From Indonesian action classic The Raid to overlooked masterpiece Dredd, the high-rise tower block has proved fertile ground for adrenaline-soaked set pieces. But what if it were really nice Italian food, stunning views, and an excellent drinks list that awaited the heroes in the final act instead?
It might look a little like Forza Wine — and in Jimi Famurewa’s eyes, that’s no bad thing. This Peckham newcomer is “a sleek, high-perched oasis” where the view — “a greatest hits panorama of surrounding London landmarks” — is nothing short of “outrageous,” the vibe is “irresistible” and the “crowd-pleasing aperitivo food marries a cutlery-shirking primality with real thoughtfulness and verve.”
The emphasis may be on snacks rather than main courses, but that doesn’t make the results — Italian flatbread with sausage ragù, fontina toasties, chicken Milanese — any less “snaffable.” There are a couple of “microscopic” niggles — a “pretty-but-fussy” salad; some “over-salted” lamb spiedini — but for the most part the food’s “easy-going air” belies “the palpable whirring swan-legs of serious technique” under the surface. As the weather continues to degrade en route to winter, here is a “giddy, wholly welcome burst of delayed summer sunshine” — and somewhere with “a late claim to being one of the most confident, directly pleasurable openings of the year.”
Fay Maschler reports an equally winning Italianate vibe at Ben Tish’s Sicilian debutante Norma — echoing many of the positive sentiments proffered by friends-and-family-window-hijacker Giles Coren last week.
The “seductive” Moorish-inspired décor — a “voluptuous” corrective to minimalist modern restaurant design — is echoed by a menu every bit as “jaunty.” Rose veal with smoked eel mayonnaise is a rare misstep — “no improvement on vitello tonnato” — but otherwise the hits keep coming, from “dark and delicious” lamb crudo to a “walloping, flavourful aubergine Parmigiana” and a “standout dessert” of slow-cooked cherries with almond milk pannacotta and cherry sorbet. The staff are perhaps still “a bit hotel-trained” at this early stage but the bill is “reasonable” and the mood is every bit as “suitably late summer, early autumn” as the rigatoni alla Norma whose etymology the restaurant shares. Plenty of reasons to “keep going back.”
For tips on how to graduate from glitzy new opening to perennial favourite in a matter of months, Tish could do worse than taking a leaf from Flor — the Borough Market restaurant and wine bar that has stolen the hearts of many of the capital’s critics, William Sitwell included.
The food here is “eclectic” but “beautifully mastered”: a “painterly display” of radishes with sesame sauce is a lesson in “the genius of simplicity”; “delicious” toast with anchovy and lardo is “glorious”; toasted cod brandade comes on as “the best, the most delicious, the naughtiest and most wonderful sort of fish pie ever conceived.” Finish with brown butter cakes — quite possibly “one of the best” cakes in existence — and it’s practically impossible to walk away unhappy from somewhere so “imaginative” yet “professional.” For Sitwell, Flor is a “a place of glorious discovery where the fundamental asks of a restaurant — to feed the hungry and to tantalise the taste buds with happy service — are delivered masterfully.”
There’s a similar sense of a kitchen and front of house working in sweet synchronicity over at the Goring hotel, where Nathan Outlaw’s Siren receives another positive response, this time from the Guardian’s Grace Dent.
For starters, there’s the view — “hesitation be damned,” this is “definitely London’s prettiest restaurant-with-a-view of the year.” For actual starters, there’s a “delicate” lobster tart that is “something of a work of art,” “subtle” cured monkfish “ornately arranged” with fresh ginger, fennel and yoghurt, and the “punchier option” of crisp oysters with oyster-infused salad cream. “Perfectly judged” turbot with a “vibrant, sunrise-coloured” hollandaise comes next, and puddings are properly “exquisite” — quite possibly “the stars of the show” — most notably a “heroically judged” strawberry tart and a “decadent Heffalump” of a raspberry choux bun. The bill may verge on “alarming,” but anyone allowing themselves to be “lured in” by this particular Siren cannot help but be “seduced.”
The Humble Bee Café
From one of London’s fanciest dining rooms to one of its most winningly unpretentious — Jay Rayner is in Stepney this week, at the cafe attached to the deservedly popular city farm.
Chefs Alice Wilson and Matt Hall may have met at meat maven Hawksmoor, but by and large the short blackboard menu here “goes the way of the vegetable.” A salad of fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, lentils and cherry tomatoes is “a big, thoughtful bowl of the good things”; open sandwiches come topped with the likes of “punchy” house-made hummus, “crescent suns” of roast squash, and the “salty kick” of crumbled feta. Especially noteworthy is the “simply outrageous” take on egg mayonnaise, but there are also cakes that showcase “the virtue of the domestic” and coffee that is “good and strong.” Rayner acknowledges that somewhere “so simple” could be dismissed as “a mere footnote,” but “the care taken over the food here” genuinely “matters.” The Humble Bee Café is “just a lovely place to be.”
Chang’s Noodle / Authentique
Meanwhile, over in Holborn / Tufnell Park, Giles Coren is tucking into excellent Chinese / French fare at Chang’s Noodle / Authentique. At Chang’s, it’s all about the “imperious” shan xi yo po, hand-pulled noodles “pulled and folded and pulled until they twang and yabber and grab” and layered with a “rich, sticky, salty” sauce. At Authentique, a “properly French but totally Kentish Town” new épicerie, there’s “epic charcuterie” and a “dazzling array of Gallic cheese” to match with the wines offering in “multiple stunning by-the-glass bargains” — “edgy yet cosy,” this is exactly the sort of lowkey “sophis” place everyone wants within a “minute and a half” of their home. As the French very much do not say: “get in.”
Kama by Vineet
Sadly, a run of borderline giddily good-humoured reviews can’t quite sustain itself all the way to the finishing post — with Vineet Bhatia’s new concession within the Harrods food hall leaving Marina O’Loughlin lukewarm at best.
“Crisp” samosas are “good” enough; there’s a “textbook, if dinky” dum biryani and a “truly vibrant” tomato sauce blanketing murgh makhani. But really there’s nothing here to suggest Bhatia’s pedigree: “this short menu could be from any Indian restaurant, anywhere.” And some of the cooking is less successful, too: “oversalted” broccoli spears “doused” in yoghurt and pomegranate seeds come on like “rejects from the Ottolenghi test kitchen”; puddings are “just a bit grim,” especially a “gritty, tongue-coating” malai kulfi. Factor in a “yawn-inducing” wine list and prices that verge on “boggling” and it’s hard to match this opening with the luxe Harrods setting. If anything, Kama by Vineet just feels “bargain basement.”