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ceremony Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Ceremony, Tufnell Park which she says is “a restaurant joyously bucking the vegetarian clichés.”

Snacks of hot, fresh, cloud-like courgette fritters, a bowl of vegetable crisps and a plate of raw radishes and beetroot with a vibrant romesco sauce arrived. This was all slightly worthy, but not to worry as along next came a charred leek rarebit; a mini roasting tin full of oozy, unctious leek, mustardy cheeses and breadcrumbs.

Then a plate of buttery polenta strewn with wild mushrooms and a breadcrumbed yet runny duck egg. Patently, there will be vegans tantruming ‘but are there vegan options?’ again and again throughout this review, sounding like an ignored car alarm, to which my answer is a firm ‘probably’.

The sweet potato curry, to me, chimed heroically and fragrantly with coconut milk. It is the stuff of dreams. But I did not go into the kitchen and demand a forensic. The white bean stew was blandly satisfying and so far, so vegan, yet came with delicious, plump Parmesan dumplings. My advice would be to call them, but they may be too distracted to answer as Ceremony plays quite loud music and is full of people of the youngish and fun-ish category.

And right now they appear to be turning away walk-ins — because it feels like when, if one decides to make a vegetarian restaurant resolutely non-vegetarian feeling, well, like Field of Dreams, you build it and they come. And I went, and I’ll be back.


Smoking Goat’s second site in London’s Shoreditch could do with loosening up on the stifling sourcing policy, say the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler.

The menu section entitled Drinking Foods — the equivalent of starters — kicks off with larb-spiced chicken heart skewers at £1.40 each. Agreeable, oozy, not as vampiric as the description might conjure, along with small cubes of Tamworth pork interspersed with matching cubes of pork fat (£1.60) and a Menai oyster topped with roasted chillies, nuts and leaves (£3.50) — arguably more stuff on top than it can bear — they are drink-accompanying twiddles, reasons to order cocktails such as rye and green chilli.

Northern Thai-style beef sausage is judged soggier and less vivid than the smoked sausage with turmeric at Kiln, the establishment that is invoked and praised more than once for comparative precision of preparation. Northern Thai-style duck larb is a sprauncy assembly, glistening, quite labyrinthine, shocking when a mouse shit chilli, aka prik kee noo suan, lurks in a mouthful. Barbecue goat massaman needs longer, slower cooking so that meat falls from the bone rather than having to be prised off. Soukhy spicing makes it stand out from other conventionally Thai dishes.

We fancy something sweet or some fresh fruit but are told that desserts are still “under development”. How about some Gelupo ice cream, meanwhile? I get the feeling that the operation is almost paralysed by the notion of authenticity and that if the management was able to confront the fact that here is a quite swanky Shoreditch restaurant proclaiming quite rightly its virtuous sourcing, it would swing more merrily.


Cubé

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon gets more worked up about menu pricing than the food at Cubé in London’s Mayfair.

The first that happened to appear was the spicy tuna tartare (£13.9). Good, thick meaty strips of tuna, with a low-lit lingering burn. I liked it. Then the ‘baked tuna sausage’ (£9.5): little putty-coloured discs of fish, chunky, but pretty bland.

Much better were the ox tongue tacos (£9.9). According to the waiter, they’re the most popular item on the menu. Deservedly so, because they were by miles the best thing I ate. They didn’t look like much: miniature parcels of meat, each served on a ‘taco’ that was in fact a lettuce leaf, and accompanied by a bowl of orange salsa. On the face of it, nothing special. But they tasted gorgeous: salty, succulent, instantly addictive.

We were served three. I was sorely tempted to order more, but was unsure how I’d justify it to the Gradgrinds who comb my expenses. ‘Yes, I know it seems like a lot, but it was for sound professional reasons. The flavour was just so subtle, I couldn’t find the words to describe it until I’d eaten 15.’

The rosemary pork kakuni (£7.9) I wasn’t so keen on. Bulky, cumbersome hunks of pork, an awkward mixture of soft and chewy. And I wasn’t convinced at all by the tsukune (£6.5). Officially they were balls of chicken, served on skewers, but they tasted more like papier mâché: dull, damp, sorry lumps of mush. As for the mentai renkon cheese (£5.9), it was just odd: stiff, dry discs of yellow, a bit like eating a mildly spiced beer mat.


