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

Local Friends - Bethnal Green

Local Friends, Bethnal Green

Giles Coren is at Local Friends in Bethnal Green. “The Hunanese food is very fine”, including pig’s ear in “spicy red dressing” and Chairman Mao pork. They also do “good and very familiar” lemon chicken, or sweet and sour pork.

Jay Rayner went to the Angel & Crown on St Martin’s Lane, the 10th gastropub from Tom and Ed Martin. It was “absolutely fine”: asparagus soup “wasn’t worth getting smelly wee for”, a venison pie merely “all right”. It’s “one of the better choices on St Martin’s Lane. But that really is damning it with faint praise.”

“A kitsch and loving take on the culinary traditions of Russia” is Rayner’s verdict on Mari Vanna. The Russian salad is “done about as well as it can be done” and the beef and pork pirogi will “see you through a snowed-in month”. “Bonkers, but in a sweet way.”

“More relaxed and playful than most Michelin-starred joints,” says Tracey Macleod of the Sketch Lecture Room. A dish of peeled grapes stuffed with olives and anchovies, with lamb saddle and sweetbread tartlet was “satire-defying”. But, in all, it was “a rather fantastic experience”.

Anna Tyzack visited “on-trend” North Road. Beef fillet in burnt hay was “succulent”, and a pudding of liquorice ice cream with dill and buttermilk “tasted sublimely foreign”. “Fresh and locally sourced can also mean vibrant and light.”

Aalto‘s food is “mostly passable”, according to Marina O’Loughlin. Prawn cocktail at the Birmingham brasserie was “breathtakingly cheeky”, sea bass overcooked, and the place looks as though “David Brent has taken up interior design”.

She also visited Verru in Marylebone, an extraordinary-sounding place offering what it desribes as “the tastes of Scandinavia with the discipline of French cuisine”. Scallops came with pig’s trotter, nashi pear puree, bitter dandelion and, of all things, red curry that “pulled the whole dish together”.

The Goring’s “most luminous quality” is its service, says Matthew Norman. “Impressive” main courses of roast chicken, “minimally overcooked” beef wellington and slow-roast lamb breast were followed by “calorific and pleasing” puddings.

Tony Turnbull: the dining room of Stoke Place, Bucks “felt like a National Trust café”, but the cooking “reached great heights”. Sirloin with fondant potatoes, swede and carrots was “honest”, pork loin with cider jus “brilliant”.

Christopher Hirst went to the White Swan Inn in Pickering, North Yorkshire. Rib-eye was “steak perfection”. “What a shame that the combination of splendid, simple dishes with efficient, friendly service in a pleasant setting is such a rarity in our country towns.”

“Chic to its bones,” says Zoe Williams at Cotidie on Marylebone High Street. Bream came with seaweed and “well-garlicked” broccoli. “The puds lacked passion and the atmosphere is hotelly, but much of the cooking is magnificent.”

She also wrote one of the few positive reviews I’ve seen of La Bodega Negra. Salmon and tuna tostadas were “excellent”; “I’d come again”.

“Pretty amazing” is John Lanchester’s verdict on La Grenouillère in Montreuil. He “really liked” rabbit tartare with white asparagus, and sous vide rabbit kidney seared in ash was an “explosion of taste”.

David Sexton is very keen on Hix’s new place Tramshed. Sirloin steak was “better than I have had in … Hawksmoor and Goodman” and chicken with green salad is “just excellent”. A “terrific achivement” overall.

“As cute as can be” is his opinion on Shrimpy’s. Fried chicken with sweetcorn and red pepper polenta “hit the spot” and soft-shell crab burger is a “monster signature dish”. “ A lovely place where there was nothing good before.”

“Glasgow has never really managed to take food terribly seriously,” says AA Gill, and the Butchershop Bar and Grill seemed to confirm that. A burger was “very good”, but steak was underhung, its béarnaise “bottled and slippery”.

Like everyone else, he also went to Dabbous, and again like everyone else, he loved it. “Every single dish, every plate made with such finesse, such a careful balance of flavour and texture, so much dexterous consideration for how it will be eaten, the most pleasing and simplest way to show off each ingredient to its best advantage.”

Casamia in Westbury-on-Trym “feels deracinated,” says Tim Hayward. Parsley and spelt risotto had “a stunningly foliar flavour” and an “ice-cream-like grit” of sheep’s curd with cold peas was just “cheesy-peas”. “I flatly refuse to believe [that it’s] the best restaurant in the area.”

And he went to the Jugged Hare, another venture from Bros. Martin. Monkfish tail “felt like gnawing on Madonna’s calves” but rabbit leg, faggots, peas, bacon and grain mustard sauce was “a stonking combination”. “I found [the restaurant] enjoyable in a detached sort of way, but in the end, I’m not sure I’m man enough”.

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