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Xu

Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian reviews Xu, London W1: ‘Honestly: swoon’.

It’s hard to believe that outside is all tourists trying to find Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! rather than the tropics. In here, booths are upholstered in Ladurée macaron colours and ceiling fans circle languidly; from a private room comes the clack of mahjong tiles and a “tea master” opens and closes many drawers containing perfumed teas: oolongs, pu-erhs and assams. Xu has a dreamlike quality.

The star of the show is what they call shou pa chicken, seemingly a variant of Hainanese chicken rice or Thai khao man gai, without the rice. They had intended to serve this whole, complete with head for ripping apart by hand, but, er, chickened out – or realised that customers might – so serve it cut into succulent, star-anise-scented chunks of breast and crisp shards of thigh, the whole thing luscious with the bird’s “dripping”. Minced ginger and spring onion is scattered on top, then, at the last minute, crisp crumbs of peppery chicken skin, so it retains its crunch. Honestly: swoon.

We’re awash with rare ingredients: peppercorns from Yunnan, aged white soy and Chishang (“Chi Shiang” on the menu) rice, prized as Taiwan’s finest. They make their own tofu. I’ve no idea where that chicken is from, but it tastes as if it lived the happiest of lives. Rice is swollen with opulent fats: Ibérico pork lard or the almost cheesy funk of aged beef. There’s a devotion to that curious texture the Taiwanese call Q, or QQ, an alluring, gummy chewiness (think mochi, bubble tea or stiff gnocchi): springy taro dumplings, the gooey interior of that fried pork pancake, the gelatinous bounce of the tendon.


Comedian David Baddiel reviews Kricket, Soho for the Sunday Times.

Let’s be honest: anyone can be a food critic. If I were to claim any kind of merit in my food judgment based on experience, it would be in one category alone: curry. I have eaten, in my life, a lot of curry.

The dishes arrive haphazardly, which is exasperating when you can see what you want, and so far haven’t got, being made in front of you. So, our order of bread — a bone-marrow and cep kulcha, a number of which are being expertly rolled across my vision — to accompany a goat raan doesn’t arrive until most of Goaty McGoatface has disappeared down our gullets.

It doesn’t really matter, as the food is great. But it isn’t what my soul cries out for in an Indian restaurant. There is virtually no heat in any dish, and not much in the way of wetness. Which is not to say the food is dry: it isn’t — the goat is a perfect mix of crispy outsides with moist, smoky innards — but nothing comes swimming in sauce. The way I like it.

The nearest thing to proper curry in our meal is the haleem, a lamb pounded so much that it can’t even be classified as stew, more porridge. It’s delicious, lamb reduced to its most basic essence, but still not quite hot enough for me. And the furthest thing, Kricket’s signature dish, is the Keralan fried chicken.

So, I liked Kricket. This may surprise you. But I am aware that, due to my own issues, I’ve ended up criticising this restaurant for not being something it never set out to be. Fundamentally, I’m sad that old-style British curry houses, some of which I know to be brilliant, are looked down upon by foodies; and, irrationally, I’m blaming this fancy and, in general, delightful newbie. Actually, I returned to Kricket on another day — and decided that for lunch, when one is perhaps less craving of Curry with a capital C, its small plates do the job perfectly.


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‘So often you get no food for hours, then your pudding, then eight plates of offal all at the same time. Not here’ says Giles Coren in the Times about Lupins, SE1.

The six dishes came one at a time. Such a revelation. So often they are delivered “as and when they come from the kitchen”, which means nothing for hours, then your pudding, then eight plates of offal all at the same time, an hour’s break, then a salad and some nuts. But there’s none of those at Lupins and the one-by-one thing is delightful.

First up was whole young spring onions, rolled in corn meal and deep-fried (£7). Lovely and powdery-crisp in the stem with a sweet pop in the bulb and a delicious (if scarily glow-in-the-dark) chipotle mayonnaise.

Chopped, gleaming fresh sea bass ceviche (£9), little cubelets of chopped tomato, microherbs including coriander and shiso, with that ethereal marzipan depth, piled into two tubes of chicory leaf and scattered again with breadcrumbs (a bit of a feature here, but at least there are no pomegranate seeds). Crunch, sea, crunch, crunch, garden, Japanese garden, sea …

Then a halved roast quail (£10). I’ve been eating too much quail lately. Ordering it everywhere, endlessly barbecuing it at weekends. Not sure why it is suddenly so ubiquitous. Probably had enough of it now. But the shaved kohlrabi, microcubes of tart apple and general greenness of its plate-fellows made it a refreshing end to a beautiful meal.


Grace Dent of the Evening Standard falls head over heels for the charm of Pique-Nique in Bermondsey.

