New York Times food critic writes scathing review of new vegan menu at one of the world’s best restaurants

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Eleven Madison Park receives negative review from The New York Times (Getty Images)
Eleven Madison Park receives negative review from The New York Times (Getty Images)

Acclaimed New York Times food critic Pete Wells has written a scathing review of the newly unveiled vegan menu at three-Michelin-Star restaurant Eleven Madison Park.

In May, Daniel Humm, the chef behind the Manhattan eatery, which was previously named the world’s best restaurant, announced that he would no longer be serving meat or seafood.

At the time, Chef Humm said his decision to transform the $335 menu into a plant-based version stemmed from concerns over sustainability, with the chef explaining: “The current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways.”

However, according to Wells, the new menu is full of shortcomings, with the restaurant critic finding fault with everything from a beet dish, which he said “tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a burning joint,” to a dish of marinated heirloom tomatoes, which he described as having “a pumped-up, distorted flavour, like tomatoes run through a wah-wah pedal”.

“Almost none of the main ingredients taste quite like themselves in the 10-course, $335 menu the restaurant unwrapped this June after a 15-month pandemic hiatus,” Wells wrote. “Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them.”

Elsewhere in the review of the 10-course menu, Wells lambasted dishes that are supposed to feature delicate flavours, which he said are instead “hijacked by some harsh, unseen ingredient,” before noting that Chef Humm used to get “purer, deeper results out of vegetables before the restaurant went vegan”.

“Maybe he should bring back the celery root steamed in a pig bladder,” he added.

Not everything on the menu was a miss, however, as Wells offered praise for the bread, the cocktails and the dessert offerings.

The restaurant critic, who previously awarded the restaurant four stars in 2015, concluded the mostly negative review acknowledging that, despite the vegan menu, the fine dining restaurant still buys meat for customers who book a private dining room.

“It’s some kind of metaphor for Manhattan, where there’s always a higher level of luxury, a secret room where the rich eat roasted tenderloin while everybody else gets an eggplant canoe,” he added.

He did not award a star rating to the restaurant, however, as he explained that he is not giving star ratings as restaurants continue to be impacted by the pandemic.

On social media, the brutally honest critique has been met with amused responses from readers, with one describing it as “one of the most brutal NYT restaurant reviews I’ve ever read”.

“If you need me you can find me laughing for all of eternity at Pete Wells saying the food at Eleven Madison Park tastes like Lemon Pledge and a burning joint,” another person tweeted, while someone else added: “We don’t deserve Pete Wells.”

In May, Chef Humm told Wall Street Journal Magazine that the restaurant had promised that it would embark on a vegan journey only “if the meal could be as delicious as it was before”.

“My goal is to create these beautiful dishes, give people beautiful experiences; unexpected, surprising experiences that make you feel satisfied, as a meal with meat would,” he said at the time.

The Independent has contacted Eleven Madison Park for comment.

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