Tags

, , , , , ,

Ikoyi

Giles Coren of the Times enjoys one of the “most interesting, original and super-delicious” lunches of his entire year at Ikoyi in London’s SW1.

Okay people, we’ve got a bit of a mission on here. We have a restaurant to fill. A secret destination to blow wide open. A business to save. Because I just ate one of the most interesting, original and super-delicious lunches of my entire year, in a restaurant that was getting on for empty on a bright Friday afternoon at the start of the holiday fun season.

Ikoyi is named after a posh district of Lagos and is the creation of a couple of good-looking, well-mannered, nicely brought up boys, Nigerian Iré Hassan-Odukale and Chinese-Canadian Jeremy Chan, who have brought to London (and to the world) a modern west African-inspired fusion cuisine that is brightly coloured, cleverly spiced, beautifully balanced, incredibly photogenic and ought, by rights, to be a monster hit.

For our actual starters we had a grilled rib of Manx Loaghtan sheep that had been marinated in roasted kelp, for backnotes of liquorice and maple, then grilled black and pink and served with a chilli relish, and a grilled octopus tentacle with a densely chickenny groundnut sauce.

Alex and I ordered “Chicken, benne & Jerusalem artichoke”, which was two lengths of sweet breast, skin on, with split roasted artichokes, okra and a benne seed sauce, which is a flavour somewhere between sesame and peanut, and started to notice how extraordinarily pretty the plates were: perfectly round and platey (not slates or boards) but beautifully painted, here in a black and white pony-skin style and then crimson for a dish of ibérico pork chops, marinated in dried, fermented crayfish, smoked peanut and 20 types of pepper.

And then the crowning glory, the jollof rice, roasted and smoked and cooked in a dense stock of shellfish and chicken, served with a split roasted marrowbone on top, to be emptied and stirred in. Creamy, roasty, popping with wit and history, not traditional jollof rice but a riff on it, livelier, more modern, the seasoning more insistent and deliberate, just comforting and wholesome and moreish.


Gary Usher’s Wreckfish in Liverpool already feels like a part of the local furniture, says Felicity Cloake in the Guardian.

[The menu is] one of those irritating numbers where almost everything appeals, with the definite exception, apparently, of the crispy lamb’s tongues: “Sorry, I just can’t.” Of course, this means I absolutely must, and I graciously allow her to play it safe with chicken liver paté. She’s right: you can tell a lot about a restaurant by its paté.

Unfortunately, I like it more than she does: as pink, rich and smooth as a slab of prettily blushing butter, with only the politest suggestion of offal, it comes paired with an aggressively oniony pear and apple chutney, but deserves to be enjoyed solo: it’s a theory I put into practice after finishing my own starter, which arrives in neatly breaded commas, not in the least like a tongue. The pleasure lies largely in the contrast between this crunchy coating and the plumply yielding flesh within; the faintly lamby flavour needs the sharpness of the accompanying pickled walnuts to carry it, though I’m not sure the pear puree and peanuts bring much to the party.

My friend wins the next round with that pork cutlet: it’s a real beauty, juicy, soft and emphatically porky, with snappy green beans and a puddle of subtle, silky chorizo sauce. It’s so good it puts my turnip cakes (one of four vegetarian options) firmly in the shade, which isn’t as easy as it sounds: lighter than the Chinese variety, these have a clean, attractive bitterness that really sings in combination with the punchy pomegranate molasses dressing on the accompanying beetroot and leaves.

The bill, when it comes, reads like the kind of joke that isn’t that funny to a Londoner: three interesting, satisfying courses for £20 a head.


gillys

Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Gilly’s Fry Bar: “Beautifully done and earnestly sourced.”

When Neil Gill of Stroud Green mainstay Season Kitchen said he was opening a sort-of Japanese Northern-English chip shop selling battered cod, raw fish, chip butties, sweetcorn scraps and deep-fried Mars Celebrations, many were puzzled, but I got the gist.

We started with a plate of spicy sweetcorn scraps. Glorious, individually battered kernels of corn with a kick. We cleared these and a plate of excellent deep-fried, thinly battered halloumi slices drizzled with honey. By this point, I’d drank one gin and elderflower Highball, tasted the Salt & Vinegar Martini with a samphire garnish, and the world seemed a cheerier place. We gear-changed to ‘elegant’ nibbling through a plate of raw sea bass and a good plate of raw, chopped salmon with cucumber. Then, having skirted dangerously close to valid nutrition, we shared battered cod, a side of fat, freshly cut chips with a side of sweet, heat-free authentically gloopy curry sauce and, due to compulsion, a battered sausage. I must warn you that attempting to appease visiting out-of-town Northerners with dinner at Gilly’s will possibly go awry when things begin arriving individually in small bowls. In fact, the curry sauce is in a tiny saucer. ‘They served fish and chips like they were at The Ritz!’ they’ll scream, reminding you why you keep changing your phone number, but these twats keep finding you every time The Stone Roses reform and play Finsbury Park.


