The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler has a mixed experience at Clare Smyth’s new Notting Hill restaurant Core
“A canapé tart of exquisite brittleness holding a confection of smoked tomato tartare with macadamia nuts and black olive seeds, as much a work of art as desserts of pain perdu — lost inside a glassy sugar shell — with peaches and the chocolate and hazelnut crémeux, are presumably the handiwork of Kevin Miller, as the pastry chef is called.
“Now is probably the appropriate moment to invoke the life-affirming malty sourdough bread offered with ‘virgin’ Isle of Wight butter — also bought by Noma apparently — and the zingy passion fruit red Cambodian kampot pepper pâté de fruit that ends the meal on a jubilant note.
“On the CV of head chef Jonny Bone is Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. This venture, where the aim is to raise consciousness about responsible, virtuous food use and the menu is $258 (£201) excluding ‘beverage’ and tax, reverberates in Core.
“Protein is found almost taking a backseat to vegetables in main courses of Charlotte potato and lamb braised carrot. This works quite well with the spud from Chris Hayselden’s Suffolk Farm, although innate sweetness beats a retreat under copious topping of fish roe, recherché herbs and spices and the sauce of seaweed beurre blanc.
“Seaweed is a generally a favoured ingredient, turning up to remind the hand-dived Isle of Mull scallop cooked over wood where it has come from. The carrot, however, is a sorry specimen and attention turns quickly to the little bun stuffed with shreds of lamb presented alongside. A pool of sheeps’ milk yoghurt has turned up at the wrong party. “Roscoff onion expertly stuffed with rich oxtail and its accompaniment of sliced beef short rib tips the balance back in favour of meat.”
Giles Coren makes himself popular as he complains of “tattooed fatties day-tripping from Plymouth” while reviewing the School House, Devon in the Times
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. And whether he giveth and taketh in exactly the way that you were hoping for is not up to you. Only recently, for example, he tooketh away the beautiful private beach in Devon where I have holidayed for the past five Julys and gavethed it to the general public. And I was gutted, because I now have to share the beach with a load of tattooed fatties day-tripping from Plymouth, with their barbecues and their loud music and their pikey tents and windbreaks and their swearing and their topless sunbathing and their rank, loutish littering. But on the plus side, he gavethed me in return a restaurant at the top of the hill overlooking that beach. A really, really good restaurant.
“The old school house, right by the car park (it’s just a green field with a hermit in a hut by the gate, accepting coins from drivers), always sold tea and ice creams but it was turned over this year to Tamara Costin of the Beachhouse at nearby South Milton Sands and made into something else altogether. “The shellfish were all terrific and my children discovered the joys for the first time of shelling and eating their own prawns – they’d been fishing for them all morning and, having found nothing longer than 2cm, were dazzled by the “monsters” on offer here.
“‘Joe’s burger’ (£13.50) was a mound of pulled brisket, stacked high and dirty and as good as any I’ve had. The po’ boy was terrific too, the piles of local samphire were gleaming and crisp, the crispy calamari were great, a big triangle of turbot was perfectly roasted and laden with samphire and brown shrimp (fish options change daily, of course).”
The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent reviews Henrietta in London’s Covent Garden and describes it as a “handy, fancy” restaurant – and the sort of place you can take your Aunty Sheila
“Let it be said that the team at Henrietta is doing great things. A starter of grilled runner beans in an knee-weakening puddle of savoury pine nut praline laced with Sussex slipcote cheese and calamint was a vegetarian’s fantasy. We made a fine burrata with nectarine, honey and lemon thyme vanish rapidly, too. And these dishes, the lovely, cheerful service and, by this point, two glasses of Verdejo, meant I was becoming inured to Henrietta’s troubling decor, which is modelled on the sort of restaurant one might see on Emmerdale if one went to the scriptwriters’ notion of ‘the flashiest place in Leeds’.
“Henrietta, for all its yearning, still has a sense of the multi-purpose breakfast room. And it can do nothing about hotel guests peering at menus, wondering aloud why mackerel, turnip and gooseberry would ever come on the same plate. But if you’re in Covent Garden this is a steady choice for lunch or dinner. The seven-year, grass-fed sirloin with agria potatoes was gorgeously herby and heroically satisfying. The Yorkshire herb-fed chicken appeared with a sort of warm rustic risotto of barley and Paris brown mushrooms. So much to love here. Fresh warm madeleines were served for dessert with Chantilly cream. Only the coldest heart or skinniest miser wouldn’t feel cheered by this thought.
“Henrietta is handy, fancy and the sort of place you can take your Aunty Sheila. This is its gift and also its problem.”
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon takes on the tasting menu alone at Lympstone Manor and experiences one of the best dishes he’s eaten since he began writing his column
“I ordered the tasting menu, which consisted of no fewer than eight courses. I had to say ‘thank you’ so many times I lost my voice. By the time pudding was served, I was reduced to smearing ‘THANK YOU’ on the tablecloth in chocolate sauce.
“The venue was Lympstone Manor, a new hotel in Devon. Its views were beautiful. The Exe estuary glittering like a mirror; bees tottering tipsily from flower to flower; vast lawns dozing in the sun’s fond warmth. The restaurant, meanwhile, was cool, bright and airily immaculate. Summery cover versions of not-necessarily-summery songs (Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure was one) cooed prettily in the background. Sunbeams danced in the wine.
“I started with the langoustine cannelloni: pretty and dainty, but instantly forgotten, a warm gulp of nothing. The same went for the quail’s egg tartlet. It’s often the way with the early courses of a tasting menu: they’re so weeny that before you can work out whether you like them or not, they’ve disappeared.
