Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Joe Allen in Covent Garden, London: “it’s still up to its old tricks” she says.
Put that theatrical person together with their acting buddies in a restaurant and it’s safe to say that five dancers from The Lion King, picking at Waldorf salads between performances, could make more noise than a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod landing at Farnborough Airshow.
Luckily, if you love, or loathe, these sorts, they’ve always been easy to find, or avoid, in London at dinner time. They’re in Joe Allen. Well, they were in the old Joe Allen on Exeter Street — an American-style brasserie that had been indulging them for 40 years. Joe Allen, I shall explain for Londoners who’ve never eaten a burger downwind from Christopher Biggins, Sheridan Smith and four French peasants from Les Misérables, is a sort of thespian TGI Fridays. And I mean this with love. It serves comfort food — chicken parmigiana, lobster roll and calf’s liver on mash — to board-treaders, their agents and all other mill and chaff of this business we call ‘show’.
But, by turn, when Joe Allen announced it would be uprooting from Exeter Street and moving to Burleigh Street, closer to the Strand, I was the first to declare it over. You can’t, I thought, uproot a gnarly beast like Joe, with his floorboards stained in decades of actor’s sweat and spilled Martinis. You can’t simply move, take some posters out of a removal van, and say, ‘This is Joe Allen’.
Joe’s really has, as promised, been moved faithfully, lovingly and, in fact, eerily. All the posters. All the clutter. The lighting still dim, the acoustics still deafening and the food still perfectly decent. This is dependable dinner. It’s a hug on a plate that says to actors: ‘It’s okay, you were right to move 4,000 miles away from your mother to say three lines in Jersey Boys.’
The Times’ Giles Coren loves Westerns Laundry in London N5, the second restaurant from Jérémie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell after Primeur in Highbury.
The menu was all on the blackboard and there was paleta ibérica (£8); salted sardines (£4); pig’s head croquettes, tarragon mayo (£2 each); various oysters; pickled mussels, potatoes (£5); salt cod, fennel and orange (£6); spiced carrots, yoghurt and coriander (£5), and then the two things we had: cows curd yoghurt on toast with lentil vinaigrette (£7) and pickled beetroot and boquerones (£7), which were, like everything listed, bold, complementary combinations of strong flavours, vividly coloured, confidently plated, served with a smile, everybody on board and damn well meaning it. Like St John and the Eagle and the Peasant on a good day in the middle Nineties, except better, because it’s part of something now, not a weird cult that might go up in smoke at any minute.
Our bullish Aussie waiter nudged us towards the ray wing (£13.50), which was of modest size, with that ivory colour showing just a hint of pink, under shredded leeks and six or eight clams with a pale yellow sauce of sour cream, very delicious, strong flavours again, in a gentle sort of way, sours and sweets, the tang of alliums, that powerful, striated fish meat.
And a shank of pollock (£15), off-white and just that bit fluffier than cod (thus inferior, really, but I can do it occasionally, as a gesture) on a lively bed of collard greens fattened up with shards of Vastese sausage (sour and sweet, grassy and piggy). And then I’d have loved to try the baked cuttlefish fideo pasta (£16) but didn’t have room. For pudding we shared a pretty meringue (£7), perfectly semi-spherical and lightly browned so that it smashed like a Tunnock’s tea cake, with orange and crème fraîche, and very good coffee.
I loved Westerns Laundry. Loved, loved, loved. Not just the place itself but the long and wonderful journey it took to get here.
Duddell’s at London Bridge has some of the finest duck outside Beijing, Marina O’Loughlin writes in the Sunday Times.
I have never come across duck polishing before. This is not a euphemism. The bird arrives with some ceremony, already gleaming a dark, lacquered bronze. But it’s apparently not quite gleaming enough: a white-gloved staff member rubs it with muslin until it virtually shoots out motes of light, threatening to upstage this already glittering new restaurant.
Air-dried skin is then shaved off with surgical precision. It’s crisp, almost brittle, like the caramel on a crème brûlée, only duck-flavoured, with the slenderest coating of melting fat anointing its underside. We’re told to dip this into fennel sugar. We levitate with pleasure.
The rest of the duck is carved into juicy, fragrant slices to be packed into pancakes with its eight “condiments” — the usual cucumber and spring onion, plus pomelo and pineapple, sauces of sour-sweet plum sauce, peanut and sesame, and a powerhouse, citrus-pungent aged mandarin number. No two mouthfuls taste the same, their only unifying element sheer joyous duckiness.
