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Westerns Laundry

“I can state plainly that this was one of 2017’s greatest dinners” says Grace Dent of the Evening Standard about Westerns Laundry, Holloway.

What Westerns Laundry is in truth is pure joy. A spacious, industrial yet warmly elegant room, hiding behind birch trees on a residential strip in N5.

It was a balmy Friday, the room was open-fronted and the service warm. The kitchen buzzed with bright young chefs and the blackboard menu spoke of lobster fideuà, cockles with fennel tops, sardines, Marie Rose langoustines and chargrilled leeks. It’s one of those places I felt instantly at home, shoes dispatched under the table, hair down and a glass of Veneto Frizzante Garg’n’Go in hand. I’m not a holistic, bio-wine, grit in the glass evangelist by any shout, but I’m willing to sample anything offered to me with enthusiasm.

With regards to chef David Gingell’s food, I can state plainly that this was one of 2017’s greatest dinners. His cuttlefish croquettes were good at an obscene, semi-evil level. Hot, crisp, prettily noir with a sucker punch of the sea. Some simple grilled mackerel appeared in a slick of miso, chilli and spring onion alongside a plate of first rate paleta ibérico. For a week afterwards I pondered the splendour of the turbot, served in a soupy semi-stew of ginger and seaweed.

This is how cooking is supposed to be when restaurateurs declare they’ll just be cooking what’s fresh that day. So often this transpires to be baloney but at Westerns Laundry it is deliciously dogmatic.

So many places wax lyrically about being fresh and remarkable. This one actually is.


Bilson Eleven, Glasgow: “The pole-up-jacksie staff robotically recite every component of every dish with the animation and charm of a Theresa May interview” says Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian.

How dare I? How dare I be critical about a small, new indie restaurant, its name an elision of the chef/owner’s two sons (and the number of tables they, er, used to have)? I usually don’t dare: these are the reviews I hate to write, so I spend an uncomfortable first few courses of Bilson Eleven’s £49 tasting menu frantically trying to look on the bright side, make allowances.

Chicken liver parfait isn’t awful, just odd: over-boozed, sweet with quince, its near-liquid nature not conducive to being eaten with a fork, despite crumbs of crisped chicken skin, chunks of brioche and tiny dice of chicken mousseline, pointless in its creamy egg-white blandness.

But there are also monstrosities: a mushy great slab of sous-vided monkfish is crusted with peanuts and assaulted by two sugary sauces, one of caramelised cauliflower and one of mulched-up raisins. What. Were. They. Thinking? It’s so clunky, so cloth-palated – super-sweet and murky, then the peanuts – that I can’t eat more than a forkful.

But what really tips me into writing this place up, rather than chalking it down to experience, is the arse-clenching pretension of it all. This lot, with their “edgy” Dennistoun location in an 1850s town house five minutes from the city centre, their crooked-pinkie, waxed-moustache, silk-waistcoated, tartan-carpeted perjink-ness, seem to think they’re here not so much to cook dinner as épater la bourgeoisie. The wee lounge upstairs, with its fugly overstuffed leather sofas in which you’re invited to peruse the menu; the uninspiring winelist; the Magic FM-style soundtrack: I remain un-épater-ed.


the Cat’s Pyjamas

Indian street food and craft beer at the Cat’s Pyjamas in Leeds is a winning pair, writes Jay Rayner in the Observer.

The kitchen is housed in a faux shack of corrugated iron jutting into the room like it’s a Mumbai caff, and is pretty much open. You can see the cooks doing their thing. But there’s no doubting this is a high-volume operation. It opens at 5pm and is quickly half full. That explains the bargain price of just £10.95 for a whole sea bream. It is slicked with a pulp of lemongrass and chilli, ginger and lime bashed into its slashed skin, then given a roasting in one of the tandoors. The skin is bubbled and blackened, but salty and powerful. Beneath is the white flesh, ready to fall from the bone. On the side is a salad, heavy with diced red onion. Eat here with a friend.

Pani puri, six for £4.50, are crisp, hollow, deep-fried bowls, enough for a mouthful, even mine. They are filled with spiced potato, onion and tamarind chutney, and the gaudiness of pomegranate seeds. They are extremely pretty, as if auditioning for the part of an earth mother’s costume jewellery. Into the spiced dipping sauce on the side then into your mouth whole; there’s no other way. The puri swiftly collapse, giving up the soft filling and with it a memory, of the brilliant ones served at the long-gone and much-missed Kastoori of Tooting. This is high praise.

A tandoori mixed grill for £6.95 is striking for its stridency. The hefty prawns and the chicken are still very much themselves, but the marinade, blast-roasted to crispiness, has a serious kick to it, which makes you blink, likewise the minced lamb kebabs – the meat dotted with fresh red chilli.

If they can keep the standards up, most high streets would be happy to have one of these.


Nick Findley of the Bournemouth Daily Echo reviews the Cottonwood Boutique Hotel, Bournemouth: good food that won’t break the bank.

Until now, the Cottonwood Boutique Hotel has been renowned for its rather lively decor and outrageously decadent all you can eat chocolate buffets. What’s not so well known about this art deco style hotel on Bournemouth’s East Cliff, is the ground-floor Garden Restaurant.

There’s plenty of choice on the ‘Dinner table D’hote’ menu – six starters and six desserts and at least nine options for mains. For starters I chose the mackerel fillet which had been skinned, sliced in half and was presented with a smudge of basil flavoured mayonnaise, mixed salad leaves and a smattering of crispy capers. Not a complicated ensemble, but the ingredients were good quality and it was well presented.

Meanwhile my husband was dipping into his tomato soup which looked thick and creamy and came with slices of crusty bread.

