£120 steak that looks like a M&S meal deal: The Maine reviewed

Last week Chris Corbin and Jeremy King lost control of the restaurant group they founded: Corbin & King, which made the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Brasserie Zédel under Piccadilly Circus where, if they were lucky, tourists would tumble as if into a fairy pool. Corbin and King understand that a superb restaurant looks after its staff, and its staff look after its customers. It’s called love, and it matters, but that is gone now. Central London is ever more flinty, unimaginative and grasping: a playground for people who do not deserve it. Russians stripped their state and spent the proceeds in London. I saw them do it. Each luckless duck

Martin Vander Weyer

Why Channel 4 shouldn’t be privatised

Enough of stagflation forecasts, each more frightening than the last. Enough – for now – of energy policy sermons, as the government at last proclaims a serious nuclear plan. Instead, let’s have a week of real business stories, starting with tales of the old and new City. First, a rum do at the London Metal Exchange. The Bank of England and Financial Conduct Authority are investigating the exchange’s handling, last month, of a ‘short squeeze’ on nickel, provoked by fear of disrupted supplies from Russia. The metal’s price rocketed 250 per cent in two days to trade briefly above $100,000 a ton, reportedly leaving a Chinese tycoon called Xiang ‘Big

The best lamb in London: Blacklock reviewed

Blacklock is the fourth restaurant of that name – there are others in Soho, Shoreditch and the City of London. It sits in a former royal coach-makers in an alley near the Garrick Club under signage that says ‘Chop’. We descend to a cavern. The walls are exposed brick, the floors are dark wood, and the ceiling hangs over exposed pipework. There is a map of a more ancient and more interesting London on the wall, from the days in which chop houses were as common as raw sewage, or horses. It’s fiercely brown; committed to brown; washed with brown: chairs, tables, light fittings, food. There are tables of men

Food ruined by an existential crisis: Fallow reviewed

I was going to be jolly this week, for variety and denial, but I changed my mind. Instead, I wonder if, when Vladimir Putin – insert your own nickname, mine is unprintable – talks about the weakness of western civilisation (I paraphrase) and, therefore, our unwillingness to resist tyranny in the shape of a balding paranoiac unwisely given Botox by a beautician who lied to him because everyone lies to him, he means Fallow, which is a new restaurant in St James’s. I wonder if Putin has been to Fallow wearing a prosthetic head and, if so, did he do the soft launch or the hard one? Did he steal

A victim of its own mythology: Langan’s Brasserie reviewed

Langan’s, a brasserie off Piccadilly with curling orange neon signage calling its name, is under new management after it fell into administration in 2020. It is a famous brasserie — London’s version of La Coupole — once owned by Michael Caine, a famous actor, and Peter Langan, a famous drunk, who would crawl across the floor and bite customers’ ankles and who once put out a kitchen fire with champagne. It opened in 1976 on the site of Le Coq d’Or and was treated by the diary columns as a person in itself, as famous as Annabel’s, Peppermint Park and the Ritz Hotel. Lucian Freud and David Hockney and Princess

Why restaurant food at home beats eating out

‘The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.’ That’s Niels Bohr. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it: ‘In art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.’ Like physics and art, many other fields require that you embrace contradictions — because you can’t avoid them. Take innovation. Yes, a great deal of progress is combinatory: two or more technologies are combined to accomplish some hitherto impossible task. But, as the Soviet-era scientist Genrich Altshuller noticed, much innovation follows the opposite path, separating things

London’s best restaurants for British food

There was a moment, about 20 years ago, when Londoners began to realise, and then boast about, the transformation in our food scene. No longer deserving of mockery compared to other global centres, our restaurants were suddenly producing delicious food every bit (well, almost) as good as that associated with the likes of New York. The revolution began with fresh takes on exotic cuisines, especially South and East Asian, Spanish and Italian. But soon another, delightful development emerged: the reinvention of British food. Gastropubs began taking ploughmans and sausage rolls and roasts very seriously indeed, and posh restaurants began to show that homegrown food, when it comes from domestic seas