The cooking at the Dragon Inn Club in London isn’t all that but Giles Coren of the Times loves the moody loo.

The cooking at Dragon Inn Club isn’t really all that, but for most of my lunch there the other day I was thinking, “Yes, this is exactly where I want to be.” And that is surely most of what being in a restaurant comes down to, is it not?

On the outside it looks like a pub, which I guess it once was. And inside it looks like one too, with some of the aforementioned ancient bits and bobs nailed on. The downstairs is moodier, though, and the rough wood orientalist tricking out of the toilets is triumphant. I could hang out down there for ever. I love a moody loo.

The dim sum, when it came, was fresh, but not exciting. They don’t offer much of a selection, just a basket of eight dumplings: two each of prawn, scallop, fish and spinach, and saffron vegetables. The dough was thick and sticky and the fillings were bland, but they made a base for more tea-drinking and the little sugar rush from the pulpy rice gluten contributed to my crisp, lonely but happy mood.

But still, as I said, I was glad to be in here. Dragon Inn Club has a daft eclectic look that will bed in nicely, the tea is good and I liked the chicken and the music and the smells and the book I was reading.


Temper City

There is so much going on at Temper City in London that Rhik Samadder of the Guardian doesn’t know where he is.

I try to wrap my head around “squid and samphire pakora” and “dashi chip shop chicken”. “Korean haggis” is the sort of madness you’d scribble on a pad at 4am, so I can’t not order it. Weirdly, it’s decent: lung-y and oaty, with the pepperiness substituted by gochugaru chilli. It works for my companion, too.

This menu straddles both food groups. Sadly, the cutlery doesn’t. Implements are perfect for Asian fare, yet trying to eat bavette with a fork and a spoon is like living an Alanis Morissette lyric. I roll a few slices by hand, rending the flesh with my teeth, but C is part of a circle of friends I see once a year, and I don’t want him reporting back that I’ve gone feral. I ask for a knife.

On the curry side, better news. Fish head is lovely, if mild. I pictured a decapitated snapper rearing from its broth, but these seductive chunks in aromatic coconut milk are more Cleopatra than Jaws. “Dry goat” sounds as appetising as “old shoe”, but this heap of caramelised shreds, musky, toasted and looking like a mound of American tobacco, knocks me backwards. For meat lovers, it’s a bowl of the best crisp bits. Piled on to yoghurt and tamarind, and folded in roti with chutney and pickles, it is sensational.

The Scottish chip shop thing, the provocative fusions, the meaty machismo, the Chesney Hawkes: there’s so much going on here, you don’t know where you are.


Jay Rayner of the Observer finds a contender for dessert of the year at the Cartford Inn in Lancashire.

It’s the details that count. A large breast of roast chicken, with bubbled and golden skin like one huge scratching, comes with both lightly pickled girolles and a “chicken Kiev” of the leg. The meat is shredded, spun through with garlic, butter and parsley, lightly breaded and then deep-fried. There is gravy. There is mash. From a list titled Pub Classics comes an oxtail, beef skirt and ale suet pudding. It is a truly beautiful thing, the soft, steamed dough, rich in animal fats, giving way to luscious glossy strands of long-braised cow marshy with even more gravy. This is my second suet pudding in a month, which suggests they are making a comeback. It is a trend we can all get behind. Alongside the usual lettuce leaves and rings of onion in a side salad are fresh quartered figs and the occasional blackberry. They provide a sweet-sour punch which puts the richness of that oxtail extravaganza firmly in its place.

A bread and butter pudding made with blackberries and sourdough drenched in cream has a crisp caramel top and rests in a lake of custard. It would have sent us out into a breezy autumn afternoon humming contentedly were it not for the “dessert of the day”, which is one of their choux buns. Oh gosh and oh my. A choux bun of this size and this crispness takes skill. It is filled with layers of both a vanilla and a caramel crème pâtissière, with whorls of extra caramel. Because this is a dessert item that does not understand the word enough. A little more caramel cream is piped on top, and that is finished with a lattice of sugar work, flavoured with lemon. It’s £5.95 and is an awful lot for not very much. It’s a serious contender for my dessert of the year.


The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin stumbles upon East London Liquor Company in London’s E3; “I expected drinking food, and this all fits that bill admirably; but what I don’t expect is the quality.”

