Andrew Lloyd Webber, Battersea, Brabourne, Burberry, Five Bells Inn, Ikoyi, Langham hotel, Mother, Other Place, Seoul Kimchi, the Lygon Arms, the Masons Arms, The Other Naughty Piglet, The Wigmore, Thomas's Café
Grace Dent of the Evening Standard feels little in the way of kinship with Mother in Battersea…
Mother, which has set up in newly titivated Battersea Power Station, feels like a bit of a trek just to taste Copenhagen’s slant on sourdough pizza.
There are some things in Mother’s favour: it is in a cavernous glass-fronted arch, like a mini aircraft hangar. One could take large groups there to feast on its enormo-benches and sharing tables. In the summer it’s airy, opened-up and feels deeply European. Inside on an evening it’s nicely lit by candlelight, if your Botox is sliding. And it has an expensive sound system. I can attest to this as on a calm Tuesday evening the manager kept putting on Pink Floyd and turning it up really, really loud.
Mother is what I term professionally a ‘mirage’ opening. The closer you draw to it, the more disappointingly clear it becomes that it does not really exist. Taste-free salt cod fritters appeared, then a lacklustre plate of fridge-icy buffalo mozzarella and a bowl of mediocre olives. A slice of bruschetta smeared with an unseasoned broad bean mush was simply odd. So was the tortino, a sort of forlorn oven-baked culinary truck stop between a cheese soufflé and a tortilla. Maybe antipasti is not their thing, I mused. The pizzas were equally as meh-inducing. Not offensive. No one was poisoned. Still, if one is going to put courgette and smoked salmon on the Zuccone pizza, one better be damn sure that these items are boldly flavoured — or what one has is a circular vessel of cheese-spattered nothingness. And a soggy one at that. The porcella pizza with organic sausage and porcini was equally uninspiring.
The Times’ Tony Turnbull doesn’t expect much from Thomas’s Café within the Burberry store just off Regent Street in London W1, but its leisured calm and a neatly edited menu leave him pleasantly surprised.
The menu is comfortably contained on a single sheet of paper and, well, it’s the in-house restaurant of a large store, so how good can it be? True, that store happens to be Burberry and you reach the café via £1,500 raincoats and displays of £250 key rings rather…but you assume its main role is as an unambitious pit stop where you can let your credit card stop smoking before rejoining the retail fray.
Except, what’s this? It’s the kind of room you actually want to spend time in, with its stone floor and Farrow & Ball-ed woodwork, the open fire, the Scandi tables and chairs and pair of large bleached settles.
The menu is designed for all-day eating (although the café has its own entrance on Vigo Street, it follows the opening hours of the shop) and consists of bar snacks, a couple of smoked salmon dishes, a few sandwiches, a couple of salads and three or four mains. It’s a neatly edited menu, and one that has seen me happily through two pretty much consecutive visits – a work lunch and then a weekend brunch to fortify the troops before a visit to the Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy.
From the snacks section, cheese croquettes with shallot puree (£7) must be what cheese and onion crisps dream of becoming when they grow up: saltiness, sweetness and crunch in every perfect mouthful. By contrast, the sole goujons with tartare sauce are a bit Wetherspoon’s given the classiness of our surroundings.
The lobster is cooked by Bertha, who is not, as I fondly imagine, some sturdy blonde with plaits to her waist and the blood of her marauding Frankish ancestors in her veins, but a type of wood-fired oven. Whatever, Bertha has done a grand job. With a tumble of salad and pot of stellar chips, it’s worth £32 of anyone’s money.
Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian visits the Wigmore in London W1, Michel Roux Jr’s upmarket “pub” at the Langham hotel, and while it’s a bit silly, the food is delicious.
But is it actually a pub? It is, as the definition goes, “an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages including beer (such as ale) and cider”. Its list includes pumps and bottles, its own Wigmore Saison served in tankers, and beers both traditional and arcane. There are also creative cocktails in their own weeny tankards and wines on tap. Basically, all the alcoholic beverages any heart could desire.
Does it serve pub grub? Sure, it pays lip-service to the traditions of the genre, with pies and roasts and toasties. But reimagined by angels – in the guise of consultant, Michel Roux Jr. Or, in the case of the cheese toastie – a behemoth of a thing anchored by a heavy, cast-iron bacon press and oozing excellent aged cheddar, red onion, mustard and cornichons in the most lascivious way – by Satan himself.