The best schnitzel in London: Schnitzel Forever reviewed

It is a truism that there is never enough schnitzel (‘slice’, German); or, rather, schnitzel does not get the attention it deserves. Restaurants do serve it, of course. Fischer’s does a fine Wiener schnitzel, as part of its riotous pre-war Vienna tribute act, and elderly people, I am told, queue for it while wearing slankets. Brasseries sell it often: the perhaps unconscious desire to re-enact the meals of the Weimar Republic is one of the stranger things of the age. The Coffee Cup in Hampstead serves it with a jaunty side order of spaghetti pomodoro. But the (chicken) schnitzel has never had the stardust of the less interesting but more

Gastro-nomics: a foodie’s guide to a changing world

Twice recently I’ve been asked my opinion of ‘Doughnut Economics’. The first time, I was tempted to cover my ignorance with a Johnsonian impromptu riff on supply-chain issues in the deep-fried batter sector. But sensing seriousness I steered off and googled the phrase later, so I was ready the second time to discuss Kate Raworth’s 2018 book of that title, about why we should abandon pursuit of GDP growth in favour of a gentler model in which we take better care of nature and each other — illustrated by her ‘doughnut of social and planetary boundaries’. That’s a debate for another day, but what I really admire is the title

Dancing on Terence Conran’s grave

‘Who,’ asks Stephen Bayley, in one of the ‘S.B’ chapters of this irresistibly spiky co-written book, ‘could countenance working for a man like Terence, a man of such fluid principles, of such day-glo opportunism, of such sun-dried narcissism, guiltless hypo-crisy and Hallelujah Chorus egomania?’ Well, both S.B. and R.M. (the ad man Roger Mavity) did work for Terence Conran, in exalted positions. Both fell out with him, and both experienced at first hand all those qualities and more. In their separate chapters they take turns to express the essence of his genius and to get their own back for his disdainful treatment of them. One of his worst traits was

Dregs of fake Provence: Whitcomb’s reviewed

Whitcomb’s is in The Londoner hotel on the south-west corner of Leicester Square. The Londoner calls itself ‘the world’s first super boutique hotel’, which may mean that it is the world’s biggest small hotel. Or its smallest big hotel. I don’t know. Whatever its existential status, the developers destroyed an art deco cinema — the dour and lovely Odeon West End — to make it, and it looks like a piece of bright blue infant Lego with lesions for windows. Heritage organisations objected to the cinema’s destruction. Westminster council replied: who cares? We need Lego with lesions, or anything that looks like Lego: look at the Hotel W round the

Has Covid killed criticism?

The pandemic was bad for criticism with its universal dogma of ‘kindness’. Restaurant, theatre, film and book critics felt compelled to be kind, as if criticism itself was coughing at a death bed. But who does this kindness benefit? Last year I reviewed Michael Rosen’s book about his Covid-19-related coma: Many Different Kinds of Love. I liked it, but I suggested that publishing the notes people had written to him as he lay in the coma was a waste of both their time and ours. Rosen didn’t like this and moaned on Twitter: ‘I think they are the power and the beauty of the ordinary. And how extraordinary that this

Scarface’s lair with nibbles: Louie reviewed

A French creole restaurant rises in the sullen ruins of London. It is called Louie, for French king or trumpeter, depending on your wish. It is next to the Ivy — now a private members’ club and franchise stretching to the London suburbs bearing small bowls of shepherd’s pie — and it is infinitely preferable. That is, I can get a table, and no pastiche medieval windows or tabloid photographers are involved. It’s a terrible thing being jostled into a gutter so someone can photograph the former cast of Crossroads. The Ivy is the Love Island of grand restaurants. It is for the spuriously famous, which is now everyone. The

Is it time for a Dad’s Army of lorry drivers?

