Alex Harper, Bao, Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square, Harwood Arms, JKS restaurants, Kuch, Mark Jarvis, Neo Bistro, Nobu, Oddfellows on the Park, Red Rooster, Roth Bar & Grill, Skosh, The Sign of the Angel, Xu
Giles Coren of the Times is eager to see the latest creation from the teams behind Bao and JKS Restaurants at Xu in London W1 but can’t overlook some dishes that just aren’t to his taste.
Xu is one of the hottest openings of the summer, a proper book-a-table-and-sit-down restaurant at last from the visionary Taiwanese family who brought us Bao and Bao Fitzrovia, the latter of which, I have said before, serves unquestionably the tastiest food in London.
But the meal did not go well. The “mini spring onion pancake” seemed stale and bendy, like an old Ritz cracker, and the slug of fatted liver on top was greasy and inappropriate. It was like the very worst kind of parents’ evening liver sausage canapé.
Then came the chicken feet. I knew it was an edgy dish to set before a heavily pregnant girl, but I like chicken feet. In a normal Cantonese dim sum environment, they’ll be hot and spicy in a rich sauce, well cooked and falling away from teeny bones that are fun to spit out into your bowl. These were cold. As the grave. The waiter had warned me, but I still wasn’t prepared for the full horror.
We then waited rather a long time for a main course of char siu ibérico pork, but when it finally came it was delicious, hefty, marbled with golden ribbons of sleekest fat, deeply scented with its acorn diet and perfectly seasoned.
I’m sorry to have to be so hard on some of the food. This restaurant comes from people who, in my eyes, can do no wrong. I was looking forward to it immensely and have every confidence that all will come right in time. It hasn’t stopped me loving them. I hope this hasn’t stopped them loving me.
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon thinks he stood out more of the food at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Shoreditch, London, where he “looked like a Tory MP at a Stormzy gig”.
Marcus Samuelsson – who’s just brought his New York restaurant Red Rooster to London – has cooked for Barack Obama. Several times, in fact – starting with Obama’s first state dinner in 2009.
The menu is principally African-American (Samuelsson is Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised and Harlem-based). I started with the Ol’ Man Shrimp N’ Grits: a gorgeously plump prawn, bursting with juiciness, and served in a delicious lagoon of grits, broccolini, pork and wild garlic.
For my main, I had the Fried Yard Bird (chicken). No complaints about size this time – to judge by its drumsticks, the thing must have been as big as an ostrich. All the same, I’d be hard-pressed to identify anything special about it. It tasted perfectly good, but given the Red Rooster’s reputation, I was looking forward to being amazed. Maybe that’s unfair. I mean, it’s fried chicken. There are limits to what you can expect from it. It wasn’t about to do a tap dance on the table, or recite pi to 400 places.
We also ordered a main named in honour of Red Rooster’s most honoured guest: the Obama Short Ribs. The menu says it’s for two, but it could comfortably serve four. It was as huge and hefty as a quarterback’s shoulders. The meat was beautifully tender, practically swooning from the bone. I liked it, but it was so dense and filling that, if you’re going to order it, I would recommend not bothering with a starter. Or, for that matter, having the fried chicken at the same time.
For pudding, if you still have room, I’d go for the RR Red Velvet: a smooth stripy sandwich of chocolate and cream. The Summer Tartlet (rhubarb, strawberries and mousse, topped with a big pink rugby ball of ice cream) was a bit of a jumble.
The cooking at the Roth Bar & Grill at Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset gallery is, thankfully, as good as the art, says Jay Rayner writing in the Observer.
Drawing on the coast, just over an hour away to the south, there is spaghetti spun through with white crab meat, lots of red chilli, fresh tomatoes for ballast, and aniseed courtesy of a sprinkling of roasted fennel seeds. It is light rather than pasta heavy. It is all about the crab.
A whole plaice is grilled to that point where the blade of a knife slipped in over the spine will separate out the buttery, golden-skinned fillets with a nudge. It comes with borlotti beans and a powerful dressing thick with rosemary and, more importantly, lots of chopped salted anchovy. (I have a habit of attempting to add chopped anchovy to most things at home; my family resists. I’m wasted on them.)
