Reviews: Jay Rayner can no longer love London’s Simpson’s in the Strand while Tony Turnbull enjoys his time at Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms


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mason arms

Tony Turnbull of the Times very much enjoys his time at Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms in Witney, Oxfordshire, which has recently been taken over by Artist Residence.

It’s certainly more welcoming than it was in its previous incarnation, as Gerry Stonhill’s Individual Mason Arms. “We don’t like children, mobile telephones or media restaurant critics. We do like our guests to arrive by Hispano-Suiza, Bugatti, Ferrari, in a Helicopter or on an MV Agusta,” the cigar-toting owner wrote on his website.

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Reviews: Jay Rayner says Gul and Sepoy “isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is” while Giles Coren enjoys one of the best lunches of the year at Ikoyi


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Giles Coren of the Times enjoys one of the “most interesting, original and super-delicious” lunches of his entire year at Ikoyi in London’s SW1.

Okay people, we’ve got a bit of a mission on here. We have a restaurant to fill. A secret destination to blow wide open. A business to save. Because I just ate one of the most interesting, original and super-delicious lunches of my entire year, in a restaurant that was getting on for empty on a bright Friday afternoon at the start of the holiday fun season.

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What’s On: Christmas in London


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Whether you are looking for classic Christmas fare, festive cocktails, or are already bored of turkey, Guide Girl has you covered. Here’s the low down on Christmas in London this year.


Bluebird Chelsea

From the 24th November, the Nutcracker comes to life at Bluebird. At the Rococo Hot Chocolate Bar you can have the Nutcracker – made with Rococo chocolate, hazelnuts and amaretto.

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Reviews: Fay Maschler heads to Club Gascon; Michael Deacon says Noizé is pleasantly low-key yet unmistakably French


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Club Gascon

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler heads to Pascal Aussignac’s revamped Club Gascon in London EC1 where she finds an attractive attention to detail in the stripped back surroundings

Attack and invention are palpable right from the start with the presentation of MIAM which apparently stands for “mon invitation à manger” or, in other French words amuses-bouches, brought unbidden to the table. They are dramatic — one like cubes of coal balancing on a piece of coal — and mostly delicious, especially the thin biscuity truffle sandwiches, grapes in a glaze that traps chopped nuts and fennel seeds and slender pastry console tables topped with shellfish tartare.

An eye for colour, delicacy and transfiguration proves a constant hallmark of the kitchen, resulting in small but perfectly formed assemblies such as marbled foie gras, fig and argan oil; roasted sturgeon, leeks, crispy bone marrow and craster (smoked fish) sauce — a particular favourite of Philip Leigh; braised veal sweetbreads, lobsters and and cuttlefish tagliatelle; mallard consommé, chestnut pulp, white truffle and aromatic pears.

These are chosen from three fairly self-explanatory sections on the à la carte titled Gascon, Season and Garden where prices ranging from £15 to £39 and order of appearance indicates whether a dish is designed as a first or main course. Daintiness is a watchword. Foams are not resisted and in tweely described Dover sole, crab and friends billows of bubbles contribute to a not-altogether-welcome retro feel. At the same time, Delia would reel away from the dots of sauce that spatter some plates.
I would love to give Pascal Aussignac four or five stars almost as much as I suspect he would like the Michelin Guide to give him a second after 16 years of holding just the one, but at present there is too much anachronistic folderol.

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Grace Dent reviews the “luxurious” Serge et le Phoque; Jay Rayner finds solace at the Kitchen in Inverness


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Serge et le Phoque - Monkfish with cesign raddichio and bottarga

Grace Dent reviews the “luxurious” Serge et le Phoque in the London Evening Standard

This is how you whip through £300 in a luxury, French-influenced, Euro-elite magnet like Serge et le Phoque. The water is Nordic Still and costs £9, although, to be fair, they did not charge us for the large squares of dry-looking focaccia. We shared a bottle of the most cost-friendly Pinot Grigio at around £45, and quickly, as the starters appeared, realised we’d need another. A ceviche of Sicilian red prawn and turbot with passionfuit was genuinely delightful. Sharp, meaty, welcome. Another starter of a pale Cévennes onion soup lacked any meaningful trace of onion, but definitely boasted several assertive olives. The foie gras starter was as life-enhancing as tiny cubes of liver diced into a clear broth, poured from a white china teapot, can possibly be.

We ordered a main of pigeon with arroz negro and boudin noir, a small plate of darkly umami protein and carbs that left my guest wondering why I’d spent 24 hours fighting for his seat (to which the answer is: ‘Shut up and eat your tiny bowl of grilled broccoli with sesame’). My monkfish was delightful, because monkfish is always delightful. It came with radicchio, which we can’t hold against it. Small suggestions of trimmed lamb sat close to puddles of pommes purée and slivers of smoked eel. We left two puddings — a rejigged rhum baba and a titivated crème brûlée — largely abandoned.

We had spent £300 including £33 pounds service. It all felt so luxurious.

