Flavour Bastard, London W1: “There’s me thinking Sexy Fish was as bad as it got” says Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian.
The name? Brace yourselves: it’s Flavour Bastard. Roll that around your tongue: flaaavour baaastaard. And there’s me thinking Sexy Fish was as bad as it got.
Here’s the “remove rules and traditions” (their words) bastardry in full flow: South Indian-style white lentil vada (“doughnuts”) with Spanish chorizo and Italian pecorino. Oh, the wackiness: fan me, for I fear an attack of the vapours. Is it an improvement on conventional medu vada? Stodgy and salty and sickly, it is not. Or this bobby dazzler: roast sweet potato (served cold), glooped with fennel-flavoured yoghurt, sunflower seeds, a lot of coriander and quantities of damp chillied popcorn – a kind of mutant chaat that’s saying nothing of any interest.
The worst dish – and believe me, it’s tough competition – is a “poké” of tuna. It’s not a Hawaiian raw fish salad poké at all; it’s just a sad little bunker of chopped, greying raw tuna topped with a fistful of semi-crushed wasabi peas, those snacks for people who find pickled onion Monster Munch not nearly corrosive enough. A curry leaf is plunged pointlessly on top, a flag to idiocy. At its base puddles “horseradish buttermilk”. I dropped a blob of Colman’s English mustard on a fine wool sweater recently, and it burned a hole straight through, but that’s honeydew in comparison with this, the acrid emissions of a toxic cuckoo.
Sadly, I really can’t find much to be positive about – sorry. Tandoori fried chicken is fine, in the way that even crappy fried chicken is fine; it comes with an un-named bowl of flavoured water: Indian pani in search of its puri. Avoiding cucumber and quinoa jobs, puddings are relatively inoffensive.
Not so much flavour bastards as thoroughgoing, unremitting, absolute taste tossers.
Giles Coren of the Times reviews Lorne in Victoria, London: “I was so happy with my first two courses that I ordered pudding. And I never order pudding”
Dishes were presented not with names but as ingredient lists, to wit “Lovage gnocchi, girolles, turnip, sweetcorn, parmesan” (mmm, mmm, mmm) which suggests an approach that would foreground lovingly sourced, seasonal and local materials and nestle them together gently on the plate for complementary effects, rather than smash them with heat and light into brand new compounds.
My starter wasn’t on the list. Our waitress (or possibly it was the co-owner and sommelier Katie Exton, I can’t remember) said, “We’ve also got sweetbreads, which …” and I said, “Yes, please,” and got two sweet lobes of pancreas, crumbed and crunchy, with peas and fresh borlotti beans (or possibly coco beans), caramelised shallots and a lovely fresh jus rather than a stickier, more wintry reduction of the juices.
Then “Monkfish, broccoli, squid, chilli, garlic, celtuce, cashews”. Two gleaming white monkfish pieces, very tender squid, cross-hatched and swiftly cooked, and a crown of tentacles, arced around a pretty plate with long leaves of celtuce (a celery-lettuce hybrid), shards of nut and specks of chilli, all of it lovely on the teeth, firm, sweet, fresh.
I was so happy with it all that I ordered pudding. And I never order pudding. My reward was a wonderful lemon posset, tart and creamy, with a kind of blueberry compote over it, crushed pistachios all green and aromatic and shards of smashed meringue.
Jay Rayner of the Observer reviews the Ox Club in Leeds and says its “rustic country cookery in the heart of the city more than works.”
The cooking here is boisterous and assertive. It’s determined to make a point. A fried duck egg is pelted with girolles that have been sautéed to crisp alongside fried up leaves of lightly bitter cavolo nero, that have the edge of that stuff Chinese restaurants flog as deep fried seaweed.
The genius dish, the one that cleans the palate, is the cubes of melon with savoury fermented chilli. It’s one of those ideas you want to steal and pass off as your own. Oh sure, I’ve been mixing melon with fermented chilli for yonks. Haven’t you?
