Monthly Round-up of National Critics’ Restaurant Reviews by Oliver Thring (April 2012)

Welcome to Oliver Thring’s monthly round-up of national critics’ restaurant reviews.

The Gunton Arms

‘Our lunch … was just terrific,’ says Tracey Macleod at The Gunton Arms in Thorpe Market, Norfolk. The restaurant is run by two Hix alumni; Macleod had ‘meltingly tender’ beef flank and ale pie, and a venison burger that was ‘a bit too posh’.

Lots of visits to Petersham Nurseries this week, where Greg Malouf has taken over the kitchen. Macleod thought that spiced rabbit leg and loin with parsnip skordalia, chorizo and punterall was ‘superb’, as indeed it sounds. The place offers a ‘synaesthetic feast of sensory pleasure’.

Fay Maschler loved Malouf in his new ‘virtuous environment’. Buffalo ricotta, artichokes, rocket and salad leaves ‘suited the surroundings down to the ground’, and risotto with peas and broad beans was ‘irresistible’.

Bruce Palling has written more about Petersham, its previous chef Skye Gingell and Malouf in the WSJ.

Fay also appreciated the ‘utterly reasonable’ prices of Briciole, where the chef is a ‘dab hand at pasta’. It’s ‘the sort of place you want within walking distance of where you live for those evenings when the fridge is bare or your energy gauge is nudging empty’.

Soif ‘was trying to crowd-please rather than express itself,’ says Zoe Williams. Veal kidneys with lardons and spinach were ‘cooked to perfection’, and a blancmange was ‘incomparable’. But ‘if I’m not in love with the place, it’s because of its functional interior’.

She further visited Crussh, a juice bar and health food restaurant on Millbank. ‘The Mango Madness was stunning’, quinoa salad was ‘superior’ and ‘the sushi was good’. ‘My better self loves it.’

‘Men’s food’ is Williams’ verdict on The Delaunay. Steak tartare was ‘very good’ but kedgeree ‘didn’t lift my spirits’, and rice pudding with poached plums was ‘the worst of all worlds’.

Lisa Markwell went to Smoak in Manchester: ‘the menu is big in both dimension and range’. Shrimp cocktail was ‘spanking fresh’ and goat’s cheese and apple hush puppies ‘good’.

Matthew Norman visited Shayona, the restaurant attached the beautiful Hindu temple in Neasden. ‘This was probably the best vegetarian meal of my life.’ A dhosa masala was ‘sensational’ and ‘cumin-infused, saffrony mixed vegetable biryani … almost as good’.

A lovely write-up of 40 Maltby Street by Marina O’Loughlin. ‘What I like most about this unassuming place is its demonstration that you can create a really good restaurant from the most unlikely of ingredients.’

And she went to the ‘distinctly odd’ Karpo near King’s Cross. Southern-fried quail with celeriac mayo ‘worked in every way’ and ‘the quality was all there’ in pink lamb with green beans. ‘Karpo is a rare beast in that it’s far nicer than you expect.’

‘Why the hell doesn’t every city in the country have a place like this?’ wonders Jay Rayner at the James Street South Bar and Grill, Belfast. A pork rillette was ‘dense and savoury’ and rib-eye had a ‘serious char’. The wine list is ‘well-thought-out’, too.

But, he adds, ‘the context is all wrong’ for Joel Antunès to be at The Embassy on Old Burlington Street. Salade niçoise there was ‘big and fresh’ and roast quail with lentils ‘robust’. But though ‘I desperately want to say nice things about a restaurant with Antunès at the stove … I can’t, not quite.’

‘The only bad news about Dabbous is the difficulty in getting a table,’ says John Lanchester. Ling with smoked butter and squid ink was ‘amazing’ and pork belly with savoury praline and turnip tops ‘very interesting indeed’. Sponge pudding was so light it was ‘anti-gravitational’.

Giles Coren went to the Jugged Hare on Chiswell Street. It’s ‘a very good addition to a good chain of pubs’. Spit-roast pork with apple caramel was ‘a very good effort indeed’ and monkfish with beurre blanc and cockles was ‘excellent’.

It’s ‘rather marvellous,’ says Grace Dent at the same place. Crab with mayo was ‘delicious’ and chicken livers with a pheasant egg an ‘unctuous delight’.

Time Out went to Russian restaurant Mari Vanna, in Knightsbridge. Fillings in pirozhki were ‘moist and juicy’, beef stroganoff ‘delightful’ and ‘the blinis were exemplary’. ‘Mari Vanna combines great service, good cooking and a cosy, charming interior.’

Tim Hayward also visited the ‘homely and welcoming’ Mari Vanna. Stroganoff was ‘homely and authentic’, and ‘service is cheerfully informal yet blisteringly professional’.

‘This was all fantastically, really terrible,’ says AA Gill at La Bodega Negra. T-bone steak was ‘a muscle of wobbly cold purple’ and chicken was ‘indistinguishable from pumpkin in texture and flavour’. ‘As bad as a bad Mexican could be.’

But he liked The Magdalen Arms in Oxford. ‘The fish soup was far better than you’d expect to find in a pub’ and a bakewell tart with marmalade was ‘well put together’. ‘Service was efficient and friendly.’

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