Jay Rayner reviews Louie Louie in London for the Observer and is impressed by the food – shame about the wine list.
“Meaty fillets of mackerel are piled with a punchy tapenade and laid on leaves of cavolo nero with a little thick yogurt to send them on their way. We argue over the virtues of a dish of roasted cauliflower. The vegetable is cut into hulking steaks, chargrilled then dribbled with tahini and more of the tomato. Last week’s take on this was undercooked. These are slightly overcooked. It has never before occurred to me that the perfect cooking point of cauliflower might occupy a tricky Goldilocks zone.
“There are just two desserts: a pressed chocolate cake, full of depth and sweetness and intensity which is crying out for the dollop of thick soured cream that it gets; and a cardamom panna cotta. Too often panna cotta is a poorly executed cliché. This one makes an argument for the dish: the wobble is perfect, the flavouring on point. It is both light and indulgent. Quietly I declare myself in love.”
“So, great food and great value. Or it would be were it not for that act of self-sabotage, which happens to be on the wine list. One glance at the label of the bottle I have chosen, at the tiresome faux primitive design, and I know it’s a bloody natural wine. All of their wines are “natural”, apparently. At Louie Louie, to find one that doesn’t taste like it’s been strained through the arse end of a cow, we make do with a fine if unremarkable Sauvignon Blanc at a whacking £35.”
Writing in the Sunday Times, Lisa Markwell says there’s a lot to be distracted by at James Cochran in the City of London – but don’t be distracted from the food.
“We share snacks of scotch egg, a salsify fritter and Cochran’s “signature” Jamaican jerk buttermilk chicken. Only when they arrive do I realise it’s all deep-fried, but there’s a wealth of nuance in the dishes. The smoky, peppery, soft ’nduja sausage clings to the delicate egg in a farmyard embrace; the salsify still has its lightly briny flavour against earthy, truffly cream … but, oh, that chicken.
“Puffed corn kernels add extra crunch, as if it were needed, to a magnificent carapace — the chicken inside silky soft from its buttermilk bath — and all wreathed with a sting of scotch bonnet peppers.
“Berkshire pigeon breast with liquorice, hazelnuts and bay cream, on the other hand, sounds chaotic, and indeed comes on a chaotically splattered plate, but the inky sauce plays beautifully off the ruby meat, while a nut crumb and aromatic cream duke it out for bite versus balm.
“This isn’t where James Cochran will stay — he’ll find a better room in a better location — but until then, search him out. Since my visit, he’s introduced a five-course tasting menu that includes the chicken, salmon and lamb, priced at £35. You’d be mad not to. This is real talking-point food, even for old married couples who don’t talk much any more.”
Paco Tapas in Bristol offers Spanish food from perfectionists, says the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin.
“The restaurant world was rocked by the death of Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias in 2015, aged only 32. The cancer that took him robbed us of a star, self-taught and burning with talent. He didn’t live to see to fruition plans to move and transform his family’s Michelin-starred Casamia, and to create another two, entirely different restaurants. I can’t imagine what that must feel like for Peter, his brother, partner and co-chef, but on the strength of this little Bristol tapas bar it would appear to have fired him up – fuelled not only by his own ambition, but by his late brother’s, too.
Food is perfectly Spanish, too, even if it often uses lush West Country produce…Cocido Andaluz comes rammed with chunks of various porky bits and pieces, crumbly, ferrous morcilla, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and a resonant hit of smoked paprika. It’s a fine thing, but I reckon it would be ambrosial the day after tomorrow. Calçots, those recherché Catalan alliums, come beautifully blackened from the grill with the best romesco I’ve ever tasted, crunchy with hazelnuts and almond and blazing with roast peppers.”
The Times‘ Giles Coren reviews Koi, the Other Side and, after their duck dryer was fixed, Duck Duck Goose, all at Pop Brixton in London.
