Financers coined the term ‘dead cat bounce’ in the 1980s to describe a brief recovery after a sharp fall from grace, on the grounds that “even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a great height.” In the case of Gordon Ramsay’s new restaurant, Lucky Cat, the feline in question just continues to free fall. Grace Dent is in, and the Guardian critic piles on top of the misery inflicted by Fay Maschler last week.
If anything, she’s even more severe than her erstwhile Evening Standard colleague, rolling her eyes at “chaotic” service, and at food that rarely sneaks above “unremarkable.” Quite often, it’s worse: miso black cod is “teeth-chatteringly sweet”; smoked shortrib is “bland” and “flabby”; monkfish cheek katsu is “fiercely fishy and semi-inedible, like overcooked pub scampi.” Only the duck is good — “delicious, sticky, crunchy, fatty”; served with cucumber and “a half-decent pillowy bao.” Then again, for £27, it probably should be. This gets to the heart of the issue, really: “at these prices” — 16 quid for a negroni; eight quid for four “50p-sized lumps of prawn toast” — everything should be “exquisite.” Unfortunately, it “very much is not.”
Giles Coren also stops by chez Ramsay this week, finding the odd “absolutely brilliant” dish to go with cooking that is, variously: “risible”; “sloppy”; “unloved”; “utterly pointless”; and “a little bit disgusting.”
Overall, it’s “not nearly as good as Flor,” the new Borough Market opening from the Lyle’s team that he also visits. Oysters to kick off are “perfect”; raw scarlet prawns are “so, so good”; lamb ribs with yoghurt and black lime are “wonderfully sweet and aromatic.” There’s “delicious” burrata, with “extremely good olive oil,” and if the presentation of an Anjou pigeon terrifies the squeamish critic — “the claws left hideously on, pointed in opposite directions, extending far off the plate like some sort of stricken gryphon” — then it is at least partially redeemed by “the animal’s liver spread thickly onto crisp toast with a snowfall of sea salt.” The “cool, bright, fresh-smelling room” could not be further away from the divey nightclub vibes of Lucky Cat; the final scores tell a similar story, too.
Those in search of more consistent Japanese fare might instead head to Soho’s Robata, where William Sitwell discovers “plate after plate” that the Telegraph critic would “defy anyone not to love.”
“Miso-infused” aubergine is a “rich” delight; Iberico pluma arrives “spiced with black pepper and gloriously merged with a sweet, pickled pear.” Squid is “peppery, spicy, soft and crunchy,” its coriander sauce winningly “perky”; “substantial” pork belly skewers are “soft,” “fatty,” and “sweet.” A host of “moreish” alternatives to robata also “vie for your attention,” making Robata appealing to everyone from “the fresh-faced luncher” to the “late-night sipper with the munchies.” This unassuming restaurant is, quite simply, “a new Soho gem.”
There are similar local hero vibes over in Stoke Newington, where Fay Maschler falls for Aussie chef Alexis Noble’s cooking at Wander.
First up is some “exceptional” sourdough with whipped Vegemite, a pairing that offers “nourishing bliss.” The timing of what follows is “well-judged,” and if there are both “hits and near-misses,” the former far outweigh the latter: When Noble’s formula works, the results are genuinely “impressive.”
Truffle burrata with gooseberry and Thai basil reads like “a slightly reckless global tour” but “turns out triumphant”; razor clams poached in cider and garnished with nduja and new potatoes represent a “brilliant melding of flavours and textures.” Sweet and sour fried chicken with pickled mustard greens is “another flourish of understanding what flatters what.” Cherry sorbet with red vermouth is “sublime,” “the ideal denouement to a spirited, brave and, by the way, extremely good-value dinner.” While Maschler wonders if it’s perhaps a shame that Noble and her “welcoming accommodating staff” aren’t cooking in a bigger, fancier space that “merits their skills,” in the meantime, it’s a simple case of “lucky Stokey.”
There is less peripatetic cooking available at Rupert Street’s Swiss-inspired Heritage, although this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as Jay Rayner discovers to his cost.
Prices here are Swiss-banker-OTT: a rosti is £14, steak £50 a head, a side of potato gratin £9. Some of the time, the cooking lives up to it: that rosti is “a nutritional outrage” and “therefore completely marvellous”: all “golden” crust and “salty and sweet” bacon. Generally, though, it’s a little underwhelming: the mix of Gruyere and singularly “elastic” Racelette makes for an “irritating” fondue to eat; it “forms endless ribbons and strings, like Spider-Man is trying to get the hang of his kit, and failing.” The steak is just fine, providing “you like the meditative business of grilling pieces of prime animal for yourself” — “and can blank out the stupid cost.”
The definitive “outrage” comes with dessert — a “pale yellow” blood orange sorbet bought in from Woods Foodservice, garnished with eau de vie, and charged at a mere £14. Factor in service “that is desperate to please, but can’t help making you flinch,” and Rayner concludes that it’s hard not to feel “very politely and rather elegantly fleeced,” with the odd dish that “can leave a nasty taste in the mouth.”
Even if some aspects of the experience at Big Mamma’s latest, Circolo Popolare, are similarly inconsistent, both its visiting critics this week leave distinctly contented in spite of some serious flaws.
Truth be told, Marina O’Loughlin isn’t a fan of the food: to use a technical term, it’s “a bit crap.” The nominally Sicilian menu is “as Sicilian as Tesco Value lasagne,” and going off the execution (and the presence on it of something called ‘I Wanna Nduja,’) “it’s hard not to suspect that the copywriters are paid more than the chefs.” The house carbonara is “cloying and suffocating”; sausages are “burnt to a frazzle”; fried courgette flowers are “as greasy and brittle as scraps from the bottom of the chippy fryer.”
But still, somehow: “holy cow.” The room is “dazzling,” so extra that “over the top” feels like the “understatement of the millennium.” And it’s “fun”: “a huge, elaborate, wonderful, extravagant, campy gimmick.” Even if her vision of Circolo puncturing a “hegemony” of “intent, beardy boys perving over produce in austere little restaurants” is a rhetorical flourish so OTT it’s almost Big Mamma worthy, O’Loughlin is probably right that there is something “subversive,” something “deliciously transgressive,” about offering such “larks” alongside such mediocre scran. All in all, Circolo Popolare leaves the Sunday Times critic “weirdly happy.”
For Jimi Famurewa, this is a temple to “supreme restaurant industry confidence,” too — such a “winking, ALLCAPS riot” that it’s impossible to see “how anyone could not ultimately be won over by the mad, thrusting spectacle of it.” When it comes to the food, he argues that “standards are generally higher than you would expect them to be”: Sardinian empanadas are “fantastically sloppy”; an Orlando Blue pizza (peach, gorgonzola, speck) packs “a balanced blast of sunshine.” And if Carmina Burrata linguine are just “fine, if lacking a little zip”, or the Crudo Croccante is “merely passable”, that — as per O’Loughlin — doesn’t really matter to the Evening Standard Magazine man. It’s hard to tell whether the Big Mamma group is a “truly sustainable game-changer” or “merely Jamie’s Italian in cooler trainers.” Right now, though, this “intoxicatingly cheeky,” “stealthily drilled” people-pleaser “legitimately feels like the hottest place in town.”