Opening their second pub, the Coach in Marlow, Tom and Beth Kerridge have given something back to the locals, says Tracey Macleod in the Independent.
“The Coach doesn’t take bookings,” she explains. “There isn’t even a phone number on the website. You’re meant to just rock up and hope for the best. Which is super if you happen to be in downtown Marlow, but not so handy if you’re making a special trip down the M40.” But once a table has been secured she enjoys “tapas-style eating applied to trad Brit-French dishes”.
“Take the crispy pig’s head with piccalilli, which despite the trencherman promise of the description, is almost Japanese in its restraint – a crisp, panko-crumbed croquette holding a swoony dice of pork cheek, garnished by a thin wand of brittle crackling.”
Having been photographed and shared endlessly in 2015, the wild game pithivier at Portland in London is already a contender for dish of the year, according to the Independent’s Lisa Markwell.
“And the way the restaurant serves it helps; it is brought to the table in its baking tray, golden and glistening, for the first shot. Then taken away and brought back, sliced – the big reveal! Click. Filter. Share.
“It is stunning – crisp, melting pastry, a thick wodge of venison (on this occasion – it varies according to which game is good and available) and a rich mulchy layer of livery, mushroomy pâté. Strewn with black-truffle shavings, it comes with a silver jug of game sauce. At £18 per person, it’s irresistible.”
Giles Coren also visits Portland describing it in the Times not as “the perfect restaurant”, but “a perfect restaurant”.
“So then, let me see, charred brassicas, smoked egg emulsion, soy and périgord truffle. Perfectly on season, delicate at the front of the mouth, hefty at the back with the egg and truffle. Couldn’t be bettered. Nor could the cubes of firm silver mackerel tossed in some sort of creamy dressing with a zip of wasabi under leaves of barely pickled beetroot. And the side of elder-smoked trout arriving at the table next to me looked perfect, too.
“While we wait for our mains, let’s note the suspended ceiling which goes against the expected grain of exposed utilities and softens the acoustics nicely for an older crowd than the hipster clientele this place would draw anywhere except the West End. At 45, I am probably bang on median age here and as a man, I am very slightly in the minority, which is incredibly unusual at a weekday lunch in a place this good, and very encouraging.
“I am drinking iced tea from a list of three or four good non-alcoholic options in what I would consider the perfect vessel, a heavy-bottomed crystal highball. You just never see those any more outside really dedicated hipster cocktail bars. So, perfect.”
The Telegraph’s Zoe Williams finds that portions might be small at Portland in London, but they’re big on flavour. Charred brassicas with smoked egg included “gorgeous, dainty, heirloom leaves, of the most delicate pinks and greens, from the dead centre of the cabbage” and duck for two was “cooked in the French style – pink but wonderfully tender, so light but so deep at the same time”. But Williams isn’t sure what to make of the cooking. “In the end, it was so much more hit than miss. The misses became lovable eccentricities rather than flaws, like moles or a loud laugh.”
Expect food with attitude and attack at Jan Lee’s new Korean and Mexican mash-up Bo Drake in Soho’s Greek Street, says the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler.
“Two of my chums have eaten bo ssäm in New York where David Chang has perfected it and put the recipe in a cookery book. In his method a whole shoulder of pork is brined and slow roasted then slathered with salt and sugar until the skin turns into caramel bark. Oysters are also served so that the lettuce-wrapped handful including kimchi, ssamjang (fiery soy bean paste), and spring onion oil becomes an exalting synthesis of cold and briny, warm and sweet, salt and shardy, underlined by the punch of chilli. Here they pronounce the more demure assembly Bo Ssam Lite. Little Bo Peep, I say.”
The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin finds that Le Café du Marché in London’s EC1 has stood still for so long that it is now bang on trend.
“You can often eat better French food in London than the Languedoc. Newish joints such as Casse Croute in Bermondsey, and the deliciously eccentric Otto’s on Gray’s Inn Road, deliver reliably excellent cooking. But how about the old school? Can the hoary old troupers still cut it? Le Café du Marché has been around for nearly 30 years, and seems pretty much invisible to the Yelpy new breed of restaurant fan. Could it possibly still be a contender?
“It could. As is often the case with fashion, Le Café du Marché has stood still for so long that it’s now accidentally bang on trend. The food, regularly changing and handwritten on a blackboard under the brick arches, is as unreconstructed as a garlic-breathed, whiskery kiss. You want côte de boeuf with béarnaise, terrines with gribiche, crème brûlée? It’s all here, large as life and every bit as beret-wearing.”
Writing on Valentine’s Day, the Telegraph’s Audrey Gillan doesn’t quite fall for Loves in Birmingham. She is “elevated beyond such minutiae by a light, earthy cauliflower espuma, scattered with teeny crumbles of salty feta” and finds Warwickshire venison “hamming it up in a strong soliloquy”.
“Certainly there is dexterity and skill in the cooking at Loves, and the service is flawless. But the Loves would win no awards for largesse – of spirit, ingredients or portion sizes. Restaurants should be all about pleasure, a place to showcase produce on the plate as well as tickling the customer with delight. A few dishes cracked some smiles, but our general demeanour was po of face and devoid of passion.”
Fence in Lancashire is not where the Observer’s Jay Rayner expected to find food of the quality currently being served by the White Swan pub.
“Fence is a place of solid-built houses with, at one end, a solid-built, four-square pub. Just looking at it, you know that darts have been thrown in there, and bad football results mourned with too many pints of sticky bitter. Inside the pub, work has clearly been done since it was taken over by the owners of Turners, a wine shop-cum-deli and café in nearby Barrowford.
“What matters most, though, is the presence in the kitchen of a young chef named Tom Parker. Right now he’s giving a masterclass in how to craft tight, compact menus to a budget – just three choices at each course – without sacrificing flavour, inventiveness or wit. Some of what he’s serving here is a minor bloody miracle.
“His daily changing menus, at £20 for two courses and £25 for three, feature feverish outbreaks of tripe and ham hock, bone marrow and cheese curds, damsons and Yorkshire rhubarb from just over the way. It doesn’t feel ideological. Parker is not trying to make a point. He’s just cooking with the good stuff, and being thrifty.”
AA Gill finds expensive “handbag food” at Harrods restaurant Chai Wu that “encapsulates everything that is insincere, graceless and cynical about ethnic eating and unnecessary shopping”.
Writing in the Sunday Times, he says: “The wagyu beef dumpling was surprisingly agreeable because it so closely resembled a Hampden Park half-time pie. Half a skinny beijing duck, hacked at our table by a waitress in blue surgical gloves, looked like a Looney Tunes autopsy. The slices of tepid fat and melanoma skin that were presented were hardly worth the effort.
“None of this has anything to do with hunger or epicurean social pleasure, and although Chai Wu serves dinner, they’re strict about chucking you out for 8pm because, of course, the shop’s closed. The purpose of this little cul-de-sac is to fortify, so you can go on consuming more of the unnecessary, inedible stuff. I suspect they’ve chosen Chinese because of the growing number of Sino tourists: first-generation capitalists yearning to buy, buy, buy, and they want familiar food. But it’s being sold back to them fashionised and glazed with dumb sophistication.”