Here’s a patriotic proposal: let’s form a Dad’s Army of lorry drivers, of which the Road Haulage Association reckons there’s currently a 100,000 shortage. Daily headlines tell us this is causing supply disruptions that have led to reduced factory output and half-empty supermarket shelves, slowing recovery and contributing to the blip in inflation. We need Walmington-on-Sea’s trusty platoon at the wheel to compensate for the million-plus exodus of foreign-born workers that has afflicted the economy from hospitality (see this week’s last item) to fruit farms, slaughterhouses and construction sites — compounded in haulage by delays to thousands of HGV tests for new applicants last year. Right now, of course, all

A Damascene moment in London: Imad’s Syrian Kitchen reviewed

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is an eyrie off Carnaby Street, a once-famous road which seems to exist nowadays to sell trainers to tourists who have fallen, as if by wormhole, out of the Liberty homeware department with its pathological dependence on florals. No matter. Nearby, in Kingly Court, which is like Covent Garden before it fell to Dior and Apple, more interesting things happen: the sort of things that London, so sunken, needs. Kingly Court is charming because it invokes an ancient coaching inn — London was once filled with them — and it is, due to the presence of independent eating houses, still palpably bright, pleasing and alive. The restaurant

Cake expectations: afternoon tea has gone OTT

The other day, I came across a description of afternoon tea written by Alfred Douglas in 1920: ‘Two kinds of bread and butter, white and brown, cucumber and tomato sandwiches, cut razor thin, scones, rock buns and then all the cakes — plum, madeira, caraway seed — the meal had about it the lavishness of a Victorian dinner.’ There are a few things about this feast which I find striking. It includes two kinds of bread and butter. Sliced bread and butter never features on the modern table but a century ago, people used it to fill themselves up; it took the edge off your appetite. Note also the simplicity

How many people are self-isolating when they’re told to?

Isolated cases Large numbers of people are still being ordered to self-isolate in spite of having been vaccinated — 137,560 people were identified as close contacts of positive Covid cases through the Test and Trace system between 10 and 16 June. How well have they been adhering to the rules? — 79% say they have fully conformed. — 80% claimed they had had no contact with non-household members. — Of the 21% who didn’t adhere to the rules, 90% said they had left home during the period in which they were supposed to be isolating and 21% said they had had visitors to their home. — 41% said that isolating

Bad food is back: The Roof Garden at Pantechnicon reviewed

The Roof Garden is a pale, Nordic-style restaurant at the top of the glorious Pantechnicon in Belgravia — formerly a bazaar — opposite a Waitrose I didn’t know existed. (Waitrose seems too human for Belgravia. Food seems too human for Belgravia.) This thrilling building, which should be a library — it has Doric columns — is instead a collection of restaurants, shops and what I think are called ‘outlets’ (a Japanese café; something called, gnomically, ‘Kiosk’), all celebrating the ‘playful’ intersection — I mean meeting, but marketing jargon is addictive if you are an idiot — between Nordic and Japanese food. It is a wealth mall from hell, then, in

Why food in Britain is so much better than France

Fifty years ago, the food in Britain was comically terrible. The Wimpy Bar was the place for a date, fish and chips was the limit of takeaway and if you were lucky you might get a packet of crisps at the pub. Everything French was better. French bread. French cheese. French wine. French restaurants, bistros, cafés. Today the positions are reversed. Britain is the land of foodie innovation, with every cuisine in the world represented, deconstructed, reinvented. Reopening after the lockdowns, even after a number of casualties, Britain will return to a cornucopia of diversity and plenty of quality. From gastropubs, diners, dim sum joints, tapas bars, and artisanal sourdough

Pretty food with a side order of pollution: 28-50 reviewed

You cannot have cars and dining tables in the same dreamscape: it doesn’t work, unless you think carbon monoxide is a herb, or are wearing full Hazmat, like some teachers. London is in much denial about its air pollution; in the East End child asthmatics are choking. But we must embrace it for a few days more; others have lost more in pandemic than an attachment to the convention that if we dine outside it should be in a flower-filled garden. Perhaps there are enchanted restaurant gardens in London, but I have never found one. I conclude that, outside fiction or aristocracy, they do not exist. Instead, we have modish