The quality of ingredients is proper: fine burrata, oozing its creamy innards over chunks of roasted butternut squash, crunchy with pumpkin seeds and sparky with tomato and rocket. The vegetarian pal is thrilled. Or balls of fried scamorza — smoked mozzarella — basically an elegant “up yours” to any notion of healthy eating. They’re fond of cheese here, but that’s fine by me — so am I.

I’m not thrilled by the demeanour of a thin and weaselly milanese schnitzel. But the pork is better than it looks, the whole comfort-food classic shtick lifted into another league by ribbons of gin-cured carrot and cucumber: simple, clever, a spirited response to the fried meat. Arancini are a great test of a kitchen’s mettle — too often a dumping ground for claggy leftover risotto. These are perky and fresh, their crisp nigella-seeded crumb parting to a ripe squelch of ’nduja (that pungent Calabrian spreadable sausage); rice with discernible bite shaped into round balls in the Palermitano style: fiery little beauties.

After about four hours in the place, am I plastered? Friends, I am perfectly blootered. I suspect I’m not the only one exiting on unsteady pins: they could probably serve pork scratchings and you’d still leave happy. But they don’t, they take real care. I raise a glass to them. Yes, another one. And I’ll have another round of arancini while we’re at it.


HOTELS

Southampton Harbour hotel

Tom Chesshyre of the Times enjoys the newly opened cruise-ship designed Southampton Harbour hotel for its “friendly, upbeat feel”, but finds the rooms to be pricey.

Rooms are super-smart and very comfortable, many with pleasant balconies overlooking the marina — the sight of actual cruise ships sliding out of Southampton Water towards the Solent is splendid. All rooms come with binoculars for those who fancy boat-spotting. Beds are wide with good, firm handmade mattresses. Colourful abstract art adorns the walls, while floors are covered in soft, grey-blue striped carpets. Espresso machines and little decanters of free sherry and gin are provided.

The “small plates” offered in the sixth-floor bar include delicious shrimp tacos with salsa and lime (£6) and pots of truffle-flavoured arancini (£3). Enjoy them with drinks in one of the booths or at the more formal restaurant section. There’s also a café by the spa offering juices and protein shakes. The top-notch Jetty restaurant is overseen by the seafood chef Alex Aitken. Expect octopus carpaccio, lobster and truffle ravioli, “chunky fish soup” and roasted plaice. After tasty prawn tempura and crab croquette nibbles, my brill on the bone with broccoli and new potatoes was perfectly cooked, with a fine buttery finish.


Broadway in Worcestershire can once again be proud of its historic coaching inn, the Lygon Arms, which has been relaunched following a glamorous, multi-million refurbishment by Iconic Luxury Hotels, says Fiona Duncan of the Sunday Telegraph.

“The smiling doorman, in his flat cap and country clothes, struck just the right note, friendly and natural, and he correctly guessed our names – always impressive. Check-in was admirably swift and we soon found ourselves in our Courtyard Suite, newly decorated, like the rest of the hotel, by Anita Rosato.

To be honest, I prefer her work at Chewton Glen,. Here, in a hotel whose roots date back to the 14th century, the slick, dark metropolitan feel is a littles at ods with the building, and I found myself yearning for a more artistic, country-casual touch, despite the deft mix of new furniture and inherited old brown pieces.

Our grey room, with busily patterned carpet (found throughout) felt smart, opulent even, but not uplifting and very dark. The “Cosy” rooms are pretty small, while the Charles I Suite is pretty special: the very room where he stayed, with his Coat of Arts above the fireplace and a fabulous four-poster bed.

I like hotels that deliver surprises, and The Lygon Arms, which I had never visited before, delivered plenty. First of all, it’s huge, with nearly 90 bedrooms in the creaky and sloping-floored main building and extensions from the Twenties and Fifties, plus more lounges (for cocktails, light meals, afternoon teas) than you can quite believe (enough for 150 bottoms). Then there’s the huge hidden garden, again huge, that needs some TLC, with a tennis court at the end (ditto). And the revamped spa, tucked away (I had a blissful massage from Maddie).

Best of all, though, is The Lygon Bar and Grill, a huge space with barrel ceiling and minstrels’ gallery, once a dance hall, Here Anita Rosato’s talents are shown off to their best, with a wall of historical paintings at one end and impressive antler chandeliers.