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the old house

One of Hull’s oldest buildings (aptly named the Old House) has been given a new lease of life. Strip down the menu, pay attention to detail, and the Old House could be something special, writes Jay Rayner in the Observer.

It reads like a hotel menu, and those are exceptionally hard to pull off. In truth, Harrison doesn’t quite manage it. But there are flashes of brilliance, and things that could be really good with a little work. For example, he serves a terrific sausage roll for £1.50, all flaky pastry, ripe pigginess and the sweet, dark tones of caramelised onion. Only he serves it stone cold and deathly. It’s a promise unrealised; a disappointment in a heavy pastry overcoat.

There’s a similar problem with two main dishes. Slow-cooked then seared lamb shoulder comes with a salsa verde of pungent wild garlic, alongside tomatoes and feta. So there’s salt and soft and huge wafts of funky, damp thicket. A fillet of beef is seared accurately and introduced to good companions. There’s confit potato, and broccoli roasted with sesame seeds and, hiding at the bottom, a small amount of butter with a little miso. Everything on these plates has been done right. It’s all perfectly accurate cooking. But where’s the bloody sauce? Both of them are bellowing for jus or gravy, for a glossy reduction of cow foot or chicken wing or both.

I am very much taken by their whitebait, soft-bellied and crisp backed, with a Bloody Mary mayonnaise and a sprinkling of something called vinegar powder to remind you that you are at the seaside. I don’t care what it actually is; there’s a fine acidic edge, which does the job.

Strip down the menu, pay attention to detail, focus on the things you’re really good at, and the Old House could be something special.


Writing for the Times, Ed Balls reviews Zobler’s; the New York-style deli at the Ned hotel in the City of London.

My companion is in raptures at the menu, then disappointment strikes. Zobler’s is a kosher-style deli, but it doesn’t serve any kosher food.

We wildly overorder because my companion is intrigued to see, if not taste, how things come out. We also choose two glasses of a light Provençal rosé from a list that’s much more expensive than the reasonably priced food — and, clutching our glasses, go in search of a table.

Our food arrives quickly, but annoyingly all in one go. Perhaps we should have ordered a course at a time, but that would have meant repeated trips to the counter. My companion starts with a latke, a deep-fried potato cake that she says should taste great on its own, before concluding this latke needs its sour cream and apple sauce accompaniment. My chicken soup, on the other hand, is superb: a rich stock, lots of chicken pieces, crunchy vegetables and spongy but not too heavy kneidlach — Yiddish for matzo ball dumplings — which she says look just right. Judge Rinder would approve.

By this time we yearn for another glass of wine, but can’t be bothered to make the trip. So we turn to our next course: for Karen, a cheese sandwich on toasted challah bread — “proper comfort food”, though the cucumber salad is unappetisingly drowned in yoghurt. But my beef hot dog looks fabulous — sprinkled with crispy onions and poking out of its bun — and tastes even better, with a perfectly judged tomato-sauce and mayo relish that has my kosher companion salivating.

Zobler’s is not a place for a fancy business lunch or romantic dinner. But it’s fun and good value.


Giles Coren of the Times discovers that Sotheby’s café in London’s Mayfair still exists and is better than ever.

Twenty years ago, when I last worked full-time around here, Sotheby’s café was a legendary hideaway for naughty husbands who needed somewhere to hold hands with a shop girl over lobster club sandwiches and white burgundy. To my delight, I found that it is not only still there but is even better than I had remembered. Better cooking, better service, better everything.

I looked down at my small, square menu. It was perfect. To start: chilled pea and courgette soup; brown crab on toast, fennel, lemon; smoked salmon, traditional garnish, lemon oil; Caesar salad, chicken skin, anchovies, soft hen egg, bacon; ham hock terrine, cornichons, mustard. Pure, pure joy on a day of city heat and dust.

I chose, of course, the chilled pea soup (£6.50) and then, not the lobster club sandwich, though it is still offered (at £24.50), nor the fillet of English beef (with beef fat onions, Gentleman’s Relish and parsley, which looked terrific on a nearby table), nor yet the chicken or the gnocchi, but the halibut with clams, sea lettuce, butter sauce and lemon (£23.50), as most likely to make a meal I could spring up from refreshed and reproteined for the return to work, rather than bloated and resentful.

My fish was a thing of beauty: on delightful white crockery, hot from the pan, the sweetiest, flakiest, most perfect piece of halibut in a butter sauce so crisp and tart it might have been the sweat of a lemon-fed leprechaun. The clams were plump and saline with a finish on the tongue quite redolent of sex, the lettuce was gently surrendered, there was a spot of samphire.


Pascere

Pascere in Brighton offers “no-messing brilliance” and is “Three Bears just right”, according to Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian.

