A Bank Holiday review extravaganza kicks off as plenty of holidays surely do — checking into the hotel. Unfortunately, Jay Rayner’s hopes of discovering the next Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Holiday Inn on Cromwell Road do not bear fruit — rather, he finds “a kitchen completely incapable of executing the menu that has been written for it.”
“It isn’t cheap,” either — £60 a head for “three terrible courses and a mediocre bottle of wine.” The staff may be “all kinds of lovely,” but it’s hard not to discern some serious “cynicism” on the part of the corporate overlords who willed this concept into being, in dishes like a Caesar salad with “sweaty undercooked bacon” and “half an overly boiled egg,” or salt-and-pepper squid that “turns up looking like badly made goujons of fish that have only just been emptied out of a freezer bag bought on Facebook Marketplace.”
Even if it’s the sort of place most will visit “not out of choice but expediency,” Ashburn SW7 “could, if anybody cared enough, be good.” Instead, all that’s on offer here is a truly “shocking meal” at a restaurant that leaves “a dirty stain on its postcode.”
The verdict may not be quite so harsh over in Waterloo, but a rare two stars from Fay Maschler nevertheless indicate that things aren’t quite right at newly opened Hello Darling.
To begin, a familiar tale from Ashburn SW7: “delightful” staff may provide an appropriately warm welcome, but other than that, there isn’t a lot going for this collaboration between immersive set design company Darling & Edge and chef consultant/menu designer Natalie Coleman. Dishes arrive “lickety-split,” suggesting “assembly line production” — perhaps a more personal touch in the kitchen would have avoided missteps like the “palate-hammering” amount of black olive atop a heritage tomato salad, or meat dishes “overcooked to a tightness and toughness that makes them more or less inedible.” Even a simple dish like globe artichoke bespeaks carelessness — the thistle left “untrimmed” in a fashion that is decidedly not “alluring.” The atmospherics verge on “deafening” but the vibe is nevertheless “merry” enough — it would be easy enough to be seduced by the “enjoyment and playfulness” promised on the menu that doubles as a mission statement. Really, it’s just “a shame that the cooking isn’t better.”
The name is simpler and the food is much better at Kudu in Peckham, where Giles Coren finds “an example of perfect restaurant making in a nutshell.” Unlike the “whopping spaces” co-owner Amy Corbin’s father has made his own in such singular style, here the room is “tiny” — but still “remarkable” in its “relaxed elegance and casual prettiness.”
The cooking from chef Patrick Williams more than lives up to the surroundings: to start things off, bread with garlic-almond-baby-shrimp-dill butter is “perfect,” its accompaniment “a foaming riot of salty-sweet, fishy-fruity, nutty-pungent flavour.” Then a “thick and unctuous” chicken liver parfait is “bloody lovely” — like a spiced onion tarte tatin with taleggio and garlic chives, it has “the flavour of a tired old French bistro standard grabbed at the lapels by a boozed-up Afrikaner.” Later dishes like stone bass on curried cauliflower may feel “more clearly African” in their influence, but the flair and deliciousness remain consistent throughout — this is “mad, crazy shit,” “all of it wonderful.” Factor in “an incredibly modest bill” and the value-for-money calculation starts to look “ridiculous”: this is “top class food.”
The cheery vibes south of the river continue, too, as Tim Hayward encounters seafood that is “little short of sublime” in the first bricks and mortar outing from itinerant street food operator Bob’s Lobster.
Its location in a glossy Shard-adjacent development practically “exudes cynicism,” but a “simple” formula delivers undeniably winning results. Tuna tacos boast fish “as good as the tartare at Barrafina”; shrimp cocktail, meanwhile, is “a little object lesson in getting classics bang on.” The “main event” of a lobster roll, too, is a work of uncomplicated splendour, the crustacean “left in hefty chunks,” the roll “well-crafted brioche” that offers “a lack of structural rigidity” which “makes it possible to mash it down and cram in as much as you can ingest, like shoving a greased duvet into a bucket.”
The food may come with a side order of “moral issues” — “romantic authenticity” is not on sale here, and the owners are certainly “charging fruitily” for what they are selling. But for Hayward, at least, it’ worth the trade-off: “if that’s what it takes to eat seafood this good, lead me there, pin me down and pillage my wallet”.
There’s more consensual wallet-pillaging at Heddon Street’s Momo, which receives its second approving notice in its new lease of life post-refurb as Momo 2.0.
Grace Dent arrives intending to settle some scores after being rebuffed in Momo’s 1990s heyday — but she leaves having experienced “an unexpected joy.” These days, the front of house are “a smiling squadron who fuss over the entire clientele” — and the food, whilst occasionally a little “style over substance,” offers some genuine highlights. A “velvety” and “spicy” harira is one such dish; another is the “outstanding” quail pastilla — “delicate,” “rich,” and “sweet.” For pudding, the riz au lait with confit grapefruit and coriander is in contention for “greatest rice pudding” honours; otherwise, things are “fine” — just watch out for flights of fancy like the “frankly weird” vegetarian teff pancake, or a chocolate namelaka concealing beetroot and harissa.
It’s probably not somewhere for a quiet date night — the room is “noisy,” “blaring out the type of dance music that to older ears may feel like being attacked by bees.” The restaurant is so “vibrant,” though, that it’s hard to hold that specific grudge for too long: “It would be a struggle for anyone to find Momo boring.”
One of the widest-ranging weeks in memory comes to a close in a Hackney railway arch, at chef Elliot Cunningham’s brewery kitchen takeover, Lagom.
Jimi Famurewa is familiar with Cunningham’s cookery from his years doing the rounds on east London’s street food scene, and is excited to find him “expressing himself with a new clarity, confidence and playful, pleasure-giving freedom.” This is a menu that “marries serious fire-whispering proficiency with an admirable aversion to hokey, maple-smeared easy wins” — think blackened Korean-style swede with “a properly raucous chilli sauce”; split pea fritters “deep-fried to an enticing bronze and served with a silky, subtle garlic mayo”; Scotch egg “notable for sausage meat spiked with extra lardons.” Best of the lot may be the glow-up vegetable of the decade, cauliflower — this time marinated in quince and Scotch bonnet syrup then dry fried, its appearance “head-turning” and “deeply golden,” its depth of flavour “insane” and “smoky-sweet.” Its location alongside a church makes for an “unexpected union of the hip and the holy” — but an accidentally apt one, too. Food of such “uncommon ingenuity” doesn’t come around all that often: Cunningham’s cooking “deserves to be sought out, celebrated and, yes, perhaps, even worshipped.”