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Review of the reviews: March 2011


London’s food critics have been chasing each other around the capital’s restaurants again. This month, Time Out’s Guy Dimond echoes our opinion on the Fox & Grapes’ dessert, while The Observer’s Jay Rayner ponders the flimsy puddings at Chabrot, after raving about the rest of the menu. Meanwhile, Tracey MacLeod, in The Independent on Sunday, reveals to Ottolenghi’s fans that Nopi is no ‘second coming’.

Chabrot Bistro d’Amis

Chabrot_2011_-_Chabrot_interiors_4.jpgThey said: Chabrot is slathered in Parisian bistro tropes and clichés, but it is done with such precision and intent and fondness that you cannot begrudge it… The menu does the classics with no shame… a Savoy cabbage leaf stuffed with veal, chestnuts, foie gras and ceps sounds like an aneurism on a plate… instead it was thrillingly light and fresh and came with a translucent non-sticky jus that was the sum of all of its parts… [But] Chabrot does not have a sweet tooth… as dessert lists go, it's one huge Gallic shrug. So for now, do not leave space for dessert. Jay Rayner, The Observer

We said: This heroically French bistro has been tastefully broken in to achieve the desired laughter lines & signs of ageing. It’s a unpretentious space spread over two floors, with jaunty striped tablecloths, monochrome photos of 1960s’ France & a menu bristling with regional ingredients from the southwest. The chef’s signature dish, poulet farci au foie gras, is a delightful composition of jointed chicken layered with slices of rich goose liver & sourdough toast. Perhaps as a concession to all those calories & cholesterol, desserts are on the light side.

Read the full Square Meal review for Chabrot Bistrot d’Amis.

Fox & Grapes

fox and grapes2 - Fox_Grapes2.jpgThey said: A menu based around British pub favourites has been deconstructed, refined, and put back together. A starter of pork pie was properly made using hot-water-crust pastry, but the jelly inside – get this – was flavoured with apple. Ooh la la. The puddings were less of a wow. A dessert of junket – a medieval dessert of 'set' milk – was just a little too watery. But the place has a nice vibe, full of appreciative diners who had travelled from afar and arrived by taxi or four-wheel-drive, parked on the Common's roads nearby. Guy Dimond, Time Out

We said: Perch at the bar of this boozy, bucolic hideaway… or head to the high-ceilinged, chandelier-hung dining room for a hunk of pork pie with delicate jelly & a smidgen of gutsy piccalilli on the side, or a pleasant (if a tad muddled) salad of beetroot, blood orange & goats’ cheese. Plantation pork belly with crisp crackling, squidgy tender meat & a pile of creamy, flavoursome lentils is the star turn; desserts are a mixed bag: our vanilla & pear junket was a little too mild, but treacle & pecan tart was a sweet-toothed diner’s dream.

Read the full Square Meal review for The Fox & Grapes.


Ilia_2011_-_Ilia-2841.jpgThey said: Pointing to the most interesting object in the room, a magnificent freestanding bright red-enamelled food slicer, the waiter offered us various salume and what he described as a magnificent San Daniele ham. Silky and floppy as a fop’s hanky, the slices were extraordinarily resonant in flavour... Rack of lamb was served ‘scottadito’ style. This, I’ve discovered, means ‘finger-burning’, suggesting the cutlets are so delectable you can’t stop yourself picking them up too soon. They were good, not served as a rack but separately, jostling a half aubergine that had been baked to a creamy, pliant mattress, there to soak up the meat juices. But no one’s fingers got burned. Fay Maschler, Evening Standard

We said: While there’s a lot to like about Ilia, from the faintly art deco dining room with its mirrored pillars & marble-topped bar to the 100-bin wine list… some work is still needed – cramped, close-packed tables & haphazard, amateurish service took the edge off our visit. But all the ingredients for a classy neighbourhood Italian are present & correct.

Read the full Square Meal review for Ilia.


Nopi_2011_-_untitled2.jpgThey said: Nopi is restrained and posh-looking, the white and gold scheme suggesting an upmarket jewellers… All the dishes look beautiful, for as long as they last; as with Ottolenghi, this is chick food – big flavours, few carbs. Good though most of our dishes were, we both found something disorientating about the Nopi experience, with its unfamiliar ingredients, unpredictable meal structure and unclassifiable decor… My faith in Yotam Ottolenghi remains solid. But I don't feel able to hail Nopi as the second coming. Tracey MacLeod, The Independent on Sunday

We said: Nopi certainly looks the part, its warm, welcoming interior suffused with a soft glow from brass lamps & a ceiling specially designed to soak up excessive noise. The food may be light, but it delivers on flavour. Creamy burrata is perked up with coriander seeds & blood orange, while braised artichoke is paired with broad beans & preserved lemon. The only bugbear is Nopi’s rather cock-eyed pricing policy.

Read the full Square Meal review for Nopi.

Spice Market

spice market2 - spice_market1_resized.jpgThey said: From our irritatingly low table in the centre of the room, we contemplated a decor which strove to blend Ikea’s take on a Singapore expats’ colonial club circa 1949 with a Manhattan playboy’s idea of seductive chic. The official ‘concept’ is the opaque notion that dishes from a grossly indolent, usual-suspects, pan-oriental menu are brought to the table when ready, dim sum-style, and may be shared. The unofficial one is to take comparatively cheap ingredients, pepper the menu with the word ‘emulsion’ in a stab at justifying outlandish prices, and get the punters out as quickly as possible… if ever a joint deserved to bomb in Wardour Street, this is it. Matthew Norman, The Telegraph

We said: Asian street food is the kitchen’s inspiration – although prices are hardly streetwise. A cheek-puckeringly vibrant dish of hamachi sashimi with warm crunchy rice, chipotle emulsion & spring onion was a standout from the ‘raw’ section, & everything else was perfectly pleasant – if a tad familiar. France & America lead an easy-to-negotiate wine list, with ‘house sodas’ available for abstainers.

Read the full Square Meal review for Spice Market.

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