There’s a second, stir-fried duck course, but after this performance, who cares? The only thing I don’t love is the pancakes, fluffier, more pikelet-like than the bog-standard ones, lacking their bland elasticity. Sometimes homemade isn’t an improvement (see Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup). Otherwise, this is some of the finest duck — from Ireland’s Silver Hill Farms — to be found outside Beijing.
Jay Rayner wonders aloud in the Observer whether Palatino in London’s Old Street is a better Roman restaurant than those found in Rome.
From the list of antipasti, we have sage leaves and pieces of brilliant orange squash sliced gossamer-thin, then deep-fried in a frilly overcoat of the lightest batter, alongside a dipping bowl of honey-sweetened vinegar. It’s £4.50 of focus and sigh and, “Well this is a good start isn’t it?” As is their cacio e pepe, that excruciatingly simple dish of tonnarelli (square-cut spaghetti) with a creamy sauce of black pepper and pecorino, whipped up using just a little of the starchy pasta water. It is one of those dishes that seemed to appear out of nowhere 18 months ago in London and was suddenly everywhere, but with good reason. It is soothing, but with a grown-up mule-like kick from the cracked black pepper and salty sour cheese. The version here is a defence against winter days and despondency.
Rigatoni with veal pajata – the intestines tied off and long braised; remember, if you kill it, you eat all of it – comes in an insistent tomato and chilli sauce. The offal is deep and soft without being overly funky. The sauce stops it all becoming cloying. It is an intense expression of that Roman interest in the bits of animals others overlook. Another starter of clams with chickpeas comes in a broth butched up with ’nduja, the fiery Calabrian salami. It’s a great vehicle for chickpeas and an even better one for clams.
The great Roman dish of saltimbocca – literally “leap into the mouth” – is precisely as it should be, the veal beaten out then laid with sage leaves and wrapped in prosciutto, before being sautéed off in a sweet marsala-based sauce. If you haven’t tried it before, try it here.
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon gets cosy at supermodel Jodie Kidd’s pub the Half Moon in Billinghurst, West Sussex.
There is of course nowhere better to spend the days before Christmas than a country pub, and The Half Moon is ideal. It is, admittedly, very small, but it’s as snug as a shrew’s stockings. Low ceilings, black wooden beams, big fat candles, stools made from barrels, and a lovely little nook where you can ease yourself into an armchair with a nice sleepy red and nod off over the weekend supplements.
My main was lamb rump with glazed sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichoke and cavolo nero (Italian kale). Very wintry, very warming. My wife’s main – pumpkin gnocchi with marjoram pesto and goat’s curd – was skimpy but good: light and ringingly fresh. As sides we had skinny chips sprinkled with a snowfall of parmesan, plus onion rings with the most fantastically crisp batter. They were big, too: huge hoops of delicious crunchy grease.
For pudding I had the crème brûlée with pickled blackberries and blackberry sorbet. It was lovely, but then crème brûlée always is. The tiny silly joy of breaking into the brittle caramel topping: I feel like a small boy in winter, smashing his heel through the ice of a frozen puddle. The blowtorch used to make it did set off the fire alarm, but I can assure the chef it was worth it.
Felicity Cloake reviews Pastaio, London W1: ‘I never thought I’d see the day where I enjoyed a salad more than a cheese toastie’ she says in the Guardian.
Our genial Italian waiter is impressed by our ambition in taking on two plates of pasta each, but I’m worried we haven’t ordered enough. We’ve made an executive decision to stick to the classics: rigatoni with slow-cooked tomato sauce and parmesan; casarecce with pesto; the much-photographed bucatini cacio e pepe; and a bonus helping of malloreddus (“little calves” in Sardinian dialect, apparently, although they look to me more like caterpillars) with sausage ragù. All arrive simultaneously, prompting a long, productive silence.
Having made a serious study of cacio e pepe on a recent holiday, Pastaio’s looks way too wet, but once we’ve established that neither of us is too proud to use our fingers, it’s difficult to regret the amount of sharply cheesy, boldly peppery sauce left on the plate after we’ve hoovered up the last bouncy noodle. The tomato sauce is unimpeachable – richly acidic, rather than jammy – while the sausage proves deliciously understated, with an intense, almost smoky quality. Only the pesto disappoints, being, as its sludgy colour suggests, heavier on the oily pine nuts than the sweet basil, with just a few slices of potato and a couple of beans each.
