The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon is relieved that Pomona’s restaurant in London isn’t as health obsessed as the marketing might have promised. In short, the place looked disgustingly wholesome, and tremendously pleased about it, too. When I looked at the menu, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Normally the menus at restaurants of this type are masterpieces of pretension. Last year I reviewed Farmacy (which, as it happens, is just round the corner from Pomona’s; perhaps this is the beginning of some kind of organic enclave or buckwheat ghetto). Its menu teemed with ‘activated quinoa’, ‘biodynamic wine’ and ‘earth bowl’ salads. Pomona’s menu, though, seemed to be written in recognisable English. It also looked a lot less healthy than I’d feared. Sure, it offered kale smoothies and a £15 vegan salad featuring glazed figs and coconut cheese. But many of the other dishes sounded unexpectedly appetising, and not at all pious or frumpy. The softshell crab, for example, sported an inch-thick coat of crunchy batter, and was served with fra diavolo, a tinglingly spicy tomato sauce. Then there was the pastrami-cured salmon: wickedly smoky, with a kick of mustard pickle. Next, a plate of tacos, soft parcels of zesty freshness enclosing morsels of chunky monkfish. And the tuna-poke bowl was lovely. Much though I deplore clean eating, with this dish it started to make a little sense to me. The sheer spring-like virtuousness of it. I could practically feel my arteries unclogging.
West African restaurant Ikoyi in St James’s Market, London, demonstrates that London has become the most dynamic restaurant city on earth, argues the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler. Ikoyi has been at least two years in the making and the considerable amount of money obviously spent has been well spent. The swishy Studio Ashby, an interior design company that tends to appear in magazines such as How to Spend It and Luxx, has juxtaposed surfaces such as alabaster plaster and sheets of plywood, created simple comfort shaded by verdant planting and installed a sophisticated sound system that, unusually, is a pleasure that doesn’t engulf conversation. Dishes are based on British produce dressed and bejewelled by West African regalia. A perfect example not to be missed is the first course of Manx Loaghton rib & asun relish. Asun, a peppery rub and marinade usually applied to goat meat, here is rendered as a shiny, spicy, habanero-spiked sauce served alongside a French-trimmed cutlet from the rare breed four-horned sheep native to the Isle of Man. The flavour is profound, the texture of the meat probably owing something to sous-vide before grilling, a favoured Heston technique. Like every assembly it is presented on a striking ceramic plate. Jess Joslin and Owen Wall, both potters based in east London, have created ideal backdrops that are set off by gleaming black cutlery from Portugal. Stoneware takes a backseat to the vivid scarlet scatter of smoked Scotch Bonnet peppers that cover slices of buttermilk-soaked fried plantain. Banana affability is dominated but not annihilated by the thrum of chilli that lives on jiving happily on the palate, an effect unleashed by nearly all of the savoury dishes.
Jay Rayner reviews the various stalls at Bang Bang Oriental Foodhall in the Observer, London’s new and biggest Asian food hall located in Colindale. Royal China’s dim sum plates are £3.95 each and, while not quite as sparkling as those at its restaurant on Baker Street, are more than creditable. Both its steamed prawn dumplings and its siu mai have that compelling seafood bite. The cloud-like char siu buns are especially good, the heavily sauced stewed pork filling bouncy with citrus and soy. There are deep-fried fish wontons in spicy sauce to make you gasp and belch and dribble, and squares of bronzed turnip cake with pork. At the far end is Four Seasons, my “go to” on Gerrard Street for Cantonese roast meats, in thrilling shades of red and brown and sticky. At £8.50 for a plate of its honey roast pork or its roast duck, each with a puddle of sweet, salty sauce, it’s money well spent. We also approve of the spicy chicken ramen from Ramen Samurai Ryu, out of Hong Kong. It doesn’t match the best in London but at £8.50 it’s both generous and extremely serviceable. The winner for me, though, is a generous plate of slippery, snowy-white steamed pork dumplings, alive with spring onion and sesame oil, for £9.80 from Xi Home, specialising in the cooking of northern China. The regional fracturing of Chinese food in the UK really is a thrilling development. Here, it’s all on show. There are niggles. There are dispensers for plastic cutlery, but none for extra chopsticks; likewise, all condiments must come from each kiosk. A central place for extra chilli oil and soy would be handy. But these are small points. Trust me: Bang Bang will be rammed for the foreseeable.
