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Stoke-House

You’d have to pitchfork the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin to get here near Stoke House, the new restaurant from Will Ricker in London Victoria, again.

“An updated rework of the great British carvery” is what we’re promised from [Stoke House] owner Will Ricker (E&O and other noughties pseudo-Asian sleb magnets), and – with the exception of a heavy emphasis on the smoker and some imaginative and rather delicious salads (sweet potato with chilli; a butch red cabbage coleslaw; fat Israeli-style couscous with roast veg) – the, uh, joys of a British carvery are what we get. The short ribs are fibrous and taste of yesterday’s roast dinner, despite a modish flourish of pickled red onion and chilli; the chicken is cotton-woolly with no sign of the promised embrace of smoke; “smoked” cauliflower cheese, too (“bit on the side”: how very Travelodge), served in a dinky copper saucepan and pleasingly cheesy, is unsmoky.

Salmon comes as pallid, morose and wanly pink as an unwilling bridesmaid.
The music is deafening, the place full to the rafters: my hell doesn’t seem to be other people’s. The menu makes a song and dance about being “pocket-friendly”, but we manage, with two cocktails each, no wine and no dessert, to ramp up more than a ton of a bill. The staff are lovely despite it being open from breakfast to fall-down; the cocktails are decent. Ach, who am I kidding? To get me near the place again, I’d need to be pitchforked.


The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler believes the team behind Bao have another hit on their hands with Taiwanese restaurant Xu in London’s Soho.

Clean eaters should be aware that mian shi refers to items based on wheat flour — toast, dumplings, pancakes and the like. For those of us willing to dance with the devil, Gold Coin, a tiny spring- onion pancake topped with foie gras terrine and a shiny bonnet of goji berry and Shaoxing wine jelly is rewarding, but beef pancake, where short rib and bone marrow topped with crunchy potato crumbs are offered with cunningly cut cucumber and spring onions and also a tangle of chilli-spiked root vegetable pickle, is something else — although the pancakes would have been livelier cooked or heated to order.

I had heard that shou pa chicken — one of the two Classics on the menu —would be served whole, head on, and with gloves to enable tearing it apart. It arrives pre-torn, white and dark meat separated like a Chinese interpretation of the old English pulled and devilled approach to poultry, dressed with finely chopped ginger-imbued spring onion. Choosing between this and char sui Iberico pork, the other classic, both at £18.50, is impossible due to the lusciousness of the pork, not so much the badly made bed of leeks beneath. Just go as a four, secure one of the mah-jong rooms and have both. And if there is a vegetarian or a student of textures in your midst add on Xu’s mapo tofu, where the adjective silken is made manifest.



Pony Trap

Writing in the Telegraph, Matthew Bayley is seduced by the robust flavours derived from the local produce prepared by Josh Eggleton at the Pony and Trap in Bristol.

From the snack menu, we ate crunchy Scotch (quail’s) eggs with brown sauce – a full English in one bite. Delicate slices of lamb ham had a deep, meaty aftertaste, and a sharp vinaigrette livened up luxurious beef tartare on a mini Yorkshire pudding.

For starters, plump, sweet mussels were bathed in cream and local cider, and dressed with fronds of samphire; then there was that pigeon – earthy, gummy, deep brown and irresistibly plate-lick-worthy. My seven-year-old son – a fan of The BFG – declared his main of ham, egg and chips (the luscious slab of meat accompanied by a light piccalilli) ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’, while my daughter’s fish and chips (grilled hake) disappeared faster than a chocolate frog on the Hogwarts Express.

A well-aged pork chop came thick and juicy with Christmassy spiced apples, celeriac and a light black pudding. And, to my childish delight, the whole lemon sole lifted away from the bone in cartoon fashion, the fish beautifully cooked, firm and moist.

I was left to wonder: which two gastropubs are better than this? And can the Telegraph send me to them too?


Giles Coren would either have refused to pay or got into a massive fight at Ginza Onodera in London SW1 had he been required to spend his own money on a disappointing meal, he writes in the Times.

After two decent cocktails (at £17 a pop) it was mostly downhill. There was a yellowtail carpaccio special (£15) that they kind of forced on us and brought very quickly, and which was drenched in truffle oil that stank the place out, and a seaweed salad (£15) with far too much fresh tofu and not enough acidity in the dressing. It wasn’t quite inedible, but wasn’t a patch on the one at my local, Jin Kichi opposite Hampstead Tube station.

Nor was the 12-piece sushi plate at £50. It was better than Pret or one of those conveyor belt places but it was not beautifully plated, just plonked in a row like a police line-up of guilty fish. There was not enough wasabi, they overfilled my little soy bowl and the o-toro (which they called “very marbled tuna”) had a sinew running right through it that I had to pull out mid-chew. You wouldn’t get that from a train platform sushi counter in Tokyo, let alone a restaurant with airs and graces.