It’s designed to be shared, apparently. Excuse my small, shamefaced laugh. There are scotch eggs subjected to many a twist: “masala” quail’s egg porcupined with threads of sev over the sausagemeat, lolling in sauces of fiercely spiced dahl and raita. Silly? A bit. Delicious? Oh yes. And I love the idea of serving crabmeat on minuscule crumpets with slivers of nori: if pubs did blinis…
West African-inspired restaurant Ikoyi in London offers an experience that’s new, different and inspired, says the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon.
It’s been opened by two friends in their early 30s, Iré Hassan-Odukale (born in Nigeria) and Jeremy Chan (Chinese-Canadian). The menu is short. Snacks to begin. First, the ‘chicken oyster’: a single mouthful of chicken, scooped up in a leaf and downed in one, with a tingling afterburn of pepper. Like doing a shot, but of meat.
Then, buttermilk plantain: a lurid pink banana, covered in Scotch bonnet, a spice that threatened to torch the tonsils, but was cooled just enough by the accompanying mayonnaise to let the plantain sweetness seep through.
Next, octopus pepper soup: a thick chompy tentacle in a glistening oily broth. Good, but much better was the Manx Loaghtan rib, which was voluptuously succulent. The Manx Loaghtan is a rare breed of sheep with four horns, found not in West Africa but on the Isle of Man, but here it’s prepared in a Nigerian style, with a tickly ‘asun relish’. As you’ll have noticed by now, there’s a fair bit of spice on the menu, but, scotch bonnet aside, it’s not a blazing furnace of heat. More a low-level glow. Embers smouldering.
I liked the food at Ikoyi a lot. Vivid, imaginative, immaculately cooked, generous but not overfilling. Another reminder of how much eating out has changed in this country, how much more adventurous it’s grown, and how much better.
The Telegraph’s Keith Miller finds Interesting textures and forceful flavours on show at the Other Naughty Piglet, located in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Other Place theatre in London.
The restaurant is accessed via a spectacular, and spectacularly hideous, marble staircase, coiling malevolently up from the ground floor bar (it evokes H R Giger’s designs for the Alien franchise rather than anything in Total Recall). It’s fronted by a sweeping curved window, with high counter seating along a balcony and tables elsewhere.
The food comes, they tell you, in the order it appears on the menu – so you end up with a sort of bespoke tasting menu to share. Though often the dishes aren’t readily divisible, arriving in a single artful splodge.
We hugely enjoyed pretty much everything: a grilled pear with crushed hazelnuts, blue cheese and Jerusalem artichoke crisps (“This is a very important crisp,” said my friend solemnly); a sort of tartare dusted with coffee and topped with crispy shredded greens like old-school sesame prawn toast; a little cylinder of crabmeat and pickled cabbage, zapped with yuzu; a perfect little plateful of crimson venison loin with a creamy bone marrow sauce; a honey-laced, yogurt-braced panna cotta with walnuts and confit figs.
Writing in the Observer, Jay Rayner says the soup at Seoul Kimchi in Manchester should be available on prescription.
The increasingly popular Korean fried chicken comes here in round, boneless pieces. It lacks the echoing crunch of that made from whole bird, but makes up for it in dollops of a sweet and salty, hot and fiery sauce full of the fermented red chilli paste gochujang, the addictive culinary opioid at the heart of Korean food. We have a cast iron plate of galbi, Korean beef ribs sawn in thin strips through the bone. The meat is soy-marinated and deeply savoury, and rips pleasingly from the hard oval of rib in the middle.
Another superheated cast iron dish brings curls of pork and squid, blackened in places, rust brown in others, as more of the gochujang starts to crisp up. Underneath, caramelising in the extreme heat, are tangles of sweet, golden onion. All of these dishes cost around £8.
The enduring heat-transfer powers of a cast-iron cauldron play their part in a bibimbap – a rice bowl – of ground beef, the bed of rice starting to crisp up at the bottom. I mix in the raw egg, which starts to cook, and the beef, the chilli sauce and the spring onions. It is one of the single most satisfying items of comfort food available. It soothes you. It jolts you awake. Then it soothes again. Most of the main dishes come with portions of sticky, fluffy rice. If you choose a bibimbap you should ask them to hold a couple of those back or your table will quickly overfill with sad, unwanted side dishes.