The most exquisite thing that we eat at this new addition to Brighton’s restaurant scene is the simplest: a tiny crab tartlet with pastry so fragile, you wonder at its capacity to support its quantities of dewy, sweet white Portland crab meat and flourish of airy hollandaise, bisque-rich with the swansong of various crustacea and crabby bits and pieces. This is no-messing brilliance.

Beef cheek tortellini taste like that moment when summer meets autumn: a mulch of slow-cooked meat in taut pasta, the marshiness of mushroom puree, a lively, sparkling beef consommé teapotted on top. And plebeian lamb’s breast is left to shine, with only the different sharpness of ewe’s curd and the saltiness of samphire to distract from the flood of melting fat, with a bed of crisp, pressed potato for ballast.

Pascere – the name is apparently Latin, but who cares when it’s so Google-able? – says it’s in Brighton’s Lanes; technically, it is, but closer to unprepossessing West Street and a part of the seafront more redolent of grubby B&B overnighters lubricated with cheap cider and whelks than a spot of the old fine dining…Inside, owner Amanda Menahem (formerly food editor of something called Platinum Business Magazine: poacher turned gamekeeper, or vice versa?) has created an Elle Deco-worthy mustard-and-teal jewel of a restaurant; unusually, upstairs, with its open kitchen and bay windows jutting out over the street, is even prettier. Pascere’s originally mooted chef, Brighton pop-up Flank’s Tom Griffiths, was mislaid somewhere along the line, so now it’s Mancunian Johnny Stanford, formerly of the Pass at South Lodge Hotel and Paul Kitching’s 21212 in Edinburgh. What may have seemed a staffing snafu has turned out beautifully.

Pascere will still stand out: its combination of artistry with an underlying understanding of what people want to eat, as opposed to what the chef wants to inflict on us, is Three Bears just right. This is destination stuff. The idea of the classic Brighton dirty weekend just got proper tasty again.


Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Sibarita: “A blissful, warm-hearted, tourist-free bolthole in Covent Garden”.

Sibarita, this great, warm-hearted, gorgeously priced, delicious little restaurant just off the main hubbub of Covent Garden, which takes reservations and offers brisk, cheerful service. Sibarita, which will get you tipsy and feed you and make you feel like you’re on holiday.

A baked, runny Torta del Casar sheep’s cheese arrives with radish and carrot on tiny, playful medieval spikes. It transpires that a jar of humble-sounding Marcona almonds is laced with smoked paprika and Valencian orange zest. We eat an excellent spicy slant on a tuna tostada, then a plate of chicken ‘chilindron’, marinated and spliced with serrano ham salpicon. And then there are Spanish wines by the glass and Tetilla, Garrotxa and Murcia al Vino cheeses with Hedone sourdough, if you like. Sibarita’s head chef Krisztian Palinkas is a talented, imaginative presence. Even Sibarita’s drab-sounding ‘fried artichokes’ turn up crisp and deliciously booby-trapped with a rich saffron aioli. The dark-chocolate ice cream is pleasing, spot-hitting and sprinkled with sea salt.

I popped in at 7pm to meet a friend for a quick bite and a glass of Cillar de Silos 2014 and was somehow still there at 10.15pm drinking Torre de Barreda 2012, having ordered at least seven plates, and at some juncture made friends with half of the restaurant.


Andy Richardson of the Shropshire Star reviews the Pound Inn, Leebotwood.

If running a great restaurant were simply about great food and service, then Neil and Sarah McCann would be full from dawn until dusk.

The likeable Shropshire couple offer big flavours and charming service at their 15th century country pub and restaurant, which is located in the heart of picturesque Shropshire.

Neil has his own garden, which provides the freshest produce for the kitchen. He pops out to pick herbs or harvest vegetables before service while enjoying exceptional relationships with local farmers, who grow soft fruits and summer vegetables. The quality of ingredients is second to none and Neil is a chef who maximises flavour.

A strip of belly pork was served with the last of the season’s broad beans, a baby beetroot, heritage carrot, carrot purée, potato fondant, sliced baby turnips and a complex and appetising gravy. A small black pudding beignet completed the dish, while a side of shredded cabbage was well-seasoned and expertly cooked, retaining both flavour and crunch. The rare breed belly had been delightfully cooked, so that the fat had melted through the soft, sweet and tender meat. The skin had been crisped and the sweet and savoury vegetable accompaniments were entirely fitting. It was a superlative dish.

I saved room for dessert, opting for the rhubarb and cherry frangipane tart with a blackcurrant sorbet. It was a hit. The frangipane was remarkably light with good pastry and plenty of sweet-and-tart fruit while the sorbet added zing-zang to a fabulously enjoyable dish.


jean-georges

Fay Maschler comes over all theatrical as she describes the joy of dining at Jean-Georges at the Connaught with her current and ex-husband in the Evening Standard.

