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Review of the reviews: July 2011


July was a mainly positive month for London’s restaurant critics. Time Out’s Guy Dimond swooned over City slicker Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, the Evening Standard’s David Sexton found Pizza East’s second establishment worth the long trek down Portobello Road, and The Independent on Sunday’s Lisa Markwell enjoyed Roganic despite the hefty bill. Only Joe’s and Rocksalt received ropier reports.

Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, Farringdon

chiswell street dining rooms 2011 - Chiswell-St1.jpgThey said: Offering an all-day menu to smart City types, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms puts on a splendid variety show. The menus celebrate contemporary British flavours with carefully sourced produce, seasonal dishes and simple cooking styles. White onion and sage soup, enriched with robust chicken stock, scored top marks for infusing herby mildness into a subtly sweet and creamy onion base. The delicacy of Lincolnshire smoked-eel morsels also won us over, their texture contrasting with the crunch of shredded celeriac dressed in lemony mayonnaise. Main courses were also splendid. Throw in a doorstopper of a wine list, snazzy cocktails and speciality British beers, and if feels like the complete package. The Martin Brothers have done it again, creating a destination restaurant where you'd least expect to find one.
Guy Dimond, Time Out

We said: The latest venture from Tom and Ed Martin is pitched somewhere between upmarket bistro and buzzy fine-dining venue. It displays all the typical Martin trademarks: distressed floors, tasteful, colourful furniture, and assured cooking. A smart crowd tucks into generous British dishes such as Herefordshire-snail and smoked-bacon pie with mushroom-and-Guinness sauce (thoughtfully served atop a beermat). Top marks for the attentive service and cracking cocktail list, all under a tenner. Just one grumble: the inexplicably labyrinthine trek to the toilets.

Read the full Square Meal review for Chiswell Street Dining Rooms.

Joe’s, Chelsea

Joe's_2011_-_JOES_Interior_2_photo_credit_Joakim_Blokstrom_SENDOUT_WEB.jpgThey said: Joe's has changed its look and switched its mood, in line with the times, from cool to consoling. A bar remains by the entrance but reclaimed oak shelves running the depth of the space display red wine bottles that appear to have been rescued from an eccentric wine buff's flooded cellar interspersed with glossy fashion mags – a singular juxtaposition. At dinner, turbot of a size that could be served on the bone failed to thrill a man who lives by the seaside, and the chickpeas (pulse of the day) in a gritty dressing were so fridge-cold as to be disagreeable. Much better dishes were a first course of whole carrots the size of a little finger served with a nubbly mix of red lentils and herbs plus tahini yoghurt, and a main course of char-grilled rib-eye sliced and interleaved with green tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan.
Fay Maschler, Evening Standard

We said: Relaunced under executive chef Maria Elia, this casual restaurant, owned by the Joseph fashion label, is effortfully cool, much like its customers: sleek glamazons in leather trousers and weather-independent sunglasses. Happily, this is a study in substance as well as style: Elia’s signature ‘textures’ – a riff on a particular vegetable, peas on our visit – comprised chilled soup, cubes of smooth mousse, a delicate risotto and mini falafels. A cheap-as-chips daily-changing set menu also roadtests new ideas, such as a Thai-spiced watermelon gazpacho with fragrant herbs and a chilli kick – an unexpected hit. Service is friendly if less than speedy, but no one’s in a hurry.

Read the full Square Meal review for Joe's.

Pizza East, Notting Hill

pizza east 3 - Pizza_East_Portobello_2011_-_Pizza_East_Portobello3.jpgThey said: Anthropologists studying the difference between London's tribes could hardly do better than to compare the clienteles of the Shoreditch and Portobello branches of Pizza East. In E1, the punters are painfully on trend; in W10, they care a little less. They're older, better off, louder. Casual means losing the tie but keeping the cufflinks. But they're all enjoying themselves emphatically and the pizzas are the business. Although the bases are distinctively bready, nothing like pizzas as sold on the street in Naples, they're none the worse for that, it being a particularly good bread, deep-flavoured, crisped on the edges, pleasingly elastic in the middle. Pizza East North and Pizza East South next, please. And all stations in between.
David Sexton, Evening Standard

We said: A restored Georgian boozer at the ‘wrong’ end of Portobello Road, this bustling hangout is packed every night. The deliberate lack of refinement in the shabbily distressed dining room extends to the menu, which combines Italian country cooking with the sourcing credentials of Californian cuisine. Excellent antipasti include bone-marrow bruschetta and ‘beaten pollock’ (a sustainable take on salt-cod brandade), pizza toppings are inventive, the Italian cheeses are terrific, and there’s decadent salted chocolate-caramel tart for a sweet-toothed finish.

Read the full Square Meal review for Pizza East.

Rocksalt, Folkestone

rocksalt_2011 - Rocksalt4.jpgThey said: We had the crab with harissa and toast. It was very fresh; it could hardly have avoided freshness, the spot where the fishermen land being bang outside the window. But the harissa dressing was underpowered – really more of a pink hue than a flavour – and could dearly have used some seasoning and a squeeze of lemon. Our next order, the breaded sole fingers, was fine; there just wasn’t any unexpected lift, where the whole thing was transmogrified from a gastropub kids' menu to a king's feast, but put that down to the accidental ordering of fishfingers, I suppose. The cooking is fine but the balance is off, so that quality of moreishness isn't there. It remains, however, a gorgeous place with some gorgeous fish. Maybe it just needs time.
Zoe Williams, The Sunday Telegraph

We said: Sitting pretty on Folkestone’s harbour front, both the airy ground-floor dining room and upstairs bar/terrace capture the phenomenal harbour and Channel views full on. Seafood is the speciality, and its shines from the very start – perhaps dressed crab lifted by a spot-on hit of harissa, or mussels cooked on the kitchen’s Josper grill. It may not be groundbreaking stuff, but the kitchen makes its point emphatically through a simple respect for top-drawer raw materials. Bread and desserts should be considered works in progress.

Read the full Square Meal review for Rocksalt.

Roganic, Bloomsbury

roganic interior2 - roganic7.jpgThey said: Dinner at Roganic is six or 10 courses, no substitutions (unless you're veggie), no menu even, unless you ask for it. So, you'll be saying ‘thank you’ a lot. And you'll need to set aside an entire evening for the meal; think of it as theatre. There's so much fun, imagination and skill involved that, though a couple will be looking at a £200 bill, it's an evening on a par with posh tickets for the Royal Opera House. The skill of the perfectly judged menu ensures that I feel sated but not stuffed. Roganic is not perfect, but for palates jaded by the procession of ‘it'll come when it's ready’ tapas-style concepts and uncomfortably formal stellar cheffery (with waiting lists to match), it offers a delightful diversion.
Lisa Markwell, The Independent on Sunday

We said: Despite the pokey dining room and minimalist layout, the 25-cover space is surprisingly comfortable, with tables spread out to eliminate the risk of elbow battles and eavesdropping. The challenging dishes include some brave combinations: warm spiced bread is paired with an intense smoked clotted cream and a tart buckthorn curd; while roasted brill is served with ‘chicken salt’, cockles and ruby chard. Not everything hits the spot, but what’s on offer is fresh, earthy and honest, with immaculate presentation, while knowledgeable, friendly staff deliver faultless service.

Read the full Square Meal review for Roganic.

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