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‘Mind-Blowing’ Kebab Tasting Menu Astonishes Critic in Covent Garden

Kebab Queen’s cutlery-free (well, almost) chef’s counter thrills Marina O’Loughlin

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A monkfish kebab at Kebab Queen in London Justin de Souza/Kebab Queen

Pophams Bakery

As George Orwell once said, for a vision of the city’s restaurant scene’s future, just imagine someone hand-rolling pasta in east London — forever. Yes, the fresh pasta restaurant craze shows no signs of abating, and this week Jimi Famurewa becomes just the latest emissary from the front lines of the war on afternoon energy levels. He’s at the London Fields outpost of Insta-icons Pophams Bakery, where he finds “the best cure for any fresh pasta fatigue you may be feeling”: more fresh pasta. Good fresh pasta! Taleggio cappelletti, “plump with a ripe blast of cheese,” ”dotted with macerated grapes and hazelnuts,” and “doused in a gleaming, thyme-flecked cheese sauce” deliver ”nuanced contrasts of sweetness and salt, crunch and chew, all high-fiving in immensely pleasing ways.” “Sunshine-yellow, perfectly al dente” nduja scarpinocc, meanwhile, twin “feisty paprika heat” with the sort of “shimmering cream emulsion” that will have punters ”practically scraping a hole in the speckled artisanal earthenware.” To finish, yeasted semifreddo with peach and croissant brittle is a “pure joy,” a blend of “deceptive simplicity” and “ingeniously alchemised” raw materials that is “this focused, clever kitchen all over.” Sure, the portions “could be bigger,” and a dish of pig cheek tortelloni could be a little better, but as the London pasta bandwagon rolls on, it’s clear that Pophams is most definitely “more than a mere passenger.”

Kebab Queen

From one of many, to one of a kind. Marina O’Loughlin pays a visit to London’s only kebab-focused chef’s counter, Kebab Queen, but those expecting a singular evisceration of the “ludicrous” tasting menu concept will leave surprised and disappointed. Instead, the Sunday Times critic finds something really “quite magical.” If anything, the ludicrousness helps: it makes for an experience “disinhibiting and comical in equal measure”. O’Loughlin finds that, emancipated from the usual Michelin-starred strictures of fine dining, punters are at liberty to enjoy “an adventure of delicious creativity that never lets up.” From a sliver of “lavishly marbled” secreto Iberico with chilli, pork fat and crisped couscous to charred hispi cabbage with (deep breath) chicken-skin-grilled monkfish tail shish, cauliflower puree, monkfish liver, zhoug and chicken skin, “the whole thing is little short of mind-blowing.” ”Of course,” this sort of “ravishing” cooking comes with a price tag to match — but “every performance of this calibre will cost — talent will, and should, never come cheap.” This is the edible equivalent “of a Premier League star performing a private table dance of skillz, just for you” — however “howlingly” silly the concept may be, O’Loughlin says “it’s also funny and uplifting and genius and life-enhancing.”

Nutshell

The ‘more than just a kebab’ narrative also applies at Charing Cross newcomer Nutshell, which — much like last year’s Berenjak — aims to weave a rich story around the food of the Middle East, specifically Iran. Also a bit like last year’s Berenjak, it has Fay Maschler blowing a little hot and cold. There are some definite hits: jojeh, poussin, is “presented pretty as a picture,” its marinade “piqued with lemon juice and saffron”; bazaar bread, its “shiny crust” adorned with a “sprinkling of salt and seeds” is also “a must.” Elsewhere, though, execution is a little off: joosh pareh looks actively “delightful” but is “far to sweet to like”; sous vide octopus has “lost in the process some of its wily personality”; whilst admittedly “diverting” stewed butterbeans are “in need of added flavour beyond orange.” Staff are “delightful and informative” but “tragically, presume it a necessity to explain the concept,” its sharing plates sent out at the kitchen’s convenience seeming “so epochal now as to be practically Old Testament.” Factor in prices that mean “a bill can, without much effort, rival in height the Mount of Olives,” and it is clear that Nutshell, in a nutshell, currently offers an experience that decidedly “falls between two stools.”

Les Platanes

No need for laborious concept-explainers at the final destination this week: Bruton Street’s Les Platanes is as old-school as they come, offering a good value prix fixe menu du jour. William Sitwell starts off distracted by the “decidedly chic” interiors, but is soon singing the praises of the “seriously good value” three-course set, comprising a “sublime,” “almost achingly fresh” pea and mint soup, “perfectly tender” grilled veal, and “deeply rich” chocolate tart — all for just £25. It is deeply “civilised” to find such “well-executed” food in such an “immaculate” setting, and to find such “finesse” at somewhere so recently opened. It may be early days, but Les Platanes “certainly deserves to be packed.”

Pophams Bakery

197 Richmond Rd, Hackney, Greater London E8 3NJ Visit Website

Les Platanes

26-28 Bruton Place, London, W1J 6NG

Kebab Queen

4 Mercer Street, London, Greater London WC2E 9PA

Nutshell

30 Saint Martin's Lane, , England WC2N 4ER 020 3409 7926 Visit Website

Berenjak

27 Romilly Street, , England W1D 5AL Visit Website

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