“Dissolve to fish and chips with petits pois remoulade, where small pieces of fish in huge puffa jackets of batter destabilise the traditional concept. Parmesan-crusted chicken and roasted John Dory, £26 and £28 respectively, despite a ginger-chilli dressing accompanying the fish, convey a tenuous relationship with the verve and innovation associated with J-G. “I sometimes think about the dish of 40 vegetables that Jean-Georges served at Vong long before others were doing that sort of thing,” murmurs WwDH wistfully.

“Zoom in on peach candy floss, a confection of fresh and roasted peach, its gleaming orange eye peeping out from a nest of spun sugar. It has a wow factor with an assemblage of flattering flavours — redcurrant, ginger and almond — that more or less justifies the £12 cost. Credits — which must include the exceptionally agreeable front of house staff — roll.”


The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon finds reassuring Britishness restored at Simpson’s In The Strand.

The menu was, as it always has been, staunchly British. So British, in fact, that it wasn’t called the menu, but the bill of fare. On the waiter’s recommendation, I started with the Isle of Wight tomatoes, served with pickled red onion and crumbly chunks of cheese. The tomatoes were plump and sweet, bursting juicily on to the tongue.

My friend had the Dorset-crab salad, with Granny Smith apple and candied walnut. I didn’t find the flavour especially memorable, but it was prettily arranged. It looked like a fascinator you might see on a minor royal.

My main was the steak and kidney pudding. A fist-sized lump of suet and meat, dark and nutty in taste, served with whipped potato, peas and an absolute deluge of gravy. My friend had the roast rib of beef, with potatoes roasted in duck fat, two Yorkshire puddings, carrots and yet more gravy.

I felt the same about both mains: as if I were essentially eating a very expensive school dinner. Simple, dense, hefty, old-fashioned. And, above all, brown.

But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps those innumerable whiskery sages who have dined at Simpson’s through the ages – Dickens, Disraeli, Shaw, Conan Doyle – felt at home here in part because the food, warming and sternly traditional, reminded them of their childhood.


backwell house

Tom Chesshyre of the Times is bowled over by what he describes as “a great addition to British country hotels” – Backwell House, full of quirky features and located in a Georgian mansion southwest of Bristol

Reclaimed wood from old floorboards has been sanded and slotted together to create the marvellous bar at this hip new nine-room hotel. Towering wine racks, also made of reclaimed wood, are packed with bottles chosen by Bibendum, the London wine merchant. Industrial-style lamps hang above and funk music plays softly as guests relax on slightly battered leather chesterfields. It may seem rather thrown-together, but the overall effect is modern and edgy.

The reclaimed wood look extends to the bedrooms, with bedheads and bathroom units made from pallets. Some sinks have been created from old leather suitcases lined with concrete, and stacks of leather cases are used as bedside tables in some rooms. Designer lights and contemporary art are mixed with antiques and the occasional tartan armchair. Bathrooms have walk-in showers and Bramley products.

Food is served in a room with purple walls, a fine oak floor and tables made of yet more reclaimed wood. The uncomplicated menu is by the talented head chef Ross Hunter, with dishes such as duck liver parfait, pigeon with butternut squash and cod with crab bisque. When possible, local ingredients are used. My starter of crab with beetroot puree and seaweed had zing, while the ox cheek and sirloin beef main course was a perfect medium-rare, salty and a good size.


The Guardian’s Emily Mathieson welcomes the arrival of Five Acre Barn, a modern and progressive B&B within a barn just outside Leiston in Suffolk.

When Bruce and David arrived from Peckham a couple of years ago, the barn was hidden by a wall of conifers and marred by a 1970s extension. They soon got rid of those and, with architects Blee Halligan (of C4’s The House That £100K Built), created a bold, zigzag-roofed, cedar-shingled building that now houses five bedrooms, with a huge shared living and dining area in the old barn. It’s strikingly beautiful from the outside, I think, as they welcome us with scones and tea out on the deck (a covetable black-painted thing that probably didn’t come from B&Q). As their dog Ruby bounds about and we discuss the merits of Mary Berry’s scone recipes, it could hardly be more bucolic.

But inside all is modern, almost spartan. “If people want ‘Ye Olde Suffolk’, there are plenty of places they can go,” says David. “We wanted to do something contemporary.” And contemporary it is, with plywood walls, polished concrete floors and soaring white ceilings. For the price, it’s surprising to get a room that’s so big – an airy living area downstairs, with beds on a mezzanine upstairs and really spacious bathrooms (no baths, though), kitted out with Bramley products (all British, all natural).