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Roganic

The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett says Simon Rogan’s food at the newly opened Roganic in London has the promised wow factor, but finds the experience somewhat lacking.

I have neither the space, time, nor adjectival reach to describe each dish, but suffice to say we consume everything punctuated by countless oohs, amazings and I-didn’t-expect-thats, each dish building on the mini taste-quake provided by its predecessor.

Particular standouts were the artichoke broth with (whisper it) a hint of the popular bacon-flavoured snack, Frazzles; the blissful poached halibut with its mustardy brassicas and tarragonic punch. And the duck, too, was very special and the beetroot sorbet both smart and successful. And on. And on…

Glancing around the room, I noted a youngish, silent couple staring at their plates with expressions of such awestruck seriousness they might have been taking their first communion. Which is the point where I lose interest in trendy gastro-nerdery.

This kind of dining always strikes me as a bit of a drum solo; a lengthy juxtaposition of skill and ego in search of its niche fan base. It’s wow-factor cooking, but… well, my guest summed it up perfectly: “This is insane. It’s an incredibly expensive experiential YO! Sushi. Now, can you imagine if you were leading a life in which eating this way was normal?”

Had the question not been rhetorical, my answer would have been a firm “no”. And yet here comes the caveat: this is ultra-modern, super-priced event dining from which nearly every traditional trope of “event dining” – getting dressed up to play a walk-on part in a grand theatrical room, for example – has been deftly filleted and the “event” (the bill remains an “event”) is reduced to the stuff on your plate.


Jay Rayner says that there are some “beautiful moments” at London’s Nuala in the Observer.

Happily, there is much to lean over. From a list of snacks comes a cracker laden with, on one side, a frothy mousse of bright green chervil and, on the other, smokey cod’s roe. Grated across the top is cured egg. It’s an awful lot of flavour on a small surface area.

By now I’m not just leaning in. I’m happily slumped, like a well-used sofa. This is a good place to be. The starters make me sit up a little. A heap of softly cooked, pearly-white squid, the surface intricately scored so it folds in on itself, is mixed through with pieces of crisped bacon, because bacon improves everything. Alongside, is a deep pool of an almond cream, punched up with a hefty dose of ginger. It is that rare thing: a unique dish, which isn’t trying too hard. It’s not an echo of anything else. There’s something profoundly nourishing about it, especially for £8.

Dessert is another one of those modern failures. They read well, but amount to little more than those creamy things in a bowl. One brings clotted cream, rhubarb and oats. Substitute the cream for yogurt and it’s almost exactly what I’d had for breakfast. Another of chocolate mousse with a coffee and smoked chocolate crumble sounds clever, but is just a passable chocolate mousse. The trips and failures at the end do not detract from the brilliance and flourish of those early dishes. They gave us some beautiful moments. The problem is that there were just not enough of them, not with their form and not at this price. Put it this way: if I’d really had a betting slip, I would have had to tear it up.


blackbird

“I hope that now Robinson has built it, they will come,” says Marina O’Loughlin of chef Dom Robinson’s Blackbird pub in Berkshire in the Sunday Times.

We eat so well here, from little croquettes, crisp bronzed shells that crack open to reveal a gorgeous, pungent ooze of cheddar and smoked haddock, to desserts that would do justice to the utopian French patisserie (particular love for a perfect tart of almond and prunes with silky armagnac ice cream). Bread, a wheaten loaf made with treacle and buttermilk, is insanely good, cakey in its soft richness. Even the vegetarian option is no afterthought: roast cauliflower risotto in a pool of almost black reduction of port, inky Périgord truffles scattered on top: a dish that looks as dramatic as it tastes, humble ingredients given a gloss of absolute luxury.

I get the sense, though, that the more ambitious dishes are where Robinson’s heart lies: beef fillet of fantastic mineral depth, hand-chopped into a tartare, texture coming from pickled salsify with the smack of cabernet vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. Or a very Aikensesque starter of foie gras, both roast and poached, with sauternes, white beans, Alsace bacon: the sultriness of the liver, smoke of the bacon and frothy balm of the beans, the wine’s just-sweet cameo — I eat this with a kind of dazed pleasure, astonished to find it in these surroundings.

I hope the Blackbird also finds the attention it so richly deserves. I hope the fish-and-chips aficionados branch out, perhaps with the recent introduction of a menu du jour, two courses for £19, all roast plaice grenobloise and egg custard tart with golden-syrup ice cream. I hope that now Robinson has built it, they will come.


Darwin might be a secret spot in London but word is sure to get out soon, says the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon, even if the restaurant discourages phone use.

