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Gidleigh

Mark O’Flaherty of the Sunday Telegraph says the food from newly arrived chef Chris Simpson at Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, matches up to the location, architecture and interior design of the hotel.

I slept in the Drago suite (from £505 per night) with a river-facing balcony, a fabulously comfortable bed and a complimentary decanter of Madeira wine. Downstairs, (Chris) Simpson (formerly of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, Cornwall) was a few weeks into his stride. By all accounts, he’s doing his own thing, creating something rustic and rooted in the culinary traditions and produce of the South West, Much of it struck me as refined gastropub stuff – just the kind of thing you’d want, perhaps, somewhere like this, And an indulgent weekend on the country might be the last bastion of the £145, seven-course, three and a half hour tasting menu. I rarely eat this like in cities anymore, but in the wilds of Devon it was a holiday in itself.

The opening salvo was the highlight for me: an amuse-bouche of crabmeat in a thickly sweet soup, with supercharged flavours. Immediately afterwards, the low point: bread rolls hard as hell outside and husk-like and dusty inside. They were so weird, so seemingly refired-from-the-freezer-cabinet, that I wondered if this might be a Devon “thing” – or if the kitchen was trolling its diners.

The bulk of the evening was consistent and pleasing: a braised scallop in a bright, buttery and citrusy consommé; lemon sole with brown shrimps; roast squab and parsnip who arrangement inadvertently formed a wide-eye emoji face. Turbot and beef dishes will delight anyone into meat and two veg, and the meal rounded off with two desserts, the better a mini chocolate tart with yoghurt sorbet. Yogurt seemed to be a favourite device in Simpson’s arsenal, along with pickling. While his food isn’t florid, it has its own accent.


Grace Dent visits Roganic, London W1 which she says in the Evening Standard is ‘already a place for chefs, bloggers and blaggers.’

I pitched up at Roganic on a Saturday night to find the staff suspiciously alert, with several of them huddled behind reception like the cast of Meerkat Manor sensing a Kalahari thunderstorm. This restaurant, which is both the Second Coming of a much rhapsodised former pop-up and a spin-off of Michelin-bestowed Cumbrian mecca L’Enclume, opened just a month ago. Due to chef/owner Simon Rogan’s rep as a scene leader and striver for high standards, it’s already one of those places that chefs, writers, bloggers, blaggers and miscellaneous food chunterers are expressing vocal intention to visit in 2018.

Dinner has highs and lows, but then Rogan’s food is always a deeply subjective experience. It excites and then, minutes later, repulses. Perhaps that’s the point. A ramekin filled with an inch of cold, set seaweed custard appears. What fresh hell? But then a plate of salt-baked celeriac with spindly enoki mushrooms in puddles of whey is fantastic. A porridge of millet thick with blue cheese and a clump of bone marrow comes in a mercifully tiny portion. But a small plate of butter-poached halibut with brassicas turns out to be quite wonderful.

Oddly for someone who lacks a sweet tooth, puddings were the stars of the show for me. A mini caramelised douglas fir tarte tatin was a bewildering work of apple architecture: what felt like a million tiny, dainty slivers somehow arranged into a coherent, edible artwork.

That said, by this point it was 11pm. I’ve had meaningful romances shorter than this dinner. By midnight, they were still slinging us juniper fudge, quince tart and snaps made of dandelion seeds. And bread and tea bags to take home for breakfast the next morning.


The coach

Giles Coren reviews the Coach, London EC1: ‘Rich foreign crooks and their molls do not want serious French cooking. They want cocktails and bluefin ceviche’ he says in the Times.

The “greatness” of London was what did for Henry Harris’s Racine on Brompton Road a couple of years back. Henry will tell you any day of the week that the sort of people who live round there now just don’t want fairly priced, serious French cooking any more.

Which is why Henry is now cooking in a pub [The Coach] in Clerkenwell. Walking in, the place is unquestionably a boozer. No frills. They’ve wiped down the surfaces and opened the windows to air it a bit but it’s ordinary beers and old folk in charity shop coats hunched over pints.

The menu is a sheet of A4 featuring Bayonne ham and celeriac remoulade, calf’s brain, pork rillettes, duck confit and lentils, andouillette de Troyes, “croziflette” and salad and Harris’s famous grilled rabbit with mustard sauce and smoked bacon that I used to travel an hour across town for at Racine, and then dream about for weeks afterwards.

The tête de veau was warm and sloppy and comforting with a little brain on top and a sharp sauce ravigote in a jug alongside. I also had the calf’s brain fried nicely crisp in black butter with capers.

The cooking overall is homelier than you would normally expect from Henry. Familiar dishes but less polished, rougher edged, revealing a genuine French family kitchen style. And all the rarer and more interesting for it.


Jay Rayner reviews Henry’s in Bath in the Observer, a “thoroughly lovely restaurant” and “great value”.

The instinct with such an independent is simply to cheerlead, but that helps no one. Across six dishes, the score was four-two, with the good stuff on the winning side. A heap of glossy ratatouille, the vegetables chopped so finely that one is tempted to diagnose a compulsion, comes bound in an intense sauce. Every ingredient tastes both of itself, and of themselves combined. On top there are whorls of a truffle mayonnaise. Scattered over the top are crispy rings of shallot that Barbie could wear as jewellery. The meaty starter is a heap of crisp-fried then glazed sweetbreads, piled on a deep bed of sauerkraut which leans towards an umami sweetness. Tiny pickled capers prick the warmth with precise moments of acidity to save it all from slipping towards the cloying.

