When Giles Coren visited Quique Dacosta’s recently opened Fitzrovia temple to paella a few weeks ago, he found himself divided: impressed by the elevated Michelin-adjacent snacks and starters, but finding them in stark contrast to the more homely main event.
For Grace Dent, things are much more black and white. Cursed with a “terrible table,” she quickly diagnoses Instagram influencer-led “months of social media froth” as smoke and mirrors: designed to conceal an experience that leaves her “thoroughly disinclined to stay for pudding.”
It’s not a great sign for a place with rice baked into the name, but Dent argues that “having the paella” is actually something of a “mistake”. Starters — particularly a kale salad with cashew nuts, “an actual zinging marvel” — strike her as better and more interesting; even if beef tartare is “less enticing,” it’s “still better than those damned paellas”.
Those rice bois are expensive, too: £38 for a standard Valencian, £50 for cuttlefish and prawn, and £90 for lobster. And, in Dent’s view — not one that may hold court with Valencians and/or other Spaniards — they’re far from well executed. This is not her platonic ideal of a paella — not “plentiful”, not “voluminous”, not “fluffy”, certainly not “brimming generously with seafood”. Instead, Arros QD offers what Dent calls “a blackened, very stingy version” of the cult dish — just one in a series of disappointments that leaves the Guardian critic “feeling oddly shortchanged.”
Bob Bob Cité
The glitzy skyscraper location and Press For Champagne buttons conspire to make Jimi Famurewa expect similar larceny ahead of his visit to Bob Bob Cité, but he leaves converted: what he had feared would be a “high hall of wankerdom” turns out, in fact, to be “an opulent blast of fresh air.”
Mainly, it’s due to executive chef Eric Chavot’s “menu of Franco-Russian come-ons”: duck egg with salt beef and potato, awash in Gruyère foam, is “a knockout marriage of hearty directness and tweezered precision”; chicken and morel pie is “immodestly creamy”; even the sides — truffle fries and grilled hispi cabbage — deliver “both uncommon grace and cranked-to-11 intensity.”
It’s the little things that really pay testament to Chavot’s “witchcraft” — a “delirious wave of giddying little details” like a “tingly, complex” green goddess dressing with the hispi cabbage, or a “sheeny” Chantilly cream anointing a deconstructed rum baba. Naysayers may dismiss Bob Bob Cité as a “snooty Instagram backdrop for oyster-fuelled flexing,” but really it possesses all the ingredients for “an utterly singular, stunningly executed blowout.”
There’s much the same on offer at the next destination this week, though in every other aspect the two restaurants couldn’t be less alike.
After being deterred by the queues that formed around its launch, Jay Rayner finally finds his way to Black Axe Mangal, where he joyfully discovers a “kitchen that doesn’t understand the word ‘enough’”. The house riff on the now-legendary St John dish of roasted bone marrow with parsley salad is “a comically huge plate of food, which slaps you round the chops and slaps you again just to be sure,” not so much a “pimped” version as one “with go-faster stripes, an aerofoil, a paint job and something involving fuel injection under the hood”. Crispy Fucking Rabbit is “formed into a pleasing rectangle” and is “indeed very crisp and very meaty”; it “surfs a wave of sultry heat and sweet courtesy of the slutty sauce it sits upon.” Less good, perhaps, is a brown shrimp and white cabbage salad, which is let down by a “salty and one-note” dressing — but at £8, this “feels like an affordable misstep.” Fortunately there is a “huge” Barnsley chop “bathed in the warm benediction of shrimp butter” to rectify things, and a “righteous” Crunchy Nut choc ice to bring things to a sweet conclusion. Given how “noisy” this place is, “in all ways,” Rayner worries that it is hard to recommend it unequivocally. But anyone willing to “take the risk” will find food that will “rattle your eyeballs”; “a meal that will leave a mark, of the right kind.”
There’s a “chic Mediterranean feel” to the room, courtesy mainly of bare wooden tables and bentwood chairs — even if “their contribution to noise when the restaurant is busy” is, ahem, “not so delightful.” The food is similarly bright and breezy, with occasional boisterous interjections: homemade bread comes with “reassuringly pale” tarama; “delicately deep-fried” courgette flowers come with a tomato sauce “that turns what is often a pretty but ultimately wimpy assembly into something serious”; charred prawn saganaki “demand bread to wipe the pan clean.”
Among the more intrusive accents, it is hard to “find a rationale” for yuzu dressing with wild seabass carpaccio, while “too much dill” — “that pestilential herb” — “spoils” a mussel pilaf that “hasn’t been enhanced by the fierce saltiness of the mussels’ brine.” That said, not all of the more creative dishes are bad ones: chicken thighs served with cucumber and spring onion on soft tortillas “make a point about the global aspect of good ideas.”
Prices are “relatively modest”; there are “well-chosen and sometimes revelatory Greek wines” on offer, too. Order well, and Suzi Tros can offer an experience that is genuinely “rewarding.”
Maschler was less than enamoured with the final destination this week — Nathan Outlaw’s new restaurant at the Goring. And if Marina O’Loughlin found Siren’s song utterly alluring, Giles Coren locates himself squarely in the middle. Staff may be “quick and solicitous,” but the food runs the gamut from “very good” to merely “fine.”
Among the starters, breaded oysters with cabbage and oyster salad cream are “absolutely spot-on”; lobster and pea tart is “really very refreshing and summery, if a little bland”; cuttlefish black pudding — a rare point of positive agreement in Fay Maschler and Marina O’Loughlin’s divergent reviews — is “possibly less appetising.”
Battered turbot as a main course is really “quite wonderful,” with a “sweet gelatinous tug” that makes the fish seem “even better suited” to the preparation than cod. A “lustrous, golden piece” of grilled Dover sole, meanwhile, may be a “thing of beauty”, but the “very good, plump, sweet” clams served alongside are hard to “understand,” given they are not “incorporated in any way” and are “quite wrong” with the proffered clotted cream sauce.
There is maybe a slight tension in serving such “exceedingly fancy” food in a space as “conservative” as the Goring, but on balance Outlaw seems to have got things just about right: Coren is confident that this is cooking that could leave even visiting royalty feeling “perfectly safe.”