Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Farm Girl

The Observer’s Jay Rayner says the food is so bad at Farm Girl Café in London’s Chelsea that a nearby Yorkshire terrier started to look appetising.

From the small plates we order the whole (completely out-of-season) globe artichoke, which apparently is gluten free. It’s tough to see how it would be anything other. It has been prepared by someone who either hates globe artichokes or has never met one before: boiled until it is as soft and rank as Grandma’s cabbage, only with none of the glamour. It is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someone’s overheated suburban front room. The damn thing could be disposed of without the aid of teeth or, better still, using a composter. That would remove the middle man, which in this case happens to be me.

“Paola’s Market Veggies” arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly “carrot hummus” thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate accident and decided to close the loo door and run away. At the bottom is a “cashew aioli”, which is the kind of discharge you get when you torture nuts. It tastes of raw garlic and nothing else. There are sticks of celery and hunks of cauliflower to dredge through this, alongside “seeded crisp bread” which is neither of the last two words. It is dense and hard and tasteless, as you imagine cork floor tiling might be, if it had somehow been repurposed as food.

Finally, from the small plates, comes tostadas piled with jackfruit, the latest hip, unconvincing replacement for meat. It is a fibrous tangle that gets stuck in your teeth on top of a violent, acidic sludge of guacamole. The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This means it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pubs with a flat roof. Each of these dishes costs about £8. After this vegan calamity, this extraordinary display of dismal cooking, I find myself eyeing the Yorkshire terrier, greedily. Just hand him over, give me access to the grill, and five minutes.


Marina O’Loughlin, writing in the Sunday Times, says the Ritz is deliciously naff but absolutely fabulous.

Cooking here is intricate and flawless, a curled-lip pfft to fashion: take foie gras with a wafer of pain d’épice sandwiched by heady, sweet wine gelée and flanked by improbably perfect pistachio-dotted rhubarb. It could have been designed by Fabergé and tastes every bit as exquisite as it looks. We choose the Menu Surprise — “six seasonal courses designed by Chef John Williams” — because, well, you’re a long time dead. The kitchen is almost certainly aware of the “new Nordic” or kaiseki or farm-to-table, but they’re not letting any of that get much in the way of doing their thang. So they will slow bake a whole celeriac in a prison of dough and serve it in a baroque arrangement of wintry forest greens, pine branches and rowan — all very Swedish star chef Daniel Berlin. But then it arrives via trolley and two servers, who prise crust off perfumed root (worrying shades of cranial autopsy) and serve it doused thrice: with snowy, fragrant goat’s butter, a sticky veal bone and madeira reduction flecked with black truffle, then a final flurry of freshly grated Périgord truffle, an inky snowdrift of sheerest luxury.

If there’s an opportunity to boost that luxury quotient, it’ll be taken: golden-crusted fillet of turbot with slender white asparagus, romanesco and green onion has its innocence comprehensively sullied by a sauce of champagne and caviar: dramatic and voluptuous. A pneumatic Bresse duck is presented to the table in an ornate casserole, glossy on its nest of hay and scattered with a confetti of lavender. It then returns, cloched of course, a precision-cut section of gently smoky breast with braised celery — why? — and an apricot stuffed with foie gras. The cumulative effect isn’t overkill, but a kind of overindulgence Stockholm syndrome. You wonder why the hell you weren’t born to all this.


Caf Hampstead

Frankie McCoy reviews Café Hampstead: ‘A bit pierce film and microwave’ he says in the Evening Standard.

Café Hampstead was promising enough, with green floor tiles and faux art deco lamps; a shiny curved bar and inoffensive muzak (‘I bet they’ve paid someone to make their playlist,’ said my boyfriend, who personally crafts the nine-hour-long playlists for his own restaurants). And it was promisingly packed. On a Sunday evening we were surrounded by the blow-dried bobs and intelligent specs of mothers and husbands driven 300m from home.

