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This month has been a stressful one for some of London’s critics: Time Out’s head honcho couldn’t relax at rammed tapas bar José, while The Sunday Times’ resident reviewer stressed over the sheer choice at Pollen Street Social. The Observer’s Jay Rayner fared better at St John Hotel with an erotic custard tart, while Spuntino proved delicious for Zoe Williams of The Sunday Telegraph.
They said: Strolling from one tapas bar to the next, having a ración here, a glass of bone-dry sherry there, is terrific fun in
Andalucia or Barcelona, where the streets are filled with thrilling tapas bars. But transplant just one to Bermondsey and it doesn't work quite so well. What you get is one completely rammed tapas bar, with people jostling for space, and newcomers trying to catch the eye of a staff
member in the hope of securing either a spot or a drink. It's simply not a relaxed way to eat.
Guy Dimond, Time Out
We said: Bermondsey Street has no shortage of hip, laid-back eateries, and José Pizarro’s dashing tapas and sherry bar fits assuredly among them, displaying the same easy charm as its owner. Pizarro’s food is the real deal: quality ingredients with few surprises. Draw up a stool at one of the high, narrow tables, or sit at the bar, where daily market specials, such as gargantuan asparagus grilled to order and topped with manchego, and strident boquerones (marinated anchovies), are displayed in glass cabinets; or choose from Spain’s greatest hits, such as rich, dainty croquetas spiked with morsels of ham.
They said: We were told to choose three dishes each per course. Finding one dish per course is stressful enough; finding nine was insufferable, not to mention expensive. This is
food made for the greater glory of the kitchen, not the sustenance of the customer... Everything was small, and effortfully arranged, and particularly difficult to share with pleasure or
AA Gill, The Sunday Times
We said: The dining room fulfils Atherton’s ambition of matching the flexibility of the food with an informal atmosphere – but the difficulty of securing a booking means that Pollen Street Social won’t be used as a casual drop-in, as the chef had hoped… Although Atherton is the godfather of grazing, a rack of Cotswold lamb with braised belly and sheep’s-milk curd was so delicious we were glad it only came as a full-sized portion. Unlike some restaurants owned by ex-Ramsay protégés, Pollen Street Social isn’t merely an exercise in reproducing his master’s voice: Atherton has proved that he is very much his own man.
They said: Overall, the meal felt rather fussy, with all those sauces and dips, yet still a
little repetitious in its flavours and spicing, distinctively sour. This is food that really goes better with cold beer and sunshine than with wine and an international hotel dining room – though
the Mondavi Pinot Noir we had is a wine that can answer back assertively to almost any dish, to say the least. The final bill was £167.91. Ouch. You can have a very good time in an ocakbasi joint in Dalston or Finsbury for several nights running and pay less than that.
Still, Quince is a bold venture and its Levantine style, in this grand hotel context, quite unusual.
David Sexton, Evening Standard
We said: Small plates of Turkish-with-a-twist sharing food arrive prettily presented and alluringly spiced… from the larger plates came a stunner of a main course: squishy cubes of melting pork belly glazed with sticky blueberries. The restaurant has its own street entrance through a vestibule heady with the scent of quince; once inside, red velvet banquettes, dark woods and acres of tiling set a sultry, tactile vibe, but one that's still smart enough for doing business – with ambitious prices pitched accordingly.
They said: We got a table almost
instantly (they always say 45 minutes and then it's five; it's just a stunt to make you grateful, I think), squidged in between a couple talking about their modelling contracts on one side and a
suave duet of Italians on the other… we started with a bowl of stuffed, fried olives. They were pretty nice, but I don't think improved enough from their original state to warrant all the
interference. The aubergine chips were good… I continued with a ‘slider’, which was fantastic. If only we hadn't gone for farmhouse Cheddar grits at the last minute, the meal would have been chic
and delicious; instead, it was chic and delicious, with one disgusting thing.
Zoe Williams, The Sunday Telegraph
We said: Russell Norman’s latest venture (sat comfortably in the seedy glory of Soho) is inspired by 19th-century New York’s gritty, industrial vibe. Mac and cheese arrives with a perfectly crisp top layer and the right amount of zingy tartness. The truffled egg toast is the sort of decadently addictive Stateside snack that makes obesity seem like an attractive lifestyle choice, but the savoury torch has to go to the intensely flavoured and tender-as-butter ground beef and bone marrow sliders. Elsewhere, a dish of farmhouse Cheddar grits waves the star-spangled banner proudly with its thick, maize-based porridge, while dessert brings the famed peanut butter and jelly sandwich – a deconstructed jog down memory lane so sweet that your teeth ache.
They said: Just like me, the fish soup
arrived looking terribly thin, a rust-coloured liquor which my companion compared, uncharitably, to late-night dishwater. But again, just like me, it had serious depth. On the side was a piece of
sourdough toast spread with ripe brown crabmeat. It was all the kind of thing upon which the St John reputation is built: a simple idea done very well indeed… at dessert, our waiter told us we
should order the custard tart and we did as we were told. It was a good call. One nudge of the plate and the 2in-thick custard filling had the kind of wobble that gets men of a certain age excited.
It tasted fabulous, too.
Jay Rayner, The Observer
We said: It’s typical of the bloody-mindedness of chef Fergus Henderson to have opened this restaurant-with-rooms just off Leicester Square: a challenging address for fashion-forward Londoners, but being in the heart of tourist London shows business acumen. The famously terse menu descriptions reflect a fierce loyalty to simplicity of preparation and quality of ingredients. Potted pigeon with pickled quince and toast had rich, rillette-like meat; a terrific pork chop was paired with butch little turnip tops; while chocolate terrine with Armagnac ice cream showed that, behind the austerity, the kitchen has a warm heart.