Only one thing matters with a Barnsley chop: has the fat been properly rendered and crisped? Here, it has. It comes on a rough, boisterous stew of spiced aubergine, full of deep caramel smoky notes with a hit of fire at the end. There is a different kind of caramel, salted and sticky and as rich as an international art dealer, in a milk chocolate pot with peanut brittle. A lemon tart has a zingy filling and a crisp pastry base. A dollop of crème fraîche sends it on its way.
Ed Balls praises the flavourful food at Skosh in York, in the Sunday Times.
I start with a glass of Portuguese rosé, Jo has an Italian white, and our first course arrives — a truly breathtaking egg mousse, reunited with its shell, with small hunks of local cheddar and sherry-infused mushroom bits at the bottom.
Tangy cauliflower pakoras with crunchy coconut and a sweet chutney; a rich and crispy pulled-pork cube with tart gooseberry relish; then cleansing cured sea trout with a salty Thai fish sauce.
Less to our taste was a rather heavy, bland steak tartare, paired oddly with avocado. But Skosh stormed back with an arresting crab mousse, so full of the sea it was like being dunked headfirst off Bridlington Pier; followed by a meaty piece of hake on a cheesy risotto with a crunchy sesame crust.
By now we were flagging a little, overwhelmed by the generous Yorkshire portions. But we fortified ourselves with a glass of Venetian red from the very affordable list. After a morsel or two of melt-in-the-mouth lamb, with tiny, sweet chickpea panisses and garden-fresh peas, we decide to go the whole hog, finishing with two desserts: a savoury piece of cheese on toast with rhubarb chutney; then a creamy Bengalese baked yoghurt with strawberries and cardamom.
What a treat. If you love flavour and are off the carbs, this is the place to come. My only small gripe was that, by the end, I was desperate for something green and simple — a side of unbuttered spinach or beans. But this is quibbling: it was a sublime lunch.
Kuch in Bristol is a fine place to be says Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian.
I can tell you about Kuch, serving “southern Persian soul food” on Whiteladies Road, and its bowls full of fresh, colourful salads, glossy olives; its hot, oily flatbreads and spiced meats; and its shelves stacked with jars of “liquid curd” kashk, pickled vegetables, sour orange juice and quince jam.
This authentic-sounding menu invites experimentation: our flurry of small dishes included “kash_k bazanjon” (all descriptions very much sic), a dip of lentils and smoked aubergine boosted with whey, garlands of crisp garlic and onion; and “naan-o-paneer”, fluffy bread with an exuberance of dill and mint, feta and walnuts in a sekanjabin dressing (an ancient drink made with honey and vinegar). But the aroma from the grill was too much, so we swerved the “gahimeh hayaty” (claypot glazed lamb) and fish with fenugreek in favour of heaps of muscular chicken thighs, burnished and crisp-skinned, cumin-rich kofte and the inevitable chicken breast kebabs.
Dishes were sweet with pomegranate and date molasses, tangy from tamarind, pungent with dried lime or intensely smoky from the grill. Or all of the above at the same time. Homemade tahini ice-cream delivered a clever finishing flourish.
The street-facing frontage, with its communal benches, doesn’t issue a siren call, but the restaurant proper at the back, with that fragrant open kitchen, is a fine place to be. And for freshness, value and a bit of a culinary adventure, Kuch is a find.
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler finds many reasons to be cheerful thanks to the partnership between Anglo chef/patron Mark Jarvis and Harwood Arms former head chef Alex Harper at Neo Bistro in London’s west end.
Herdwick lamb and smoked eel may never have met before — I don’t think there are eels wriggling around Cumbria — but they get on brilliantly. Given its crisp, snappy skin and lush flavourful interior, this is the best lamb I have eaten in years. Butter (good for you now, you know) does its stuff enhancing the pristine tranche of brill, seducing the white anchovies and gently encouraging the Good Samaritan role of sea kale in the fish assembly. It is irresistible.
Isle of Wight tomatoes with dashi and shiso are foregone in favour of hay-baked skin-on new potatoes (Irish Joe’s insistence) but we reckon the accompanying mushroom butter also has a Japanese quality in the use of nameko, the species that add their nutty flavour to miso soup. You can buy a kit to grow your own at home, apparently.
At the first dinner I choose the daily special of Anjou pigeon with green strawberries (who knew?). If it is available I would advise doing the same as the three manifestations — rare breast, confit leg and croquette on a branch of rosemary — are masterful with Puy lentils and slices of celeriac, ideal bedfellows.