“We found a stand-up ramen joint called Koi and ordered a bowl of tonkotsu pork ramen to share and a plate of gyoza. And the soup was … OUTSTANDING. Worth the trip alone. A superbly rich and creamy, mouth-coating pork bone broth, really good egg noodles, a fresh soft egg and slices of pork belly. The kind of thing that makes you sing hurrah for 2017 after all, that such a bowlful can be found in a shipping container in Brixton quite by chance. And for £6!
“We stopped at a fried chicken stand called the Other Side and had a fried chicken “Buffalo” sandwich with hot sauce, ranch sauce and pickles. Not subtle, pretty sloppy, but tasty.
“Then I called Duck Duck Goose to check the duck dryer was working now, and it was…We ordered most of the menu and the first thing out was definitely the best: “Prawn Toast Revisited” with its fried white bread and massive stuffing of prawn mousse was exactly what my wife had missed at the scary Walthamstow Sichuan, something plump and crispy and accessible. They had covered it with a sweet mayonnaise and a stack of bonito flakes that screamed “hipster”, when I would always rather eat my prawn toast straight, but the concoction wasn’t at all bad.
“Chef Oli Brown had also made a fair fist of creating his own turnip cakes, a favourite of ours, and the salt and pepper salsify was a well-executed beer snack.”
Writing in the Evening Standard, she says: “Potato gnocchi with native lobster, pak choi and lime dances skittishly away from the land of boeuf bourguignon but I dare say such goings-on are not unknown at, say, the restaurant Maison Lameloise in Chagny. Anyway, it is delectable,” she says.
“Puligny-Montrachet Domaine Pernot-Belicard 2013 is being poured and, thanks to the invention of Coravin, we are offered a taste of the Meursault Village Vielles Vignes 2012 made by the same producer. Purely in the interests of enhanced wine knowledge of course, we accept — full disclosure here — what is an enlightening little gift.
Grilled fillet of stone bass with a poached Maldon oyster perched on top served on sautéed slender leeks and lapped with a chive velouté and other languid herbs is beautifully executed and an ideal foil for the wine. The manner in which handmade linguine topped with fresh black truffle and a Parmesan and garlic emulsion resembles a loose skein of slippery wool points to true cheffy ability.”
Chef Stevie Parle’s Italian restaurant Palatino is sure footed and suave, according to the Telegraph’s Keith Miller.
“Decor is on the butch side, a sort of Nineties warehouse chic – we looked around in vain for scheming politicos. A yellow and grey colour scheme seemed to have been worked out in collaboration with a café and another restaurant across the street. At Palatino it was prettily completed by little narcissus bulbs in pots on tables and windowsills.
“We ate extremely well. In his younger days, Stevie worked at the River Café, and something of that restaurant’s sure judgment and absolute clarity, its strange alchemical blend of austerity and luxury, was in evidence here – for about half the price. Simple things were done well: crispy battered sage leaves with an off-dry wine vinegar; a crudo of salt cod with cubes of blood orange,” he says.
“For my secondo, I had an old-school trattoria staple, saltimbocca alla romana. This was a world away from the floury sauces and shoelike meat with which we’ve all been confronted, even in Italy. The veal, ham and sage were “stitched” together with a stripped twig of rosemary, whose resinous flavour worked perfectly with the sweet meat and a simple marsala reduction.”
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon heads to Franks in West Malling, Kent, on the back of a reader recommendation to find gut-busting portions of mussels.
“Frank’s deals primarily in seafood, but there are other options. To start I had breaded brie. It was a luscious, rich conglomerate of hot melting goo. I also tried the whitebait. Nice enough, but not up there with the whitebait they do at a pub down the road from me, Three Daws, in Gravesend: a half-pint glass rammed with delicious crispy slivers of silver.
“For mains, the house speciality is mussels. You can choose from no fewer than 20 different sauces. Green Thai; goat’s cheese and honey; A Night in India (curry sauce, with onion and chilli); Bloody Mary… I liked the sound of number 11, the blue cheese, wine, cream and bacon, and ordered it. ‘Perfect!’ said the waitress.
“My Lord, though, there was a lot of it. Practically a cauldron of the stuff, full to groaning. But then, that was true of more or less every dish at Frank’s – they were all big, hefty, gut-busting portions.”