The Observer’s Jay Rayner says Gul and Sepoy in London’s Spitalfields “isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is”

I enjoyed the unashamed punch and heat of burnt achari cauliflowers and new potatoes, smeared in fiery pickles and then roasted to within an inch of their lives, alongside a dollop of cooling yogurt to soften the blow. For £6 you get three new potatoes and two large cauliflower florets. Don’t calculate the raw ingredient cost because it will drive you nuts. Then again, sometimes the profit margin is just too stark. Cubes of chicken thigh have been drenched in a livid green wild garlic purée and grilled to dark and smoky. It is a noble, pungent end for two chicken thighs. At time of writing the website says this will cost you £6.50 which is a fair price. The printed menu in the restaurant will tell you they cost £11, which is – forgive the vernacular – bloody outrageous.

It’s a similar deal with their royal guchi pilau rice dish (£14 online, £16 if you want to eat it) and their potted pig with masala onions (£8 online, £11 in real life). Why is it never the other way around? Why is it never more expensive online than in the restaurant? The potted pig brings strands of slow cooked pork under a “top soil” of onions cooked down in masala wine, all of it served in a mini-plant pot. The surface has been studded with fronds of green, grass-like herbs. Hurrah! It’s twice potted pork! I can live with whimsy, but not when the pork is underseasoned, the onions oversweet and the surface scattered with bits of crisped pig skin that are so hard you fear for your middle-aged teeth.


Club Gascon

Marina O’Loughlin checks out Club Gascon in London’s Smithfield following its relaunch and finds it to be “the very definition of grown-up”, she writes in the Sunday Times.

We’re told to order a minimum of three dishes each. (Neither is Club Gascon for you if you have wallet issues.) There’s none of that contemporary trope of wreaking indulgence from simplicity here — it’s overt, overstated, in yer face. Even the lowly spud is draped in riches: spiralised and deep-fried, then plonked on top of more spiralised potato, almost al dente, in a cloying sauce of cream and cheese, a layer of shaved truffle sandwiching the two. I can see where they’re coming from on this, though it’s more chore than divine decadence. But often it works like a dream: the butter that arrives with linen-wrapped bread is whipped into improbable lightness and flavoured with initially subtle then suddenly intense essence of lobster.

More truffle, white this time, comes dandruffed over a confit jack-be-little squash. I’m starting to feel a bit luxuried out. But for a restaurant aiming so high — and make no mistake, with their flurry of amuses, their suave sommelier, their tasting menu, more stars are definitely in their eyes — there are too many little missteps. That pumpkin comes with a roast chestnut almost burnt into carbon. The dessert foie isn’t successful at all — the liver studded with nuts to ape turron on a slick of caramel that tastes as though more foie has been stirred into condensed milk. The ghost of this is stuck in my gullet for days afterwards, so utterly dissolute it should probably come with an ortolan chaser.


The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler isn’t just worried about the “politically tactless mix of Turkish and Greek cooking” at Hovarda in London, the food served has mixed results too.

A part of Catch of the Day (market price) is mackerel served as ceviche and tartare for £12. Slices of raw fish have the tangy dressing that is becoming an old friend. Cubed, it is mixed with avocado before being spread along the skeleton of the fish with its head attached glaring at us slightly malevolently. The textures do each other no favours and my chum wonders why they don’t deep-fry the skeleton — like they do at Koya up the road — to produce something crunchy to eat in contrast.

Best of the raw/meze — it is a sharing concept, we are inevitably instructed — is grilled smoked eel with fava, radishes and caper leaves (£15). Warmth encourages the eel to release its seductive oiliness and the fava is so delicious the beans may even have come from Santorini. It is the standout assembly of all the first courses tried.

