PF Chang’s Asian Table in London is the first UK outpost for the US casual dining chain and Felicity Cloake of the Guardian brands it an “international embarrassment”.
Inside, there’s not a stone horse or Chinese lantern in sight; instead, the dining room has the carefully neutral glamour of a high-end airport restaurant – though, unlike any airport restaurant ever, it’s almost empty. Not that this makes it any easier to order; most of the staff have the crepuscular air of people reluctantly working out their notice in purgatory.
The food. I can avoid it no longer, much as I might wish to. I feel duty bound to order Chang’s famous dynamite shrimp: “Always imitated, never duplicated.” Spilling out of a Don Draper-sized martini glass in a slick of sriracha aïoli, the plump prawns wear their gluey batter like damp, shrink-fit jeans. Sweet, spicy and deep-fried, this is food that appeals to our basest instincts and, soggy or not, we polish off the lot.
Unfortunately, everything else is all too easy to push aside. Chang’s chicken, the house version of Chinese-American favourite General Tso’s chicken, is a pallid pile of dry pieces of breast painted with an orange, sugary gloop that takes me back to student nights out at the Eat As Much As You Like Chinese Buffet, while the black cod and lotus chips is an insult, rather than a respectful nod, to the head chef’s former employer, the fish’s delicate flesh reduced to tempura-battered mush.
Factor in a restorative coffee and we don’t get much change from £100. I’m not tearing into PF Chang’s because it’s a very big fish in a pool of fry – frankly, it hardly feels as if it’s competing in the same culinary arena as most of its Chinatown neighbours – or indeed because it’s American. Chinese-American food can be superb, but this place is a truly international embarrassment.
The Game Bird restaurant at the Stafford hotel in London SW1 offers “the best versions of the familiar”, says Jay Rayner in the Observer.
Chef James Durrant’s menu at the Game Bird laughs in the face of novelty. It has no interest in the cutting edge, the startling or the innovative. It sells itself on one thing and one thing only: execution. Can it offer the very best versions of the familiar? The answer is, yes it can, and how. In a time of grinding restlessness, the Game Bird is about a very special kind of continuity; of eternal verities nuzzled up to and whispered sweet nothings at. Come here on a good day and you’ll have a lovely time. Come here on a bad day and the menu – British grill classics, cooked with jugs full of French technique – will make sure all the bad stuff stays outside.
It’s called the Game Bird and the menu always has one: at the moment a roast squab pigeon, fully garnished. Look over to the far wall and you’ll see a hanging cabinet, complete with a few feathered birds, waiting their moment. But let your eye drift down the menu to a list of pies, puddings and stews, including a venison stew, a hotpot of hogget and best of all – cease my aching heart – a beef and ale steamed suet pudding. The tourist buses that ply their trade from outside Green Park tube should put this pudding on the route, especially when drenched in the glossiest of meat reductions. The pudding is all soft-steamed doughy loveliness, giving way to a dense filling of cow. It is sticky and unctuous and rich and sustaining. It is the word “happy” fashioned from ingredients.
Having never eaten in a JD Wetherspoon before, Marina O’Loughlin casts her critical eye over the pub chain’s new Ramsgate outlet in the Sunday Times.
’Fried buttermilk chicken burger’ (598 calories) delivers a flat, damp sandwich secured with a wooden skewer, as if its flabby contents are in any danger of escaping from their woolly bun. ‘I like it,’ says the Spoon’s fan. Probably the best dish we order is a mixed grill on the grounds that — fag-ash peas and pasty, superprocessed banger excepted — it’s not actively unpleasant. And the worst: a ‘side’ of ribs (who orders a side of ribs?), the meat pappy and exhausted, the barbecue sauce as sugary as fudge. It’s the sort of thing you might scoop out of the bottom of Hannibal Lecter’s recycling bin.
Yes, it’s cheap. But, to quote my mama, I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it. This is cheap not because it’s good value, but because it’s nasty. At least I can now slag it off from a position of authority. The terrace that wraps around this ravishing piece of seaside architecture is quite the place to sit with a pint, looking out to sea. But only if you smuggle in your own picnic. Don’t, for God’s sake, order the food.
The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent reignites her love affair with Brixton at Salon.
If Brixton were a lover, he would think I’d ghosted him.
I began ignoring SW9 about six months ago. Brixton didn’t do anything wrong; it was me. I had better offers. And during my absence I also heard chat that the place is changing for the worse anyway. Re-gentrified out of all recognition, apparently; its soul scrubbed clean. Having returned last week, I’m not sure I buy that.
Salon opened in 2012 but closed recently for refurbishment and a re-ponder. This was a notion I rather loved. All people and places should be permitted second acts. Or third and fourth ones.