The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent reviews Radio Alice in Hoxton Square, but says it takes the fun out of pizza.
“It should be noted at this point that Radio Alice is a nice enough place to sit. There’s plenty of space for family groups and it’s lovely for children. Staff serve Italian organic wines grown by Libera Terra, a charity turning reclaimed Mafia land into sustainable farms. A carafe of Rosso Eretici is £13. They’ll do you a bourbon vanilla ice-cream affogato. A recording of the original Italian pirate station Radio Alice plays merrily in the bathrooms. Service is friendly. But gosh, it takes the fun out of pizza. And the picollo section of the menu is just puzzling. ‘From village to village in search of romantic ingredients,’ it reads, dreamily. But then a plate of speck arrives scattered with those unsightly dry, packet apricots one eats while hoping to dupe the body into enjoying them more than Ferrero Rocher. A plate of fennel appears strewn with one of my Room 101 foodstuffs: walnuts from a jar.”
Tom Chesshyre of the Times is impressed by the sympathetic transformation of the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority into the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square, London, but says the prices are sky-high and it lacks a little pizzazz.
“This high-class hotel, the latest in the Four Seasons empire, opened last week, along with a restaurant overseen by the three Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic. A private members’ club will open in the old walnut-panelled former executive offices in March, and a spa and Asian restaurant will follow in April. Rooms are plush and have a slick business-travel feel. The cheapest are the superior rooms, which are a decent size, with king-size beds, top-quality linen and marble bathrooms with walk-in showers (from £344).
“Pic’s menu, executed by the Italian chef Luca Piscazzi, is first-rate and bound to pick up Michelin stars soon. Scottish langoustine, Cornish crab, Brittany pigeon and venison with foie gras all feature. My pasta parcels starter was delicious and beautifully presented with smoked pélardon cheese, wild mushrooms and black truffle. My main course of chicken marinated in saké for 24 hours, and served with razor clams and cabbage, zinged with flavour, while the lemon confit and bergamot mousse was a piece of art, with sharp flavours that blended with sugary shortbread.”
Everything at No 15 Great Pulteney in Bath is presented with great imagination – even the loos, says Fiona Duncan of the Sunday Telegraph.
“It’s all rather spicy for Bath, in a light-hearted and playful way. It’s certainly a change from the Salvation Army temperance hotel it became after the Second World War. What really distinguishes the place is its quirky looks, its magnificent attention to detail and its engaging collections. And chandeliers: one is made of old gramophone horns; another of hundreds of donated lone pendant earrings. I could have contributed to that, big time. Not so sure about the tricksy reception, hidden behind a dolls house façade.
“Ian Taylor has decorated some of the 22 (soon to be 40) bedrooms, including the top-floor Artists’ rooms, each featuring a mural by a young local artist. He is also responsible for the hotel’s unusual collections: kaleidoscopes, evening bags, shells, mini Toby jugs, jewellery, and more. There are readable books too. And check out the Ladies and Gents – fabulous.”
Liz Boulter of the Guardian checks into Timbrell’s Yard in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, a stylish revamp of an old pub where the food is a bit hit and miss.
“In our room, the palette is elegant greys, from bedspread to desk chair, patterned blinds and bathroom tiles, but furry cushions and vintage bits (trunk, dressmaker’s mannequin) stop it being sombre. Nipping to the loo, I’m impressed with the smellies – clary sage and lemongrass handwash, grapefruit and lavender hand cream.
“The kitchen is overseen by River Cottage graduate Tom Blake, so our expectations are high, and are met with some great hits, and a few misses. Husband’s starter of hake ceviche with beans and pea shoots is fresh, delicate and a delight to eat, as are chorizo sausage rolls with slaw from the “little things” section. The expertise seems to lean meatwards: my slow-cooked belly pork is masterly (I’ve eaten a lot of examples), perfect with black cabbage salsa; and friend’s shin beef in garlic and soy is melting and darkly unctuous. But the flavour of husband’s pollack is lost amid dukkah coating and spicy cauliflower couscous, and much of the flavour in other friend’s fish stew is just lost.”