Lisa Markwell reviews the Clove Club founders’ Luca in London’s Clerkenwell for the Times and is bewitched by the pasta and bar snacks.
“In the bar, the snacks are chips and scotch eggs, gone all Italian. So, parmesan fries are not potatoes: they’re light-as-a-feather choux, deep-fried and gussied up with cheese, liberally dredged with paprika. The “eggs” are meaty olives wrapped in rabbit sausae, also deep-fried.
“I’ve heard others say they were left a bit cold by the spaghettini, but I love it — there’s a sandy, spicy finish to the sauce, all in a murky, browny-orange puddle on the plate. But if you’re expecting actual visible shrimps with it, you’ll be disappointed. This is a dish created from a puréed potted variety from a Lancashire producer, because using fresh British ingredients would mean trying to source raw shrimps, which just don’t exist (they’re cooked at sea).
“But I wish they’d had the balls to make it just pasta and snacks, and to leave the culinary artistry down the road in Shoreditch. It’s the carbs that bewitch — and the delicious little nubbins and nuggets you get to eat in the bar (the fries do resemble savoury churros more than anything, but the staff tell me McHale won’t have the term uttered).”
The Observer’s Jay Rayner is disappointed by Veneta in London.
“On paper, which is to say the menu, it sounded fabulous: a fried ‘polenta, speck and fontina sandwich’. You’re offering me a ham and cheese toastie, in a fancy Venetian themed restaurant? I’m in. What arrived was two flavourless blocks of carbohydrate inside a breadcrumb shell the colour of a neglected child’s tea. They looked like fish fingers, but tasted like sofa cushions. I pulled them apart to find a meagre smear of cheese and a fragment of ham.
“Polenta gum guards aside, Veneta, part of the polished restaurant group behind Opera Tavern and Dehesa among others, is not an actively bad restaurant. The front of house team is professional, dealing artfully with the moment I knocked over my glass. But if you’d asked me immediately afterwards what I’d eaten I’d have struggled. I’d have mentioned a plate of smoked anchovies, which was a victory of shopping, and a winter salad of bitter greens, which was all depth and quiet, astringent menace. In a good way. I long ago stopped taking notes in restaurants, figuring that if I couldn’t recall what I’d had for dinner that spoke volumes. With this one I had to dig out the receipt.
“There was wide-ribboned pasta with a goat ragu which was fine and reasonably priced at £7.50; a small pork rib eye was okay for £9.50. Apparently, I also had a dish of a mackerel tartar and another of roasted artichokes, but neither left an impression. I recall the two medium sized scallops with a splodge of sweet pumpkin purée. I recall how quickly they were gone. But my eye can’t help resting on the final tally of £138 for two, pushed up by a wine list which can’t spell bargain let alone offer one.”
The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin explores London’s growing appetite for dumplings at My Neighbours The Dumplings in London E5 and Dumpling Heart in Shoreditch.
It’s rare for me to meet a dumpling I don’t like, be it Italian ravioli or agnolotti, Turkish manti, Korean mandu, eastern European pelmeni and pierogi, Japanese gyoza, Indian momos and all the many blissful iterations of dim sum: bring ’em on.
Now, a new breed is emerging: the artisan dumpling, not frozen, not pre-made, but prepared each day by hand. There’s Mama Lan, launched from a cubbyhole in Brixton Market and now with four branches; upcoming Dumpy Lynn from the folk behind the Hoxton Hotel. In New York, people are sucking the broth out of giant xiao long bao (soup dumplings) through straws. The one I’m irresistibly drawn to, though, is My Neighbours The Dumplings.
Their hand-crafted dumplings are beautiful enough to frame: classic har gau with a delicate, tensile wrapper, the prawns inside sweetly fresh, almost crunchy.
Service is charming but a little flaky. So what? The food is worth it all.
