Writing in December 2012, Pete Wells, restaurant critic of The New York Times, gave the following answer to a reader's question: "For a full-length review that is subject to the star system (whether the restaurant ends up getting any stars or not), Times critics always visit the restaurant at least three times. At least. For shorter, more casual reviews, or blog posts, we may go just once or twice." If ever there were a more characteristic statement from a New York Times journalist, oozing all the spare time and money and lashings of pomposity that East Coast journalism takes such pride in, regardless of financial solvency, I would be surprised.
Yet, in keeping with the New York Times approach to such matters, Wells's attitude may be annoying but is probably right. It does make sense to visit somewhere twice at least: you garner nearly double the information; you can correct false impressions from the first visit; and you might test lingering suspicions that there wasn't the time or evidence to confirm, first time around. The third visit, of course, is just plain greedy.
Most of us in the trade, and especially those who have full-time jobs on the side, or even several full-time jobs, don't have the time to visit twice or thrice. And some places are so ghastly that you couldn't pay us to. But the only man who has ever brought out my inner New York Times hack is the Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson.
A few years ago I went to his restaurant, Hedone, in Chiswick, west London, so hungover that I couldn't give it the proper treatment. Then I went back, and gave it 9/10, having confirmed suspicions that it was the best new restaurant in London. Now I've been twice to a place in Soho where he's consultant, Antidote. The first time the food was superb, but I was too distracted to make sufficient notes because I was sitting opposite an Australian with a very thick accent and a lot of power. And so I went back and confirmed suspicions, to the effect that you really should eat here if you can.
The four-course tasting menu is £40, with £30 for a wine pairing we didn't go for, Christmas being an all-too recent memory. The amuse-bouche is a funny concoction: curd, toasted hay consommé, celery and puff barley. This odd little bowlful tasted like a lazy summer day down on the farm. The curd is a bit sour, the celery crunchy and the barley like savoury Chewits. But the hay carries the dish, and its eccentric, grassy aroma is both pure Jonsson and a taste of things to come.
What this Swedish entrepreneur does is strip dishes right back, so that simple ingredients are allowed to speak loudly and for themselves. You could call it gastronomic integrity. Each dish oozes it. If what follows reads more like a list than usual, well, that's kind of the point. The dishes are really an association of complementary ingredients, rather than a mixture of them.
So, Cornish crab with cucumber and seaweed purée is just so: the crab soft and tasting of the sea, the cucumber a translucent emerald-green, hard to bite into then very wet.
Following is Cornish cod with Jerusalem artichoke, cavolo nero (a loose-leafed, kale-like cabbage from Tuscany) and smoked anchovy. The cod couldn't be better: cooked until firm rather than flaky, slipping out juices enhanced by the salty anchovies alongside.
The roasted guinea fowl is similar: done until just right all over. The meat comes off the leg piping-hot and luscious, but it isn't half made better by the purple sprouting broccoli – more purple, sprouting and broccoli than any I've had before – and a cider sauce that has just a hint of sourness.
For dessert, there is Valrhona chocolate, bittersweet, or rather sweetbitter, and done several ways, of which a luxuriant ganache is the best.
See? It's simple. There's a good wine list, the ground floor being more wine bar than restaurant, and for reasons not clear to me, they are all selling at half-price, so that a very posh meal for two with service could be had on a Tuesday evening for £120.
And though Jonsson's philosophy is tangible here, credit for the execution should go to Chris Johns, the head chef. Next time he runs a kitchen I can get to, I shall have to visit at least twice before I report back.
Antidote, 12A Newburgh Street, London W1, Tel: 020 7287 8488. £120 for two, with drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Green tea ice cream
There's a sushi place in the Whole Foods next door to work. This sounds like madness, but it's creamy heaven.
At The Village Maid pub near Lowestoft I had a sloppy burger with greasy battered onion inserted. Always worthwhile.
At Caravan near King's Cross, the granola comes with a lovely coconut twang. I can't believe I just typed that.
White cabbage in Riesling
This was at the bottom of an amazing, meaty stew in Brasserie Chavot: my best lunch in London for years.Reuse content