My bill was £276.75, which would have been fine for a great Japanese meal but was just stupid for this loveless dross. If I were a normal person, paying with my own money, I would either have been really miserable or refused to pay and got into a massive fight.


The food is excellent, but it’s a shame about the wine, according to Jay Rayner reviewing Westerns Laundry, London N5, in the Observer.

Yeah, I know; I keep banging on about this. One day I might look back at the summer of 2017 as the time when ideologically driven wine heads kept writing overpriced lists in the service of some bizarre ideology, and I might even feel nostalgic. But with Westerns Laundry the problem is particularly acute. The food – small sharing plates, a bit of British, a touch of Spanish – is bright and light, well-executed and well-priced. Small plates are £7 or so; the most expensive dish, a substantial piece of turbot, is £19. And then along comes the wine list, to make it just that bit more expensive both than it deserves to be and you want it to be. “That’s why we serve everything by the glass,” the waiter said, cheerfully. How generous of you. We might have priced you out of a whole bottle, but you can still have a glass. Cheers.

There are ice creams and chocolatey things to finish, but our eyes are drawn to a rum baba to share. It is a promise delivered: all blousy, syrup-soaked sponge, and sticky, macerated golden raisins. On the side is a pot of chilled Chantilly cream full of vanilla pod, a cool breeze at the end of a long night. Westerns Laundry is a class act: a smart, skilled kitchen with some tables attached. I won’t repeat the issues with the wine, save to say: if you want to drink, best open a bottle at home first.


 

Pike-Pine

Lisa Markwell reviews Matt Gillan’s Pike & Pine in Brighton in the Sunday Times.

A meltingly soft duck leg comes strewn with Jerusalem artichoke crisps, a rich, earthy purée, shards of apricot and crunches of gorgeous green pistachios. Slippery smoked trout is all dressed up with beetroot slices as thin as tissue paper, a luscious beetroot sorbet, gel dots and wisps of chocolate.

Less successful is a love letter to the allium — roasted onion with pickled onion rings and Thai shallots, all liberally strewn with chives. That’s quite a lot of tang for any palate and is not tempered by anything soothing.

Yes, there are some misfires — and it’s the job of a critic to point them out — but he’s on the right track and has what looks like a loyal, equally ambitious young brigade behind (or in this case in front of) him; plus, from the warmth and volume reverberating around the room, the support of Brighton’s diners.


 

Maple-King's

As far as wellness places go, Adria Wu’s Maple & King’s at London King’s Cross is about as good as it gets, says the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent

At lunch, there are half a dozen good, ambitious salads, like the Bi Bim Bap which is shredded carrots, courgette, mushrooms, pickled cucumber, spring onions, toasted sesame seeds, red and brown rice, and spicy Korean gochujang dressing. The Miso Healthy comes packed with vermicelli noodles and a miso star anise dressing. The Mexican Stand-off is a glorious bowl of bulgur wheat with black beans and a coriander-lime dressing. Choose a salad then add a protein, if one desires, such as tahini chicken, halloumi with herbs, poached eggs or five-spiced tofu. There’s a soup called Take My Broth Away and myriad cold-pressed juices with things like ‘anti-inflammatory’ and ‘detoxifying’ written beside them as their ostensible aim.

The maple chia porridge with toasted walnuts was sweet, stodgy wonderfulness. I enjoyed it too much for it to be healthy… The dark chocolate, gluten-free brownie was perilously good. Rich and packed with salted caramel…

Maple & King’s is rather lovely. Its wellness schtick will annoy the hell out of many and befuddle passing tourists but that’s why London is brilliant. Even our salads rip up the rule book.


Head-of-the-river

Fabulous views and excellent rooms at the Head of the River, a pub in Oxford, are let down by erratic service, says Tom Chesshyre of the Times.

This Fuller’s pub has recently had a revamp, with public areas and rooms spruced up and eight rooms added where staff accommodation used to be at the back. The main 19th-century building was originally a warehouse for a boatyard with a wharf believed to date from the early 17th century. [The bedrooms are] smart and stylish, with retro chrome lights, good Marshall digital radios, velveteen chairs and great views of the river (from some).

Pub classics, such as pies, burgers and fish and chips, feature on the menu, which also has sharing platters of charcuterie, olives, hummus and smoked salmon. My starter of grilled sardines (slightly overcooked and rather rubbery) came with a spicy paprika sauce, but my main course made up for this disappointment: a fine plate of roast chicken with a salad of chunky heritage tomato, courgette and aubergine. The brownie with vanilla ice cream and a sprig of mint was delicious. Service, however, was a touch slow.