Theo Randall Ten Years On

Saturday, March 12th , 2016

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Theo Randall was head chef of the wildly successful River Café before he upped sticks to Mayfair a decade ago to open his own restaurant in The Intercontinental hotel. The previously rather corporate dining room (pictured) has now been refurbished and is definitely an improvement, lighter and less “hotel dining room”, though the lack of natural light means this will always struggle to appeal to all. One thing that has not changed is the cooking, or indeed the menu, and Mr Randall’s undoubted skills were shown this week with a top class papardelle ragu dish and excellent violet artichoke risotto, followed by classy Amalfi lemon tart. Service was slick and the pricing is not excessive if you avoid the rather unkind (and peculiarly organised) wine list. Michelin has always shunned this place, but it certainly seems to me every bit as good as Locatelli, with considerably friendlier service.

Cambio de Tercio has long been my favourite Spanish restaurant in London. Unlike a lot of places in London serving Spanish food, this is actually run by people from Spain, and in the evening fills up with diners from the home country. The menu is more ambitious than most, straying into modernist territory at times and borrowing ideas from assorted top restaurants in Spain e.g. the unusual and successful take on patatas bravas here is a replica of that at Sergi Arola in Madrid. At my meal this week a yellowtail carpaccio was particularly good, and a new salad dish of butternut squash, clementine, goat cheese and fried kale was interesting and unusual. There are occasional slips here, as with a quail dish at this meal, but the best things here are excellent, and the wine list has a wide selection of Spanish bottles.

Dwiana Bhel Poori is a simple café near Euston station serving southern Indian vegetarian snacks. It has been open since the 1970s, and I have been a regular here since I moved to London in 1983. Its “décor” is, um, how can I put this: basic. However its cooking is remarkably consistent and its speciality dishes are very good indeed. The bhel poori has a little tang of vinegar to balance the tamarind, and the samosas are as good as any in London. Dosas are also good here, and they make their own kulfi. The remarkable thing is just how cheap this genuinely good food is – our bill this week, with lassi to drink (there is no alcohol license, but you can bring your own booze should you wish), came to £11 a head. This would not buy you a meal at an industrial high street chain like Nandos or Pizza Hut, yet this bought us plenty of delicious food. It must be a candidate for the best value restaurant in London.

The Michelin guide to Scandinavia appeared, and it was quite a surprise. Both Geranium in Copenhagen and Maeemo in Oslo were promoted to three stars, and Faviken in the Arctic Circle got two stars. The Main Cities of Europe guide also appeared, with three new two stars in Austria. This is quite a bump given that Austria previously has just a pair of two star restaurants. The choice of Ikarus in Salzburg is intriguing, since that restaurant hosts guest chefs on a rotating basis. This is an interesting idea, but quite how a restaurant without a permament head chef (executive chef Martin Klein is there in the background, but cooking the dishes of the guest chefs) gets two stars is a mystery understood only by Michelin.

This is the last of the 2016 Michelin season except (presumably) the guide to Sao Paolo and Brazil, which was introduced last year and I assume will come out shortly. Michelin have been making a habit of printing “one off” guides recently, particularly in Japan e.g. that to Hokkaido, or the one to Hiroshima and also to Fukuoka. In such cases the stars that are awarded last exactly one year from publication and then disappear, but the Brazil guide may well be a regular one – time will tell. Michelin have already announced a 2017 guide to Singapore (it is unclear whether this is one-off or regular) and did the same this week for South Korea. Perhaps it will be called "Seoul Food".