Salon’s ‘nduja croquettes are certainly one of the nicest things I’ve eaten in 2017. They pack substance, crispness, heat and sweetness and arrive on a dewy aioli puddle. They’re served in the bar and in the upstairs restaurant, same as the excellent house-made soda and foccacia breads with whey butter.
Dinner is a set menu; a shorter option and an extended one. I opted for the smaller one as, believe me, life is too bloody short to agree to any chef’s extended menu. Don’t encourage them. You’ll still be there at midnight while he (it’s always a he) is sending out palate-cleansing sorbet that the waitress will tell you reminds chef of caravan holidays he had with Nana.
Salon by day is homely and at night is experimental, possibly challenging to some diners, but completely worth leaving one’s postcode for. I have learned my lesson about blanking Brixton; there are wonderful things happening in SW9.
The Times’ Giles Coren reviews Jean-Georges at the Connaught with a childhood friend, J.
The room was very light and pale grey and spacious, but felt a bit bolted on to the grand old place. Seating was low and so egregiously casual as to feel weirdly uptight. Perched on a pale grey sofa-type thing, J had his knees bent at about 70 degrees, which didn’t look comfortable.
I hadn’t eaten Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s food since that awful Asian fusion place, Vong, he had under the Berkeley hotel years ago and he’s still doing that sort of thing (though from a long way away, obviously), chucking ginger-chilli dressing at a John Dory, spicy miso broth at a piece of salmon and roasted carrot miso at a beef tenderloin (a hateful American coinage for “fillet” that has no place in one of our great hotels). But there are also beef, lamb chops and Dover sole quite unfiddled with, fish and chips and some dull-looking pastas and pizza.
I ordered the truffled cheeseburger, obviously. It looked a treat, stacked high with a stick poked into its sesame seed bun to hold it on to the good, thick burger under melting brie, a lettuce leaf and a pretty fan of pickles.
The first bite was fat and wet and sprayed juices like a whoopee cushion full of hot butter (an image I intended to be positive but may have muffed slightly). There was no way of carrying it to the mouth – it had to be hunched over, fox-in-a-dustbin style, which is not a great look in the Connaught. And after the first couple of chews, it began to bore me. It was bland and salty. The yuzu pickles had no pep, I couldn’t really feel the truffle and in the absence of ketchup and mustard it all got a bit one-note. The thing about a cheeseburger is that a really great traditional one for about eight quid is as good as it can get. Push it to £25 and add premium garnishes, and it’s ever decreasing circles, I’m afraid. Very good chips though.
With a double espresso each, the bill came to £248.63 for two courses. That included £55 for 3 glasses of burgundy and a regal £15 for the aforementioned pair of small coffees. It’s a hell of a bill for a lunchtime burger and a glass.
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon finds Pascere in Brighton smart and elegant, with artistically created dishes that are also delicious.
I do sometimes wonder why they’re called tasting menus, when some of the courses are so tiny you’ve swallowed before you’ve actually tasted them. And after each evanescent semi-morsel the waiter is always so eager to find out what you thought, which can be awkward. You feel a bit like a child has invited you to tea at her dolls’ house, and you’re having to smile politely and rub your tummy, and pretend you’re having the feast of a lifetime (‘Mmm, yummy! Num num num!’). The carrot fregola was nice, though: beautifully crisp.
But the biggest course was excellent: roast Goosnargh duck breast and leg with duck-liver parfait and braised chicory. A quick word first, though, on the layout. No matter how many restaurants I visit, I will never come to terms with chefs’ conviction that they’re composing a piece of modern art rather than a meal. You know the sort of thing: a bewildering melange of blobs and spaces and lines and angles, somehow looking both wildly random and neurotically precise, as though someone gave Jackson Pollock a set square for Christmas. If you served something like that at home, your children would lie you straight down on the sofa and call 999.”
Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard enjoys “nice people serving pleasant food efficiently in a comfortable space” at Mathieu Germond’s Noizé in London’s Fitzrovia.
Oh, my God, look, there printed on the menu is the restaurant’s phone number. You can ring up, someone genial will answer (I can vouch for it) and be happy toing and froing about what time you would like a table and where you might want to sit.
The short menu is presented as a list for the customer to manipulate. Snacks, which kick off at £5 can become starters, a starter a main course and so forth. Dishes of the day in any size you feel like are spoken embellishment. Cheddar cheese gougères should not be missed as a drink-accompanying snack. First off with a glass of sparkling Vouvray, Symphonie, Triple Zero they set the tone perfectly.
