Rod Liddle describes Mark Sargeant’s Canterbury gastropub, the Duke William, as serving the “culinary equivalent of a performance by Coldplay or a film by James Cameron — well executed, but you can’t quite remember anything about it 10 minutes later”.
Filling in for AA Gill in the Sunday Times, he writes: “I had sausage and mash, which was precisely as dull as it sounds, and no better or worse than any sausage and mash you might get anywhere in the UK. A curled creature of winsome disposition, sitting on top of bog-standard landfill mash. The women had sea trout with grilled courgettes and tomatoes, which was fine, but light years behind the sort of stuff you’d get at the Sportsman in nearby Seasalter; devoid of distinction, surprise or delight.”
Lurra in Marylebone in London is the new sister restaurant to Donostia, and its aged beef is enough to make cavemen out of the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin and her fellow diner.
“The beef served at glamorous new Lurra isn’t so much about the current cult around length of ageing as actual animal years: the Galician rubia gallega they dish up here can reach 17 years old (typically, UK cattle are slaughtered at 18 months). This veneration of age has been the hardcore carnivore’s niche fetish for some time (see Levanter in Ramsbottom and Brindisa, which has for a while now featured “cider house beef”, usually retired dairy cows ). But its current place in the sun really came about as a result of the much-hyped Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair, which put chewing through a 12-year-old Galician milker top of those fetishists’ list of must-dos.
Marylebone’s Donostia also did much to popularise vaca vieja and the idea that beef needed to taste of way more than the grill. And it’s one of Donostia’s owners, Nemanja Borjanovik, who’s responsible for supplying that meat – and spreading its fame – not only to Kitty Fisher’s, but also to Goodman and Pizarro, all outfits that know a good beast when they chomp it. Now Borjanovik and partner Melody Adams have launched Lurra (it means “land” in Basque), which puts that meat centre stage.”
The Independent’s Tracey Macleod visits the Cellar in Anstruther, which has just been awarded a Michelin star, where she finds Billy Boyter’s food “is light, modern and polished to an astonishing standard”.
“The lunch menu offers just three choices per course; but the technique and time that goes into each artfully composed dish is staggering. This is modern Scottish cooking, with no concessions made to the setting. Tweezers and pipettes have been deployed. There are soils and jellies. There’s foraged herbs and sea vegetables, and things have been smoked which would have sent the old smokery workers into conniptions.”
The Evening Standard’s Grace Dent knocks back the hard stuff at Mac & Wild, London W1, where her dinner was “overall lovely”.
“‘Snacks’ at the start of the evening were a highlight: roughly-presented chunks of battered cod with a bowl of tartare sauce, then a bowl of peppery lumps of haggis. Not remotely glamorous but perfect with a glass of Picpoul, eaten with only a scant intention to share with my guest. A plate of lightly grilled mackerel, served cold with parsley and ash-coated cucumber balls, was frankly not setting my world alight. Another starter featuring an enormous pine mushroom was both Lord of the Rings in presentation and over-subtle in taste, but I admire them for taking risks. The Venimoo burger — a double patty of beef and venison, béarnaise, cheese, caramelised onions on brioche — was absolutely worth its fanfare but another main of cod, without any bells or whistles, was rather underwhelming.”
Alan Yau’s Duck and Rice is confused an eccentric, says the Independent’s Amol Rajan.
“The menu, found after ascending some spiral stairs, is a litany of Chinese classics, delivered with energy and pizzazz, but lacking consistency, except in the exorbitance of the prices,” he adds. “Naturally there is excellent duck, delivered in traditional Cantonese fashion with plum sauce and wisps of spring onion. But if I tell you that half a duck is £24, you might wonder why anyone would come here rather than go to Chinatown around the corner.”
The Observer’s Jay Rayner describes Sackvilles, London W1, as “conclusive proof that, in the early years of the 21st century, the capital’s restaurateurs had finally reached Peak Stupid”.
“From the non-meat side of the menu, an £18 millefeuille brings two long, truffle-studded slabs of puff pastry enclosing overcooked asparagus spears and a huge duvet of scrambled duck eggs. It’s relentless, loose and dull. We leave two-thirds of it and are not asked why. We take solace in the good fries dusted with truffle dust that tastes of very little, yours for £6. The obligatory truffle mac ’n’ cheese at the same price almost seems like good value.
“Desserts are a disaster. A tequila lime pie has a lumpy, dull filling, as though the curd has split. It is topped with Italian meringue and salted popcorn which is soggy as if added some time ago. The pastry case is heavy, undercooked and remains uneaten. A spray of cream adulterated with tequila is bitter and nasty. But not quite as nasty as something listed as a bourbon walnut whip, which does not in any way recall the confectionery it appears to be named after. Our waiter says only that it’s “very rich”. Well, so’s Donald Trump and I ain’t eating him any time soon.”
Gemma Bowes of the Guardian recommends the Rose & Crown in Romaldkirk, County Durham, a good base to explore this underexplored corner of the north Pennines
“I’m in a newer stone outbuilding beside the car park – sorry, Courtyard. These modern box rooms are low-ceilinged and quite featureless – typical of the country hotels that chucked out their chintz, but replaced it with just-as-unoriginal greige, semi-modern. Nothing really wrong with them though, and I like the oil paintings of the sea. Rooms in the main house have more beams and colour.
“Because I have to have my dinner at toddler-friendly 6.30pm, we’re alone in the dining room at first. Warm breads arrive – walnut and apricot, rosemary and sea salt; good flavour, bit dry. Then a brilliant kedgeree amuse-bouche, spicier than I’ve ever had in a main dish, with pickled lemon. My pigeon starter is pleasantly gamey with a good nutty bacon and hazelnut crumble, then brasied Herdwick mutton and mutton sausage very good, but I regret it – it’s heavy, man, though I love the spinach, pea and mint accompaniment.”
The imposing Château Impney in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, is unusual and fun, but go for the best rooms and ignore the ugly adjoining conference centre, suggests Tom Chesshyre of the Times
“It comes as something of surprise to find an enormous French château in the West Midlands, not far from Kidderminster and handy for the M5. Turrets and pointy A-shaped roofs reach for the sky; tall french windows open onto terraces with balustrades; grand steps sweep to ornamental gardens with fountains. This extraordinary building was completed in 1875 by John Corbett, who owned a local salt mine and married a French governess in Paris.
“This is a hotel of two parts: the 25 rooms in the château itself, and 39 others in modern annexes. The rooms in the château are the ones to go for, starting at a reasonable £90 for a night’s B&B in a standard double. The best of these face the ornamental garden and the meandering River Salwarpe.”