No. Fifty Cheyne
With Sunday’s publication of the annual rich list, it seems only fitting to start proceedings this week in moneyed Chelsea, where Grace Dent finds a “broad-based menu” for the many, “affordable only for the few,” at the rejigged, renamed Cheyne Walk Brasserie.
Its particulars — chateaubriand and native lobster to eat; a refit that has created a “grown-up safe space from life’s beastliness” — could read as “quite horrific” — and yet this is far from “stiff, sterile, and squandersome.” In fact, it finds the sweet spot between “very posh” and “pub-like”, mainly thanks to “jolly, prompt and unobtrusive” service and chef Iain Smith’s “quite brilliant” cooking.
Squid-ink rice comes with grilled langoustine and scallop in an “archly bouji” champagne sauce; braised hispi cabbage is a “bold, rural romp”; aged beef fillet with smoked bone marrow and creamed spinach offers “dictionary-definition largesse”. Puddings, too, are a strong suit: a dish of poached rhubarb with “crisp, caramelised puff pastry” and “sublime” rhubarb sorbet is “perfectly executed”; a “pretty, perfectly melting” hot chocolate fondant is taken to the next level by a “decadent goo” of salted caramel sauce. Sure, this being Chelsea, prices do occasionally enter “Jesus Christ, how much?” territory, but for “largely faultless” food served in such opulent surroundings, it almost looks like good value. No. Fifty Cheyne could have been a “rigid”, unwelcoming place — perhaps the most extraordinary testament to its recent refurb is that dinner there actually ends up being “a good laugh.”
Lore of the Land
There are similar vibes across town at Lore of the Land, which is even more pub-like by virtue of being an actual pub.
Fay Maschler is first through the door at Guy Ritchie’s new gaff, where she finds “the sort of pub a rich man might have built on his estate to have somewhere to entertain friends,” courtesy of a “thorough” makeover privileging “rusticity with a capital R” in which “everything has been expensively stripped then dressed and distressed.”
This sort of décor seemingly lends itself to a certain school of cookery — “bring on the pies, the savoury puddings, the haunches of beef, roasted birds and buxom wenches!” In dishes like a “much liked” Marksman-inspired lamb bun or a sticky toffee pudding with beer and malt ice cream, the room and the food on the plate sing in harmony. In other cases, though, the cooking is a bit too “well-groomed”: the sort of food in which “pomegranate seeds are bound to come high-kicking in”, where an already “modest” bird like poussin is served by the half and where other “wee mains” are distressingly light on accompanying carbs.
Ritchie, plainly, needs to decide “whether Lore of the Land is really Ottolenghi or Mark Hix,” since it “doesn’t really work doing one on weekdays and the other on Sundays.” And yet for all that, Maschler will still “be back.” Perhaps it’s the “notably warm” welcome; perhaps it’s the promise inherent in some of those dishes. But The Lore undeniably has “a distinct allure.”
Din Tai Fung
Repeat visits seem to have been less of a feature of the critical response to Din Tai Fung, which has slowly deflated from its initial much-hyped launch like a prematurely pricked xialongbao.
Jimi Famurewa finds the place largely queue-free on his visit, and hands it perhaps the ultimate backhanded compliment: far from being a mania-worthy destination restaurant, it’s “a quick, neurotically controlled, slightly pricey canteen.” A solid 3/5, not a breathless 10/10.
The signature xiaolongbao are symptomatic of the broader malaise: not bad, just “a little underwhelming.” The soup inside may be “richly seasoned” but when compared to the “far punchier” and more enjoyable vegetarian jiaozi — those “all pea-green colour, immaculately crimped edges and lasting mushroomy depth” — their meat filling just tastes “cheaply sausagey.” Mains apparently designed to be “blank canvases” for diners to season to their own tastes do at least deliver on this aspect of their promise, “seasoned so faintly” that any flavour is “almost subliminal.”
Puddings are a little better, and actually “pretty satisfying,” but overall Famurewa leaves unimpressed, concluding that DTF was “initially miscast as a place for a world-rocking event dinner.” It’s much less “sexy” and much more functional than that — and as much as he can “get behind” the place for “what it is,” he sees little reason to get behind a bunch of other people to do so: this is decidedly not “cause for a five hour wait.”
For a better example of how to build on early promise look only a few streets away in St James’, where Jay Rayner finds Ramael Scully’s eponymous restaurant firing on all cylinders a year or so on from opening.
“Oh my, it’s good”: “tasteful and relaxed” as a space, but capable of genuine “fireworks” on the plate. Fried beef tendon with oyster cream, tomatoes and lardons offers “umami squared” to kick things off, and if the food is a little more plant-based after that, it’s never anything less than “vivid,” “inventive,” and “idiosyncratic.”
If anything, it’s the vegetable-heavy dishes that really shine: ‘forbidden rice’ with ‘vegetable XO’ delivers a “rich and compelling nuttiness,” while an “exquisite” presentation of tomatoes and green strawberries in a “vivid sweet-sour dressing” is “that very rare thing: a beautiful dish that is both worth looking at and worth eating.” Against such “invention,” the more conventional meat-based stuff just tastes a little “straightforward” — there’s “no doubting the skill” involved in its execution, but “in retrospect” it all feels “weirdly familiar.”
There’s a slight misstep with one pudding — in which an accent of salt in a lemon and tahini tart becomes “a distracting and uncomfortable whack” — but when a critic finds themselves looking past some undeniably “terrific” food in favour of other dishes they haven’t tried, it’s clear that the kitchen has done its job. Unlike so many other “spendy Mayfair restaurants,” where a punchy price tag buys punters the “experience” of being “indulged by the staff,” here the cooking is “front and centre.” A “smart restaurant” that’s “all about food?” “It could just catch on.”