Against all this a slightly terrifying looking bowl of spicy seafood soup, bubbling orange and red, slicks of chilli oil shimmering on the surface, doesn’t quite hold its own. But it is, I think, a matter of context. On the right sort of cold, damp day of the type Manchester excels in, the soup would feel like something that should be offered on prescription.
Christopher Hart reviews the Masons Arms in Knowstone, Devon in the Sunday Times.
The Masons Arms doesn’t shout about its Michelin star, and at a glance it looks like the kind of place that specialises in cider and crisps, locals in wellies airing unfashionable opinions, and ancient Land Rover Defenders parked outside with dead deer in the back. And while we certainly don’t want Devon to lose its cider’n’crisps boozers, foodies will know very well that the chef is Mark Dodson, who used to work at Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray. The food here, where he has been for 12 years now, is rooted in the rich, gamey traditions and terroir of Exmoor, and in his quest for local ingredients he leaves Knowstone unturned. (Sorry.)
I started with salmon and my companion had a roast tomato soup, deep red and aromatic, that she said was simply the best she’d ever had. And we had tomato soup in Sicily earlier this year, so that’s quite a compliment. My gin-cured salmon was superb as well: the classic Swedish gingravad lax, which they usually serve at Christmas with juniper berries. Here it came with delicate slices of thinly pickled cucumber, and tiny, transparent cubes of elderflower jelly, a thrilling touch of sweetness to offset the salmon’s saltiness. It was faultless. As was the fact that our waitress knew instantly what these jelly cubes were when I asked her, and how they were made.
Main courses, as so often, were good but less to shout about. They arrived swiftly enough, though. Pressed pork belly for her, a bit chewy rather than crispy, and ditto the roast potatoes; but great crispy-baked cavolo nero, not oversalted, slices of leek and a wonderful burnt-apple purée. Mine was the turbot: a regrettably ugly, warty little bugger in real life, alas, but sweetly delicious on a plate, especially in a sage crust, as here, with cauliflower, trompette mushrooms and a chive sauce.
Despite some of the new décor being “a touch conservative” Tom Chesshyre of the Times is delighted that the Lygon Arms in Broadway, Worcestershire has been given a new lease of life.
The Lygon is a former coaching inn dating from 1377 on the route between London, Wales and Worcester. Last year it was acquired by London and Regional, the hotel and property investment company run by the brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone (who also own Chewton Glen hotel in the New Forest and Cliveden House in Berkshire). Since then, millions have been spent on a redesign by Anita Rosato. The spa has been given a slick overhaul, the lounges spruced up and a bijou cocktail bar installed.
The 86 rooms have an old-fashioned feel, with plenty of antique furniture; some pieces are by Gordon Russell, one of Britain’s leading designers in the 1930s (whose father once owned the hotel). Old beams, gnarly wooden doors and sloping floorboards help to create the inn’s frozen-in-time atmosphere in the main building, which houses 36 rooms. Others are in outhouses from the 1920s and 1950s by a courtyard with a chestnut tree and landscaped garden. Rooms throughout have been smartened with checked fabrics in purples and reds, wide beds and shiny bathrooms stocked with Floris toiletries.
The interior of the Five Bells Inn in Brabourne, Kent, may be bonkers, but it makes “a refreshing change from the ultra-tasteful, safe decor of many contemporary hotel rooms, says the Guardian’s Liz Boulter.
This must be the most eccentric room I’ve slept in: everything’s oversized, slightly mad or both. One side of the fireplace is taken up by a framed floor-to-ceiling black-and-white photo of sculpted Renaissance bottoms, while on the other a leopard-print chair almost reaches the ceiling. There are toiletries on a huge brass tray by the freestanding bath, a sunburst mirror, some modern wallpaper and lots of exposed brick, all reflected in another mirror – gilt-framed and two metres high.
Only the loo, behind a door in the corner, is reassuringly normal. The offbeat style does not get in the way of comfort: on a cool autumn evening, a log fire is crackling in my fireplace, and the bed and bedding are sumptuous.