The Sign of the Angel at Lacock, Wilshire, a village renowned as a film location for period drama, may date from the 15th century, but the food is bang up-to-date, says Jane Dunford of the Guardian.
If it’s romantic, historic character you’re after, this place has is it in spades – from wonky, creaky floors, to huge stone fireplaces and a tiny twisty staircase leading up to the five bedrooms. Our room is cosy and neat, the designer has made the most of the limited space and kept original features intact. Behind a wooden door I mistake for a cupboard is a small bath; another door hides the toilet. I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland after her growth spurt – if you’re on the tall side, mind your head. Touches of luxury come in the duck-feather pillows, comfy bed and Roberts radio.
The beamed candlelit dining area is split into three spaces so retains an intimate feel – but here the inn moves into the 21st century, with a modern British menu. A starter of avocado panna cotta, house-smoked king prawns and grapefruit dressing is light, fresh and tasty (£9); the main of steamed plaice with crab and chilli cake (£18.50) comes with asparagus picked straight from the kitchen garden. Lunch is good value: two courses for £18 or three for £21. Breakfast is a treat, too – a small buffet with mini Dorset cereal boxes and pastries, plus bacon on ciabatta or poached haddock with eggs and muffin among cooked options.
Tom Chesshyre of the Times praises the restaurant and the stylish rooms at Oddfellows on the Park at Cheadle, Greater Manchester, but is irritated by the aircraft noise.
[The bedrooms are] stylish, quirky and comfortable, although you can just about hear aircraft coming into Manchester airport. Expect design touches such as scoop-shaped charcoal armchairs, travellers’ chest bed tables, ornate gilded mirrors and unusual art, including the shiny handlebars of BMX bikes mounted on walls — a nod to a BMX track in Bruntwood Park.
The Galloping Major (named after a former occupant of the manor) is in a gorgeous room with original cornicing and grand arch-shaped windows. Moss’s evening menu has six main courses, starters and desserts, with great attention given to presentation — the dishes look like works of art. Venison carpaccio and cured sea trout are among the starters, while main courses might include rump of lamb and roast monkfish. My ceviche of scallops with fennel and apple was refreshing and pretty as a picture, while my main of suckling pig with lobster, celeriac puree and broad beans was a strangely winning combination, the salty pork working alongside the juicy pieces of lobster. A frozen clotted cream parfait with a strawberry macaron completed a fine meal.
The Daily Mail’s hotel inspector is bowled over by the unique design of the newly opened Nobu Shoreditch, but not so impressed by the steep prices.
It’s a new and innovative building, with overhanging floor slabs and a frayed edge on one side that makes it look as if the construction company has downed tools and buzzed off prematurely. This is a big opening (143 rooms, 240-seat restaurant, sushi bar, 18-seat chef’s table) and it’s different, clever and expensive. We’re paying £275 without breakfast for the smallest category of room, knowing only too well that dinner will be a further £150.
The tried and trusted ‘east meets west’ theme is in full throttle, with wood screens that slide across the sealed windows, squiggles on the concrete walls, sexy pink lighting, low-slung futon-type bed and cosy bathrooms that have gold rectangular basins and walk-in showers. Half the joy of a hotel is staying somewhere radically different to your own digs. Job done, here.
Laura Chubb of the Independent is impressed by the beautiful transformation of the former Fort of London Authority HQ into Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square, but says kinks in service need to be ironed out.
Ten Trinity Square is as beautiful on the inside as out. Walk through that classic colonnaded entrance and you’re met by the Rotunda, a fabulous Art Deco domed ceiling that keeps the ambience set at “impossibly grand”. Look closer and this is your first taste of the hotel’s “East meets West” design philosophy: the Rotunda’s white walls are moulded with motifs representing earth, water, fire and air, and circles (an important shape in Chinese culture) crop up throughout.
As far as ridiculously prestigious places to rest your head go, Ten Trinity Square, from top to toe, looks the part. But, during its soft opening at least, the beauty could at times be skin-deep. If dinner was underwhelming, breakfast was a disaster – staff disagreed on where to seat me, which menu I could order from at 10.30am (despite a note in my room saying breakfast was served until 11am), and I wound up waiting an hour and a half for a smoked salmon bagel I didn’t actually ask for.