The grill kicks in with the mains. A piece of trout, with silvery, heat-blistered skin like crackling, sits on a thick creamy sauce spun through with smoked roe. It’s the essence of cod’s roe on toast. Alongside the fish rises an island of knotted leek hearts, blackened and crisped at their edges, a mixture of sweet caramelised onion and something altogether more astringent and interesting. A side dish brings two pieces of corn on the cob, roasted over the wood then smeared with a butter made with black garlic, which is funky and earthy and deep. The shared cooking method leaves everything with the light tang of bombfire. A little goes a long way, but here it’s suitably controlled.
Reviewing for the Times, John Walsh concludes the food at the Michelin-starred Crown at Maidenhead is “old-fashioned in the best way, punctiliously cooked, lovingly sauced and unpretentiously dished up.”
Dinner kicked off with an explosive mouthful of onion bhaji and melted blue cheese, served on a doily. A rillette of Landes goose was densely textured in the centre, fibrous at the edges, rich and smooth as Lana Del Rey, but looked greyly lost on the white dinner plate, and was artlessly served, with homemade potato roundels poked in the top like Minnie Mouse ears.
My main event was visually thrilling: braised Highland venison “popped in a pie”, as the menu quaintly described it. And what a pie. Imagine a fortress in the deserts of Sudan, foursquare and impregnable, besieged and firestormed to a dark brown glaze, with a beetroot cannonball lodged in the battlements. It had a strategic hole in the roof, through which India poured from a copper mini saucepan a rich reduction of deer-bone stock and rowanberries.
There’s quite a lot to swoon about at the Crown. The Bonwick family’s food is old-fashioned in the best way, punctiliously cooked, lovingly sauced and unpretentiously dished up. I might quibble about some details of presentation — but they’re eclipsed by the palpable feeling of paternal attention that irradiates this gastronomic home from home.
Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Flavour B******: I keep a photo of one dish on my phone as an appetite suppressant.
For the past five months Flavour B******’s wonkily ominous arrival has peppered industry gossip, especially when Vic Singh and Pratap Chahal began giving interviews vowing to make nothing ‘authentic’ and instead take ‘vibrant ingredients from around the world, removing rules and traditions’, and serve ‘tiny plates’ (their words) ‘combining creative flavours and techniques’.
The weirdest thing was the roasted sweet potato (squishy) with fennel yogurt (creamy), strewn with chilli popcorn (woah, Pratap, mate, stop there) and sunflower seeds. A small bowl of two or three mouthfuls of tandoori-fried chicken was quite pleasing. The next three dishes I recall ordering half-heartedly, as by this point I sensed nothing fabulous was happening here and to feed three of us, we’d need to order double the amount. I chose a small plate of monkfish with watercress cream, a B****** steak tartare and the miso and mango aubergine with peanut-buckwheat crumble. These dishes sat around slightly unloved while we drank Cabidos Petite Manseng Sec and pondered whether to go to Brasserie Zédel for dinner.
The quino-and-cucumber pudding scented with the strong musky perfume vetiver felt like being frottaged roughly by a goth in a B&Q garden centre. I keep a photo of it on my phone as an appetite suppressant. Flavour B****** is definitely a disruptive presence on the London restaurant scene. And I know that its future lies in the fact that at least some part of you, deep down, wants to experience it, too.
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon reviews Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms: ‘I’ll order pork belly until the day I die’.
Opened this summer in the depths of rural Oxfordshire, Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms is part of a trendy new hotel chain called Artist Residence. Visually, it’s a curious combination. A 16th-century farmhouse, huddled and cosy and dark – yet decorated, here and there, with kitsch hipster artworks: a neon crucifix, a neon Cupid’s arrow, a neon sign that in chaotic pink capitals reads, ‘What did I do last night?’
The menu is British, with lots of local ingredients (they grow their own vegetables in the garden). I started with the grilled sardine: nicely salted, with a crunchy dusting of golden batter, complemented by fennel and buttery samphire.
