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Smokestak

After his own failed attempts at barbecuing, Giles Coren of the Times recommends simply going to either Rök or Smokestak, rather than attempting it yourself.

If you’re looking for barbecuing advice from me, I say this: go to Rök or Smokestak.

At the former, in a small Victorian building in Shoreditch that is spookily dwarfed by the empty spaces of the vast towers soon to be erected all around it, you will find possibly the only Swedish barbecue in London. It is odourless, white-washed and woody in a Scandi-meets-hipster way and its new summer menu is quite delightful.

Little scotch quail’s eggs of beef and pepperoni are rich and porky with pungent parsley mayo; perfect hot alder-smoked salmon is served on a sweetish salad of charred broccoli, quinoa and seeds; a wedge of Iceberg under ansjovis mayo and crispy onions has a pleasingly Burger Kingy tang to it and a salad of heirloom tomatoes is at perfect ripeness…with crayfish skagen (a more refined, Nordic version of a prawn cocktail).

With all that inside me, I nipped round the corner for a crack at Smokestak, a permanent home for the barbecue genius David Carter, who plied his incredible trade previously at the streetfood meccas Dalston Yard, Hawker House and Dinerama (in which I have a small financial interest though they don’t let me near the cooking).

And then comes black crockery and you’re thinking, “Oh come on, be serious.” But then you taste the delicate sliced raw sea bream with grapefruit and fiery jalapeño on it and you think, “Ah, you ARE serious!”

Then Carter’s famous brisket with a tangle of pickled red chilli slices. The best in the world: two strips, blackened at the rim, with a sugary snap to it and yet every cell retaining its fat so no dryness at all – that perfect balance that almost no barbecue joints or middle-aged men at their Cotswolds barns ever manage to get right.

Rök is good but Smokestak is great, truly great and a wondrous thing to have found. Because this stuff, as I believe I might have already said, is not easy to do.


Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian finds the perfect Spanish tortilla at Arbequina in Oxford.

To Oxford, where I’ve long since given up trying to get a table at wildly oversubscribed Oli’s Thai, prompted by news that its owner Rufus Thurston has teamed up with Ben Whyles of former east Oxford stalwart Door 74, and opened a tapas joint, Arbequina.

The long, thin room, the handful of wooden stool-fringed rough tables, the bar for dining, the tiles. And then – goodness – the menu: the short, typed list, the bread basket complete with picos and oily flatbread, the shallow earthenware dish with its little heaps of seasalt, sumac, smoked paprika and dukkah. Then the dead giveaway: beetroot borani. We’re only in bloody Morito on Exmouth Market, London, transported to the colourful Cowley Road.

Arbequina’s [tortilla[ stands proud on the counter, inches thick, to be cut into oozing, room-temperature wedges. It’s perfect, too: blistered exterior, alluringly sloppy interior, the potatoes collapsing among properly caramelised onions that have been enhanced, I think, by a touch of wild garlic. Or vast, smoky red prawns, so huge they’re in danger of being mistaken for lobsters, served simply with grilled lemon and homemade allioli. Or sea bass of burnished, crisp skin on a tangle of wilted fennel and a mulch of sweet red piquillo peppers.

So, yeah. It’s a lot like Morito. But then, Morito owes a debt to Barrafina, which, in turn, is a homage to Barcelona’s Cal Pep. Similarly, Chakoo in Glasgow seems to have nicked its entire identity from Dishoom, which is quite upfront about trying to recreate a Bombay-Irani cafe. Paesan copied Polpo word for word, but Polpo is a hat-tip to the bacari of Venice. It’s the circle of restaurant life.


Zobler’s Delicatessen

Creating a New York-style Jewish deli in an old bank in London is a big ask – and Zobler’s Delicatessen in the Ned pulls it off, writes Jay Rayner in the Observer.

