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes’ Mexican heritage. Tuna sashimi tostadas are “even better”, chipotle mayo imparting a “gently creamy / spicy crowd-pleasing lift.” Savoury tamales are maybe a “little too thick and sluggish” in texture, but the sweet version on the pudding menu — sticky toffee cake with a “fabulously sugary” sauce — is a “perfectly naughty” delight, and another successful “Mexican / English union.” Six years after starting out as a supper club, three years after opening in Shoreditch, and two years after relocating, much may have changed about Santo Remedio, but the food remains unmistakably “delectable.”
As the finish line approaches, two runners find themselves in lockstep — Fay Maschler and Marina O’Loughlin both delivering verdicts on Mortimer House Kitchen, the all-day-dining adjunct to a members club designed according to the principles of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In both cases, chef Antonio Favuzzi will find his own needs for self-actualisation and esteem fairly well met. Both critics thrill to the unabashed “glamour” on a show in a simply “spiffing interior”; both thrill, too, to a great deal of Favuzzi’s cooking.
For Maschler, highlights are “precisely spiced” lamb meatballs and soft shell crab fritti “piqued” with yuzu and chilli, “innocent of the murkiness that can lie at the heart of soft-shell crabs.” A “beautiful” plate of tagliatelle with prawns and courgette flowers, the pasta ribbons “flowing” and “buttery”, the textures “made additionally complex by crackling pieces of deep-fried soft-shell crab tossed in,” is another belter.
O’Loughlin, too, is drawn to the “gorgeous” soft shell crab with yuzu, “crisp and fresh and packing real zing.” There’s more praise for those “properly fatty and luscious” meatballs; she is also won over by pasta, though in a different form: “Pleasingly hand-knitted” herb tortelli with a “flourish” of pistachio. Like Maschler, O’Loughlin is unimpressed by the house riff on caponata, decrying its “deconstructed” intentions for denying the component ingredients the opportunity to “marry and live happily ever after.”
Unlike Maschler, she sees a few more areas in which Mortimer House Kitchen might raise its game — a couple of “boring, boring, boring” examples of “international hotel group catering-for-laydeez” cooking; an unwelcome surfeit of “gush” on the website dropping words like ‘highly curated’ and ‘discerning palate.’
But overall, things are fittingly simpatico between these recent travelling companions. There is a “delicious frisson” in submitting to Mortimer House and its associated glitz and glamour; its “congenial” setting means words like “comfortable,” “well fed,” and “happy” are always on the tip of one’s tongue. So: “park the po face and give in.”