It was a friendly, unassuming, bashfully smiling little place, entirely without frostiness or pretension. The chefs (who doubled as waiters) couldn’t have been lovelier. And no matter how many times I got out my phone to make a note, they didn’t so much as tut.

We had the venison with potato boulangère (basically a little oblong wall of potato, lying on its side). The venison, a furious raging scarlet in the middle, was rich and lustily intense. It made me feel like Henry VIII. One more mouthful and I’d have been banging my fist on the table, bawling for ale and dissolving every monastery from here to the moon. We also tried the roasted monkfish: fluffy as a cloud.

For pudding, there was warm chocolate mousse, pure dark velvet, with Sichuan-spiced ice cream, bright and sparkling. There were also mini madeleines, which I wasn’t so impressed by: I found them vague and drab, despite the accompanying chunks of roasted pineapple.

In general, though, Darwin is really good. As well as doing mostly great food, it’s so small and modest and unpublicised that it feels like the kind of restaurant you can think of as your undiscovered gem. Although not for ever, I’m afraid, because word is bound to get out.


Nicky Haslam savours the parade of miniature marvels at Roganic in the Evening Standard.

It was frigid, that moonlit evening, and Leslie peered into the warmth of the restaurant. ‘It looks charming.’ Once inside, clean lines and subtly shaded lights endorsed the impression. Our table was ready, among many clearly fashion-and-film-folk diners.

Two tiny tartlets came first, looking somewhat like couture Mr Kiplings, the pastry infinitely delicate and containing ‘preserved raspberries’. Raspberries? As a starter? Yes, but not alone; the chefs have discovered the affinity between them and beetroot. Combined, the beets gave a sly kick to the fruit’s sweetness. Next, satin-smooth slivers of kohlrabi enclosing fine raw beef, the crunch yielding to an inner softness.

Next, a neat parcel of cabbage, chicken and crab bound with tender horseradish; the crab strangely indecipherable at first, eventually speaking clearest. ‘With this,’ said Leslie, ‘you should have a light red… a Bordeaux maybe?’ The Le Puy, poured from a full magnum, was just the ticket before we moved on to the sweeter courses. The next was the best: a miniature mould — what Nanny would have called a ‘shape’ — of burnt milk with a coulis of blackcurrants and mint oil. ‘Très fin,’ was Leslie’s admiring comment.

To tell the truth, the whole thing was pretty fin, raffinée and delicately surprising. And surprisingly substantial: with a pause in this parade of bon-bouches for a little warm loaf of wholemeal bread with sweet butter, we couldn’t possibly have stuffed in the menu’s last item, tea cake, which I’m sure is far less Edwardian nursery than it sounds. But it must also be said that these mere mouthfuls didn’t come cheap. They worked out at about 10 quid a pop. So maybe Roganic, however delicious its every morsel, is somewhere to go once in a blue moon.


Pascere

The Times Giles Coren enjoys a “ripe, sexy, muscular” Claret at Pascere, Brighton.

There were tiny Portland crab tarts that they advised us to eat quickly before they got soggy, which were indeed in cases of insane lightness and delicacy, the sweet crab meat dressed with a moussey shellfish bisque sort of a thing. A great first swallow. Then chicken croquettes like a fricassee frozen in time, breaded and zapped and pepped with powdered chicken skin and chicken skin mayonnaise (whatever on earth that is – some sort of schmaltz and egg yolk emulsion); and also roast cauliflower croquettes, cleverer than the chicken ones, earthy and complex with aged parmesan and truffle; expert cured trout in long ruby strips with zappy horseradish cream and pickled leaves. And two less exciting things: a duck liver parfait with brioche (fine but familiar) and a sort of butternut squash three ways thing that to my mind hasn’t got much of a role in the world now that Veganuary is over.

Two rolls of excellent bread, one of them with some sort of malty treacle glaze. Or was the malt in the dark beige butter? Who cares? It went perfectly with our classy little chardonnay. Bread and wine, one hardly needs anything more.

We had mains of guinea fowl, aged pork loin, halibut and bream that were all very brilliantly made but, continuing the modus operandi of the starters, had possibly a little too much going on on every plate. (Do four of your five mains really need an accompanying puree?)

For pudding, Gary [Lineker] had the best treacle tart he had ever known and I had a pine custard under a crispy shell covered in cranberries, red currants and pine nuts that had to be smashed down into the custard, which was the only pudding I’ve ever eaten in my life that I’d want to eat again.


MasterChef winner Simon Wood’s new restaurant, Wood in Manchester, serves up dishes that are devoured in moments and talked about fondly for weeks Grace Dent says in her review for the Guardian.