Dumpling Heart in Shoreditch is the kind of place to give the gibbering vapours to those who get comically irate when a review doesn’t hit their platonic ideal of a restaurant…here at weekends, improbably shod artist/designer Meihui Liu “curates” (sorry) a small number of handmade Taiwanese-style dumplings from a tiny wooden shack at the Cleve Courtyard market just off Boundary Street.
If you’re after that insanely satisfying sensation of teeth sinking through just-chewy casings to juicy, scented, satisfying fillings, I’ll probably be teetering on a stool beside you, eating my way to Armageddon.
The restaurant might seem like a cold IKEA storeroom, but the food at James Cochran EC3 in London will warm up diners, says the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler.
“We start with Jamaican jerk buttermilk chicken, something I do again when back for dinner because it is the best fried chicken — better even than at Chick’n’Sours – with its meat agreeably pugnacious from the marinade and maybe also brining, and the crisp corn shell secreting scotch bonnet chilli jam with heat that steals up on you, slowly detonating but not destroying,” she says.
“We share everything including the large plate of Herdwick lamb neck and haunch with petals of fried parsnip, fiercely roasted Jerusalem artichoke, smoked crème fraîche and fried hemp seeds for grit. It is a masterly dish, especially in the preparation of the different cuts of meat. I begin to think that the comparison with chef Stephen Williams of 40 Maltby Street made by one of my companions holds water, especially as Williams is also an alumnus of the Ledbury and the Harwood Arms.”
Having been welcomed by conversation-limiting loud music at Fucina in London, the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon finds the experience doesn’t improve when he samples the food.
“I wasn’t so convinced, though, by the options for meat-eaters. I did like the polpo alla brace: plump, wriggly mouthfuls of octopus with a peppery kick. The pizza, on the other hand, I couldn’t bear. I had the porchetta (roast pork). First of all, the look of it: slovenly, messy, as if the toppings had been tossed at the base from a range of 20 feet.
“Still, at least that gave me something to write about, unlike the flavour, which was near to non-existent. So limp, so pallid, so meek. My wife had the bufala, which at any rate had a good thick carpet of cheese on it. Even so, I would honestly take Pizza Hut over either of them any day.”
The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent finds it easy to linger and over-eat at Temper on Broadwick Street
“We popped to Temper for lunch on a Tuesday en route to a matinee screening of Paterson, a 118-minute-long musing on a bus-driving poet. We would, I envisaged, have a quick round of aged cheeseburger tacos, a small glass of Merayo, then leave. But the large sit-up grill area with pretty green seats is very easy to enjoy. So was the De Pêche Mode — get it? — cocktail which, yes, was merely vodka with crème de pêche and grapefruit but also cold and pleasing. ‘I give in to sin, because you have to make this life liveable’ is my favourite Depeche Mode lyric. And with this in mind, we ordered a second round of cheeseburger tacos plus the aubergine chipotle miso tacos, which are certainly no feeble veggie option. The pork taco is great with a well-judged citrus flare.
“The taco itself is rolled and stamped out before your eyes. I worry sometimes about that poor man stood making them. Do they ever let him leave? We ordered an excellent mutton kofta and a hot, pleasing Thai larb of burnt ends. It seemed silly at this point not to order several types of sauces and sprinkles; the MSG ketchup, the pork rind, the crispy shrimp, the crunchy onions. We demolished a bowl of raclette-smothered beef fat-drenched new potatoes and some corn with mint, lamb fat and yellow chilli. Oh and yes, some Mezcal — a little sippy finger-bowl of Del Maguey Minero.”
Gustami: ‘The pizza at this hidden gem of a restaurant is the best I’ve tasted outside Italy’, says Sanjeeta Bains of the Birmingham Mail.
“For mains my friend chose homemade tortellini. The fillings changes daily and include spinach and ricotta and ricotta and salmon. On our visit it was mushroom and mascarpone. You can choose whether you want tomato or cream and butter sauce which my friend opted for. Although he polished it off pretty quickly he regretted not ordering his tortellini in tomato sauce instead.
