The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin has to restrain herself from licking the plate at Bar Douro, London
“I’m just off the plane from Lisbon when I find myself (with some difficulty: it’s hidden away in Bankside’s new Flat Iron Square complex) in Bar Douro. Portuguese is one of the most under-rated cuisines, dismissed by many as an endless array of stringy piri-piri chicken and salty, swampy stews reeking of too much coriander.
“Proper Portuguese restaurants over here are few and far between (at time of writing, the wretched Tripadvisor’s top 20 Portuguese restaurants in the capital features 11 branches of Nando’s). Fair to say, I’m not brimming with hope about Bar Douro. But – spoiler! – it’s a little star: excellent produce, beautifully cooked in an azulejos-tiled room with barstools-only dining around an open kitchen and served at curvaceous marble counters. There isn’t a duffer among our choices: not dense, homemade bread stuffed with pimento-rich chouriço; nor a muscular octopus tentacle, its suckers charred, its interior snowy, lolling on a bed of suave sweet potato purée; nor crisp croquetes of alheira, a pungent, fatty and garlicky pork-free smoked sausage of Jewish origin, blobbed with lemon-laced mayonnaise.”
The food at Market Bistro in King’s Lynn is all perfectly Instagrammable and a fine example of the modern chef’s art, according to the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon.
“The menu featured lots of local ingredients. I ordered Norfolk lomo, Norfolk quail, and Sandringham Red Poll beef. Before any of those arrived, though, out came a complimentary amuse-bouche: pickled rhubarb with goat’s curd and rhubarb gel on sourdough crispbread.
“The Norfolk lomo… looked like the pull bow on top of a Christmas present. Slightly more conventional-looking was the quail. It tasted delicious, although it was so frail and delicate that it was hard to help feeling a twinge of guilt about eating it. On to the beef, with carrot, potato purée and cavolo nero, and a side of creamed-leek and white-truffle gratin. The beef was beautifully tender, the potato purée a light little cloud of moisture, and the gratin thumpingly satisfying.”
StreetXO in London W1 is a foreign knockoff serving puerile, out-of-date comedy dishes in a cheesy Swiss nightclub environment, says the Times’s Giles Coren.
“The critical establishment has been very snooty about StreetXO since it opened at the end of last year, so I went along determined to love it.
“I gave my mate’s name to the receptionist and she walked me down to the bar. There was Jim, drinking a cocktail and … BWAAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
“Oh God, sorry. My bad. It’s just that … pfffffffhhff … It’s just that the barman was wearing a … pfffhfffhffhff … The barman was wearing a STRAITJACKET!!! Mwaaaahahahahahahahaaaa!!!!
“And so were all the other staff. Dozens of them. All wearing straitjackets.
“My mate Jim pointed out the silhouette of a man with a mohican, picked out on the double doors at the back of the kitchen, and said, “I think that is the chef, this guy, David Muñoz,” he said.
“He’s got a mohican?”
“Yes. Don’t you do any research? He’s got a mohican and a big personality and makes a big thing out of being ‘crazy’.”
“God, how depressing. How incredibly 2003.”
Okay, okay, the place is terrible. I’m not even finishing that pasta thing on its big black plate with smeary stains all over it. But I’d best try one of these famous croquettes of kimchi, sheep’s milk, red tuna, bottarga and lapsang souchong, which may sound disgusting but look harmless enough, all round and golden with a little chopped chive on top and can be eaten in one mouthf… Bleuurrrrggghhhh!
StreetXO is exactly what I feared and displays all the flaws that initially persuaded me to ignore it. It is an overreaching foreign knockoff serving puerile and out-of-date comedy dishes in a cheesy Swiss nightclub environment with staff dressed up so stupidly that it is impossible to have any respect for them or for yourself in the moment of being served by them.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Lisa Hilton describes Lorne in London Victoria as “a very good restaurant in a very bad location”
“Lorne’s unvarnished approach continues in the menu, which groups ingredients without description, a practice that has caught on since being introduced at Noma in Copenhagen.
“Quail, yam, barley” could be the title of a Van Gogh — the technique’s allure relies on a collusion between the customer’s imagination and the dexterity of the chef. Luckily for Lorne, [Peter] Hall is a magnificent cook. A special starter was veal sweetbread with mushrooms, delicate, dense and meltingly gorgeous, while cuttlefish with violet potatoes and a sparky bisque romesco was as charismatic as a mollusc can get.
