I usually cringe a little when people ask if I am a food critic or restaurant reviewer because, honestly, I believe I am neither. I write a food blog, I tell tales, I share my experiences… I ramble on about what we ate and whether or not I liked it perhaps, but that’s all part of the story of the meal. I don’t claim to be the fountain of any knowledge. I am just a greedy girl who’s always hungry and likes to talk; and because it’s impolite to talk with your mouth full, this is the perfect place for me to do that talking.
There are plenty of other people out there who either are, or claim to be, food critics or restaurant reviewers, so there’s no need for me to join that ever-so-crowded bandwagon. I read a lot of what those people have to say; many because I respect their opinions, some purely because curiosity has got the better of me. However, one thing remains the same regardless of which category they fall into – I always take these reviews with a grain of salt because at the end of the day, it’s just their opinion. And my view is that no one’s word is gospel in this industry, no matter how well regarded they are.
However, even the staunchest of believers can sometimes forget to practise what they preach and get lured in by all round rave reviews and recommendations… I mean, if everyone else is on the same page with their praise, it must be good? You might well think so, but sometimes it just doesn’t work for you – I have learnt this lesson before. There was the popup which was such a permanent fixture on my instagram feed that I couldn’t resist any longer. When I finally tried the food myself, I thought it was just a bit ho-hum… I suppose they have friends in all the right (insta) places?!
I’m also in the minority who just doesn’t get the hype around a certain Thai restaurant which has recently opened its doors in a permanent site. Everyone, and I truly mean everyone, from the critics to the bloggers to the everyday joe public seems to be in love with this place. I went to the original popup and I’ve been to their new restaurant, enjoyed the food on both occasions but didn’t get this spiritual awakening everyone else seemed to. Did I choose the wrong som tam?!
Then it happened to me again, because I am clearly a glutton for punishment. I had started seeing great reviews for Leo Carreira’s residency at Climpson Arch… that spot sound familiar? That’s where the aforementioned Thai restaurant started life and took London by storm. I should have recognised it as an omen. We love Portuguese food, the usual insta-fluencers posted deliciously tempting photos with positive captions, Time Out even gave it five stars. So one evening, when we happened to be in Hackney (this does not happen often) I thought, why not swing by.
The menu looked very promising, there were lots of things which appealed so maybe that combined with all the praise it had received just raised my expectations. The first two dishes were a strong start: a lovely crusty sourdough with an unusually flavoured yeast butter was moreish, as were the blushingly pink duck hearts with almond. I’ve waxed lyrical about our love of offal but even the most squeamish amongst us would find these hearts delightful.
I was less excited about the sad looking shrimp, and unfortunate looking razor clams with white asparagus. The last time we had razor clams whole was in Porto where they came swimming in a pungent garlic butter, let’s just say the garlic breath was well worth it. These, sadly, didn’t evoke the same enthusiasm. The duck breast with borlotti beans and floss I also found to be quite lacklustre; we were hoping for just cooked duck and a rich, creamy sauce with the beans… neither of these wishes came true, but at least there was decent flavour and seasoning.
More successful was the wild mushroom with crispy egg yolk and lactose chips, an earthy array of mushrooms with the yolk sprinkled on top. A bit unusual but I thought the textures really worked. I was also impressed by the monkfish with hispi cabbage which managed to taste fantastic and be generous enough to warrant the £13 price tag.
We really shouldn’t have gone for dessert but I think feeling a little dissatisfied with the savoury items, we hoped to finish on a (sugar) high. We ordered both the grilled soaked brioche with sour caramel and hazelnuts, and the arroz doce. The arroz, a rice pudding type thing, would win no prizes in the looks department and was hardly redeeming in taste either. We much preferred the varied textures and elements of the brioche dessert, but would have been happier if they’d just been cliched and served up some pastel de natas.
As you can tell, we weren’t enamoured with L.C at Climpson’s Arch, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be because by the looks of things, tonnes of other people enjoyed it. Loved it, even. I know they go to great lengths to source the freshest produce possible and try very hard to showcase this through Portuguese influences. I guess this somewhat justifies what I think is steep pricing for the portions. However, even that wasn’t enough to win me over. But like I said, this is just my story about my experience; you may well disagree and that’s ok, because remember, no one’s word is gospel in this industry. Certainly not mine.
Have you been to L.C at Climpson’s Arch? Or have you also felt my pain with the pangs of disappointment at another dining establishment?!