The Sunday Times’ AA Gill heads up to Edinburgh to review Norn in Leith, and finds an unflashy restaurant that has a lot to be proud of.
“For main course, there was chicken, cabbage, barley and corn (maize), which started off as a sort of scotch broth with the barley, and then, with a swagger, sashayed itself into a chowder with the sweetness of the corn. All courses are served on simple, utilitarian plates, with the minimum of fuss or decoration. No grizzly smears, dribbles or drizzles; no plonks or scabs or edible excrescences.
“Incidentally, the bread here — milled from an Orkney grain, with the nutty, yeasty smell of a nun’s warm front pocket — was divine. The puddings were berries and chocolate with bay, which was good; and yoghurt, sweet cicely, plums and shortbread, which was better. It’s been a very fine year for plums up north.
“Altogether, Norn is a seriously unflashy, softly spoken, careful but generous restaurant in the finest tradition of Scottish cooking. It has a lot to be proud of, but wouldn’t dream of boasting about it.”
A decent Italian at a busy London station could have been just the ticket. But then Gino D’campo got on board. The Observer’s Jay Rayner visits My Restaurant at Euston Station.
“Not everything is terrible. The best espresso at Euston station is almost certainly served here. It is dark and nutty and powerful. The tiramisu is a model of its kind. It’s not overly sweet and has a fine balance of cream to sponge. They make good zucchini fritti, which is not easy. One of those cicchetti toppings is a pleasing salad of spiralled courgette and fennel with salty capers and the punch of good, peppery olive oil.
“But everything else seems to be trying to make up its mind whether to be awful or just plain odd. The other two cicchetti are four seared king prawns, not all of which have been cooked through, lending the centre a grey translucence, and small lumps of breaded cod. Some are overcooked and some are under. The £16 price tag for this is on the utterly shameless side of enthusiastic. The tomatoes in a salad with mozzarella have been rendered completely tasteless courtesy of a long journey through the fridge.
“The pasta is serviceable, but the tomato sauce has the brisk metallic whack of something that needs so much longer on the heat. Overall the dish tastes of rigorous and attentive accountancy. The same sauce turns up with veal meatballs that are hard and unyielding, first to the fork then the teeth. On the menu D’Acampo says: “If you like meatballs, you simply must try these.” Well I do, Gino, and I did. I so wish I hadn’t.”
The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon heads to the Miller of Mansfield in Reading where he is ashamed for not finishing his plate due to the volume on offer.
“I’ve heard that other critics – the ones who have been in the job for 20 years yet remain suspiciously slim – judge a dish in a couple of delicate, solemn mouthfuls and leave the rest untouched. Whereas I pump myself with grub till I’ve got a gut like a basketball,” he says.
“Remembering my professional duties, however, I soldiered heroically on. It’s not as if they were bad hors d’oeuvres. They were good, especially the chunky chicken pâté and the zesty mustard mayo.
“Admittedly the English feta was a bit meek, but when the ‘nibble’ constitutes half a farm’s worth of meat, you can’t really argue you’ve been short-changed. Especially when you’ve got the other half still to come. My starter was chicken on toast, comprising toasted brioche, black pudding, chicken parfait and cockscomb. I liked it, but I do think it’s quite strange, eating a cock’s actual comb.”
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is served some sublime dishes at Philip Howard’s new venture Elystan Street in Chelsea, and though she approves of the relaxed environment the critic misses tablecloths.
“Dishes on the mutable, versatile, buzzing Elystan Street menus are as bulging with gift-wrapped notions as the Christmas stocking of a clean eater. One jarring note is price, but more of that later,” she says.
“Some chefs brown, Phil Howard gilds. Ravioli of langoustine in the first course and fillet of cod as a main dish, through the application of fierce pan heat, have the golden framing of Orthodox icons. Barbecue dressing with the langoustine parcel spoofs the innate sweetness of shellfish and prompts my chum to say rather meanly that it brings to mind dad dancing at a disco.”
Giles Coren of the Times offers his thoughts on several Liverpool and Manchester restaurants, but is particularly complimentary about Mowgli in the former city and Hawksmoor in the latter.
“The best of them is probably Mowgli on Bold Street, which in its first year or so of life has become the most popular spot on what is now the city’s most notable street for eating out…
“Highlights such as the fiery gunpowder chicken and the rich Maa’s lamb chops served on fried potatoes are comfortably in the Dishoom class, while some of the sloppier curries and side dishes are a tad muddled and indistinct. But the Smoked Cardamom Old-Fashioned is a cocktail of great subtlety and charm, as are the Office Worker, the Keralan Southside and the Mowgli’s gin and tonic, so long as you take your gomme syrup on the side. And the service is of unparalleled loveliness…
“Once seated [at Hawksmoor], I tucked into a stunning medium-rare rib-eye, over which I sloshed the contents of three roasted marrow bones and a handful of salt to make dreamlike mouthfuls of a ferrous fattiness that Rossini, with his poxy tournedos, never even dreamt of. With this I had a plate of leaf spinach and just a glass of excellent house zinfandel, as I was working next morning.”
The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin encounters a properly Neopolitan menu at ‘O ver near London Bridge in London’s SE1, which unusually uses the ingredient of pure seawater in its pizzas.