The cream butter and sage sauce overpowered the mushroom and mascarpone filling. He was full of praise however for the perfectly cooked pasta.
“Gustami has a traditional wood fired oven so I knew my only choice was pizza. In Italy they like to keep things simple with their toppings so a good way to really judge an Italian restaurant is on their traditional margherita pizza. There are seven pizza flavours to choose from at Gustami including pollo – chicken, mozzarella and tomato and verdure – vegetables, mozzarella and tomato. I had the classic margherita – tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
“This huge pizza arrived on a wooden block and was heavenly! Lovely thin base and a crispy crust slightly burned around the edges. The base was covered in a generous layer of tomato sauce which I could have devoured as soup! And the still bubbling mozzarella cheese all over it made this comfort food of the highest order.
If I was being picky I’d say it would have been nice to see a bit of fresh basil on top but regardless, it was outstanding both in taste and value at only £4.50.”
Fiona Duncan of the Sunday Telegraph checks into Soho Farmhouse in Great Tew Oxfordshire, for The Caterer’s Hotelier of the Year, and, despite wanting to hate the place, leaves bowled over from the generosity it offers.
“I hate fake. I hate themed. I don’t get Center Parcs. And Soho Farmhouse, set in 100 acres of tame farmland, is so fake it feels like The Truman Show; so incoherently themed that you aren’t sure if you are meant to be in the Wild West, Waterworld or NYC; and it’s just like Center Parcs – on speed. Yet despite all of this, I loved it. I tried to hate it, and its trendy guests looking for country-lite, but I failed. One word kept coming to mind: largesse. Lined up by the roll-top bath and walk-in shower in our brilliant, big Nantucket-style cabin were no fewer than 23 large bottles of Cowshed products.
“The facilities, from decadent cinema (with plush velvet beds as well as armchairs) to indulgent spa via cookery school, gym and spinning studio, indoor and outdoor pool, boating lake, tennis courts, football pitch, horse riding, kids’ club, crazy golf, deli and clothes and homeware shops are without peer.Each cabin is equipped with bikes. Mobile greasy spoons and cocktail bars visit on request; the Mill Bar stays open till the last person leaves; your ‘farmhand’ is a phone call away should you need anything; your car is washed before you leave.”
The Guardian’s Sarah Marsh loves the laid-back, community vibe of the floating Good hotel, a new venture where profits are used to support the long-term unemployed, in Royal Victoria Dock, London
“From the outside it looks like a giant, black shipping container, with green astroturf on the roof and small, square windows. But step inside and the design and atmosphere immediately reflect the community ethos. The ground floor is open plan: called the “living room”, it’s a bar, reception and library in one – a lounging area with communal tables that encourage groups to sit, eat and chat together.
“A sign on the wall reads: “Create beauty, do good.” The minimalist, slick industrial decor (lots of black and white and grey, with wooden tables dotted about) is tempered by snug, dimly lit corners, with sofas and comfy-looking cushions. “The idea is that local people or freelancers can just wander in, sit down, set up their laptops and work,” says marketing manager Marie. “It’s a real space for people to come together.”
Tom Chesshyre of the Times loves the peaceful location of the Carbis Bay hotel, near St Ives, Cornwall, but warms that prices are a bit steep
“The 47 rooms are brightly decorated with whitewashed walls mixed with bold patterned wallpaper featuring flowers (but not at all chintzy). There’s a fresh feel — rooms are regularly spruced up — and sparkling bathrooms have Aromatherapy Associates products. The key is to go for a room with a sea view, which are £20 extra.
“The main restaurant, Sands, is beyond a conservatory with a pianist where pre-dinner cocktails are served. After an amuse-bouche of crayfish with lemon, my mackerel with fennel and horseradish salad made a great appetiser. I followed my main course of shin of beef with mash and mangetout (perfectly good) with chocolate fondant and cherry ice cream. Three courses is about £35. A cheerful Beach Club restaurant by the sand has burgers and pizzas (£10-£14).”