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cochon aveugleEverything in Le Cochon Aveugle, York makes the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin grin like an eejit.

“Le Cochon Aveugle is altogether a curiosity, from the squiggle of pink neon in the window to the fusty little antique cabinet filled with intriguing gins.

“I tried coming here before, when it was owned by Michael O’Hare of Leeds’ The Man Behind The Curtain (it was his second York outlet after The Blind Swine – geddit?), but it was closed for a private function. Now the site is co-owned by chef Josh Overington…and, left to his own devices, Overington has come up with something a bit special.

“Everything that follows makes us grin like eejits. There’s homemade saucisson from their own-reared pigs, reeking of porkiness and almost crunchy with glossy fat. Provençal-style panisses, fingers of fried chickpea flecked with herbs and as creamy as set custard. In a bed of hay comes an eggshell filled with fondant-textured yolk at the bottom, chive butter, a featherlight cream scented with citrus (satsuma? clementine?) and licked with Corsican honey; mildly bonkers, but it works.”


 

woodfordThe Woodford in London’s E18, headed by 2012 Young National Chef of the Year Ben Murphy, may have ambition to win a Michelin star but it is let down by a dull wine list, says Fay Maschler.

The Evening Standard’s restaurant critic says: “I start with Green Asparagus asking the restaurant manager where the asparagus is from. “Somewhere sustainable,” he murmurs but later returns to announce that the chef says “Paris”. Peeled from root to tip the spears are consequently somewhat flaccid.

“Oven-baked cod with “slow stewed” haricot beans, pea purée and chorizo consommé is perfectly judged and perfectly cooked. The vegetarian option of potato ravioli has an impact way beyond expectation due to the earthy, woodsy essence of mushroom and truffle in which the well-seasoned parcels are steeped.

“Woodford was Churchill’s constituency for his lifetime as an MP. Portrait photographs decorate part of the building. The wine list misses a trick in not offering Pol Roger champagne (his favourite) by the glass. The wine list misses a trick generally. It is a dull tome for an aspiring, expensive restaurant — especially one almost in Essex.”


Gary Usher’s restaurant Burnt Truffle on the Wirral is thriving, and the Observer’s Jay Rayner can see why.

“Burnt Truffle launched on a shoestring last July – hence the modesty of the fixtures and fittings – but is clearly thriving. Having eaten there I can exactly see why. It’s the model of the neighbourhood bistro that punches well above its weight; the sort of place that you want on your doorstep, or at least that I want on mine.

“Barbie-pink discs of finely sliced and pickled mooli are positioned in a petal-like circle around another disc of roughly chopped steak tartar, first dressed with a little emulsion with back notes of Lea & Perrins, and then overlaid with piles of puffed wild rice, crispy shallots and, as a masterstroke, a smoked mayonnaise.

“Of our two main courses, the winner by a snout is three fat discs of soft, salty pork collar on pearl barley giving its brave impression of risotto. It’s overlaid with strands of lawn- green wild garlic, all of it dribbled with a salsa of apple and walnuts. But the killer touch is the fragments of pork crackling mixed into the pearl barley.”


The Sunday Times’s AA Gill visits artist Damien Hirst’s restaurant Pharmacy 2 in Vauxhall, London, and still remembers the first Pharmacy back in the ’90s.

“There’s a real restaurateur, Mark Hix, and the room was filled with quiet, serious hipsters and art groupies, the hedge-funders of this young century. They’re toned down, utilitarian, bearded and nerdy — a karmic improvement on the 1990s, but not an aesthetic one.

“The menu is a collection of random dishes from around the world that remind you of first-class lounges in Middle Eastern airports, but it all worked rather well, with the medication and the dystopian, bright tone of the room. It might have been the menu for last meals in a Dignitas clinic.

“My favourite was a Tunisian brik, an envelope of feuilletté pastry with another oversized sunny egg deep-fried inside it, served with a dab of hot red Magrebi sauce. As we left, the Blonde said: “It’s very different from the last time, isn’t it?” It certainly was. We are a lot more concerned, circumspect and splurge-averse.”