Pastaio isn’t quite flawless – it’s not really that kind of place – and, to my annoyance, the casual format means this is the first of Parle’s restaurants not to take reservations, though at least they’re civilised enough not to make you queue up in person, unlike some of their neighbours. But for a simple, satisfying plate of pasta in a congenial environment just yards from Europe’s busiest shopping street (and priced at 75p less than the mac’n’cheese at the chain pub around the corner), I reckon it’s pretty near perfect.
The renovated Blue Posts in Soho, London is a perfect pub plus some from team Palomar, according to the Evening Standard’s Ben Norum.
The food offering is more or less limited to bar snacks – but there’s much more than mere peanuts (which incidentally come coated in harissa, and are very good indeed). Heavily buttered anchovy soldiers are simple but seductive, homemade sausage rolls are robustly meaty, and a plate of fried Jerusalem artichokes in a tahini-esque hazelnut sauce is a marker of how good vegetable dishes can be.
Flying the flag among a short selection of sandwiches is a New England fried fish sandwich. Encased in brioche and dripping with tartare sauce, it’s a filet-o-fish for the foodie set – and what’s not to love about that?
Somehow, despite its Soho location, it still manages to feel a little bit local. And even the pork crackling is particularly, well, cracking. Simply put, it’s a pretty perfect pub.
You could easily while away a long evening on one of The Blue Post’s bar stools, but there’s a good incentive to move on in the form of what’s upstairs.
The pub’s upper floor has been transformed into a stylish cocktail snug with a wonderfully clandestine feel, complete with walls lined with library-style drinks cabinets, a marble-clad bar and comfy velvet seats.
The cocktails lean mainly towards the classics-with-a-twist genre, including smoky honey and ginger-laced mezcal number Forget It Jake that takes on a margarita. The bar menu is also available here – though it feels more at home downstairs – as are wines and beers.
Olivia Blair of the Independent quickly discovers that Gilpin in Lake Windermere, Cumbria, is not your average Lake District hotel.
The family-run Gilpin is totally secluded, up in the hills of Cumbria, yet is actually only a five-minute drive away from the most popular, biggest and busiest lake; Windermere.
It used to be a standalone hotel, but in 2010, the Lake House was converted into accommodation about a mile and a half from the main lodge – hence the Land Rover.
The hotel has 25 rooms in the main lodge, six in the Lake House and four separate “spa lodges”. All are individually designed and many are requested by the same regulars time and time again – the general manager tells me one couple even marked their 100th visit to the hotel recently. What keeps them coming back?
The spa, for starters. In 2013 it introduced a “spa trail”, a three-hour course which involves designing your own scent for an hour-long aromatherapy massage, a cream tea in the snug (essentially a small summerhouse overlooking the lake), private use of the pool and sauna before enjoying champagne in an outdoor jacuzzi in front of the lake (from £100pp).
There’s a homely feel in the communal areas of the lodge where comfy, plush sofas line the lounge along with an array of books and newspapers for guests to get stuck into and put their feet up. The main restaurant, Michelin-starred Hrishi, is split into two dining rooms rather than one main industrial-style restaurant. The other, Gilpin Spice, is a pan-Asian restaurant serving dishes like the Indian street food pan puri and Malaysian laksa.
Walking into the Coach House – a refurbished B&B in Darley Abbey, Derby – says Rachel Dixon of the Guardian, was like stepping into the pages of an interiors magazine.
The main building is Mile Ash House, built in 1860 and once home to Reverend Walter Weston, a polymath who played for Derby County in their inaugural season. I like to think he’d approve of the new snug, a space to read and tuck into the help-yourself homemade brownies; it has royal blue walls, a mahogany bar and a kitsch painting of Duke Gibson: a monkey in military dress. Across the hall is the sage-green breakfast room.
There are four standard bedrooms upstairs, which have been refreshed but not fully refurbished. They are good value (singles from £44, twin from £55) but pretty basic. What sets the place apart are the three superior rooms (from £75-£135) in the converted stables at the back of the house. We were in the pick of the bunch, No 7, which occupies the upper floor. It is Scandi-inspired, naturally; white and grey and accents of yellow, with wooden beams and a feature window at the far end, overlooking the garden. Playful design (by local interior designer Sarah Reynolds) includes birch-woodland wallpaper, rhinocerous-head lamps and, in lieu of pictures, a mounted clipboard holding a page from a dictionary.
Finally, for those wanting to push the boat out, there are four luxury spa lodges which opened in 2016 – as well as a hot tub, each have an outdoor sauna – both of which look out onto the moors of Cumbria.