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Autumn threw a fair few opinion-splitting restaurants diners’ way. In contrast to Square Meal’s experiences, The Observer’s Jay Rayner was utterly unimpressed with Beard to Tail’s menu and forced hipster attitude, and Time Out’s Tania Ballantine was left cold by the hot dogs at Bubbledogs. However, a critical consensus was reached about three other newcomers: Brasserie Zédel, Chicken Shop and Duck & Waffle.
They said: Reading is probably the only thing you'll enjoy doing at this joint… after eating there I wanted to nick the menu and give it to someone with enough talent to realise its potential… it's a wretched indictment of a gruesome kind of Shoreditch hipsterism which turns perving over dirty burgers into a spectator sport. They've made such a bloody effort to be on trend – the website booking, the 90-minute table allocations, the Greenwich Village bare-brick walls, the industrial fittings, the Stygian gloom so dense you think you've developed macular degeneration between the door and the table – and have forgotten the one thing that matters: cooking properly.
We said: The team behind Shoreditch cocktail trendy Callooh Callay has launched a meaty all-day restaurant and deli in a reconfigured industrial warehouse on Curtain Road. ‘Beard to tail’ is a French linguistic pun on the word barbecue (‘barbe à queue’) and the kitchen uses just about every bit of its chosen, own-butchered beasts for a highly carnivorous menu running from ‘bearded’ pig’s cheeks with ginger and dill pickle to pulled beef featherblade with green-peppercorn hollandaise and flatbread or signature ‘Rumpie Pumpie’ Suffolk pork rump for two to share.
They said: Although restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have turned the Frenchness up to 11 at their faux-grand Parisienne brasserie, they have somehow steered clear of cliché and created something genuinely thrilling... the central location, relatively low prices and glamorous surroundings conspire to attract a strikingly eclectic crowd… but Zédel is not just about spectacle and people-watching. The food is on the money, too.
We said: For their latest venture, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have taken the art-deco grandeur of The Wolseley and The Delaunay, adopted the spirit of a Parisian brasserie, and pitched their prices resoundingly low. The vast, gilded subterranean dining room (all marble pillars and shades of pink) is a vision of the belle époque, complete with an A-Z of Gallic gastronomy from ‘musky’ andouillettes and rib-sticking beef bourguignon to earthy fish soup, frogs’ legs and foie gras.
They said: As concepts go, Bubbledogs is right on the money. This newcomer teams hot dogs with bubbly, tapping straight into the vein of the current trend for poshed-up junk food... there's only one problem: they forgot to make the 'gourmet' hot dogs any good… [however], Bubbledogs works brilliantly as a Champagne bar, champions smaller producers, and kicks off at an accessible £6/£6.50 a glass (cava, Champagne).
We said: As soon as it launched, Bubbledogs was besieged by chin-wagging Twitterati-cum-bloggers desperate to proclaim its wacky concept as an atrocity or a stroke of genius. There are 13 delicately sculpted versions on offer, from Mexican-themed José to clever surprises such as 'breakie' (bacon, fried egg, tomato relish and crispy black pudding). The owners took a big leap of faith here when they decided to pin everything on the bizarre combo of hot dogs and exclusive ‘grower’ Champagne.
They said: Only in London could a place as plain and good as this feel right… the latest opening from Nick Jones’s Soho House Group is – let us not mince our words – a bloody marvel… what makes Chicken Shop is its great atmosphere. It feels immediately like a good place to be. Altogether, the joint seems like a fantasy of the friendliest diner you could ever hope to find, made real.
We said: Housed in a cosy candlelit basement, this venue is a one-trick pony celebrating the delights of roast chicken. Inside, it’s lined with mirrored wooden cabinets, and the vintage look is enhanced by diner-style tables, red chairs and a long wooden counter. Chalked up on the wall, the basic menu offers… highly effective, hip comfort food for the iPad generation.
They said: Forty floors up London's glittering Heron Tower, the place has jaw-dropping views and a delightful atmosphere; it's just that the vertigo sufferer will need a few minutes and a stiff drink to recover from the high-speed journey up in a glass lift… D&W goes the extra mile in high-energy, wham-bam flavour combos… the food is not faultless, but the experience is; and there are plenty of enticing dishes.
We said: Duck & Waffle’s perch on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower hits everyone with a hefty dose of the wow factor straightaway... the animated, warmly lit dining room’s eclectic menu mixes perfectly cooked bacon-wrapped dates, subtly seasoned rabbit rillettes and flavourful Moroccan-spiced mutton sliders with gut-busting options such as the sickly-sweet house special: confit duck leg and a fried duck egg atop a thick waffle, all doused in maple and mustard syrup.