The headlines looked bleak for Robin Gill’s latest, The Yard, this time last week. He’d put in the hard yards, sure — but with severe prices, so-so food and bizarre décor it looked like the critical agenda was set in stone.
Gill and co will therefore be breathing a sigh of relief, after Jimi Famurewa comes to a far more positive verdict. It’s not a rave review — the penal-couture staff outfits still “warrant a double take. Or even a triple one” and similarly “clumsy theming” abounds throughout — but it at least offers the team some hope.
Although the overall vibe may “set off a rioting correctional facility’s worth of alarm bells,” this is actually “one of those dependable, hyper-central establishments that most of us need in our repertoire.” Despite appearances, there’s “elegance, care and a kind of restorative, rural warmth” here, not least in the food, which runs the haute-rustic gamut from a “powerfully gamey” wild boar and venison sausage, via “rich, buttery” beef tartare, to Tamworth pork jowl “slow-cooked to flavourful, glistening softness.” But it’s not just route one directness: haunch of fallow deer arrives “so flawlessly rosy it might have been cooked by a supercomputer,” accompanied by a miniature pie topped “with eye-poppingly green parsley mashed potato like something ripped from a Dr Seuss book.” A “sublime” deconstructed take on tarte tatin is a study in “vivid caramelised depth”; complimentary “oven-fresh” Earl Grey tea madeleines verge on “showing off.” Gill and co are not “not boldly dismantling the very concept of flavour or attempting anything you wouldn’t expect at, say, an acclaimed countryside gastropub.” But in doing so with such “uncommon verve, attentiveness and generosity of spirit,” Famurewa finds The Yard “very much deserving of a captive audience.”
No such enthusiasm in Fitzrovia, where Fay Maschler leaves Greek newcomer Ampéli a little low on whelm.
The name means “vineyard” in Greek, and on the plus side the wine list is a source of genuine “splendour,” exhibiting “revelatory” indigenous Greek varietals. On the food front, things are a little “less delightful,” from chopped liver lacking in “punch” and “schmaltz,” to sweetbreads short on “desirable crunch,” to the “feeble” spicing that lets down an otherwise “beautifully fried” potato burik with egg yolk, brown shrimp and harissa mayo. There are some better assemblies less “shy with their seasoning” — most notably some “great” lamb chops — but many of the so-called “Social Plates” skew “lacklustre.” A little more of the roguish charm of old-fashioned Greek-Cypriot restaurants, and a little less of the “self-conscious, health-conscious” approach championed here, and Maschler would “love Ampéli more.”
The Hunter’s Moon
Certainly, there’s nothing health or self-conscious about The Hunter’s Moon, an unfussy gastropub in Kensington enthusiastically appraised by Giles Coren.
The room is “cosy” and encouragingly “rammed”; the menu is “concise,” “imaginative,” and “well-argued”; the cooking is “bright” and “generous.” White bean crostini to start are “nicely balanced”; a spiced Syrian lentil soup is “glorious,” “warming and fresh and filling, with some pistachios in there for crunch and engaging levels of herb and spice.” Best of the lot is probably a “very classy” Jerusalem artichoke lasagne, although everything is similarly “hearty” and “thoughtful.” All in all, this is just a “top, top country pub lunch in town” — one “absolutely worth the trip.”
The service doesn’t help: administered “with all the grace of an unlubricated colonoscopy,” it proves a disconcerting harbinger for the meal, which entails largely OK food priced with what Rayner calls “casual London violence.” “Pleasant enough” sea bream crudo tops out at £18; crab doughnuts (£12.50 for six) are “light on the crab and heavy on flour that hasn’t quite been cooked out”; piri-piri plaice comes in a “big fiery stew” with “just enough kick” but is also half a fish for £26. It’s enough to leave Rayner “properly grumpy,” a mood not much alleviated by some “weird” puddings and a wine list “which has massive choice, but only if you spend more than £40.” He concludes that “restaurants are so much more than the efforts of skilled cooks” — much as there are some “nice things,” Rayner can think of plenty of things he’d rather do than “having to eat there ever again.”
For more affordable and enjoyable fare, Rayner should maybe consider a trip to our final destination this week — the Shoreditch bastion of Casa do Frango’s mini piri-piri chicken empire.
Marina O’Loughlin encounters the platonic ideal for many jaded foodie dorks: “excellent ingredients unmucked-about.” The house chicken and chips is “superb”; more importantly, “there isn’t a bum note” elsewhere on the menu, either. “Fat” shell-on prawns arrive with “antisocial” (read: correct) “quantities of caramelised garlic and white wine”; “crisp” little empanadas are clearly “freshly fried.” With every mouthful, “everything tastes sparky, made at the moment, made with care.”
That chicken though: it’s “the business,” “all bite and depth and flavour,” with “bronzed and frazzled” skin, meat “smoky from the wood grill,” its “ravishing” chilli marinade “a joyful smack in the chops.” It’s basically “a 20-quid meal that tastes like a million bucks,” an “infinitely superior” rival to a certain nationwide chain. It’s “excellent,” it’s “cute,” the staff are “heaven”: “You know when you’ve been Frango’d.”