To say the tiny Casse-Croûte in London’s Bermondsey is a bit French is like saying cheese is a bit nice, says Marina O’Loughlin
The rabbit arrives and it’s uniformly shades of beige. It’s in an unlovely tangle, plonked on top of its pommes purée, looking more like pulled pork. And then I take a mouthful and the irritations of the day slip from me as easily as the rabbit slips down my neck. It is gorgeous: the meat silky and slow-cooked, still tasting quite definitely of bunny; the mash of the Robuchon school, rammed with butter, rich and luxurious. There’s a light, creamy, mustardy sauce that just – just – stops short of richness overkill. I want to anoint myself in it, bathe in it, sink into it with a beatific grin. I think I may be in actual love. Unlike the big, glittery jobs, the Balthazars and Zédels, this is a distillation of the trend, bijou and delicious. So quiche lorraine arrives as a kind of cheesecake, the trembly, savoury custard set on top of what I can’t stop myself describing as a buttery biscuit base. Crisps of salty cured ham – Bayonne? – are perched on top, and dotted all around is more ham, chopped into little hummocks with wholegrain mustard. Sublime céleri rémoulade is coated with homemade mayo (more mustard), slivers of green apple and masses of peeled crevettes grises. There are cubes of an oddly granular apple jelly, too, which I’m writing off as youthful enthusiasm.
Rating: 8/10 for food, 8/10 for atmosphere, 9/10 for value for money
Zoe Williams says that Brunot Loubet’s Grain Store gives off a straight forward visual message with it’s bright, bust look but its menu is full of idiosyncracies
I had sprouting beans and seeds with miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin and potato water (£6). Obediently, I had the suggested cocktail, a cedar-wood lemonade (£7.50), comprising fino sherry that had been wholly denatured by a combination of dilution and citrus, rendering it an unusual mix of tart and boring. Oh, my sprouting beans – I suppose I hoped that they wouldn’t taste like a 1980s health-fest, and the aubergine would be slick with Middle Eastern loveliness rather than a wet mush of good intentions. And, naturally, I hoped that the chicken skin would taste of chicken – lovely fowl crisps, if you like. None of that was realised. The chicken skin was eerily thin and papery and tasted of nothing. Then I had that quinoa tamale (with, whisper it, pork belly – £15), while D had dal lentils with sweet banana-pepper, apple and red-onion salsa and sea bream (£14). Mine was prettily presented, the quinoa wrapped in the outer leaves of a sweetcorn, studded with the corn itself, with a delicately spicy sauce that may, like the tamale, have dated back to the ancient Mayan people, or may have been just a tasty mulch recently conceived. The pork belly was good too, and I didn’t begrudge it its smallness. The value overall was good.
Jay Rayner says that eating at The Honours in Edinburgh is like being locked away tidily inside the drinks cabinet of someone with exquisite good taste
A crab cappuccino could almost be given the tag “modern retro”. It’s a big flat bowl – rather than a faux coffee cup – of intense crab soup, with 10 udder squirts of cream, tumescent with froth. Lurking in the depths are hunks of white crab meat and dollops of garlicky rouille. It is a soup to get lost in. A tuna tartare with a cucumber mousse that’s so light it is flirting dangerously with being called a foam, is a self-consciously delicate plate of girl’s food, but gets extra marks for the seasoning of the fish.Ox cheek bordelaise is the sort of thing French people would come here to eat out of nostalgia: long-braised jowl the colour of teak, duvets of mash whipped up with half a day’s production from the dairy, a sauce you could weather-protect fences with (in a good way) and glistening pearls of bone marrow. Only a dish of slightly overdone halibut, cooked on the bone, lets the side down. But it comes with a de-boned and mousse-filled pig’s trotter, so everything’s fine.
Emma Sturgess enjoys the natural wine at Toasted in London’s East Dulwich, but wishes the staff weren’t so bewildered
The house fondness for natural, organic and scantily sulphured wines shows in a list that oozes interest (though there’s not enough by the glass) and in manager Alex Thorp’s willingness to dissect biodynamics (in which the dung features) tableside. Unfortunately he can’t be everywhere, and with complex, unusual wines and Michael Hazelwood’s utterly contemporary small plates to handle, the rest of the team are often stumped. The food is good, though the menu doesn’t hang together. There’s a stern ascetic streak in a salad of crab, broccoli and sorrel; a pudding that looks like a workhouse plate of milk froth and oats; and fabulous pearly cod with beans and bacon bits. Mutton with figs and bilberries has a warm autumnal jamminess. Throw in the most memorable dish – seared monkfish liver with a kick like anchovies and an Asian dipping sauce – and you’d expect to be bewildered. It would be better if the staff weren’t.
Price: £100 (meal for two with wine and service)
Guy Dimond visits Jubo in London’s Old Street and finds an “eat-with-fingers, messy, New York dude food version” of Korean fast food
Korean fried chicken (KFC) is seasoned then fried twice, which produces a slightly crunchier coating which complements strong-flavoured or gloopy sauces. It goes well with beer, and is an on-trend dish right now – pub chains such as Draft House have cottoned on, and chicken joint Wishbone in Brixton also has a version. At Jubo the options are boneless thigh strips, or messier, bone-in wings. The texture certainly beats the other KFC; the soy/garlic dressing was zesty, the hot/sweet sauce thick and syrupy. Steamed buns are firm rather than delicate, delivered with fillings such as slow-cooked pork belly, slow–braised beef, or a vegetarian mushroom version with hoisin sauce. Best of all though were the pickles – both the white radish and shiitake mushroom pickles had complex, fruity flavours.