Pâté en croûte and entrecôte sit alongside grilled things such as turbot and selle d’agneau roti aux herbes. Expect petits pois à la Française, fine salads, nine whites, nine reds and Herve himself on hand being knee-weakeningly charming as usual. Pique-Nique’s vol au vent sauce Nantua will feature, I predict, on end of year London ‘2017 dishes’ round-ups. Any British person mentally scarred by the piffling dry British vol au vents our Aunt Sheila foisted upon us at family parties, probably filled with tinned chicken supreme and left by a radiator to grow a skin, must do themselves a favour and visit Pique-Nique. Here the vol au vent is enormous, warm and unctuous with bechamel and crayfish. I didn’t know whether to eat it or ask my lawyer to draft me a pre-nup and marry it. There was a perfect raspberry soufflé with a sorbet on offer the evening I visited, which still clouds my mind’s eye.

There’s a stiff curfew of 10pm, I’m guessing as the place is inside a municipal park, which is good as it saves a woman like me from herself and another carafe of wine. It also makes the end of the evening quite gloriously silly as you totter tipsily past the tennis courts. Here’s another place for me to be furious over never having time to visit. Please go and enjoy it for me.


The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett finds her “happy place” at Spiritland in London’s Kings Cross, thanks to a combination of impeccable food and DJ’s mixing for its own radio station.

Due to a combination of tiredness and maternal insecurity, after receiving my (Dalston, micro-brewed, craft) beer while my son inspected the “awesome”-ness of the loos: (“Speakers, so you can hear the music! And very nice taps! And soap made of tea!”) I then ordered most of the available menu (I quote): burratina, peas, aged datterini, basil; alt cod, potato, garlic; potted Dorset crab, spiced butter; crispy ham hock, sauerkraut, mustard; free range pork sausage roll, apple sauce; coleslaw; grilled flat bread.

The son had a go at the oozy-moussey burratina, tucked into the coleslaw, passed on the crab and nibbled politely at the rissole-style hock – all of which I found to be perfectly, deliciously on point (second beer? Oh, yes, I think so).

However, he declared the sausage roll and its apple sauce to be “actually incredible. Like, really”. I checked and he really, like, wasn’t lying; Spiritland may be the very incarnation of casual dining, but the kitchen is overseen by Owen Kenworthy, ex-Sonny’s and Brawn. I slathered more potted crab on to toasted flatbread and started thinking about pudding: cheesecake v. tirimasu? Well, obviously, both, to share.


The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler heads to Bang Bang Oriental Foodhall in north London where she finds some bargain food, particularly at Golden Dragon.

Peking duck is meaty slices of roasted bird, i.e. barbecued duck, rather than the varnished thin skin separate from the flesh that you might expect. Nice warm supple pancakes, though. Best of our order is mixed seafood fried ho fun noodles with egg, where the prawns and scallops have depth, you might even say layers, of flavour and the rice flour noodles throw down the gauntlet to scrambled egg in achieving slippery meekness. Set menus of popular favourites are a remarkable bargain. We plan to return, probably with the family in tow.

On another day at lunchtime I visit the first-floor food court, where so far 23 pan-Asian outlets have opened around seating for 450 people divided into different moods with different furnishings. The 20 per cent off prices (it ended last Monday) is theoretically still in place but notices at most counters stipulating cash only — in an environment surely almost dreamt up for contactless card payment — probably helped take the sting out of that for the operators …

The best dish from the outfits we try — including Yaki Ya Grill Japan, Royal China’s 168 Dim Sum, Taiwan Fried Chicken and Four Seasons (barbecued meats) — is congee with fried intestine from Hakka Southern Chinese, where the historic fascination with texture is ably represented in placidness of rice porridge spiked by the crispness of the dollop of mystery fry-up in the centre. Stewed pork trotter in sweet vinegar from the same company is not deemed a success.


Mr P

Jay Rayner of the Observer reviews Mr P’s Curious Tavern, York: “With its quirky décor and zany dishes, Mr P’s is trying hard to be different. The trouble is, it’s trying a bit too hard” he says.

Shortly after we took our place at one of the high counter-style tables at Mr P’s Curious Tavern, the waitress said: “Just think Yorkshire tapas.” I tried, honestly I did. I tried to think like someone who thought the phrase “Yorkshire tapas” was a good idea. I searched deep inside myself for the Spaniard by way of Heckmondwike. He wasn’t there.

There are pieces of long-braised octopus tentacle, draped with silky, gossamer-thin slices of lardo. There are toasted hazelnuts, a fine dice of tomatoes, a dill mayo and a deep, profoundly flavourful broth. It’s well executed. I must also mention the quite perfect boudin noir bon bons which turn up on another dish, the crisp exterior giving way to a soft, dark nuttiness. I could murder a plate of those.

