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Were other critics’ opinions on recent London restaurant openings in sync with the Square Meal taste barometer? This month, The Times’ Giles Coren finds one dessert at Dinner ‘soaked in angel's spit and spiked with the sugar of unicorn's horn’, Metro’s Marina O’Loughlin shrugs her shoulders at Brawn, Time Out rates Opera Tavern, AA Gill admonishes Les Deux Salons in The Sunday Times, and The Observer’s Jay Rayner decrees North Road as close as one can get to Noma in the UK.
They said: ‘Amaranto [has] a suave and stylish fine-dining room that manages to be opulent without being overbearing. The menu is an elegant pastiche of Italian cookery, rearranged, polished, and rebooted to fit comfortably on a refined level. It’s a long way from its origins, but it’s also ingenious, imaginative, and precisely executed… the wine offering is equally sumptuous [and] in a notable first for London, nearly every wine on the list is available by the glass, provided at least two glasses are ordered.’
We said: ‘This venue’s real trump card is its excellent, Italian-leaning wine list – with full access by the glass if you wish… but with fierce competition nearby, Amaranto doesn’t yet shout destination dining.’
Brawn, Marina O'Loughlin, Metro
They said: ‘Not brilliant, not swoonworthy. Am I missing something? The first time I go, I have excellent charcuterie… and some pleasingly fatty pork rillettes, served in generous, ice cream-like scoops… [but] the wild sourdough from the e5 Bakehouse (the menu bristles with credits like a Hollywood blockbuster), is served so cold its supple crumb is deadened. Undoubtedly, there’s clever buying going on here… if it opened on my doorstep, I’d use it a lot; I certainly wouldn’t make the great pilgrimage across town.’
We said: ‘This spin-off from the highly popular Terroirs has a cosier, more relaxed feel, but still delivers the same punchy, take-no-prisoners food… if Brawn can keep knocking out such exemplary bistro dishes, it should be a boon to the neighbourhood.’
Dinner, Giles Coren, The Times
They said: ‘[After the ‘meat fruit’] the dishes settled down into something resembling modern European haute cuisine, though with a clear sense of Heston running through the technique. Just when it was all starting to be a bit normal, there was Tipsy Cake… a pudding like no other. A sort of brioche soaked in angel's spit and spiked with the sugar of unicorn's horn. I am bored to hell with London's top-end restaurants. I wouldn't care if I never ate in another Michelin-starred ponce hole as long as I live. But Dinner, despite its stupid name, changes all that.’
We said: ‘Menus are inspired by Heston’s ongoing research into the flavours of the past, though the food is less about academic doodling & more about pure, intense flavour – from the most succulent pork chop imaginable (courtesy of a Black Foot pig) to ‘tipsy cake’ (a booze-soaked brioche cut by slices of roasted pineapple).’
Kopapa, Lisa Markwell, The Independent on Sunday
They said: ‘It takes some time to decipher the menu, not only because the lighting is that dim variety so loved by modish establishments, but also because the menu is a panoply of fusion: oysters come with gazpacho, wasabi and saké; there's an ox-tongue and Cheddar fritter with pickled red cabbage; and deep-fried squid is accompanied by puy lentils, with chipotle chilli and aubergine salad, caramelised peanuts and rocket. If you like fusion, this is the place for you. Less successful is the shoehorning in of the sharing-plate phenomenon. It all requires a great deal of concentration and clear views on how hungry you are going in.’
We said: ‘This determinedly informal, all-day venue… [is] a riot of eclecticism. Mini hits include parmesan & bone marrow on toast with Jewish beetroot & horseradish relish… on the downside, tiny tapas portions & stiff prices are at odds with the easy-going ethos.’
Les Deux Salons, AA Gill, The Sunday Times
They said: ‘The service is friendly and fast, the cost of £260 for five people perfectly good value, but the food was just off the mark, cooked slightly too long, carelessly, seasoning and saucing imprecise. Plates a bit smeary. It felt both rushed and successful, which is the most common affliction for good restaurants. Too many covers and, if it's working, why bother fixing it? Well, Les Deux Salons is still a good restaurant; I'll happily go back. But it needs to take the kitchen in hand: it's slipping away.
We said: ‘Les Deux Salons offers robust French cooking in comfortably high-gloss surrounds, with deliberately tarnished mirrors & globe lights doing their best to conjure up shades of Paris… the whole show is driven by effortlessly efficient staff who serve up plate after plate of perfectly executed food.’
North Road, Jay Rayner, The Observer
They said: ‘[Danish chef Christoffer] Hruskova's cooking is about as close as you'll get to [Noma head chef René] Redzepi's without buying a plane ticket, though to be honest it's still some way off the precision and acute sense of balance. It's good without having Redzepi's brilliance. Being in London he cannot raid the Nordic larder… instead, the ingredients are distinctly British: think elderberries and salsify, celery and Dorset shrimp. But what he does do is reject those French or Mediterranean foodstuffs which would make his dishes something other… he is more likely to season with vinegars than salts, to rely on smoking and pickling and leave ingredients raw where possible. The result is subtle and, for being unusual, intriguing.’
We said: ‘North Road’s ultra-trendy Nordic nosh is in tune with the times, now that ‘cold & stark’ has encroached on ‘warm & opulent’ as London’s dining preference du jour… while service lacks detailed knowledge, food this fashionable should sell itself.’
Opera Tavern, Guy Dimond, Time Out
They said: ‘It's low-lit, looks on-trend and is immediately appealing; it's partly inspired by the vibe and approach of places such Mario Batali's Bar Jamón in New York - but it's firmly rooted in London. It's also equally accomplished as a bar and restaurant - a tricky mix to get right… But this place is already the worst-kept secret in Covent Garden, which could turn your quest for a table into a drama.’
We said: ‘A former luvvies’ watering hole, the ground floor retains its ornate bar & theatrical front windows, while the upstairs dining room is a warmly lit, buzzy space lined with sage banquettes. Fans will recognise the meticulously sourced charcuterie & cheeses… fresh Ibérico pork also takes a starring role.’