As anyone who has had their cerebral cortex scrambled by a certain movie trailer would attest, it’s been a tough week for cats. Things don’t look much sunnier for a certain Mayfair-based feline, either, as a Fay Maschler review that puts the ‘pan’ in ‘pan-Asian’ leaves Gordon Ramsay’s latest London restaurant looking about as fortunate as motorway roadkill.
The dress code — “so po faced and old hat” — is the first deterrent; the “carb-dodging” concept that feels like it falls somewhere on a scale between “unimaginative”, “otiose” and “boring” in an area that already boasts Nobu, Hakkasan, and Sexy Fish is the second. A “hotel-haunted” space in which “dim lighting flatters neither the food nor the customers” and “particularly drab EDM” on the speakers complete a fairly underwhelming set of first impressions.
The food is mixed. There are some decent enough diversions: Burmese crab masala boasts a “sonorous” sauce; miso black cod offers “foolproof pleasure”; char siu pork chop with fondant nashi pear is a veritable “standout dish.” At only £4, a tofu and avocado bao constitutes “a bit of a find”; desserts “might be termed a saving grace” — “almost.”
The less successful dishes are perhaps courtesy of “a kitchen running amok with unfamiliar ingredients.” Bonito flakes on deep-fried duck leg lend the meat an “admirable crunch” but also “an unwelcome fishy flavour”; whole coriander and cumin seeds with lamb short ribs are “not the most palatable way of appreciating those spices.” There are issues with “consistency”, with portion sizes that in some cases feel “unnecessarily mean,” with some wok-fried greens that encroach on “travesty” status. Staff are generally “at sixes and sevens,” deeply 2013 iPads bringing “a hunted look to some faces.” For this ‘three-star chef,’ two Maschler stars out of five tell their own story. Ramsay could have fought fire with fire, blowing his critics away with the sort of cooking that earned him so many accolades over the years. Instead all Maschler can muster is a shrug: “Whatevva.”
Le Pont de la Tour
‘Whatevva’ becomes a more Gallic ‘bof’ on the banks of the Thames, as Jimi Famurewa finds similarly mixed fare at the D&D group’s temple to river-adjacent French gastronomy, Le Pont de la Tour.
Though its price of £40 is “quite mad,” Dover sole is, to be fair, a “lusciously flaking, beautifully cooked piece of fish, skilfully excised from the bone tableside and heavily imbued with the barbecued musk of the grill.” Otherwise, “aggressive adequacy” is the name of the game: heirloom tomatoes with watermelon, feta and anchovies is “a weird Seventies dinner party collision of fruit sweetness, intense saline and the briny roughness of some malt vinegar-steeped strawberries.” The pastry in a beetroot and kale tart is “stiff” and “arid.” Puddings have, to put it diplomatically, clearly been prepared “a little while ago”.
And then there’s the bill — “notably high,” especially for such “flat and colourless” cooking. While the hordes of couples still descending on Le Pont de la Tour lend it a distinct “First Dates vibe,” they also suggest that there is still a market for its “romantic location, retro atmosphere and respectful culinary conservatism.” But in London 2019, Famurewa feels that such a calculated grab at “Gallic simplicity” can also feel a little “clenched.” This is somewhere where things will never quite lurch “into full-on awfulness,” but it’s clearly also “a place where the view had been tasked with too much of the heavy-lifting.”
A generally underwhelmed week takes its next shrug over in Soho, where American-inspired Martha’s flatters to deceive Jay Rayner. It certainly “looks the part”, all “louche” signifiers in the décor and promises of live jazz and drag queens in the advertising copy. Unfortunately, from there on out the wheels fall off pretty dramatically.
Service is “very lovely” but somewhat on the inexperienced side; loose power cables pose a threat to life and limb; the signature fried chicken with honey truffle sauce is unavailable. The food runs the gamut from “great” to “calamitous”: crab croquettes are “almost entirely fresh crab, with lots of chilli” — “exactly what you want”. New York strip steak is “served the right side of both pink and Old Testament bible thick” with an “astringent” but “oddly compelling” white pepper sauce. Unfortunately, the “hit and miss” formula also results in “rubbery, bouncy” fried calamari “from which the breadcrumb coating sloughs off, as if it’s the skin of a snake that has places to be”; perhaps even worse is a cauliflower risotto — “a salty, acrid mess of failed vegetal matter.” The promised live jazz doesn’t appear; the promised flambeed lemon meringue pie is served sans flambee and tastes “exactly as you might imagine a lemon meringue pie that arrived in the restaurant in a white cardboard box might taste”.
It’s a bit of a “car crash”, basically, even though Rayner can’t bring himself fully to “hate the place”. Iron out the kinks and the more promising aspects could make for something “very special”, “the beginnings of a terrific night out”. For now, though, if Martha were a real person, Rayner would be “begging her to get her shit together.”
A slightly brighter note to end proceedings this week — the lustrous Gold in Notting Hill doing just about enough to win Marina O’Loughlin’s affections.
The Sunday Times critic has always been one for an extra design accent, so the “dazzling affluent beauty” of Gold’s frontage — “vast mural” and all — gets things off on the right foot. Inside, it’s all “unflashy luxury with a touch of edge” — on a sunny day, the overall effect is “simply lovely,” making it “genuinely one of the most seductive places to be.”
The menu is “working hard,” featuring “so many 2019 tropes it could be studied by historians to see where we were culinarily just before the Great Brexshit Famine and 101 Ways with a Swede.” Given the milieu and general small-plates-induced-trauma, it’s “surprising” when “remarkably generous portions” start turning up. The actual quality is a little variable: chickpea pancake may have the texture of a “padded manila envelope” but comes with “excellent” stracciatella and speck; seabass carpaccio is “very good” with its “pristine” fish. Rabbit tortelloni are “slender, lithe and elastic” but their filling is “a little overprocessed”; roasted Tropea onions are “lovely, simple things.” The one true “bum note” is a dish of red Sicilian prawns: “criminally” overcooked and served with so much accompanying bumf — wild rice, monk’s beard, chilli — that their native flavour is thoroughly “sullied.”
Overall, though, there’s a sense that Gold is somewhere “a whole lot better than it needs to be.” Almost despite herself, O’Loughlin relents: “it’s pretty, goddammit, and the food is pretty good”. Its shadowy but no doubt moneyed owners may have “sanitised” yet another corner of London, but “they’ve made a really decent fist of it.”