hhmasthead After more than six years and 320 restaurant reviews in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, the column has now come to an end. The archives can be viewed here.

Restaurant Reviews


15: Bellanger, London N1, 6th February 2016 - Score: 9/10

Ah, yes, Islington: the one and true fountain- head of Champagne Socialism. Bollinger for the well-heeled lefties in the fabulous Georgian terraces and squares, and something maybe lesser for all the lefties elsewhere (I’m told they’d love a Babycham). For make no mistake – there are more lefties here than you could shake a stick at (which you’d maybe rather like to do). In every election since 1983, this borough of north London has returned no fewer than two Labour MPs – one of whom has always been somebody called Jeremy Corbyn... [more] [download PDF]

14: Magdalen Arms, Oxford, 16th January 2016 - Score: 7/10

On the train to Oxford, I was seated in the “Quiet Coach” – a boon to those around me, who were able to conduct all their phone calls in peace. Through all the yak about spreadsheets and Strictly Come Dancing, I summoned up memories of the city of dreaming spires. I attended a boarding school nearby; at that tender age I knew nothing much about anything, but particularly little about Oxford. It must, I assumed, be a place where everybody wore Oxford shoes. Lace- ups with a toecap; but if that toecap is punched, then it is a half brogue, which isn’t to be confused with an Oxford accent... [more] [download PDF]

13: Piquet, London W1, 9th January 2016 - Score: 6/10

Do you actually dare to eat any more? Because, as you know, in some very murky subterranean laboratory at a secret location, a team of blankly po-faced and Frankly Sadistic B------- is beavering away, trying to prove that each and every one of our favourite foods is out to kill us. There cannot be a single thing left which everyone agrees is not terminally injurious. Except maybe apples... though Cox’s Disease or the Curse of Granny Smith can hardly be far away. Meat is the latest – not just processed, any sort really. Which reminds me that a restaurant in Watford was recently prosecuted because the diners were outraged to discover that the zebra on the menu was actually horse: did they imagine that there would be goodness in the stripes?... [more] [download PDF

12: Sticky Walnut, Chester, 28th November 2015 - Score: 8/10

I’ve just had lunch at Sticky Chestnut, in Walter. No, hang on, that’s not right... I’ve just had lunch at Sticky Walnut in Chester: yes, that’s it. I’m just so jangled, you see – hours on the train to get there, even longer on the way back. Opposite me was a couple shouting at each other in Japanese while laughing their damn heads o for the entire two hours and 13 minutes of the journey, while two young una liated children alongside were throatily shrieking as if they had been bribed to do so with limitless sugary highs. Travel may or may not broaden the mind, but it sure as hell inclines me towards murder... [more] [download PDF]

11: Sexy Fish, London W1, 31st October 2015 - Score: 6/10

Reeling out of the taxi, gagging and bilious from a car deodorant horribly redolent of a vintage Yardley bath cube, I tumbled into Sexy Fish, Richard Caring’s new and blingy addition to Berkeley Square. This consummate restaurateur (Ivy, Scott’s, J Sheekey, Le Caprice) has virtually colonised this corner of Mayfair: Sexy Fish lies plumb opposite Annabel’s, and just around the corner from Mark’s Club and Harry’s Bar. Now, look: you have to call a restaurant something – and I have lost count of the places I have been to with dumb and wacky names (one of the standouts being Trinity Cabbages & Condoms in Bicester) – but, still, one can only goggle at Caring alighting on this one. “How about... I don’t know... Sexy Fish...?” And because nobody dared to collapse into delirious laughter, they ran with it... [more] [download PDF]

10: Sackville's, London W1, 26th September 2015 - Score: 7/10

Increasingly, London is chasing the money. It is true that the capital has never been backward in this regard, but the impulse is most evident in recent restaurant openings – and goodness, you can hardly blame them. Because overheads are ruinous, unless we are talking about a self-consciously vile and deeply uncomfortable dive in a so-called up-and-coming hellhole serving fricasseed chitterlings to hipsters and creatives who are happiest sitting on a plank. This inexorable upward spiral is apparent in a new place just off Piccadilly, in Sackville Street. Its name is Sackville’s – which, although as prosaic as it is possible to imagine, does have the virtue of not being abstruse or whimsical. The modest exterior is smart and grey (all new restaurants have to be grey: the outcome of a recent Act of Parliament) and flanked by a pair of bay trees in Versailles boxes... [more] [download PDF]

9: Lido, Bristol, 19th September 2015 - Score: 8/10

I got off the train from Paddington at Bristol Temple Meads – Temple Meads, as I think we are all aware, being that fictional detective who was utterly riveting on the wireless throughout the Fifties. And now just look at him! He is a Bristol railway station, just as John Lennon has become a Liverpool airport: what strange times we live in, yes indeed. The journey itself had been utterly predictable: I had booked a forward- facing window seat at a table, so resignedly crushed myself into the duly reserved back-facing aisle job, with no table in sight. The nearest lavatory was out of order, and so was the next. The one after that had an “automatic” tap that automatically dispensed no water – and although a nasal youth on the intercom announced the existence of a “café” about eight carriages and half a mile away (the last place on God’s earth still to proffer “beverages”), there was an absence of trolley service due to the rail company’s new policy that may accurately be summarised as “Sod the public”... [more] [download PDF]