Prices: around £35 for two
Fay Maschler discovers a smokin’ three-course spread that’s “perhaps the best deal in London” at Le Coq in in North London’s St Paul’s Road
Head chef Ben Benton moved here from Dock Kitchen and along with the Italian Trullo a few doors away proves that a River Café state of mind can penetrate quite far north. Provenance is an important lodestar and for LeCoq, chickens are bought from Kennel Farm in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. This might interest you as much as it did me: in order for them to be sold as “free range”, the EU allows 10,000 chickens per hectare of outside space. At Kennel Farm there are 213 chickens per hectare. Maybe this is some sort of average count — how do you stop them skittering about and becoming 214 or 212? Their habitat is made manifest in texture, flavour and appearance — fat, shiny cushions merrily revolving. The meat is tender but agreeably confrontational, the taste lends positive definition to the phrase old-fashioned. A little jug of the juices described as “unadulterated” comes with the serving and only a mug would not order the potatoes and garlic cloves that roast in the dripping chicken fat (£3). That and a green salad made with Little Gem that has lost all winsomeness and can deal with assertive vinaigrette (£2.50) comprise the perfect plate of rotisserie chicken. But LeCoq improves on the formula and adds grilled — not so much grilled as kneed in the groin — smoky bitter leaves mixed with pieces of rough bread soaked in the juices.
Price: A full meal for two with extras and wine, about £75 including 12.5% service
The Daily Mail
The Inspector is impressed that Llangoed Hall – once owned by the husband of Laura Ashley – in Brecon, Powys, is “the real deal”
Good taste presides everywhere. And the cheerful staff, like the food, are local. Our room, reached via a proper rickety staircase and wide, light corridors, is on the top floor, where there’s a framed apron – the first garment Laura Ashley ever made – hanging in the passage. No duvets or spongy pillows here. It’s all crisp linen sheets, silk-edged blankets and feathers galore. There are three windows and a huge bathroom (stocked with Penhaligon’s products), a floral sofa and armchair. It makes a Downton bedroom look dowdy. Before dinner we wander around the ground floor and spot a note from Prince Charles saying how pleased he is that the Jacobean house – restored by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who created the Italianate village Portmeirion – has been saved. Another letter is from Sir John Major thanking the hotel for his stay while attending the nearby Hay Literary Festival. A young man is playing the piano as we sit with gin and tonics and devour wonderfully imaginative canapes, with views across to the Black Mountains, the sun setting over the Wye Valley. In the panelled dining room we sense that everyone is thinking the same thing: this is mighty special and something of a secret.
Price: double rooms from £150 B&B
Tom Chesshyre describes Wood Norton Hall, former home to a French exiled duke and the BBC, a “peculiar” hotel of two halves
Expect wood panelling with intricate carvings — including plenty of fleur-de-lys — in the main hall. The hotel was revamped and reopened in 2012 by an ex-City banker, with a slick cocktail lounge, a shiny pewter bar and a restaurant added…There are 50 rooms, 30 of which are in a plain annexe at the back called the “Pear Tree”, former BBC employee accommodation. Sure, the rooms are cosy enough, with contemporary fittings and mod cons, but the special rooms are the remaining ones in the main building. These are of boutique hotel standard, featuring muted colour schemes and enormous beds with fine cotton sheets. What really stand out, though, are the oak panels in all the rooms except the six on the top floor… Amid flickering candles, crisp white tablecloths and (slightly garish) modern art on the oak walls, I tucked into a refreshing starter of cured salmon with beetroot, fennel and ginger; a “compliments of the chef” orange, coconut and mint sorbet; beef fillets with wild mushrooms and horseradish chutney (a touch tough); and a tasty vanilla panna cotta with poached satsuma (rather odd, but tasty).
Rating: B&B doubles from £85, dinner £35 for three courses
Jennifer Selway finds that Laura Ashley The Manor in Elstree, Hertfordshire, reflects the “good taste and quality” of the brand perfectly
The 49-room hotel has a contemporary feel with 16th century panelling painted in light grey and sand that sets off the dark wood carvings, Venetian-style mirrors and clever lighting. A soft palette of colours – amethyst, lime, cranberry and duck egg blue – is used throughout, with every room decked out in Laura Ashley’s latest interiors collection. My top floor room, the Piccadilly, was light and comfortable with sloping eaves and lots of furniture I recognised from my local Laura Ashley store. The company is owned by MUI, the Malaysian group that also has other hotel interests…I had an issue with my room’s high-tech lavatory instruction manual but the staff were sweet – attentive without being sycophantic. I arrived alone on a Friday which, for a woman, can be testing. But again the staff were delightful, and gave me a nice table in the Cavendish dining room with its vaulted ceiling and columns. I had an excellent bottle of Puligny Montrachet 2010 and a starter from the Tastes of Malaysia menu of poached tiger prawns mixed with coriander, lemon grass, red chilli sauce and lime juice. Though tempted by Welsh lamb or venison as a main, I chose the sea bass with samphire. The white chocolate and pistachio trifle that followed was utterly exquisite.
Price: doubles from £175 B&B