“The next course, though, was more like it. The Cornish salt cod was outstanding: shimmeringly translucent, wispily delicate, meltingly rapturous – one of the best dishes I’ve eaten since I started writing this column. If they’d brought it out again for courses four, five, six, seven and eight, I still wouldn’t have tired of it.”
Prawn on the Lawn in London N1 offers delight after delight and lets good food speak for itself, according to Marina O’Loughlin, writing in the Guardian
“This is all about the joys of letting good ingredients speak for themselves: the small open kitchen does very little to the sea creatures piled on the ice-lined counter – in addition to being a restaurant, it’s a fully-functioning fishmonger – other than applying heat and the odd, frequently Asian-style aromatic. And sometimes it just does nothing at all: why faff with oysters this briny and pristine? Nothing much is allowed to distract from the sinking of teeth into the freshest possible fish: simple, almost primeval pleasure.
“So, ruby-red tuna, living up to its reputation as the steak of the sea, is just-seared like tataki, scattered with fresh red chilli and spring onion, and plated with a soy-mirin dip on the side, so you can decide how much or little of the fish you want to shine through. Large whole prawns are given a thorough rattling around in a hot pan with the lip-numbing tingle of Szechuan spicing and served with nothing more than a wedge of lime. Masses of white crabmeat are stirred through crunchy spiralised noodles of mooli, flecked with seaweed and lubricated with sesame oil. This is such a genius little dish, so much more than a salad: bracing and luxurious all at the same time.
“There’s only one disappointment: plaice draped in truffle and lardo (both undetectable) with a toasted half-onion speared with rosemary. It’s not a bad dish, just a little dull. Otherwise, delight after delight. You could, if you fancied, sit for hours just slurping oysters, dismembering whole Devon crabs and swigging magnums of Provençal rosé, which is exactly what I plan to do next time.”
Jay Rayner describes Fancy Crab in London W1 as a “terrible waste of their money and our money and everybody’s time” in the Observer
“Fancy Crab isn’t good. It’s a terrible waste of their money and our money and everybody’s time. It starts with the smallest thing. A plate with two warmed bread rolls, dull and springy, come with discs of seaweed butter. They have been dredged carelessly from a bowl of iced water. Accordingly, there is a puddle of cold water all over the plate, soaking into the rolls. The butter is unsalted and, like me, tastes only of cold, hard fat. A wine waiter doesn’t take our order until just before the starters arrive, and returns with entirely the wrong bottle, a massive red. The starters are half finished before the correct bottle of Spanish white at an excruciating £40 turns up.
“A ‘tempura’ crab claw costs £12 and isn’t. Tempura refers to a particular kind of lacy batter. These look like inflated versions of the ones you can buy at Iceland for pennies, and come coated in exactly the same sort of DayGlo orange breadcrumb shell. Three bites and it is gone. An accompanying ‘chipotle’ mayo tastes like Marie Rose sauce. There is no heat. The crab is also offered cold on ice, or grilled. We go for a leg cut of the former, the shell already sliced through so there is no effort getting at the meat: £24 worth disappears in about 90 seconds. A squid ink mayo is salty and blunt. A mango dip is fruitier and rather pleasing.”
Millions has been spent on creating the Dunalastair Hotel Suites in Kinloch Rannoch, Perthshire, but it lacks the wow factor, says Tom Chesshyre of the Times
“The result is a snazzy mixture of abstract art, designer lights, velvet sofas, mood music and decor in shades of grey — as though a Knightsbridge apartment block had been teleported to the Highlands. The slick executive style continues in the rooms, which are a tad anodyne, but super-comfortable. Expect plush carpets, marble bathrooms, wide beds and mirrored wardrobes.
“Food is served in Edina’s Kitchen, next to a long room that has a bit of an airport business lounge feel. Smoked salmon and haggis bonbons (rolled up balls of haggis) are among the starters, while rump of lamb and confit of duck leg feature as main courses. My fresh, peppery heritage tomato salad with roasted fig and goat’s cheese got the tastebuds going, while the fish and shellfish stew in a tomato ragu was a comfort-food treat. The crème brûlée, served in a rather strange pot, was fine.”
Emma Cook of the Guardian is impressed by the addition of 11 sophisticated bedrooms to the Ginger Pig gastro pub in Hove, East Sussex
“In the bedrooms, all is sleep-inducing heritage slate grey, from skirting board to walls, doors and curtains. There are Cowshed toiletries in the bathroom, premixed cocktails in the minibar and Raffia beach bags with towels and mats.
“Our first-floor room is spacious for a pub bedroom, with a kingsize bed for me and my husband and folding beds for our two daughters. There’s a freestanding egg-shaped bath, like a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, in one corner. It would be a waste to tuck this tub away in a bathroom, instead of soaking while watching the big wall-mounted TV and sipping a negroni. If I crane my neck, there’s a sliver of sea view from the back window. The others on my floor look spacious, too, the attic rooms a little more snug.”
Helen Pickles of the Telegraph enjoys her stay at the fun and exotic Crab Manor hotel in Thirsk, North Yorkshire
“The 10-foot-high yeti half-way up the stairs and life-size Russian doll in the sea-blue sitting room are clues that this place is not necessarily the demure, Georgian manor house it looks from the outside. Eccentric, eclectic, mad; it’s all of these but styled with such confidence that it charms rather than shrieks bad-taste kitsch.
“To style 20 rooms (dotted around the manor house and grounds) on 20 of the world’s most eccentric hotels sounds like a recipe for naffness. But a sure hand – and deep pocket – has been at work, selecting just the right design elements, doing it to exacting standards and, crucially, knowing when to stop. Bird Island (representing Seychelles) has a thatched roof and tent-shaped ceiling; Sharrow Bay (the Lake District) is English country house with blowsy floral wallpaper and pink-velvet sofas while Le Cipriani (Venice) has a rococo bedhead and Murano-style glass chandelier.”