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Sorella

Sorella, Clapham: “The crockery was all rather Fred Flintstone. Pasta bowls appeared to be solid stone. Almost too heavy to lift” Giles Coren says in the Times.

It is an excellent restaurant. We started with crispy arancini balls, four of them truffled and two of them black with squid ink, as well as some slices of an excellent, chewy salumi of pork and fennel made right there in the restaurant and two kinds of sweet, aromatic prosciutto. These we ate with some top-class homemade sourdough, also made in-house.

From this excellent start, things only improved. “Cacklebean egg yolk & spiky artichoke” sat on a wonderfully seaweedy bed of slowly reduced cavolo nero, the yolk a firm, luminescent gel, with shards of crisped garlic and a scatter of well-dressed salad leaves – a sharp and elegant vegetarian dish with a rich, chewy soul.

There was “Sweet Promise” octopus (named after the boat that caught it), which was finely sliced and braised and nestled under straggles of monk’s beard and crispy breadcrumbs. And then two pasta dishes: cep gnocchi with wild mushrooms, which were firm, muscular little cylinders of potato pasta with sprightly fungus bound in a dense, shroomy emulsion under lashings of finely grated parmesan, and robust tagliatelle with a pork and ’nduja ragu, as rich and meaty as anything. Both pasta dishes were served in huge, hefty bowls of what appeared to be solid stone. Almost too heavy to lift with one hand. The crockery was all rather Fred Flintstone, come to think of it, and then some of it was classic dainty mismatched hipster tea set stuff. I love interesting crockery. Hate a boring old plate.

Sorella is a great local restaurant. When Ian and I first met and went looking for a spot of lunch in London, nearly a quarter of a century ago, the idea that you might turn up a Clapham side street and find tattooed young people baking bread, curing meat, pickling vegetables and cooking dishes of this quality, so focused, so well balanced, so adventurous and hearty, would have been absolutely ridiculous.


Romy’s Kitchen, Thornbury, Bristol: “Modern but faithful Punjabi-Bengali cooking is the secret to Romy Gill’s welcoming neighbourhood stop-off” says Grace Dent in the Guardian.

 

Romy’s Kitchen is 14 miles from Bristol town centre in Thornbury, a delightfully Hot Fuzzy market town. I won’t say quaint: as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright expressed in their cop film spoof, no British towns are quaint below their veneer.

[Romy] Gill’s approach to modern but faithful Punjabi-Bengali cooking is neither hip small plates served “as they’re ready”, as they might at Kricket in London or Mowgli in Liverpool; neither is it the oh-so-laboured fine dining of upscale spots such as Chutney Mary or Indian Accent. Sure, a less adventurous diner demanding tikka masala (we all know one) may have to go heroically off-piste and taste Gill’s makhani made with cashew-nut paste, or even lose all inhibitions and try the gosht aloo bakhara – lamb cooked in dried plums and kashmiri chilli.

But, this is, simply put, a large, welcoming neighbourhood stop-off with room to host family and friends. And by “room”, I mean the place is so echoey, I took my voice level further and further down, during the sabzi and dal, until I was almost whispering, and still a fellow diner joined in with one of my stories.

Gill is one of the few Indian female chef/proprietors in the UK. Her MBE, awarded during the Queen’s 90th birthday honours, has led to much focus on her future. How much longer will she carry on cooking and catering to her Thornbury audience? My advice for Bristol’s hungry folk is: use it or lose it. Her pop-ups in London are so popular these days, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she pops off altogether.


United Chip, London

“Opening a fully sustainable chippy could so easily come a cropper. But this place is spot on” says Jay Rayner in the Observer about United Chip, London.

United Chip may be the bravest restaurant opening in years. Sure, you can open an izakaya or a ceviche place, something niche with a dreadful concept, and a few people will have an opinion on that. Some will consider themselves experts. But open a chippy? We all have an opinion on what makes a good chippy. We are all of us alert to pretentiousness or, worse still, to a belief that the wheel has been reinvented. The wheel is perfectly fine as it is, thanks.

Their mission statement is clear. They use sustainable, line-caught fish. Every single piece of packaging is recyclable. Even their sunflower oil – cleaner tasting, vegetarian friendly, doesn’t make you smell of rendered cow – gets turned into bio-fuel when they’re done. Yes, the chef may be Sardinian, but be in no doubt: this is a British chippy.

Their fish-finger sandwich comes in a glazed bun that does not fall apart in your hands, and is generously stuffed with their own panko crumb-crusted goujons and a serious, hand-chopped tartare sauce. Even better is their spiced prawn burger with Bangkok mayo (available after 3pm; I pleaded), which is a bit like eating your way through a giant tord man pla Thai fishcake. This is a very good thing indeed. Most extraordinary of all is their battered sausage made with pork from Dingley Dell in Suffolk, the last word in piggy welfare and meat production.


Michael Deacon reviews Indian Accent, London: ‘A naan the size of a hamster’s frisbee came filled with blue cheese’ he says in the Telegraph.