George Reynolds pans Adelina Yard in Bristol in the Sunday Times. From the Gospel According to Michelin, there are the laborious fiddly kitchen-sapping snacks that bookend the meal. From the Red Guide, too, there is the nervous coaxing of flesh into placid perfection in a sous-vide bag before an inadequate last-minute blowtorch cremation, such that a blameless fillet of white fish is rendered gluey and gummy, and slivers of pork arrive as pinkly unsavoury surgical offcuts. From Masterchef, the plating — its immaculate protein geometry, tired layered composition, artfully artless dribbles of reduction and sauce. From René Redzepi’s New Nordic Revolution (terrible band name), more presentational flourishes: each course paraded in on a different piece of ruggedly hygge stoneware, including steeply sloped bowls that render parts of some dishes inaccessible. From Instagram, a privileging of appearance over enjoyment, like the gorgeous edible flowers on a broad bean and ricotta tartlet, whose pastry, on closer inspection, has wept incriminating butterfat into the cloth. So, yeah — not great. And all the more galling because there are thrilling moments where the kitchen shows real talent: a starter of goat’s curd with tomatoes, watermelon and kaniwa (quinoa with a West Country accent) is nicely balanced; an anchovy-laced pangrattato and a rich potato purée that arrive beside that poor abused fish are delightful; a vegetarian risotto is stellar. Based on these dishes, Adelina Yard could have worked as a fun, gastropubby modern British joint; or an Italianate jewel in Bristol’s already groaning crown of affordable, exciting neighbourhood places. Instead it feels tentative; a thin cocktail of established fine-dining memes, not a bracing full measure of something new and vital.
Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviews Nobu Shoreditch: “I’d have been better fed if I’d been kidnapped” she says. The black cod I ordered at £22 was ‘more of a finger food’, the waitress said, and she was right as it was some small, non-troublesome mini goujons swamped in full butter lettuce leaves. Nobu Shoreditch, the hotel, is built for tourists, and west London types who’ve always meant to come to London’s famous hip Shoreditch but never did — possibly because it was terrifying. But now it’s here in an understandable, accessible package. Just like the other Nobus! The Kardashians would love Nobu Shoreditch, particularly as they’re fans of a crop top and a skin-tight bodysuit and, quite frankly, one couldn’t get a pot belly here for trying. This is a carb-free world; no bowls of steamed rice, no fat udon, no starchy veg or dumplings — nothing that makes one think, ‘Gosh, that was actually dinner.’ Fools may hope for sustenance in the ‘crispy rice’ with tuna, which turned out to be six tiny hash-brown-style cubes of rice on skewers with something sweetly fishy to prod them towards. Delicious, yes, as were the teensy likkle salmon and avocado tacos at five pounds a shot. I loved Nobu Shoreditch, loved the sleek opulence, the chipper serving staff, the open kitchen full of hot chefs and the DJ playing Nineties club classics (anywhere that plays Wamdue Project’s ‘King of My Castle’ would get a Michelin star from me). But in all fairness I’d have been better fed if I’d been kidnapped, kept in a cellar tomb and consumed only passing earwigs that crawled past my mouth. I know how the other half live and most of the time, it’s quite silly.