That menu, though. It was just weird. As expected from a café inspired by Tel Aviv, there was hummus and harissa. As expected from a café in Hampstead that calls itself Café Hampstead, there were crowd-pleasers of schnitzel and cod. Then, though, there was a pizza section, at a restaurant that had in no way suggested Italian leanings until the word ‘pizza’ blundered into phonelit view. Not just pizzas, but fusion pizzas: ‘Egyptian-style’ with calamari and cumin; a minced lamb, labneh and za’atar Druzi. The latter was, quite frankly, awful. Besides the wedge of dry lemon skulking in the middle, it tasted like a supermarket margherita — Basics, not Taste the Difference. With a sprinkle of mince and a white squiggle of Philadelphia Light labneh, it would be rejected from a Pizza Express 7th birthday party.

Café Hampstead serves a potluck supper. I’ll happily go Hampstead native for more lamb arayes but the pizzas had me screaming for Brixton’s sourdough-flipping shipping containers. This restaurant is dysfunctional. At least, that’s what my new therapist says.


The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon bemoans the lack of background music at Farmer, Butcher, Chef in the Goodwood Hotel in the West Sussex, but is happy to sing the praises of the steak.

The food, as you may well have guessed from the name, is very meaty. Essentially you have two options. One: the à la carte – featuring, for example, game pie (served cold), beef-dripping chips (hot enough to take your tongue off), ale-glazed beef brisket (soft and sweet), and cheese and potato pie (bit dry: could have done with a nice moat of gravy).

Personally, though, I would recommend the second option: the Butcher’s Boards, which are for sharing between two. Each Butcher’s Board is a tray laden with dishes made from either beef, pork, or lamb. I chose the beef.

In no particular order, my board featured the following. Crispy beef shin: soft, straggly strands of meat inside a cube of hearty crunch. Glazed peppered brisket: also a cube, dark and purplish, wobbly in texture, full in flavour. Beef dripping mash: a dreamy swirl of cream-white potato. Pickled ox tongue: slippery, slithery, and served with a bowl of gem lettuce salad. The salad looked very small and lonely, surrounded by all that glowering meat.

The main dish, though, right in the centre of the board, was the skirt steak. Or rather, steaks, because here it was carved into 10 longish, skinny strips. No faulting the flavour: skirt tends to be more intense than other cuts, reflected in its furious colour, pink as a colonel’s cheeks.

On the other hand, it’s also very flat, and it did feel a bit odd, eating steak in such thin strips. Less manly, somehow, than a regular steak.


hankies

‘I could be whooping it up with hot chicks over free cocktails and just being a little nicer about the food than it deserves’ Giles Coren says of Hankies, London in the Times.

I got there first and immediately regretted coming. It occupies the ground floor of a faceless hotel in the W1 diplomatic zone and is entered through a very dull side door on Upper Berkeley Street. Inside it is prettily done enough, with extravagant, architectural copper light fittings and very pretty glasses and crockery, but it was completely empty. Depressing.

We loved the crispy duck with masala cashew nuts, mint and watermelon and a plummy-tasting dressing that folded into a hanky just as Peking duck does into a Chinese pancake, but with the jammy touch of deep- fried chilli beef. Then there were fat, fresh cubes of cod in a crust that was golden with turmeric, and very good bhindi bhel.

Then came the keema, an oval dish of juicy, rich, braised goat mince with ginger and tomato and a pickled egg on top that was lovely in a hanky but less so in the truffled naan with vintage cheddar, which was an abomination that must be put away and never again see the light of day. Unlike the beautiful chilli lamb chop in paprika and mustard oil, which was red and blackened and full of fatness, served with a little slice of yellow lime or possibly, if Amandip’s right, of bergamot.


Writing in the Telegraph, Keith Miller is won over by the honest ingredients and imaginative dishes on offer at the Mash Inn, Buckinghamshire.

