Lina Stores King’s Cross
Spoilers for a twenty year-old movie, but in the 1999 classic Fight Club, two outwardly dissimilar characters with wildly differing world-view turn out to be ... The same person.
Could the same be true of media personalities ‘Grace Dent’ and ‘Jimi Famurewa’? All the signs are there: the role of Evening Standard Magazine restaurant critic; the vocal disagreement over Doug McMaster’s Silo last week, and now a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty duo of verdicts on the Lina Stores roll out in Kings Cross.
For Famurewa, it’s a case of a few “niggling deficiencies” undermining an “otherwise highly likeable” expansion of the Soho original. The room is “like a Milanese holiday for the eyes,” and antipasti “maintain the illusion”: Aubergine polpette are “hot, orbed miracles of contrast”; stracciatella with “smoky blow-torched tomatoes” brings to mind “a less played-out burrata”; fried polenta is “seasoned with the correct quantity of butter and parmesan” — “twice as much” as “strictly necessary” for those asking. Carbs are “beautifully sauced,” especially a “spectacular” plate of porcini and Umbrian sausage pici; and it’s only the unwelcome swiping of the “desirable, heat-puffed supposed offcuts” from a “well-cooked” seabass that strikes an “egregious and strange” note — “growing pains,” perhaps, or “the fixable consequences of working on a vastly enlarged canvas.”
Dent has a less enjoyable experience, starting with the “surly” staff — their attitude “a war of attrition against the public” — and continuing through to “disappointing” pasta, “stingy” portions, and a selection of antipasti in which practically “nothing is delicious.” That polenta Famurewa so enjoyed is both “overcooked” and “lukewarm”; those aubergine polpette are “small patties of unlovable mulch”; those carbs are also “overcooked” and their sauces are anonymous. “It’s not remotely fun,” in other words — bad enough, compared to the Soho original, for Dent to conclude “smaller really is better.” Here she aligns seamlessly with Famurewa, for whom the occasional blips are an “an inadvertent reminder that bigger isn’t always better.” Cue up Pixies!
After such dissonance, it’s perhaps reassuring to land upon some good old-fashioned critical consensus, as William Sitwell firmly underlines Marina O’Loughlin’s positive verdict on Soho Sri Lankan newcomer Paradise.
First impressions come courtesy of the room, a “triumphant mixture of concrete and comfort” — truly “a wonder.” The food, by and large, backs it up: mutton rolls are “crisp”; their filling enjoyably “earthy”; their accompanying fermented chilli sauce “blissfully hot.” A “beautiful bowl” ferries “little strips of aubergine”: the “skin edible but not burnt”; the flesh “not overly soggy.” The feted lamb chop is a “triumph”: “tender, pink, nicely spiced and very juicy.” And if a cashew curry is “more fine than fabulous,” it’s a rare exception from a kitchen that otherwise leaves the Telegraph critic yearning “to return and eat the rest of the menu.” Factor in “a small but excellent selection of wines” and “upbeat, professional and friendly” service, and it’s clear that “Paradise is indeed on Rupert Street.”
Calling a restaurant Paradise requires some serious cojones — the negative headlines write themselves if the experience doesn’t pass muster.
Tom Aikens went similarly all-in in calling his latest project Muse — owning the accusations of pretentiousness occasioned by a tasting menu related not in descriptions of dishes, but vignettes from Aikens’ personal life and career.
Per David Sexton, at least, it’s a gamble that has paid off handsomely: Nothing short of “ravishing.” The room is “prettily designed” and the atmosphere is “intimate and relaxed,” at times “studious”; the six courses that follow are “intricately accomplished and beautifully presented, the intensity of the tastes easily living up to the poetic billing”.
An a(M)use bouche of smoked venison tartare is “wonderfully bosky”; bread is “sensationally good”; plain butter is “perfectly creamy” and a compound version is “sumptuously chicken- and cèpe-enriched.” Dishes range from “an apotheosis of beetroot” served three ways, to a “brilliantly fresh” langoustine with “stickily reduced” pig’s trotter juice, to “steak like no other” in the form of retired Norfolk dairy cow. Pudding is “a creamy fantasia on cornflakes” which provides “a straight route back to childhood” — a winning full stop on a sequence of “revelatory finesse.” The meal leaves Sexton “exhilarated,” at a price point significantly lower than some other high-end tasting menus in town.
From SW1 to F1 to finish this week, as Marina O’Loughlin checks out Lewis Hamilton’s vegan — ahem: plant-based — fast food concept, Neat Burger.
Unfortunately, the experience suggests that Hamilton and co have a long way to go if they are to take pole position in an ever-expanding field. As with similar joints aiming for a similar spot in the market, the look here is “Insta-cute”: all “palm motifs and millennial pink, motivational statements etched onto mirrors.” But the “bright-eyed” and “helpful” staff can’t occlude the slightly “unnerving” quality of most of the food. The “crumbly and dry” texture of the burger is “all wrong for something intended to ape meat”; the “Kick’n Kimchi Chick’n Burger” “hauntingly replicates the texture and grain of battery hens”; a hot dog is “particularly disturbing,” a “rubbery mutant” version of a late-night staple. Even the carbs are bad: fried tater tots laden with “blurts of sauces,” pickles, crispy onions and vegan cheese “arrive looking as if somebody boaked in the box.”
It might be possible to defend this sort of stuff on the grounds that it acts as a “gateway drug for meat-eaters.” But the real “winners” here are “the investors,” successfully green-washing some very dubious food. Grimly, O’Loughlin concludes that “you don’t need tastebuds to understand this stuff, you need labs.”