At Zobler’s Deli I got excited about a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup. This is proof of either the soup’s brilliance or my low expectations. In truth, it was both. Zobler’s is located inside the newly opened Ned, the deep-varnished, brass and parqueted hotel in the City of London. It’s a £200m collaboration between club operators The Soho House group and hotel specialists Sydell, and occupies the Lutyens-designed former Midland Bank HQ. I was once a Midland customer. Now my bank is dispensing chicken soup. This is progress.

The broth is deep and insistent, and bellows of a chicken sacrificed to a noble cause. There are soft, sweet vegetables and, in the middle, a large matzo ball of ineffable lightness which is nothing like the ones my grandmother made, because she was a lousy cook. Follow that with a quarter of their crisp-skinned roast chicken, stuffed with challah, schmaltz – that’s chicken fat; do keep up – and onions, with gravy and salad. It costs £6. That’s a serious meal inside the Ned, for less than a tenner. It’s life-affirming food. It’s the sort of food that reminds you to laugh in the face of quinoa, often.


Laura Freeman reviews Francesco Mazzei’s Radici in London Islington for the Sunday Times.

Charred mackerel with fregola and pickle is a slim, silver cut of fish with a bright mescolanza of pickled peppers, fagioli verdi, caper berries and sultanas (raisins, not concubines). The fregola is springy, al dente and sweet.

We order primi of seafood fettuccine and taglierini, fagioli and pancetta, then swap bowls halfway through. Both sauces are rich and spicy; real shirt-splashers. The kitchen rolls its own egg pasta and our ribbons are delicious, moreish, sunny with yolk. I pity the gluten-free martyrs.

The bandit has calf’s liver involtino, which arrives with a flaming sprig of rosemary tucked into the roll, fragrant and shedding ash on the plate. I have roast king prawns salmoriglio. The prawns are pink, honeyed and buxom, served with watercress, samphire and sea herbs. Circe might have picked such things for her sorcery.

There is a saying in Calabria that on saint’s days and feast days, “Si mangia per devozione” — you eat as mark of devotion. At supper that night, we worshipped well.


Hervé Durochat has opened Pique-Nique in a long-empty building in Tanner Street Park in Bermondsey. Long may he stay, says Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard.

A deep-fried croquette, a perfect sphere with a thin bone used for the “stalk” of the bonbon, is up first, then a scoop of creamy chicken liver pâté, a chance to make use of the excellent in-house breads — baguettes and loaves — but following that the only disappointment in the look-at-the-many-things-you-can-do-with-a-chicken spread; consommé that looks to have been bolstered with Marmite or beefed up with Bovril. Compensation lies in a skewer of sautéed peppered giblets astride the cup but the home cook in me grieves for the limpid, luminous stock winking with eyes of fat that all those carcasses could have, should have, produced.

Happiness is fully restored by a skin-on slice of chicken breast with creamy morel-studded sauce and a pile of incredibly rich, smooth-as-silk potato purée seemingly made with the Joel Robuchon recipe — almost as much butter as spud — in mind.

Bresse chickens have an athletic build and — having ranged wide and free in their stipulated 10 square metres per bird — well-developed thigh muscles. These come helpfully sliced, drenched in jus and served with a frilly green salad.

The desserts — a soufflé with a spoon of ice cream and a jug of fruit purée for pouring, a chocolate moelleux and a tart — the same for both meals with variations such as blueberry sauce one day, apricot another, are executed precisely and delectably.


HOTELS

For a stylish, but inexpensive, stay in Liverpool, Tom Chesshyre of the Times recommends the Nadler, located in a former cork warehouse near Albert Dock.

[The rooms have]got the look of mini Manhattan apartments, with brick walls and splashes of modern art. Carpets are charcoal grey, curtains are a shade of jade and each room has comfy leather armchairs and kitchenettes with microwaves and fridges. You can stock the latter with ordered supplies (you simply pay whatever the items cost from local shops).

Bathrooms have good showers and Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. Beds are wide — the emphasis is on a good night’s sleep. The cheapest rooms, standard doubles, cost from £69 a night and are a reasonable size for that price. Thirteen rooms on the top floor have exposed beams and a lovely tucked-away feel with good cityscape views through skylights (from £89).