For mains I went for the catch of the day which was a trio of sea bass, salmon and plaice nestled on a pea puree with cubed sweet potatoes, plenty of chargrilled vegetables on the side and sprinkled with red amaranth which added a vibrant colour and an earthy flavour.

Each dish was elegant in presentation and included all the little finishing touches. So if you’re looking for a good place to eat out during the week that won’t break the bank (and your bored of beige!) then this must be one of the best deals in town at the moment.


Assagi

Giles Coren of the Times reviews Assaggi, Notting Hill and finds that he is older than most of the diners in the restaurant.

For a long time, I believed that Assaggi in Notting Hill was the best restaurant in London. Because that was what everybody told me.

And then a couple of years ago I heard it had closed. Which I thought was odd, seeing as it was the best restaurant in London. But then Assaggi reopened.

The new downstairs pizza restaurant was fully staffed but completely empty on a warm Thursday evening at 8pm. No appetite for casual pizza round here, it seems. Upstairs in the famous old dining room – which is unchanged, with its orange walls and monochromatic modernist art – there were some people. But not as many as there used to be. And they are older than they were.

The food that followed was okay. I had grilled fresh pecorino with rocket and San Daniele (£15.90), which I was directed to wrap in the flatbread provided. Quite jolly. Katherine’s stuffed courgette flowers (£14.90) were very deep-fried, all brown and crispy like spring rolls down the chippy. Esther liked her three scallops (£16.90) with pea purée and bacon, but found her piece of turbot (“Fish of the day” at £31), which ought to be a mild, meaty fish, to be a bit sloppy and fishy, served on quite tough vegetables, with nothing of interest (like a caper or two) to lift it.


Writing in the Evening Standard Fay Maschler comes over all nostalgic for Jacob Kenedy’s Louisiana-style restaurant Plaquemine Lock in north London.

From the sad but possibly authentically named Snacketisers I like very much the vigorous seasoning and combative texture of smoked pork boudin but want it sizzling hot. The okra pickle alongside is a work of genius since it has no slime or slither in the texture.

Cornmeal-dusted fried okra served with blue cheese ranch dressing is also dry — and crisp. Mini crab cakes at £12 for three are made more special by a paprika piquant mayo — could it be Bob’s Big Boy Sauce? — and soft lettuce leaves to use as wrap. We debate whether we would be happy to have more filler — as you would get in the States — and thus more crab cakes for your money, and decide we would.

Mix Six refers to cooked oysters. For £20 you get two each of Link with sausage meat, Rockefella with absinthe creamed spinach and brochette, where the mollusc is encased in batter, a seductive dish to share. Eggs Sardou, first served at Antoine’s in New Orleans, is the gifted notion of poached egg on a large artichoke heart spread with creamed spinach topped with Hollandaise. Here a second egg sails on grilled cornbread so fine it feels like brioche. “I’ll come back once a week for those with a Creole Bloody Mary,” says my chum.

Shrimp ’n’ grits, the cornmeal enriched with bacon and butter, is a delectable constant, blackened sweetbreads with shrimp, grits and browned butter is a special of the day, so you just have to hope it is the day you go.


Tamarind in London’s Mayfair comes close to resetting the Telegraph’s Matthew Bayley’s view of Indian eating experiences, though just falls short of complete conversion.

Stepping inside, I was instantly hit with the heady scent of fragrant spices; there is dark wood and deep-blue paint on the walls, which, speckled with refracted light, have the appearance of a peacock’s plumage – a firm reminder that I was not in flock-wallpaper country any more.

Dinner started brightly: light shards of poppadom – the texture more like that of a prawn cracker – arrived in a wooden box, accompanied by an intense tomato and garlic dip that had us fighting for the last drop.

From the starters, the game platter featured the best part of the meal – tiny quail legs encrusted with a thick twang of spice and heat. But both the guinea fowl and the duck that accompanied it were a little dry, and the vermicelli, sitting underneath the (mostly orange) meat, was trying not to be noticed.

From the mains, the Alleppy fish curry, made with meaty tilapia, was fragrant with the subtle spices and coconut milk of Keralan backwaters. Hyderabadi lamb shank was a Fred Flintstone-sized hunk of meat that looked tremendous when it arrived and possessed a slowly cooked tenderness that I’ve rarely encountered.

I thought being able to cut meat with a spoon was just a phrase. This came apart so easily that at one point a whole wedge fell off in front of me unprompted, like the collapse of a Jurassic Coast cliff.


HOTELS

Barnsley

Tom Chesshyre of the Times is wowed by the stunning garden, elegant bedrooms, good food and excellent spa at Barnsley House in Barnsley, Gloucestershire.

It is wonderful to lose yourself in the garden of Barnsley House, especially on a sunlit summer’s day. Avenues of lime trees lead to hidden corners overflowing with beds of purple and yellow flowers. Yew trees shaped like flying saucers line up along flagstone paths that disappear into sections with ornamental box hedges and well-tended kitchen gardens. Much of the hotel’s produce comes from here (70 per cent in summer).

Barnsley, in a tiny village of the same name, is an 18-room spa hotel in a country house dating from 1697. It has been a hotel since 2003 and was bought by Calcot Hotels in 2009. Since then many improvements have been introduced, including a recent revamp of public areas, the stable rooms and suites overseen by the designers Caroline Todhunter and Nicky Farquhar.

[The bedrooms] are elegant and tasteful — neutral shades, velvet armchairs and well-selected art — yet ultra-modern, with rainforest showers, espresso machines, satellite televisions and good wifi. The six stable rooms are something else, spread out over two levels with lounges or bathrooms on the mezzanine floor (from £280 B&B).

The garden and old house are brilliant, rooms are comfortable and the food is good, but room rates are high at weekends.