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29 July 2014

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Review of the reviews: April 2014

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This is our round-up of the past month’s restaurant reviews, bringing together what the critics and Square Meal had to say about the latest and hottest openings. Let us know your own thoughts by leaving comments on our reviews, or tweeting us @SquareMeal.

Antidote2014image04.jpgAntidote

When it was revealed that Mikael Jonsson, the chef behind Chiswick’s Michelin-starred Hedone, had taken on a consultative role at Antidote and devised entirely new menus for the upstairs dining room, all eyes turned to this Soho wine bar. The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler found 'long waits between courses' and picked faults in 'diddy portions' while her reaction to dishes was mixed. She enjoyed 'tender slices of breast of guinea fowl blush pink beneath crisp salty skin', but thought a 'pear and onion gratin seems feeble'. Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits blog also had a varied reaction to the cooking, but surmised that the meal was good value given 'the obvious effort that's gone into the food'. A disenchanted Time Out review simply said: 'Hedone restaurant this is not'.
We said: 'Given Jonsson’s track record, it’s no surprise that the food is attention-grabbing stuff… overall, big flavours make up for decidedly small portions but we can’t help but feel that upstairs misses out on the more convivial fun of the bar area.'
Read our full review of Antidote here.

Barnyard_Interior_(1).jpgBarnyard

This casual, no-bookings opening from Ollie Dabbous has been reported to have queues of up to three hours at its peak, but it’s still a fair bit easier to get into than nearby Michelin-starred Dabbous which is always fully booked. Time Out’s Guy Dimond awarded it a stonking five stars, praising the 'charming' service and 'affordable pricing' but still finding a 'haute cuisine precision in many of the dishes'. Though the Evening Standard’s Nick Curtis also found favour in many of the dishes ('piquant' chicken wings with smoked paprika, garlic and lemon; 'tender' beef short rib; 'sweet' cornbread), he felt the menu lacked 'something to undercut the fulsome richness' and that the experience was dampened somewhat by the 'bolt and run' atmosphere.
We said: 'It’s all about direct flavours and comfort...Barnyard ticks all the in-vogue boxes, with its reclaimed timber furnishings, corrugated tin walls, toe-tapping indie/folk soundtrack and staff who look very much like the people they are serving.'
Read our full review of Barnyard here.

camberwell-arms.jpgThe Camberwell Arms

Fay Maschler found four stars for The Camberwell Arms, a new gastropub in SE5 from the team behind Waterloo’s Anchor & Hope and Stockwell’s Canton Arms, saying 'giving people what they want — and probably more than they expect — seems the guiding principle'. Similarly, John Walsh in The Independent decided that it’s a 'place that does everything slightly beyond the call of duty'. Elsewhere, local blog Camberwell Online noted it 'has great atmosphere' and considers it 'a positive addition to the area', though did admit there is similar-standard or even better food available locally at a lower price. For us, it’s a fantastic local’s gastropub that’s well worth a try - though perhaps not an across-town special trip.
We said: 'Ox heart with blood-coloured beetroot and horseradish is a heavy-flavoured, carnal pleasure… service is attentive and friendly enough to be forgiven a few small blunders.' 
Read our full review of The Camberwell Arms here.

Chiltern Firehouse - Chiltern_Firehouse_interior_web.jpgChiltern Firehouse

Smoking hot has been the verdict all round for this Marylebone opening from Nuno Mendes. 'Slow-roasted short rib with hazelnut purée and bone marrow was heavenly', said a besotted Fay Maschler, while ES Magazine's Grace Dent described a plate of octopus as 'exquisite' before admitting that it 'was always going to be the sort of place that tickles me behind the ear, tells me I’m pretty, loosens my bra and then takes £250 off my credit card on an ongoing basis'. In The Independent, Tracy Macleod got closer to explaining the attraction, saying: 'as regular as many of the dishes sound, these are fashion-plate versions, intricately worked to titivate jaded international palates' and 'the staff practically hose you down with hospitality'. We agree with the comments, giving the restaurant two stars, and if you can’t get a table we can’t recommend the bar area highly enough.
We said: 'Firehouse is without doubt the hottest place in town right now: celebrity visitors sprinkle stardust through the dining room while charming staff deliver smooth-as-silk service and prove they are far more than a casting of pretty faces.'
Read our full review of Chiltern Firehouse here.

Polpetto-2014-1.jpgPolpetto

Polpetto is back and bigger on Berwick Street, almost two years after the original version above the French House closed in 2012. And it’s been very well received indeed. Visiting for the Evening Standard, David Sexton 'adored every plate we ate and felt exhilarated by the whole experience', while Celia Plender declared in Time Out that 'with this Soho comeback Polpetto’s acquired a bolder, more mature feel – and we think it’s better than ever'. Even Giles Coren enjoyed 'cavolo nero with a strong anchovy dressing and massive croutons like a psycho Caesar salad' and insisted that he 'did not even once go downstairs to look at Florence Knight', the head chef who many suggest is as hot a property as Russell Norman’s latest restaurant itself. 
We said: 'Daintily portioned cavolo nero and croûtons in a toothsome anchovy dressing was a standout from the short menu...although quirkier ideas such as pickled parsley root and wet polenta have more limited appeal. The narrow, gently lit dining room has a charm that the hipster staff sometimes lack.'
Read our full review of Polpetto here.

Published 3 April 2014.

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