“United Colour of Naples” delivers a selection of street-food classics, a little like the city’s cuoppo – freshly fried items (arancini, frittatine di pasta, crocchè) that are traditionally snacked from a paper cone. The ’O Ver version is every bit as fatty-salty-addictive; it makes me wish I loved beer. My only niggles are a rosemary focaccia that isn’t; it’s just (very good) seawater pizza dough.
I’m not forgetting the star turn: those seawater-based pizzas are doozies – blistered crust as pillowy as marshmallow, with a gorgeous, supple chew, not salty, and perfectly seasoned by the seawater. They’re topped in the correct ratio, too, dressed rather than swamped. The base is as much the hero as any number of DOP toppings; my favourite is the Paloma, with smoked mozzarella, curls of pancetta and more of those elegant, leggy, little chiodini. Scattered with lip-tingling chilli oil, it’s up there with the best.
Keith Miller finds eating at Table 11 in Glasgow to be a refreshing return the informal, relaxed and enduring restaurant experience that he once took for granted.
The Telegraph writer says: “Substitute urban grit for hippy chic and a vague fusioneering vibe for the Elizabeth David-sanctioned Mediterranean stylings of yore (a succulent in a hollowed-out brick is the new cheese plant, Banksy the new Toulouse-Lautrec, dim Edison light bulbs the new candles in chianti bottles, heirloom tomato kimchi the new insulate tricolour etc), and you’re away.”
Miller adds: “Monkfish cheeks were unctuous and enormous, done as little skewers in what we imagined was meant to be a Hawaiian style, with pineapple and corn. Brill was plump, firm and moon-white, served with girolles, asparagus – late but small, fresh-tasting and not at all woody – and salsa verde, pleasingly spelt “Verdi” as if in tribute to the Italian composer (who’d have looked right at home in Finnieston, with his hipster’s beard).”
Grace Dent of the Evening Standard says Clipstone is hot right now and is set to stay that way
“A hispi cabbage and some sweet jammy pickled elderberries and smushed-up aubergine which, on paper, sounds like a crime against humanity, but is in fact sharply joyous. Cabbage with jam sounds like something one might be forced to eat as a dare during an exhilarating 8th birthday party game. But it is, in fact, in Clipstone’s hands, a wonder. Game-changing, even, thus the Clipstone buzz.
“If jammy cabbage is not your bag, perhaps calves brain slathered on toast or clam pizza spread thickly with crème fraîche won’t be either. Clipstone didn’t design this menu for your out-of-town Aunt Joyce who wants to catch up after doing Madame Tussauds and only really eats mince. ‘They have pizza!’ you’d chirp hopefully, noticing the pork-shoulder pizza is festooned with dandelion and shaved fennel.
“Of course, all this sharply honed faff and chef’s jazz noodling is all very well but does it taste good? Yes. A humble plate of young, fresh, battered and deep-fried leeks with a good mustardy sauce gribiche was a thing of dreams. They brought four. I could have eaten a dozen. A plate of pure white Lardo di Colonnata — cured lard — dotted with sticky caramelised walnuts resembled a lunar reconnaissance mission. It is the exact Venn-diagram intersection between remarkable and queasy-making.”
Once the home of nuns, the Alverton in Truro, Devon, is today “a stylish hotel with a well-regarded restaurant” says Tom Chesshyre of the Times .
“Fifteen new rooms were added in the summer in a back building known as the Courtyard, formerly a laundry run by “wayward women” taken on by the nuns. They come with exposed stone walls, rose-patterned headboards, espresso machines and White Company toiletries in the bathroom. Some have copper baths.
“The restaurant, overseen by Simon George, is elegant, sophisticated and colourful (purple walls and aquamarine and grey velveteen seats). Church candles and display cases packed with bottles of champagne give it a romantic feel. The menu offers a mixture of meat (rump of lamb, steak and roast duck breast) and seafood dishes (hake, crab and monkfish). I chose scallops as my starter. They were spot-on: big and juicy with a peppercorn sauce. My main of wild bass with noodles, lime, chilli and coriander was equally good (several dishes have an Asian fusion slant). A perfect chocolate fondant completed a memorable meal.”
Liz Boulter of the Guardian describes the King’s Head hotel – a Grade-II listed coaching inn in Beverley, East Yorkshire – as “a masterpiece of harmonious mismatching”.
“There are spindle-back chairs, classic bentwood ones, chairs made of cast aluminium, and upholstered tub chairs. The wooden tabletops have legs painted blue, cream or green, or can be raised and lowered on antique cast-iron cranks. There are deep-buttoned booths, and high-backed settles in vintage prints. Floors are covered in patterned tiles or geometric carpet. It sounds like an unholy jumble – but it looks great.
“Our bedroom reinforces my feelings of design inadequacy, with its clever mix of steampunk and industrial chic: oversized houndstooth-check carpet, vintage film spotlight, huge gilt mirror leaning against a wall, and metal pendant lights instead of bedside lamps. Husband isn’t sure about the big white-feather ceiling globe, but I like this bonkers touch. We’ve a freestanding bath and a separate shower in herringbone brick. I won’t copy any of this at home, but it’s a fun space.”