Two High Profile London Openings

Saturday, October 08th , 2016

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Elystan Street is where Phil Howard has gone after leaving The Square after more than two decades. It is located in the old Tom Aikens premises, though the décor is much more casual, as is the food. This is not the fine dining of The Square, but a much more casual and stripped back affair. A lemon tart was genuinely lovely, but other than that the dishes that I tried were good rather than dazzling. The problem is that the prices are a very long way from casual – three courses and coffee with no drinks at all would set you back around £80 or so with service, which puts the food in the price league of some pretty elaborate restaurants while actually delivering (lemon tart aside) merely nice, pleasant British dishes. Phil Howard deservedly commands considerable respect and affection and Elystan Street will doubtless prosper, but although I enjoyed the meal here I really wonder about its value for money factor.

Eneko Atxa is the head chef and owner of three Michelin star Azurmendi near Bilbao, so his first London restaurant was always going to be of interest. It is in the One Aldwych hotel where Axis used to be. There is a chef from Azurmendi in charge of the kitchen, though the food is of a much simpler style than at Azurmendi. On this visit it was rather a let down, with one or two nice dishes but also some distinctly average ones, with the odd technical problem thrown in. Service was charming but the food itself was distinctly ordinary. It was early days and perhaps things will improve in time, but the kitchen has a lot of work to do in my view. 

Mexican food in London is generally shockingly bad, for reasons that elude me: it does not require particularly exotic ingredients or esoteric cooking techniques, yet almost every Mexican restaurant that opens seems to target the “drunken student” market. Killer Tomato in Shepherds Bush is an interesting deviation from this norm. It is run by an Englishman who has travelled in Mexico, has an Australian chef, and does not attempt to claim “authenticity”. Instead it focuses on producing really good tacos. To be sure, it is not in the league of Punto MX in Madrid, but the dishes that I tried over two visits were very good and excellent value. The crayfish tail tacos and the sticky chicken in particular were lovely dishes. This is probably the best Mexican food to be found in London at present, and a bargain to boot.

The UK Michelin guide for 2017 was published. The Fat Duck regained its 3 stars, and Raby Hunt in Darlington was promoted to two stars. Otherwise there were few real surprises at the two star level. The Square (sold) and Hibiscus (closed) lost their two stars for obvious reasons, as did Michael Wignall at the Latymer (the eponymous chef is now at Gideligh Park). At the one star level, I was very pleased to see The Ritz finally get its long overdue star, and was delighted for the Crown at Burchetts Green, a one-man operation not far from Marlow. In total there were 18 new one stars and 16 demotions (including closures). In London there were stars for Ellory, The Ninth, Pidgin, Five Fields, Trinity, Celeste and Veeraswamy. There are now 4 three star restaurants, 20 two star restaurants (plus Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin) and 136 1 one star restaurants in the UK, with a further 11 in Ireland. Other than the continued snubbing of Hedone, which to me is evidently better than most of the current two star restaurants, there was less to object to in this UK Michelin guide than for several years.