In his last ever restaurant review for the Independent, John Wash decides to choose the place where he feels happiest just walking back into and which he says serves the highest quality comfort food available to mankind – Blixen in London’s Spitalfields Market.

“Main courses were much as I remembered: especially a pork belly of weep-making tenderness surmounted by salty, crunchy crackling, the whole array parked on a bed of kale and spaetzle, Germanic pasta cooked with pork-reduced jus, quince and brown butter, amazingly tasty,” he says. “Seared stonebass was magically fresh and flaky, given a double wallop of Mediterranean flavour with punterella (endive) and green olives. Slow-cooked lamb shoulder was slitheringly, tongue-enrapturingly gorgeous, served on a crowded field of faro, peas, eggplant, rocket and pistachio pesto.”


The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent might have beaten the queue to get a table at Kanada-Ya in London’s Haymarket, but she’s not bowled over by the ramen.

“I wish Kanada-Ya’s food was better, as I’m not averse to an assault course. It was decent, yet not brilliant,” she says. “Noodles are cooked to order, hand-pulled and available in extra-firm, firm, regular or soft. We opted for medium, 18-hour bone broth ramen with chashu pork collar, spring onion and a porcini truffle paste. It is a gloriously rich, milky, salty broth, albeit entirely one-note. The original, safe-bet ramen with wood ear fungus and seaweed looked much more appealing. A side of chicken karaage with fried mayonnaise was edible yet forgettable. A side of fresh flaked salmon onigiri only arrived after much prodding.”


Image: Ivan Gonzalez

Image: Ivan Gonzalez

Giles Coren of the Times came to Oliver Maki in Soho to mock it but leaves just a little bit in love.

“’Ho ho ho,’ I thought to myself as I packed a notebook, pen, machete and AK-47 into my little brown satchel and headed to Oliver Maki. ‘This is going to be like shooting very expensive, over-faffed, grizzly little bits of fish in a barrel.’

“So I was quite surprised to arrive at Oliver Maki and find a small, modest grey room with half a dozen little tables, a tiny bar and a small, beautiful Spanish-looking waitress smiling quietly at me.

“One bizarre feature was a video screen showing highlights from the menu, including one that appeared to involve a three-tiered glass box filled with gunkan and nigiri and piped full of smoke. For this is all very instagrammable stuff. Almost as if designed so to be. And that would be cause for grandiloquent excoriation, if it were not also delicious.”


HOTELS

padstow townhouseIt may only be March, but the Times’s Tom Chesshyre declares Paul Ainsworth’s Padstow Townhouse in Cornwall as the best hotel opening of 2016 (so far)
“Emma Ainsworth, Paul’s wife, and the designer Eve Cullen-Cornes have combined to create an arty hideaway with a refined style and a homely feel (a little downstairs “honesty pantry” is stocked with all sorts of goodies, from Ruinart champagne to local ales, cheeses, duck rillette and home-made cake). From the tiny scented candlelit reception, head up carpeted stairs to the rooms, passing works of art by Tracey Emin.

“Everything is just so, from bathrooms with standalone tubs (some with champagne-glass holders), rainforest showers and posh toiletries (by the local St Kitts Herbery), to comfy lounges with chesterfield chairs and velvet sofas. On arrival you are treated to delicious beef and seaweed pasties, and at turndown a flask of hot chocolate laced with Cointreau is left with hazelnut cookies.”


The Ness in Shaldon, Devon, is a “jaunty”place to stay, but give the food a miss, advises Isabel Choat of the Guardian.

“They’ve taken the nautical theme and run with it. There are upturned boats for seats in the dining room; the stairway and landings are covered in sea charts and photos of boats and bathers. In our room there was more seaside paraphernalia – above the pale blue tongue and groove on the bedroom walls, the dado rail supported a legion of wooden boats and birds, starfish and glass bottles of shells.

“Every aspect of our meal was bad – the menu a sorry selection of uninspiring pub food: potato skins, kebabs (“make it a main with an extra kebab!”), pineapple upside down cake. I had the seabass, which was overdone; my partner had an overcooked steak. If the food had been better, I might not have noticed the terrible music or our waiter calling us “guys” with each visit to our table.”