Chef Ed Dutton has worked with the Pied à Terre consortium but also with Hywel Jones at Foliage when that was the main restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and with Tom Aikens. His palate seems to me a well-tuned one and his understanding of pairings that of an experienced marriage broker.
Ignoring the byelaw that stipulates all menus must feature some iteration of the threesome of beetroots, goat’s curds and walnuts, we head for squid, smoked bacon and apple, a felicitous chaos of flavours and textures with just a twinkle of foam, and chicken, leek and foie gras terrine that has artful concentric circular construction, a target which scores a bull’s-eye.”
Jacob Kenedy’s Plaquemine adjacent to the Regent’s Canal in London delivers on flavour if not on looks, says the Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett.
Now, as a home cook, I favour one-pot everything. Whether it’s stew in my daubière, paella in my copper-bottomed paellera, stir-fries in my wok or tagines in my, er, tagine. I am a fan of sexy flavours and textures combined under one convenient culinary roof. On the other hand, precisely because I’m all over un-pretty, non-faffy, flavoursome peasant-style cooking, it’s very rarely what I’ll choose to eat in a restaurant.
Whether it’s stew in my daubière, paella in my copper-bottomed paellera, stir-fries in my wok or tagines in my, er, tagine. I am a fan of sexy flavours and textures combined under one culinary roof
At Plaquemine, however, you’d be pushed to be posher than one-pot even if the blackened swordfish at 18 quid leads you to believe otherwise. To tell the truth, none of this stuff arrives looking very lovely. Everything is the colour of, say, 4pm in early March 1974, or indeed sepia-tinted sludge, circa 1904.
Every ingredient at Plaquemine has the capacity to look pretty; however, the no-nonsense nature of the cooking – all swarthy, broad-shouldered roux and wood-chip-plus-wallpaper-paste porridge that is anything-plus-grits – renders prettiness as entirely obsolete.”
Hattie Garlick of the Sunday Telegraph enjoys the ultimate family retreat at the new treehouse suite at Chewton Glen, New Milton, Hampshire.
ChewtonGlen has a deserved reputation as one of Britain’s finest and most luxurious hotels, so the design of The Great Yews treehouse is less Eqwok, more…oligarch. Downstairs, the two main bedrooms have mattresses so thick it was like sleeping on a wedge of sponge cake. There is underfloor heating everywhere. The free-standing baths have forest views (you can see out, but the owls can’t see in). And the walk-on showers contain luxury REN products for grown-ups and the Childs Farm range for kids.
In the sitting room (yet another mammoth television here), everything is a shade that a Persian cat might come in. A wicker basket of white fluffy towels sits by the glass doors leading out on to the balcony and two hot tubs. Even the wood burner looks like modern art. Upstairs in the two bedrooms, the children whooped over wrapped gifts bearing their names (thoughtfully chosen books). They also delighted in a telescope in one of the bedrooms that pointed towards a night sky uninterrupted by light pollution.
All this opulence comes at a price. The Great Yews costs from £2,850. It does sleep eight, so if – as we did – you share it with another family of hour, that drops to £356 per person. Except, half your party probably has an income of around £2 a week in pocket money. To those for whom this seems an unfathomable sum – I hear you. Taking kids to luxury htoels has always felt like a more financially perilous game of Russian roulette. Luxury os about opulence, quiet, cleanliness and uninterrupted relaxation. Children are often about cheap tat, loud noises, grubbiness and uninterrupted demands.
Dixe Wills of The Guardian advises travellers heading to the Gower to takes a tour to Mumbles, Swansea and check into Langland Cove guest house.
Over the past four years, Carwyn and Sarah – as friendly and welcoming a couple as you’re likely to meet – have turned this B&B into a place anyone might like to call home. “It was originally built as an inn,” Sarah tells my friend Ana and me, proffering a faded black-and-white postcard showing the building in its Victorian incarnation. “Not long after we bought it,” local boy Carwyn adds, “we were approached by [Swansea-based designer] Tamsin Leech-Griffiths, who asked us if we could be her first ever interiors project.
Bravely but wisely, they said yes. Tamsin, a former fashion designer for Toast and Paul Smith, chose chocolate browns, greys and deep blues for the four en suite bedrooms, furnishing them in unfussy contemporary style. Twin anglepoise lamps over the beds are perhaps the only detailing that cries, “Hey, look at me!” The telly is a sideshow rather than a focal point, and the walls are a miniature gallery of local landscape paintings, all for sale. (“We don’t take a commission, so everything goes to the artists,” Carwyn points out.) There are slippers and robes, and a mini-fridge containing milk and real coffee for the cafetière, and a plate of homemade bite-size cakes.