Restaurants tacked on to hotel chains can be a mixed blessing, but this fishy Brighton diner is a great catch. The Observer’s Jay Rayner takes in the sea air at Salt Room.
“Most pleasing of all is the fish soup. A bowl arrives containing a soft, long-cooked octopus tentacle, a piece of seared mackerel, a splodge of bright orange, garlicky rouille, another of coal-black squid ink and leaves of toasted seaweed. The hot fish soup, with a ripe tomato and shellfish base, is poured over the top to meet the ingredients. It becomes so very much more than itself. It’s an awful lot of excitement for £7.50.
“Main courses are just as ambitious. Monkfish comes with seaweed dumplings, clams, pickled carrots and red wine; cod is paired with lentils, devilled butter, mussels and fennel. But there is also a blackboard offering whole fish for two. These cost £55, which is a lot of anybody’s money even for a turbot. For that wedge it has to be good. The sea bass, grilled over coals, is more than that. It is a serious size, tale and head hanging shamelessly over either end of the platter. The crisp, blistered skin is seasoned with lemon, salt and pepper and demands to be eaten by itself. The sweet, pearly flesh is bang on.”
The Times’ Giles Coren visits Russian spa club Banya No 1, London N1, where, by turns, he is beaten with twigs in a sauna, before retiring to the bar to eat dumpling and drink vodka.
“You can’t smoke at Banya No 1 either, but that’s just a sign of the times. Everything else is perfect.
“We arrived, we were shown into separate changing rooms, we took off all our clothes and then walked through into a bar where other naked people were eating and drinking in booths upholstered in green leatherette.
“I took my unfiltered Latvian Cesu (delicious) and perched on the end of a bench next to some other men’s naked wives and scoffed some pickled herring, which was a little soft for my liking, and some okay smoked pork, smoked dried sausage and cheese. They greased my fingers up a little and so I looked around in vain for a napkin, then wiped them on my soggy chest hair.
“The waiter was just bringing in the pelmeni and vareniki (Russian filled dumplings) when a naked hairy giant entered and said it was my turn for a flogging…After that, I felt AMAZING and charged back into the bar for a couple of vodkas and a plateful of the pork-filled pelmeni. They were bland, heavy, piggy and absolutely delicious. I emptied a ton of them into my now very smooth belly and headed off to be exfoliated in a different way, this time with honey and salt that was rubbed hard into my body by a muscly fellow who by day, I fancied as I lay there, earns his money sanding down old furniture that he paints and sells on. He was so thorough he took both my nipples off.”
Others may have fallen by the wayside quickly but old-timer Soho restaurant Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion, London W1, is rammed when the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian visits.
“Pondering restaurant longevity, what causes it, what makes a place outlive its neighbours, I head for a Soho old-timer, the pushing-50 Vasco & Piero’s. Why is it still rammed, service after service? Eating the full four-course, lie-down-for-an-hour-afterwards blowout, I try to parse its success.
“Here’s what I come to.
“Identity: not just generic Italian, but Umbrian, a position they adopted long before lesser osterie clocked that concentrating on a specific region was a good wheeze. It wasn’t whisked up in a boardroom, it just is.
“Menu: pah to the now mandatory “regularly changing”, this one changes twice daily. It riffs delicately on treasured cliches, so insalata tricolore becomes Puglian burrata, marshmallow-light, weeping sweet cream, with a fan of avocado and a few balsamic-kissed cherry tomatoes. Umbrian touches come via hearty use of chickpeas and pulses: fine, rosy-centred seared tuna on a bed of lentils, bathed randomly and successfully with soy and ginger. And, honestly, how could you resist a flawless Toblerone semifreddo?”
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is impressed by the cooking and the surroundings at La Dame de Pic in London’s new Four Seasons hotel at 10 Trinity Square, where three-Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic has opened an offshoot of her Paris restaurant.
“Themes and memes emerge which include a predilection for the flavours of peppers, pine, citrus and anise. Exhilarating as this sounds the dishes we try, with the exception of the delectable first-course Scottish langoustine — its bouillon infused with pine tree buds and geranium — are curiously muted and consequently disappointing.
“Royal sea bream (dorade?) bears scant evidence of its marinade, which allegedly includes Tasmanian pepper and Meyer lemon and the Amabuki sake ice-cream and Petrossian caviar garnish make it seem like a woman self-consciously wearing labels rather than one just dressed well.
“Venison and foie gras fill skilfully made pithiviers (puff pastry pies) but grainy, livery foie gras dominates and although from the outside they are a thing of beauty they do not thrill as much as those made by Calum Franklin at The Holborn Dining Room. A bowl of perfectly dressed salad which I share to accompany Challans chicken marinated in sake with hispi cabbage and razor clams, Gilou lemon and sauce suprême turns out to be the most enjoyably French aspect of the meal.”
No 15 Great Pulteney Street, Bath, is eclectic and lots of fun, says Tom Chesshyre of the Times.
“The eye-grabbing lobby has a model of Big Ben, bright modern art and a giant oval-shaped antique mirror. Vintage handbags decorate a wall, shelves are stacked with old books, and a crystal chandelier draped with jewellery hangs above. It’s eclectic and lots of fun.
“The bedrooms, like the lobby, have many quirky touches, including a collection of policemen’s and soldiers’ hats in No 23, (from £320 B&B). There are chandeliers and urns in others, as well as abstract art and espresso machines in bespoke doll’s houses. Each of the ten smaller rooms on the top floor is designed by a local artist; one has a garden theme (No 2), while another includes a wall mural of a night sky (No 1).”
Liz Boulter of the Guardian enjoys a great welcome and supreme comfort at Redmayne House in Kirby Stephen, Cumbria.
“My mate Sue and I kick off our walking boots in the hall, where original tiles and stained glass are paired with muted walls and carpet, and fill the next few hours having tea and homemade Victoria sponge, taking hot showers with nice smellies, snoozing on one of the comfy beds (Sue), and relaxing in the guest sitting room, with its multifuel stove (me).
“The three-storey Georgian house, just off Kirkby Stephen’s main street, was once home to the High Sheriff of Westmorland. When Liz and Rob took over (swapping teaching jobs in the home counties for a different kind of hard work), it was already a B&B, but old-style, with in-room washbasins and shared bathrooms. They spent the best part of a year revamping, adding en suites to four spacious guest bedrooms, and insulated plasterboard on exterior walls to keep out the Cumbrian winter.”
A stay at Brimstone at Langdale, Chapel Stile, Cumbria, makes Fiona Duncan of The Sunday Telegraph wonder why shy doesn’t visit the Lake District more often
“Guess what, they even have spas in Cumbria and the one here at Brimstone is as good as – better, in terms of integrity and authenticity – most down south. There are specially devised treatments using local products, including one involving birch twigs – ouch. Surrounded by soaring hill, the new spa, unequalled in the Lakes, is perfect for a spot of post-Fell pampering.
“At Brimstone Hotel, constructed in local slate and recycled wood to resemble a ski lodge, friendly “hosts” dressed in stylish country casual uniforms look after guests in an admirable atmosphere of privacy and informality, with thoughtful touches such as complimentary pantry in the Reading Room and equipment for walkers: boots, coats, waterproofs. There’s brilliant lighting in the luxurious bedrooms, and log fires, though the rooms are too “designed” and the whole place, though undoubtedly glamorous, a bit standardised for my taste.”