Next came a wobbling cube of pork belly. The editor of the Telegraph Magazine teases me for the maniacal frequency with which I write about pork belly, but damn it, I love it, and I’ll go on ordering it until the day I die. Which, given the amount of pork belly I eat, will probably be quite soon.
My main was a hearty wedge of grouse, enlivened with pearl barley and cocoa nibs, girolle mushrooms, lardons, and chunky savoy cabbage underneath. Also a side of ‘game chips’: crisps fried in duck fat. (Bit flavourless, to be honest.)
Finally, a luscious pudding of many flavours and textures: fat strawberries, champagne jelly, crumble, sorbet and ice cream.
The refurbishment of Gleneagles have added “much zip” to the iconic hotel in Aucheterarder, Perthshire, says Tom Chesshyre of the Times, but warns that the room rates are steep.
Golden sunlight bathes the croquet lawns of Gleneagles. Families potter about on a well-maintained pitch-and-putt course (free for guests), not far from the tennis courts, maze, falconry school and gundog school. A mower buzzes across one of the hotel’s three famous championship golf courses, framed in the distance by the graceful Ochil Hills. By the grand hotel entrance, a porter wearing a kilt and a flat cap greets guests. Welcome to Gleneagles.
The changes mean that the rooms are in a state of flux — although you can ask for the new look when you book. There is no price difference. New rooms mix furniture from the 1920s — tall wooden wardrobes with thin oval mirrors, stands with hooks for outdoor clothes, shoe racks, period brass lamps — with modern touches, such as digital radios and espresso machines. Marble bathrooms are stocked with top-quality Asprey toiletries. The rooms yet to be refurbished have the same conveniences, but simply look a little less slick.
The many choices include the down-to-earth Auchterarder 70 pub by the golf courses (burgers, pies, fishcakes), the Dormy restaurant (curries and steaks, also by the golf courses) and the breezy Garden Café (snacks). The stylish new Birnam Brasserie has a central bar with leather stools that would not be out of place in Hoxton; expect a healthier menu, including salads, grilled sea bass and omelettes. Alternatively, opt for fine-dining at Andrew Fairlie, with its two Michelin stars and tasting menus from £95. I ate at the more traditional Strathearn restaurant, enjoying a fine Hebridean crab starter followed by delicious, tender Highland venison and a sweet yet sharp white chocolate and rhubarb mousse.
Robert Hull of the Guardian checks into the Cors country house hotel, recently transformed by owner Nick Priestland from a restaurant into a B&B.
A small stone bridge over the Corran leads into a large garden where, on a sunny autumn day, a Japanese pagoda tree dazzles in red and orange. Behind lies the Victorian country house, two storeys of shabby beauty that for over 20 years have been home to chef-patron Nick Priestland’s fine-dining restaurant.
From the moment he shows us the garden-facing Blue Room it’s obvious he understands what it takes to create atmosphere. Shutters pull back to reveal windows on to the garden, while inside there’s an old fireplace, lilac walls and objets d’art providing plenty of character. Add a double bed that’s soft and inviting and you have perfect short-break material.
That evening Nick is ready in the bar with wine, laughter and gossip. I forget he is also meant to be cooking. He hasn’t but adds a caveat: “My kitchen hero is Keith Floyd, so you’ll have to bear with. I’ll get to it soon, though.” And indeed he does. Our starter of smoked haddock crème brulée is creamy and has sizable chunks of fish, while a main of salt marsh lamb with dauphinoise potatoes is modern-European done with balance and finesse. Dessert brings lemon tart for me and sticky toffee pudding for my wife. It also brings contentment.
It’s easy to see how Nick’s cooking has earned him plaudits, and though some will miss out as he steps back from the restaurant, many well-fed, well-entertained guests will now get a chance to book in for the night and soak this up – at a leisurely pace for them and for Nick.