“Main courses showed what a beautifully matched team Hall and [Katie] Exton are. Deirdre picked an Austrian Blaufränkisch to go with her hogget and my guinea fowl. The teenage lamb with cima di rapa, swede and anchovy was luxuriously dense and rich, while the fowl with boudin noir was a lesson in texture: warmly spiced, slippery blood pudding gliding over bouncy, nutty, flavourful bird. The plate was perhaps a little too much of a composition in brown, but I could have licked it anyway. Deirdre wasn’t so keen on our shared pudding, a fat slice of Yorkshire curd tart with builder’s-tea ice cream, but Swedes don’t understand the happiness of soggy pastry.”
The Observer’s Jay Rayner checks out Box-E at the Cargo 1 stack at Bristol’s Wapping Wharf
“The three mains cover the dietary needs of a Bristol dinner party: one meat, one fish, one vegetarian. The meat and fish dishes, both priced in the mid-teens, are variants on each other. Slices of onglet, a fleshy, butcher’s shop pink inside, dark and charred without, are layered with radicchio, wilted in the pan and dribbled with a powerful savoury jus. Below the meat are braised cannellini beans and then below that a salsa verde to give the whole thing power and meaning.
“The same salsa verde provides the winning harmonies on a dish of hake. In such a small kitchen, this looks less like lack of imagination than common sense. The ingredients belong together on both plates. The fish is cooked precisely and is snowfield white, its surface glazed and golden and smeared with fennel, cooked down to a cheery caramelised jam, with a big anise hit. A heap of lightly stewed black lentils plays a supporting role.”
Fiona Duncan of the Sunday Telegraph is delighted to find that the spirit of the late Imogen Skirving lives on at her favourite hotel, Langar Hall, near Nottingham.
“Whenever I am asked, and I often am, which is my favourite hotel, my answer is Langar Hall. “Where?” invariably comes the reply. I have often stayed, but this time it was with trepidation that I returned, for its charismatic owner, Imogen Skirving, is no more. Last June, she was tragically killed, aged 78, in a road accident in Menorca.
“Could Langar Hall survive the loss of Imogen? I can tell you, with joy, that it has. Indeed nothing, except for the addition of a huge anarchic black-and-white photograph of her in the hall, has changed, including the party atmosphere at night. It’s as if she’s away on one of her jaunts. Even the amusing notes she wrote about each of the charming (gracious, antique-filled, artistic, shabby-chic) bedrooms have been kept poignantly in place.
“How so? The answer lies in Imogen’s human dynamo of a 22-year-old granddaughter, Lila Arora, who has worked with Imogen since she was 17 and now runs the place with a similar zest. And it lies in the devoted, long-serving staff, who are keeping calm and carrying on. They include, crucially, maître d’hôtel and natural host – now the face of Langar Hall – Michael Addison, who started as a pot washer 23 years ago (“only the cat has been here longer”); executive chef Gary Booth; head chef Ross Jeffrey; and receptionist Grace Abbott. A new general manager, Ben Rivett, has joined the team. All will be well.”
Tom Chesshyre of the Times says staying at the 15th century Sign of the Angel in Lacock, Wiltshire – leased by the owners from the National Trust – is like stepping back in time
“[The rooms are] creaky. The floors slope. Think old wooden doors and low beams leading into rooms with ceilings about 6ft high. There are two categories of room: standard (from £120 B&B) and superior (from £140 B&B). All have antique furniture, but no televisions (which the owners feel might spoil the medieval atmosphere). Of the standard rooms, No 4 is the pick, reached via a secret door in a wood panel. Room No 3 is the best of the two superior rooms, with a sleigh bed.
“This old inn is now a restaurant with rooms, so the emphasis is very much on the food; you can’t just pop in for a drink. The menu is traditional British, with locally sourced ingredients. Starters include ham hock and leek croquette with piccalilli, with mains such as rump of lamb and roast cod. My starter of mackerel with beetroot and liquorice was salty and lemony and came scattered with crunchy oats. The main course of beef and wild mushroom wellington with fondant potatoes and red cabbage was first-rate. The ginger rice pudding with poached rhubarb was served with popping candy sprinkled on top, which had a strange but pleasant tickly effect. Service is swift and friendly. Three courses cost from about £32.