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Restaurants with literary references in their names didn’t fare well this weekend. Matthew Norman gave a withering account of a meal at L’Etranger (pictued, left) filled with ennui and existentialist despair, while Jay Rayner lambasted Opus in Birmingham for being ‘try-hard’ and ‘unmemorable’. In other news, Hugo Rifkind attacked Michel Roux Jr At The Landau for not practising what he preaches on TV.
Hats off to The Independent’s Matthew Norman: we had a lot more fun reading his review of L’Etranger than he did reading Camus’ original – or dining at the restaurant:
‘For me, L’Etranger is a verbal madeleine, whooshing me back to French lessons, and the indescribable tedium of trying to make sense of Albert Camus’ novel of the same name. 35 years later the boredom and incomprehension flooded back. At last the true meaning of ‘alienation’ was becoming clear. Never will you encounter a restaurant more effectively designed to make you feel like an outsider.
‘A study of the wine list [was] every bit as anguished as my Camus-reading of yore, unleavened this time even by the manufacture of paper planes. The service was unnerving, with the staff doing more hovering and earwigging than order-taking, and the food inconsistent. Some dishes from this Franco-Japanese menu impressed. Others hit a nihilistic note worthy of the novel: beetroot raviolo, for all the artful presentation, was ‘like tasting grey’.
Meanwhile, the Evening Standard’s David Sexton reported that Nopi (pictured, right) is ‘unequivocally a great space’ – according to him, the dining room is ‘palatial’ but casual, with special mention going to the ‘astounding and disorientating’ toilets. However, he found the food ‘surprisingly hit and miss’ given the price and the reputation of Yotam Ottolenghi himself.
The Telegraph’s Zoe Williams labelled A Little Bit Of What You Fancy at ‘the throbbing epicentre of fashion’, with young, beautiful punters who all know each other ‘hallooing across the aisle, like a horde of left-bank existentialists’. In spite of the restaurant’s fashion credentials, she found that the food ‘couldn’t get much better.’
Jay Rayner of The Observer was in Birmingham for his review. He compared the dining room of Opus to a computer-generated image, and wrote that the food was ‘cooked in the service of presentation, not appetite’. His scathing tips? ‘Don't offer me a ballottine of chorizo with my quail breast that tastes not at all of chorizo (and while we're at it, don't misspell fancy words like ballottine on the menu). Likewise, don't call a mediocre terrine of pork a roulade just because it sounds clever.’
Finally, The Times’ Hugo Rifkind noted a striking mismatch between the standards Michel Roux Jr demands of his protegés on his BBC programme Service and the front-of-house service at Roux At The Landau. ‘The table was set for four, even though I'd called up to tell them we'd only be three,’ he wrote. ‘This sent the waiters into an uncomprehending loop.’ He later complained, ‘We were honestly there for 45 minutes before we even had a drink.’