The new restaurants that divide the critics
One eater's nirvana is another's dog's dinner
We, at Culture Whisper, were blown away by the beguiling, painterly flourishes and delicately nuanced flavours of the best ever fish soup at hedonistic, much vaunted new restaurant Hide. Poster-boy chef Ollie Dabbous seems to be soulfully redefining our understanding of what 'treat' high gastronomy is all about. However, some, most notably Marina O’Loughlin of the Sunday Times, were blown completely in the opposite direction. This is not the only recent high profile opening to have so polarised opinion.
Here are the restaurants that have generated the most extreme contrasting reactions.
Whilst pronouncing it “cringingly arrogant”, Frankie McCoy in the Evening Standard swoons over the “bloody good food”, especially the turbot petals in their own lemon-scented broth that “concentrates the memory of every lemon-drizzled fillet I’ve ever eaten in a single spoonful, with sea spray of oyster leaf and pickled pink garlic.”
Hide’s food is certainly photogenic: from snacks of charcoal-baked flatbreads embellished with coriander, flowers and ricotta, to that already near iconic acorn dessert drenched with smoked caramel and rum (not unlike a boozy hybrid croissant and soufflé!). Every dish is a lesson in balance: richness tempered with flower-powered acidity. Some, such as Eater London’s George Reynolds, find it “too delicate and dainty” preferring “a bolder symphony”. But it is O’Loughlin, ever brilliantly acerbic, who finds it “ludicrously self-conscious”. She eats Upstairs rather than on Ground, where only a tasting menu is served starting with slick, home-cured charcuterie speared on feathers! It seems she tires of the constant explaining, decanting, replenishing and perfecting that seems par for the course for most tasting menu offers now.
The prices are giddy, similar to London’s best Michelin-starred restaurants - probably no coincidence, illustrating their ambitions. However, it is worth noting that the genuinely lovely, polished staff are keen to emphasise that it is fine to pop in for a couple of snacks and a glass of wine, or a coffee and that dessert. The Evening Standard’s verdict is suitably accurate: “Hide is like a handsome friend who has inherited impossible wealth and lives a charmed life, but who is so completely lovely that you cannot resent him. Don’t overthink.”
Hide Above view, photo credit Joacim Blockstrom
PETERSHAM NURSERIES, COVENT GARDEN
The original Richmond Petersham under the helm of Skye Gyngell, now at Spring, where wellies were de rigeur for the dirt floor, proved a great success. However, Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden has lost some of its bohemian charm en route. Many – and especially Vogue – are ecstatic about its plant-filled idyllic beauty and its Rivercafe-esque seasonal dishes. It is rather precious and Marie Antoinette-like, if ravishingly and luxuriantly beautiful.
O’Loughlin doesn’t beat about the designer bush. “Nothing registers except for the bill and much is properly naff.” She confesses to eating her main course at The Petersham, the smarter option, without it even registering, as it is so forgettable. What's even worse, she’s so distracted by her pal’s 'spectacularly inept' chicken that she pronounces it like an oven-ready meal, made worse with mash that's poopy in its presentation. Even that is mild compared to the honey tart that her pal actually spits out, as it tastes 'like something you’d find clearing out ancient cupboards, dark and thuggish'; she laments too the deplorable lack of hospitality at such a spendy place.
In our opinion, sage and anchovy fritti with a glass of good Italian wine from far more informal, less lush La Goccia bistro is a better option. Here, the food is relatively well-priced, simple and flavoursome. Exotic pizzeta topped with salt-baked pollock, herbs, aoili and lemon sole with bottarga butter are good for quick suppers and no dish costs more than £10.
Many critics raved about the exuberant, colourful modernist Mexican cuisine at Ella Canta. The restaurant has been brought to London by unapologetically glamorous Martha Ortiz, chef, historian and feminist, whose Dulce Patria restaurant in Mexico City regularly makes it into The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
We thought the sea bream ceviche and grilled seabass with a rainbow salsa and guacamole was ravishing. We were also impressed by the fact it came topped with an edible gold grasshopper (which actually just tastes of crunch).
The David Collins designed décor with its washed hues and on-trend giant cacti is somewhat corporate, save for the stunning walnut screen running through the entire restaurant. In our minds it bares little comparison to the 'depressing' restaurant Giles Coren shames as the worst restaurant he’s ever reviewed for its 'utterly inexplicable food'. This surely portrays a rather unadventurous Coren?
Hailed as the modern global bistro answer to dim-sum, critics couldn’t wait for the trolley-dolly experience at Magpie. Many were charmed by its kookiness and creative ideas. To us, though, this touch was distracting and anxiety inducing - what if all the dishes on the next trolley looked even better than those being offered now? The little portions were rather like airline food, yet with often bizarre flavour combinations.
Clearly, the trolley service wasn’t working and the trolleys have been ever so quietly dropped that Tim Hayward applauds it as a restaurant that “totally lacks a concept”. He finds Magpie lives up to its name: “the menu has a spirit of cheeky larceny, indiscriminate in every way, save the single-minded and enthusiastic pursuit of the fascinating”. The Financial Times finds cod brandade dolloped on to a cube of crisp-fried polenta topped with 'honking' kimchi amazingly good in unexpected ways, admiring the innovation of beef tartare with “properly minging” taleggio cream – since when has “minging" been praise? The combination was distasteful and overpowering and the truffle crisps just obvious and rather dated. But is has to be said that Hayward’s conclusion that Magpie “runs on a combination of enthusiasm, love of food, backed with proper craft and restaurateurs that make sure you have a good evening…” tempts us to return.