There’s a new restaurant in the old restaurant space at Bonhams, and given the pedigree of its owners, Emilia is likely to have critics making a beeline in its direction for at least the new few weeks. As she so often does, Fay Maschler displays a John Wick-like ability to outpace the competition — and it is thus her review that will likely set the tone for future verdicts to come.
To wit: this is the lovechild “of two young restaurateurs at the top of their game”. Courgette fritti to start things off are “brilliantly brittle”; “exceptionally fine” focaccia is also a winner. There are a couple of slightly bum notes as the meal progresses — monkfish comes “slightly undercooked”; a dish of red chicory, radishes and bagna cauda is “oddly parsimonious” — but these are rare exceptions; far more in keeping with the general high standards are “skeins of soft tagliatelle knitted into a foamy sauce made with rabbit, lemon and fronds of fennel” or some tortellini in brodo whose smoked eel filling is nothing less than a “masterstroke.” “Notably genial staff” add to the charm and general sense of “fun”, meaning that even if there are a few kinks still to iron out, Emilia is every bit a “worthy” sibling to the likes of Portland and The Quality Chop House. Order right, and get lucky with the weather at the terrace outside, and this is unquestionably “one of London’s best lunches”.
Next up, a North London derby of two halves ends in a close-fought draw as Giles Coren runs an appraising — and approving — eye over new Corbin-and-King joint Soutine and beloved Holloway Road pizza-slinger Zia Lucia.
With prices that are more Corbyn than king, Zia Lucia was always going to be popular as a local neighbourhood spot, but what is striking is quite how good the signature pies are. “Bubbling and fizzing with heat”, the classic base has a “nutty and deep” chew that is pure “hot exquisitude”; the tomato sugo is “rich and tangy, not too sweet”, the cheese is “milky and ripe”; nduja sausage is “deep crimson and peppery sweet”. An “incredible pizza”, basically, which at just over a tenner a head makes Zia Lucia a “perfect restaurant” to enjoy a “really great, unpretentious, delicious, simple meal”.
Soutine, meanwhile, may not be quite so austerity-friendly but the “magnificently overhauled” space is still well worth a visit. Raw Isle of Skye scallops are “sharp and sweet and clean and deliriously tasty”; escalopes de veau Viennoise are “sweet” and “juicy”; a showstopping filet de boeuf au poivre features both “wonderful meat” and “some of the crispiest pommes frites” in living memory. Like the sides, puddings are also “irreproachable”, from an “elegant rectilinear salted caramel éclair” to a “round and golden” tarte fine aux pommes. It may not be a “nailed on budget option” but Soutine is no less “beautiful” for that — like Zia Lucia, a restaurant it is so unlike in many ways, it, too, is “brilliant and honest and true and wholehearted”.
Reviews to date seem to suggest that there’s a similar intuitive knack for the nuts and bolts of hospitality — albeit with totally different ingredients — over at Gloria in Shoreditch, and this week Marina O’Loughlin becomes just the latest critic to set aside her qualms over the generally extra vibes and find something worthwhile beneath them.
The general “fakery” may be “rampant”, the décor may be “expensively trashy”, and the menu descriptions may be actively “buttock-clenching”, but there is still more than mere “ghastliness” on show here. Give into the “silliness” — overindulge with “full camp abandon”, and it’s possible to be joyfully “overfed” by food that is far more than an “afterthought”.
In 2019 London, the “stark generosity” of some of the dishes is “genuinely surprising” — as is the “quality of produce”. Think “an insane amount of seductively fleshy, lingerie-rosy San Daniele ham”, “pneumatic focaccia”, or a “wibbly sea” of “creamy, gently smoked” straciatella. When actual cooking is involved a bit more variability is introduced into the mix: Filipo’s Big Balls (“sigh”) are the “definition of basic” in “jammy tinned tomato sauce”; “limp” fried artichokes are not a hit with their “claggy” cacio pepe dip. And yet everything is “so much larger than life” that it’s hard to argue that restaurant group Big Mama aren’t “banging for buck with all their might”. It’s “affordable”, it’s “lurid”, it’s “like being dunked in a bath of prosecco”. For better and (occasionally) for worse Gloria is “the original good-time girl”.
The raves continue at our final destination for this week — Kanishka, Atul Kochar’s new collaboration with investor Tina English in Mayfair. Just weeks after Jimi Famurewa jested about the problem of Too Many Nice Indian Places in his review of Lucknow 49, London might seem dangerously close to saturation with yet another new opening offering the food of the subcontinent.
And yet — in this case at least — there’s certainly room for one more: in William Sitwell’s eyes, Kochar and English are in possession of “magic goggles that enable them to see apparent gaps in the food market”. In exploring the food of the north-east of the country, they are introducing London to “dishes that would be novel to most curry house habitués”, like Tibetan Lobster Thupka and Videshi Style Muntjac Ki Bati.
Or, indeed, chicken tikka pie, a “terrific”, “life-changing” alternative to more commonplace baked goods, its accompanying berry compote “perfectly bittersweet”. Scallops are “dainty” and “cooked just right”; the Masala Mixed Grill is “a mini feast of tender, sometimes charred, bits of lamb, salmon, prawn and chicken, all cooked with love” — truly a “heavenly spread”. The London restaurant scene may at times feel close to bursting with identikit concepts, but here is a rare exception — Kochar has surveyed the various “sheep” in a congested field, and “added just one more to their number to create the perfect flock”.