My one consolation is that these days, new Indian restaurants are springing up all the time, of ever greater variety and ambition. Take this week’s restaurant, Indian Accent. The original Indian Accent, in Delhi, has appeared three times on S Pellegrino’s annual list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

According to its website, Indian Accent ‘reinterprets nostalgic Indian dishes with an openness towards global techniques and influences’.

For example: blue-cheese naan. A naan – an absolutely tiny one, the size of a hamster’s Frisbee – filled with blue cheese. Now, you may be thinking, ‘A naan? Filled with blue cheese? That can’t possibly work.’ Well, believe it or not, you’d be absolutely right, because it was just weird. Like being confronted with a poppadom covered in trifle, or a chapatti stuffed with bees.

Next we tried the potato sphere chaat, which tasted more like a pudding than a starter: inexplicably sweet. We loved the Kashmiri morels, though: a classy, subtle little mushroom dish, peppery rather than blazing.

I had the ghee roast lamb and roomali roti pancakes. If you didn’t know this was an Indian dish, you might have assumed it was Chinese: a bowl of meat, a tub of pancakes, and some tiny jars of sauces to spread on them. Very good, and a proper, fuming level of spice. Again, not a creation you’d expect to come across in your average curry house.


Santa Maria

The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin visits Santa Maria, Fitzrovia, London and finds the pizza to be “very fine indeed.”

My visit to their new outpost in Fitzrovia, their third, starts off satisfyingly badly. Inside is sparsely occupied, but they refuse to give us anything other than a tiny, cramped table for two, where our elbows are virtually in our neighbour’s pizza.

But who cares if the pizza is great, right? And it is. The best pizza transcends its simplicity, the few ingredients creating alchemy, synergy, magic. Where lesser outlets — yes, Pizza Pilgrims, I’m looking at you — translate the Neapolitan style into a sopping, soupy centre and black-spotted cornicione, the Santa Maria model is considerably more sophisticated. The dough is pillowy, elastic, bronzed, not blistered. My huge wheel of Santa Paola simply disappears: did I really eat all that?

By the time I’d cut off just another sliver from this tomato-free pizza bianca, topped with fennel-scented sausages, delicate, milky fiordilatte mozzarella that miraculously doesn’t fuse into gluey clots as it cools, all slick with scarlet oil from clumps of very good ’nduja — not harsh but tingling, mellow heat — the whole thing has gone.


 

HOTELS

Old Course hotel in St Andrews

The Telegraph’s Fiona Duncan may not be won over by the golf, but she happily enjoys the views, service and refurbished spa at the Old Course hotel in St Andrews.

The view takes in beautiful West Sands, scene of the famous beach race in Chariots of Fire, the Royal and Ancient golf club and the landmark Hamilton Grand, famously designed in the 1895 by Thomas Hamilton to overshadow the R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews), which had blackballed him.

A £10m refurb has seen in refurbished rooms, new windows throughout and, most importantly, a new ball-proof roof. Yes, the 17th fairway is so tricky that errant golfers caused showers of broken roof tiles. Recycled car tyres turned tiles from a Canadian company have been installed and those useless golfers are now quite likely to get their balls bouncing straight back at them. Inside the feel is of a large, smart golf club, enlivened by old black and white golfing photographs.

Highly respected general manager Stephen Carter OBE leads the team. Service was swift and friendly, and the concierge team particularly excellent. Niall was everything one wants from a good concierge: helpful, friendly, passionate about his town and knowledgeable. In the spa, which focuses on innovative and sophisticated water and bathing therapies (owner Herb Kohler heads an international plumbing and bathroom business based in Wisconsin) there are also excellent facials and massages using Comfort Zone, Voya and Phytomer products and Margaret Dabbs manicures and pedicures.


Tom Chesshyre of The Times says the Merry Harriers the recently revamped pub owned by Peter de Savary in Hambledon, Surrey, lives up to its name.

If you stay in this Hambledon pub on a Saturday, you can take part in the weekly 5.30pm “meat draw”, a charity raffle to win steaks, sausages and bacon from local farms. Many villagers turn out and all have a jolly old time. It’s this down-to-earth atmosphere that makes the seven-room Merry Harriers so special. Expect beams, crackling fireplaces, banter and pop music. Oh yes, and the inn also offers llama treks.

The rooms have been given a slick new look that adds a contemporary style to the main building, which dates from the 16th century, and the converted barn at the back. Walls have been painted white and charcoal-grey carpets laid. Lovely antique pictures decorate the walls. There are three rooms in the main building (from £95 B&B) and four in the barn (from £85 B&B), one facing the inn’s five acres of fields at the back.

Beer-battered fish and chips, turkey-and-ham pies, burgers and sausages with mash (locally made sausages, of course) are on the no-nonsense menu. Food is served in the bar or in the bright restaurant. My wild mushroom soup was delicious, with delicate flavours and fresh focaccia, while my main course of sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce, mash and mange tout was served with strong English mustard. Tasty local cheeses completed a fine meal. Three courses cost from about £27.