Bob Bob Cité
If the reviews of Bob Bob Cité were as slow to arrive as the much-delayed restaurant itself, expectant readers would be waiting until 2023 for the first verdict. Thankfully, Grace Dent is through the door before the whimsical pastel paint has had a chance to dry, finding a “vast, eccentric, luxurious” and “oh so very shiny” enterprise, turning out a short menu “rife with Gallic glamour.”
So: “world-class” and “sturdy” French onion soup; a “prettily embossed” but ultimately “heart-valve-clogging” pie of Jerusalem artichoke and king oyster mushroom in a champagne and truffle velouté; an “excellent, albeit flamboyant” lemon meringue tart. Punters certainly “won’t leave hungry,” although at prices like these, leaving “bankrupt” is a distinct possibility. But that’s almost part of the charm: with “such good service” and “the real world so very far below,” Bob Bob Cité’s skyscraper eyrie offers “a level of escapism” that is nothing less than “wholly seductive.” It’s bonkers delicious and bonkers expensive, but “like it or loathe it, you cannot possibly ignore it.”
Perhaps more ignorable is fermentation-based newcomer The Soak, which takes a bit of a battering for the second week running. Evening Standard Magazine’s Jimi Famurewa follows in the footsteps of Jay Rayner, and is perhaps even less positive than the Observer man, encountering enough kombucha “to happily drown all the gut health acolytes in California,” but little to suggest the “weirdness” evident on the restaurant’s website is close to “confidently wielded.”
Cured venison is “oppressively smoky”; cider-pickled egg salad is “a misery of fridge-coldness and faint brining.” And if salted cod is “marginally better” — and the house burger is “inarguably good” — the opening overture presages such a “symphony of wrongness” that it’s hard to give The Soak the benefit of the doubt. This is a kitchen “straining so much for current, Instagram-filtered distinctiveness,” that it “occasionally neglects the basics of pleasure.”
Much less effortful, but also just much better, is the new Delamina in Marylebone, an offshoot of the Shoreditch original that originally went by the moniker Strut and Cluck. Good call on that name change.
William Sitwell is certainly a fan of the newbie: in a “light and airy” room, husband-and-wife team Limor and Amir Chen present some “magnificently rich and moreish” food. Some of it is decidedly “not pretty”: pita balagan is “chunky” and “rustic-looking”; lamb chops arrive as “misshapen and heavy chunks of meat”; grilled courgette two ways is little more than a “splodge.” But, “God,” does this stuff taste good: that lamb is “wonderfully tender, charred at the edges and succulent”; “nestled messily” among crispy fried onions, those courgettes are “lovely.” To close, a kadayif nest of cheesecake cream is the sort of “triumph” that would have anyone “yearning for coffee.” The stretch of Marylebone Lane that Delamina calls home may have been curiously overlooked by urban planners over the years, but the diners that seek it out will find a worthy “reward.” It may be “scruffy,” but the food here is undeniably “tasty.”
Tasty and scruffy might also be useful descriptors for repurposed east London boozer-cum-hotel-restaurant The Buxton on Brick Lane, where the kitchen turns out decent food that’s maybe still a little rough around the edges.
It’s reviewed this week by David Sexton, who finds enjoyably unpretentious fare on offer like a “coarsely chopped, moist and meaty” pork and prune terrine; “hearty” gnocchi with wild garlic and pesto, albeit gnocchi that are maybe “a bit heavy and crusty”; and langoustines “flooded with melted garlic and parsley butter, either adding lots of zing to these tender little crustacea or overwhelming their delicate freshwater taste, or perhaps a bit of both.” When this no-nonsense approach works, it sings: a homemade chicken, ham and leek pie is “perfection of its kind,” all “excellent pastry” and “big pieces of high-quality chicken”. It would make for “a really good pub dish,” which is the only real source of concern in Sexton’s review: The Buxton “isn’t just a pub,” since it faces “the constraints familiar to all hotel restaurants”; given its location, it also faces rigorous competition from all “the curry houses, the bagels, the busy food halls, the all-you-can-eat for £9.99 deals just up the road.” As such, as good as it is, amidst such a “melee of gawpers, browsers and stuffers”, Sexton wonders whether it risks being something of a “lonely pioneer of bourgeois taste.”
There’s similar fish out of water vibes to close this week, as Marina O’Loughlin finds thrilling Thai-inspired food in the cutting edge gastronomic paradise of [checks notes] Clapham.
Yes, the location is one of several “self-inflicted barriers” that had deterred O’Loughlin from chef John Chantarasak’s residency at Counter Culture — counter seating and the fleeting nature of the enterprise are also presented as obstructive for the Sunday Times critic.
On arrival, there’s “nothing but good news.” Whether in butter “blushing and resonant” with fermented shrimp paste, or in an “incendiary” peanut nahm prik, flavours here are often “little short of percussive”: the “cumulative effect is head-spinning in its vivid, stirring pungency.” Chantarasak can do “subtle”, too, as in a monkfish crudo “dressed comparatively simply in fish sauce caramel and a tiny scattering of snipped coriander stalks,” or in a “murky” smoked eel and mussel broth “with a startling clarity of flavour.” Then again, with this food, “the subtlety is comparative” — gaeng om, ox cheek curry, is the AngloThai manifesto in miniature, a “biff-pow of a plateful, a sensory overload.”
Each dish on this concise, regularly changing menu is “a mini masterpiece,” the product of “one of our most tirelessly curious and talented chefs.” O’Loughlin’s closing advice is unequivocal: head down to be rewarded with what she calls “the most interesting Thai food” that the capital has to offer.