But so much else is weird or unpleasant. Shellfish crackers are reminiscent of a product available on the high street. They come with a guacamole as made by someone whose only reference point for guacamole is the deli counter at Tesco. It is whipped to a claggy smoothness and is a blunt hit of salt and sour. Against the version at El Pastór a couple of weeks back it’s an embarrassment. The same goes for the hummus which comes with artichoke fritters. It’s dense and heavy going, as if someone put the tahini on ration.

A section of sharing dishes brings “Piggy in the Middle”, with a starring role for those boudin noir bon bons. There are two passable sausage rolls with a tight, clenched filling. But the bulk of it is four thick slices of loin, scattered with batons of Granny Smith apple and crushed-up pork scratchings. The meat is dry, dense and lifeless. Even the jug of jus on the side, tasting more of veal than pork, can’t help. The platter costs £28.


It’s impossibly stylish, but can the food at Issho in Leeds live up to its surroundings? Jill Turton of the Yorkshire Evening Post finds out.

Arriving at Issho Japanese restaurant and bar is a bit like entering a discreet, members-only club. After a circuit of Victoria Gate, Leeds’s latest shopping mall where even the sandwich bars are improbably glamorous, we locate a side alley and a lift that whisks us silently to the third floor. It was to be the last silence of the evening.

Executive chef Ben Orpwood does not sound as if he has deep Japanese heritage but his take on Japanese food is a step up from your average sushi bar. Sashimi on more crushed ice brings salmon firm and sea-fresh. Smoked eel wafts up with a wonderful campfire smokiness. Soft shell crab is hefted with the crunch of batter and a thwack of wasabi. Fat little California maki rolls are stuffed with crab, avocado and fish roe.

A doughy steamed bao bun stuffed with sticky spiced pork is a comparative snip at £4. Two stand-out dishes are sea bream grilled with salt and sesame and a tangy ponzu sauce and worth its £13 tag and the miso marinated black cod at £25. The soft yielding fish is marinated in sake, mirin and miso then chargrilled to a pleasing sticky-sweetness. It’s very good, but between three it’s a bit of a scramble for a decent mouthful.

Desserts bring meringue with an astringent yuzu curd and a plate of delightful little sugary doughnuts, as fluffy as clouds with two dipping sauces of yuzu curd and chocolate ganache.


HOTELS

Brownings

Liz Poulter of the Guardian enjoys a pig-out at the Royal Oak in Bishopstone, Wiltshire, run by Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, and her partner Tim Finney

When Helen Browning took over the 1,500 acres of Eastbrook and Lower farms from her father over 30 years ago (the farm has been leased from the Church of England since the 1850s), she was regarded as a nutter for her determination to go organic. Today her lamb, beef and pork, plus sausages and bacon, are big sellers in Sainsbury’s, Ocado and others, and Helen is chief executive of the Soil Association, with an OBE for services to organic farming.

Which is all very wonderful. What’s even better for us is that she and (especially) Tim love being hospitable. They took over the tenancy of Arkell’s pub the Royal Oak – in the village of Bishopstone, right in the middle of their land.

In our room we have plenty of space – there’s a lovely wide bed and some eccentric furniture made from industrial piping. We’ll also be contented and clean thanks to a big bathroom with red tiles enclosing an impressive shower. The wifi is robust and – hurray – there are plenty of hooks. The rooms are all named after parts of the farm, and each room has a photo mural of the relevant field or wood: ours is Marral Woodland, and one wall is covered in a shot of its hazel and fruit trees in autumn red and gold.


Tom Chesshyre of the Times enjoys his stay at the Rectory, a newly reopened, well-run and stylish hotel in Crudwell, Wiltshire.

Expect tasteful Georgian country house decor, plenty of Farrow & Ball, splashes of modern art, fantastic old framed maps of Britain and plenty of log fires. [The bedrooms are] reached along labyrinthine corridors with sisal carpet and slightly sloping floors. Neutral colours have been used throughout; shades of grey, green and pale pink. Sofas and armchairs have been reupholstered in velvet. Antique wardrobes have been kept, while travellers’ chest coffee tables and mirror-topped bedside tables have been introduced.

“Food is prepared by Tom Conway, who formerly ran the kitchen at the lovely Potting Shed pub, just across the road from the Rectory. Food at the Rectory is more refined: sautéed clams with salsa verde, tomato gazpacho, grilled lemon sole. My scallops with samphire and tomato came with a tasty basil and lobster vinaigrette, while the Duroc pork chop with spinach and stuffed peppers was succulent, salty, pleasingly fatty and quite enormous. For a pudding try the first-rate apple and maple syrup cheesecake. Three courses cost from about £28.