Wood-fired roasted baby chicken on an agreeable slurry of sweetcorn and spelt is too salty to be eaten. Kleftiko, traditionally a slow-cooked paper-wrapped leg of lamb, is served as various cuts including a little rack of scorched cutlets. The lamb fat and garlic-imbued potatoes are delicious though. As I bore on about how in Greece klephts were robbers who cooked their stolen lamb beneath the ground to avoid detection, my pal brightly chimes in with “kleptomaniac”. It hovers there, not out of place with our bill of £236.25, which does include an after-lunch ouzo each and one dessert where the most striking feature is the natty restaurant logo imprinted on the chocolate bar.


The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon relishes the expansion of Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Kitchen as the antidote to the standard curry house.

Cinnamon Kitchen itself, though, is still reasonably swish. In response to a question about one of the puddings, our waiter said, ‘Excuse me a moment, sir, I’ll just check with the pastry chef.’ Not a sentence heard often in the average curry house.

I’d taken a friend who is a long-standing fan of the original Cinnamon Club. We ordered a range of dishes to share. First we had sweet little slices of aubergine with sesame, tamarind and peanut crumble, followed by organic cured salmon, sprinkled with what appeared to be Rice Krispies, but was in fact green-pea wasabi jhalmuri (spicy puffed rice). Next, chargrilled sea bass in banana leaf with lime pickle: superbly soft fish, the pickle adding proper punch.

My main, though, was outstanding. A row of tandoori king prawns, simply
 a different species to the prawns I’d had in curries elsewhere: stout, firm, juicily superior, each comporting itself with a resplendently regal plumpness. Alongside them, a carefully constructed turret of fluffy ghee rice, and a pool of coconut-y sauce.

My friend, meanwhile, had the Rajasthani laal maas: essentially a lamb curry, the closest thing we’d had to a straightforward curry-house dish, but in texture and flavour so much lighter. The standard lads’-night-out curry leaves you with a gut like a cannonball, but this was gentle, airy, almost delicate.


 

HOTELS

white horse

The White Horse, Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire: In the heart of Pride and Prejudice country, this buzzing 16th-century coaching inn is more generous with bed than board says Liz Boulter of the Guardian.

A quaint village in possession of an ancient church and several fine houses must be in want of a hostelry. But however universally that truth is acknowledged, commercial reality sees many rural communities in Britain languishing publess. That fate befell Hertingfordbury, near Hertford, in 2014 when the Prince of Wales closed, followed in 2016 by the White Horse.

Built in 1557, the White Horse had a proud history as a coaching inn on the Reading to Cambridge route but by the 1970s had become a business hotel, with a charmless 42-bedroom extension. Alastair and Anna Bramley, who also run pubs in nearby Ware and Watton-at-Stone, had the extension demolished and gutted the interior, preserving such original features as had not rotted away. The pints started flowing in August this year, and seven bedrooms opened in November.

A shared vegetarian plate (£11.95) is tasty, with balsamic onions and freshly roasted pepper, and a kedgeree starter is topped with a perfect runny-yolked egg. A punchy vegan main of butter bean stew comes with a delicious crispy dumpling, and a fish pie is elegant, if undersized. Husband’s halibut is a disappointment, though: beautiful looking, with a squid-ink “wafer” but oddly dry and flavourless. Our main quibble is small portions and toppy prices: a tiny side salad is £4. Pudding options (we all have room) are cold mousses and sorbets – no hot stuff with custard, sadly.

There’s no lack of generosity in the bedroom, however. The bed is huge and, snuggled up to our leopards, we sleep well in deep countryside quiet.


Caroline Mills from the Telegraph reviews Stanbrook Abbey.

This hotel, formerly an abbey, oozes stature, grace, serenity and spiritual beauty. Within the rambling historic brick-and-stone buildings, guests will always find a quiet, private space to relax, even if it’s at the top of the Bell Tower while admiring the rural views. Few hotels are truly astounding – this one is

A contemporary stone pillar and glass extension incorporates a large entrance hall, the reception area and a bar. The addition is glitzy, slightly brash and is a therapeutic juxtaposition against the sincerity of the sacred building. Even as a bustling hotel, there remains an air of tranquility throughout.

Service is exemplary. Staff, smartly dressed with a consistent dress code, are courteous, polite and professional. Waiting staff do their job well.

There are 55 en-suite bedrooms including 13 superior ‘feature’ rooms and suites. Classic double/twin rooms are decorated and furnished similarly with thought and care, using shades of purple as the hotel’s signature colour. With a nod to the Gothic arches prominent throughout the building, padded lilac headboards are arch-shaped, for example, with colour-coordinated scatter cushions and bed runners. While these are of a good size, Executive Doubles provide additional space. All rooms are appointed with high quality bedding and furnishings.