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Reviews: Grace Dent enjoys the vegetarian clichés at Ceremony while Michael Deacon gets worked up about pricing at Cubé


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ceremony Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Ceremony, Tufnell Park which she says is “a restaurant joyously bucking the vegetarian clichés.”

Snacks of hot, fresh, cloud-like courgette fritters, a bowl of vegetable crisps and a plate of raw radishes and beetroot with a vibrant romesco sauce arrived. This was all slightly worthy, but not to worry as along next came a charred leek rarebit; a mini roasting tin full of oozy, unctious leek, mustardy cheeses and breadcrumbs.

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Contestants wanted for new Bake Off: The Professionals TV show


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The producers of BBC Two’s Bake Off: Crème de la Crème as well as the BAFTA award winning The Great British Bake Off are seeking chefs to take part in Bake Off: The Professionals.

Following its move from the BBC to Channel 4, we are now very excited to announce its sister show Bake Off: The Professionals (formally known as Crème de la Crème) is also moving to Channel 4 for its third series.


Bake Off: The Professionals will feature teams of top pastry chefs from around the UK competing in a series of challenges where they create spectacular and delicious patisserie for expert judges.

Love Productions are looking for teams to take part; whether that’s from a five-star hotel, a renowned restaurant or a high-end pâtisserie supplier. The team captain must be a head chef or higher.

To apply go to or to find out more email

Deadline for applications is midnight Sunday 3 December.



Reviews: Marina O’Loughlin says Home in Leeds is “a little star”; while Jay Rayner says a few niggles overshadow the great cooking at Fishers in the City


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Home Elizabeth Cottam

Home in Leeds is “a little star”, writes Marina O’Loughlin in the Sunday Times

“Our five-course menu — seven, if you count amuses and petit fours — brings a celebration of autumn on every plate. The ochres and russets and umbers of piccalilli and pumpkin and wild mushrooms, used like brushstrokes on a canvas of deliciousness. Take smoked eel, glazed with a rarebit of blow-torched Lincolnshire poacher cheese, two blasts of intense savouriness jostling for supremacy, each winning. It comes with a tiny hummock of crisp roots bound in a Marie Rose sauce like Tinkerbell’s Russian salad, for lightness. Or Yorkshire mallard, the gamey duck breast daringly rare but silkily tender; underneath a swoop of “marmalade”, on top, salt-baked albino carrots, puddles of orange carrot purée and an almost sausage roll of other ducky bits. It’s a play on that old duck à l’orange cliché, given an exhilarating cattle prod of modernity.

“Make no mistake: this is ambitious cooking. From the crumbed cube of suckling pig on puréed piccalilli that sets the scene, with its petals of pickled onion cradling mustard seed and curried apple, to a pumpkin bavarois that is a flourish of Halloween showmanship: cinder toffee, clotted cream ice cream, weeny cubes of candied pumpkin — it’s not short of technique or chutzpah. But there’s a lack of attitude, a dearth of swagger. Dare I say that might be the influence of a female partner, the chef Elizabeth Cottam? But, just as crucially, Cottam’s co-owner, Mark Owens, has a background in some of Yorkshire’s most brilliantly unpretentious foodie stalwarts: the Star at Harome; the Box Tree in Ilkley.”

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Reviews: Felicity Cloake brands PF Chang’s Asian Table an “international embarrassment” while Marina O’Loughlin has her first JD Wetherspoon meal


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PF Chang’s Asian Table in London is the first UK outpost for the US casual dining chain and Felicity Cloake of the Guardian brands it an “international embarrassment”.

Inside, there’s not a stone horse or Chinese lantern in sight; instead, the dining room has the carefully neutral glamour of a high-end airport restaurant – though, unlike any airport restaurant ever, it’s almost empty. Not that this makes it any easier to order; most of the staff have the crepuscular air of people reluctantly working out their notice in purgatory.

The food. I can avoid it no longer, much as I might wish to. I feel duty bound to order Chang’s famous dynamite shrimp: “Always imitated, never duplicated.” Spilling out of a Don Draper-sized martini glass in a slick of sriracha aïoli, the plump prawns wear their gluey batter like damp, shrink-fit jeans. Sweet, spicy and deep-fried, this is food that appeals to our basest instincts and, soggy or not, we polish off the lot.

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Reviews: Jay Rayner finds a “a bloody good pie shop” in Winchester and Grace Dent thinks the staff are adorable at Core


Piecaramba! in Winchester is “a bloody good pie shop,” says Jay Rayner in the Observer.

Obviously, a pie must be fully enclosed in pastry. These are. They are wonders of golden shortcrust, cooked through from side to bottom. At £5.50 ordered at the bar and delivered to your table, they are also a fair bargain. The menu is lengthy and gathered from various suppliers. Some come from the well-known Pieminister, some from the Hampshire farmer’s market stalwart Mud Pie, with many more produced in their own stand-alone kitchen unit.

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