8: Dean Street Townhouse, London W1, 29th August 2015 - Score: 8/10

I am a townie; and every single one of us is, frankly, quite pathetic. We don’t understand the country: to us, the country is another country. On our occasional excursions there, we squeal if our new Hunter wellies (in quite the wrong colour) are inadvertently splattered, or our stiff and box-fresh Barbours encounter anything approaching weather. We don’t even comprehend how to conduct ourselves when invited on a country weekend. We will roll up late, with flowers (flowers!) when what is required is a case of claret. We will hog all the hot water and meekly protest that our room is a little chilly, but demur when our host simply hurls another lurcher on to the quilt... [more] [download PDF]

7: Lyle's, London E1, 15th August 2015 - Score: 5/10

What am I doing in Shoreditch? I haven’t the slightest idea. The cabbie who took me here confided mournfully that it is a “very happening spot”. So I have heard – but what exactly is happening? He sighed: nothing, he said, that will change your life. But before we get further into all this, a little bit of gloss concerning London Town: you may have heard tell that it is a series of villages. Well, this might easily have been true in the Dark Ages, or about a decade ago, but these days I think of it more as a series of continents, each with its own language, habits, street-cred and mores, all of which are carefully crafted to ensure that any stray interloper will feel as alien as possible... [more] [download PDF]

6: The Dower House, Bath, Somerset, 1st August 2015 - Score: 4/10

It’s Bath time, kids! A compulsion which quite often comes upon me, because Bath is a city that I deeply adore. I hadn’t been here for a while, so was mooning about reasonably gormlessly, feasting upon the architecture, though wondering too about feasting on food – because there isn’t much around, rather surprisingly. Loads of places to gorge on Jane Austen cream teas, Lord save us – and there appears to be a serious fixation upon Cornish pasties, which is just a little weird in Somerset, but let it lie. I sloped into the Pump Room to take the waters, which I remembered as being perfectly foul – ah, but I was young and untried in those days, with a sadly unsophisticated palate. So, let’s see, I thought: I’m getting warmth (Bath water?) with an overtone of Vichy and an undertow of neglected guttering … still perfectly foul, then... [more] [download PDF]

5: Le Chabanais, London W1, 25th July 2015 - Score: 2/10

Dear God, what a place. OK: let us be calm, and start at the beginning. In the wacky and wilfully demented world of restaurants, Le Chabanais has been “long and eagerly awaited”. This is, of course, unfathomable to anyone sane – rather like when you are told that there is a “waiting list” for a £3,000 handbag, and you think they must just be horsing around. The reason Le Chabanais has been “long and eagerly awaited” is that it comes with form: set up by one Inaki Aizpitarte, chef-proprietor of a rather fine restaurant in Paris called Le Chateaubriand, currently rated as 21st best in the world in the ludicrous San Pellegrino list, which some people will still insist upon taking seriously... [more] [download PDF]

4: Café Murano, London WC2, 11th July 2015 - Score: 7/10

And lo, it comes to pass: the Blessed St Angela of Hartnett is now thrice risen into the firmament of foodiness. That is to say, following on from the rather wonderful Murano in Mayfair, there came the diffusion line in the form of Café Murano in St James’s, and now we have a brand spanking new outpost of the very same name, this one in Covent Garden. Hartnett is a fine chef who has come a very long way since she worked the kitchens for Gordon Ramsay: Aubergine, L’Oranger and then the York & Albany in Camden. This was a rather rickety sort of a place – nice bar, the upper eating area cramped in the way of a carriage on the Northern Line, unhappily teamed with the sticky echo of a Golden Egg of yore, while the lower floor was tricked out like a blood clot or dusty bordello designed by a blind man in the grip of self- loathing... [more] [download PDF]

3: The Ivy, London WC2, 4th July 2015 - Score: 9/10

Ah... The Ivy. How to write about it without invoking a splutter of fin-de-siècle Britishness, in all its tortured spasms of saucer-eyed class anxiety, desperate aspiration, zingy bling and unadorned stupidity...? For nearly two decades, The Ivy was so much more than a mere restaurant: here was not just a temperature gauge for the fevered state of the nation, but a scalpel-sharp arbiter of status: can you get a table or not? Is you is, or is you ain’t?... [more] [download PDF]

2: The George Grill, Rye, East Sussex, 6th June 2015 - Score: 7/10

Sniggering Londoners, vacuously vain in their sham sophistication and mincing metrosexuality, are abidingly fond of saying that whenever they are forced to leave the capital, they fall victim to a staggering regression in time: that with every 10 miles travelled, the cutting-edge zeitgeist retreats by a decade. Largely true – and these days, I cannot think of a better reason for fleeing. The sheer expanse of the city is not the problem. But London’s utter abandonment of the human scale: that has become something of a worry – increasingly vile, immense and stupid new buildings that seem to spit down their contempt upon mere people... [more] [download PDF]

1: Jar Kitchen, London WC2, 16th May 2015 - Score: 3/10

When I hear the opening of another brand new, destined-to-be-cool-and-trendy gastronomic destination, my heart hits the floor. Next to be vaporised is my very soul, as I am confronted with the accompanying bumf that some terminal optimist or other is presumably paid to write. And so to Jar Kitchen, just opened in Covent Garden. Of their food and their persona, they have this to say: “Not only is it darned tasty, it’s down to earth – just like us.”... [download PDF]


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