Wood itself, for a cold, pre-payday, pre-tax bill January evening, was also buoyant. It’s a large, glass-fronted space with an open kitchen that serves high-end but not off-puttingly pretentious British dishes such as belly pork with sage, pigeon with fig, and venison with parsnip and ginger. Simon Wood also strews his menu cagily with tiny nods to ingredients that make MasterChef critics such as myself coo: tar, romanesco, burnt onion. Prices might be viewed as punchy for Manchester, with mains around the £25 mark and £80 for a shared tomahawk steak, but portions verge on the hearty, especially for this style of cooking. Service is bright and adorable. In fact, Wood seems to have taken flight beautifully.

My guest’s starter of huge, plump, beautifully coloured scallops came on a bold pulp of herby gremolata and sardines, was devoured in moments and talked about for weeks. His main of cod with leek, tar, fennel and parsley, on the other hand, was not great: the fillet had no discernible features and came with enough al dente leek to satisfy a donkey. I’m not certain where the tar was, either. Tar strikes me as the sort of thing one eats shortly before watching one of Channel 5’s spurious, “not laughing, just looking” health documentaries.

My wild mushroom ravioli starter (singular and vaguely Smurf-shaped), featuring an enormo-raviolo stuffed with porcini, shiitake and oyster, was joyous. It arrived in a stew of assorted fungi that blared with sage and chestnut. My main of cauliflower and romesco with Mrs Kirkham’s lancashire cheese looked better than it tasted, but gosh, it was beautiful: a sort of Game of Thrones opening title sequence made of cruciferous veg and wontons. Shame it was lukewarm and oily.

There’s a lot to love at Wood, and I’ll definitely go back. As I sped over the Pennines the next day, I mulled over the whole “Manchester’s dining scene” v “Piccadilly spice problem” thing. I want this city to be on the culinary map. And I want things to be better for everyone. Avoiding the city centre helps nobody at all.


HOTELS

Kettner’s Townhouse
Fiona Duncan of The Sunday Telegraph is delighted that the frivolity and naughtiness of Kettner’s Townhouse’s past has been retained in the transformation of the London property into a glamorous hotel by Soho House & Co.

A London society haunt since 1867, Kettner’s reopened in early 2018 after a two-year closure as Kettner’s Townhouse, part of Nick Jones’s Soho House empire and sister to his nearby Dean Street Townhouse. As well as its revamped champagne bar, piano bar and restaurant, it now has 33 bedrooms upstairs.

Opened in 1867 by Auguste Kettner, reputed to have been personal chef to Napoleon III, the restaurant, champagne bar and private dining rooms above were the scene of frivolity and naughtiness, where the likes of Edward VII, Lillie Langtry and Oscar Wilde have dallied and where, even when it became a Pizza Express, it had a sense of occasion and a whiff of excitement.

Nick Jones has been careful to retain its frivolous character and The Champagne Bar (open only to hotel residents), Piano Bar and Restaurant remain, their original features (fin de siècle mirrors, floral plasterwork, sugar cube mosaic floor) enhanced by specially curated naughty-but-charming artworks, French glass lights and rosewood and mahogany furniture that recall an old inter-wars French bistro. The lovely wrought-iron, brass railed staircase that lead to the cabinets particulières, now bedrooms, also remains, another delightful reminder of Kettner’s 19th-century origins.

Ice is brought to each room at around 7pm each evening for the ready made cocktails found in the mini fridges (included in the room price) and the bottles set out on the drinks trays. As well as the champagne bar, there is a small private seating area for hotel guests. Of the 33 bedrooms (Tiny, Small, Cosy, Medium and Big), the Tiny ones – which aren’t, by the way nearly as tiny as those at sister Dean Street Townhouse – start at £225 for non-members, but as ever with Soho House, the Nick Jonesian extras make the price feel more than reasonable (imaginatively stocked minibar and drinks tray; silver caddies for tea and coffee, Marshall speaker, Roberts radio, phone chargers, hot water bottles, luscious robes, rows of Cowshed products).


Tom Chesshyre of The Times  is impressed by the “jolly renovation” and decent-value rooms at the White Horse in Dorking, Surrey, but suggests its high street location may deter some.

Charles Dickens wrote some of The Pickwick Papers while staying here and the owners — Bespoke Hotels, who have just poured £4 million into a stylish renovation — are not shy about this historical connection. There are Dickensian prints and references to the writer throughout and volumes of his works can be found in rooms. There’s also a Dickens-themed cocktail list.

The bedrooms have an elegant simplicity, with oatmeal and forest-green decorations, sisal carpets, powder-blue velvet armchairs and bedside reading lights. Each has a shower room stocked with Green & Spring toiletries, a Bakelite phone, a selection of teas and a jar of shortbread biscuits. The cheapest “comfy” double rooms are from £114 B&B; of these, No 44 is a good pick.