A brilliant green herb risotto, made by a cook who has clearly stood stirring a pot of this many times, is a complete winner. On top is a fillet of brill, the flesh pearly, the surface a buttery golden. The skin has been turned into a deep-fried cracker. Around it all is a moat of a langoustine reduction that has you holding the tines of your fork between your lips for just a little longer than is strictly necessary.

What doesn’t work? A main course of roasted salsify with chickpeas that are first crisped and then given a soft lemon glaze, must get damned with the faint praise of “interesting”. It is begging for a deep broth, both for lubrication and to blunt the acidity.

Henry Scott can cook, and has created a thoroughly lovely restaurant that is an expression of himself. It’s also great value. At lunch two savoury courses are £19 which means the bill, with a couple of glasses of wine and coffee, came to £90. Expect to pay a little more for dinner. Expect not to resent it.


Supawan

“If there’s a better £7.50 to be spent in London, I’m yet to find it,” says the Sunday Times‘ Marina O’Loughlin of the peek gai yud sai found at Supawan in London’s King’s Cross.

Supawan tells us it is southern Thai and, in among the green curries and pad thais (a fine example) are less conventional thrills: the Bangkok street-food favourite yum khao tod, a kind of “salad” made from smashed-up fried rice balls, all crusty toastiness, hot and sharp with bursts of astringent lime leaves. It’s one of those dishes that looks like nothing much but is fiendishly complicated to make. And ravishing to eat.

Also insanely labour-intensive are peek gai yud sai: stuffed chicken wings, crumbed, deboned and fried. Typically stuffed with pork, here the greaseless delights are fat with minced chicken and prawns, glass noodles and lemon grass, the kind of mousseline that would do justice to any upscale French restaurant, only way more exhilarating. Their sweet chilli sauce tastes house-made — none of the sauces here appear to come from bottles (I suspect even the coconut milk is fresh). If there’s a better £7.50 to be spent in London, I’m yet to find it.

There’s mushroom and chicken-stuffed squid, slow-braised so that its complex, gingery liquor penetrates every fibre of its being, the flesh yielding, the whole thing miraculously the very essence of seafood. And meiang Phuket, something I first tasted at David Thompson’s sadly missed Nahm: little cha-pruu leaves (aka cha plu, like betel leaves but milder) piled up with grilled prawns, roasted coconut, palm sugar, peanuts, shrimp paste, chilli and lime, all to be folded like a mini burrito and rammed into your face. This is a Roman candle of flavours: just as you get over one, another one comes along to slap you in the chops. It reminds me of those old Tango ads: literally gobsmacked with pleasure.


The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon reviews Bombay Bustle, London: ‘We looked as if we’d just murdered an Oompa Loompa.’

Every morning in the suburbs of India’s biggest city, thousands of men – known as dabbawalas – go from door to door, collecting lunchboxes prepared by wives and mothers. The boxes – known as dabbas – are made of metal, to keep their freshly cooked contents hot, and laid out in compartments, to keep the rice, bread and curry separate.

I mention the dabbawalas because they’ve inspired the opening of a new restaurant in London. The menu is partly a tribute to Mumbai home cooking, while the interiors have been designed to evoke the kind of train carriage into which the dabbawalas squeeze on their lunch-laden missions.

We started with the trio of dosa (according to our waiter, Bombay Bustle’s most popular dish). They were excellent. Three pancakes, thick but crisp, each tightly packed with shreds of duck, the spice level tickly rather than fiery, and adjustable via two fine chutneys (tomato for turning up the heat, coconut for turning it down). Our fingers glistened, oily and orange. We looked as if we’d just murdered an Oompa Loompa.

The best pudding was the malai jalebi: basically, an Indian version of cheesecake. Gorgeously gooey, and topped with a rug-thick layer of ‘saffron caviar’: microscopic beads of hyperactive sweetness, as orange as Wotsits. I could imagine them marketed on their own as a children’s breakfast cereal, the sort that within two mouthfuls has your four-year-old swinging from the lampshade.


Sorella

Fay Maschler reviews Sorella, ‘the London Italian evolves with fresh flair’ she says in the Evening Standard.

Sixteen years ago Robin Gill from Dublin, working at the time for Marco Pierre White in the kitchens of the three Michelin-starred Oak Room, decided that he’d like to go to Italy, learn Italian and also pursue a more unassuming style of cooking.

Sorella (previously Gill’s Clapham restaurant, the Manor) means “sister” in Italian and here the palpable sense of being part of a family. “Everyone likes Italian restaurants”, I hear a customer remark as we weave through crowded tables on a Tuesday evening soon after the opening.

The menu adheres to the conventional Italian four-course structure but more compellingly the authentic Italian passion for pristine produce that is shared by head chef Dean Parker instrumental in agriculture and beekeeping in the restaurants’ investment in a Sussex farm.

Finely sliced black pepper coppa made in-house is a thing of beauty to look at, ruffle up, lay on the semolina sourdough and eat. Jersey milk lends ricotta a satin finish denied other whey cheeses and the combination visually as well as in terms of flavour with black olives and golden Parmesan is regal.

The desserts we try of hay panna cotta served with poached quince, whipped cream and crumbled crunchie and malted barley affogato and vodka milk most definitely display the Gill typeface.