Our food was ambitious, imaginatively conceived and confidently realised. It might have been more varied texturally – they love a velouté – and at times the more unusual ingredients, from “house pickles” to pickled fennel seeds to “lamb bacon” to gorse, might have been more liberally applied. I wouldn’t have minded more than one mahonia bud, either, come to that. But the balancing of flavours, whether in individual dishes – we especially liked a smooth romanesco soup spiked with little astringent cubes of russet apple and chewy nuggets of black garlic – or across the whole six courses, was superb. And, thanks I guess to that grill, they’re excellent at cooking meat (viz my fallow deer leg) and fish (my friend’s hunk of cod).

When we asked to see the menu again so I could take some photographs of it, not that they are any use as I have an iPhone 5C, they had substituted lamb for venison. “They obviously got a Google Alert that venison’s not fashionable any more,” scoffed my friend. But it’s really not that kind of place. It’s in sincere pursuit of a particular strain of excellence, founded on craft, good taste and a localism that’s passionate but pragmatic (our cod came with “salty fingers”, a sort of fat samphirey coastal succulent, sourced like the cod from the excellent Flying Fish in Cornwall).

It’s very slightly the sort of place where you can imagine David and Samantha Cameron stopping off on the way from Holland Park to the Cotswolds – but then I suspect he was a bit of a Mash W1 man, too, back in the day.


sabor

Fay Maschler, writing in the Evening Standard, finds more superb Spanish cooking from Nieves Barragán Mohacho at Sabor in London’s Mayfair.

You have to start with pan con tomate. That is an order from me. The scarlet intensity of the topping bolstered with chilli brings in the castanets. A wafer of cured meat sits on top cheering. Piquillo croquetas served under a shower of grated zamorano (nutty sheep’s milk cheese) heralds the Spanish affection for high-quality tinned food — the process actually benefitting the action — here of sweet red peppers. We consider arroz con salmonete (rice with red mullet) because word has got out about the gravity of its stock but choose instead chipirón (small squid) in its ink with cod and aioli, a striking composition in black and white.

I go in a four to dinner at upstairs Asador. That way, sharing one of the long tables with strangers loses its terrors. The menu chalked on a blackboard hanging above the open kitchen with its copper cauldrons and eponymous oven is also designed for divvying up between friends. There is a choice of only two main courses, lamb cutlets with arrocina (small white haricot) beans at £24.50 or suckling pig at £38/95/190 for quarter/half/whole. “I am a vegan,” squeaks Hannah, but she isn’t really.

Among the first courses, pulpo á feira, octopus cooked in the copper pans along with cachelos, potatoes cooked to winning softness in the octopus water, is a must. “Superb,” confirms Joe, one of my Irish potato correspondents, “but next time I would go for sweet not spicy pimenton sprinkled on the octopus”. Empanada Gallega, a pastry turnover filled with braised cuttlefish, is a work of art.


HOTELS

The-Istabraq-Suite-Suite-4-3-cbed21f2f4ff29d140422a774eb68190

Tom Chesshyre of the Times reviews Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham – a 16th Century manor.

[Rooms are] elegant and traditional, but with a modern makeover that includes patterned wallpaper, beds with Hypnos mattresses, gowns and marble bathrooms with underfloor heating and fancy 100 Acres toiletries. Antiques, exposed beams and old gilt-framed pictures remain. Of the cheapest rooms, numbers eight and nine in the main house are the best (from £143 B&B).

Salmon sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers are offered in the lively Horse Box bar (especially lively on race day). In the wood-panelled restaurant expect refined dining such as venison with black pudding and grilled veal chops with Hereford snails. My ham, duck egg, pickled radish and pig’s head starter was pleasingly salty and moreish, while my main course of Cornish hake with white beans, coconut and crab was subtle and a decent portion. The extravagant violet meringue was a bit sickly sweet for my liking. Three courses are from £50.

This is the best place to stay on race day and the outdoor heated pool is great, but it can get a bit boisterous in the bar.