Marina O’Loughlin of the Guardian finds it hard to pick holes in Stark in Broadstairs, Kent. In 10 years or so years of living in this bucket-and-spade Kentish seaside town, I’ve never had the urge to review on my doorstep. Sure, I’ve ventured to Margate, or Dalston-sur-Mer, as local snark goes, but preserved-in-aspic Broadstairs, nuh. I’ve been to Stark three times, each time thinking, “I can’t write about this.” It’s ludicrously tiny, kitchen the size of a broom cupboard: could it cope with the attention? It took an unconscionable amount of time for the place even to open, possibly because chef-owner Ben Crittenden and his dad did the build. There are no staff: Ben’s wife Sophie runs the minuscule floor. But this is Weekend’s seaside issue and I’ve run out of excuses. Because Crittenden, in his Munchkin empire with its single, solitary fridge, is the real deal. In an unlikely turn of events, a proper talent has landed in this former sandwich bar yards from Viking Bay beach. His last major gig was at The West House, Biddenden, the best restaurant I’ve never written about. There’s usually chicken liver parfait of preternatural silkiness and delicacy, and huge flavour; this time, it comes with pickled Kent cherries, dots of coffee and cherry puree, brioche and a shingle of hazelnut granola – sharp, sweet, aromatic, rich, luxurious. There’s cured trout, diced into almost-tataki, the potential jangliness of blackcurrant, dill and acidulated fennel tamed by a spoonful of thick, cultured cream that gleefully pulls the whole thing together. I find it hard to pick holes. All I can whinge about is a tendency towards over-sweetening: the granola and slightly cakey brioche with the parfait; and a dessert featuring a crisp-wibbly matcha custard tart, various iterations of strawberry and pistachio sorbet (glorious, Pacojet-smooth) would benefit from less sugar.
Tony Turnbull of the Times wanted to love Bar Douro in London’s Flat Iron Square but it is let down but food that lacks punch. I so wanted to love this place, really I did. I’d hoped it would be a kind of Portuguese Barrafina, that small group of Spanish restaurants that sets the bar for countertop Iberian dining. But where Barrafina is full of vim and vigour, and dishes that chatter with flavour, everything here felt a bit muted. Twelve pounds bought us five prawns draped with large discs of blanched garlic, which managed to be prawny and garlicky, but somehow never in the same mouthful. A salad of red and yellow tomatoes had the added interest of almonds and deepfried shredded leeks but what it really cried out for was seasoning and a properly acidulated dressing. That would have helped along the grilled octopus too. This one, clearly a bit of a gym bunny, was at the firm and muscular end of the scale, which is fine, but it was insufficiently charred and the slick of watery sweet potato purée was no foil to the sweetness of its flesh. If I want a sugary chew, I’ll stick to a Texan Bar. Grilled sardines are one of the most evocative smells of Portugal, their blistered, briny scent filling the air of every seaside town come sunset. Just for a moment I felt I was looking out over an Algarvian harbour rather than the picnic benches of Flat Iron Square. The pork Alentejana was less transportative. I remember it as a rumbustious mix of surf and turf, where cubes of pork are marinated in paprika, garlic and vinegar (with echoes of the vindaloo curry the Portuguese introduced to India via their colony in Goa) before being cooked off with onions, tomato purée and a healthy scattering of clams. This bowdlerised edition was stripped of all its punch: three nuggets of decent pork sat among five – count them, five – clams atop a purée so white and bland I assumed it was made by Cow & Gate. Onion purée, the waitress told me. Who knew?
HOTELS Tom Chesshyre of the Times loves the imaginative UFO-style architecture and food at the newly launched Nobu Shoreditch, London. Metal spikes jut out from stepped balconies with sloping walls that disappear into a cavernous hollow (into which you can peer to see diners eating sushi at tables on a terrace). In the reception area everything is feng shui, with low-slung seating, Japanese screens, black marble, brass fittings and dim lighting. This is discreet oriental opulence. The rooms are chambers of sleek sophistication, with dark wood panels, brass fittings and low-slung furniture. Bowling ball-shaped ceiling lights illuminate king-size beds, with good-quality linen and natty cotton gowns folded on top. Wooden slatted screens cover the windows and screens decorated with abstract art slide into place at night. Every room has a 55in television and a Japanese tea set (naturally). Bathrooms are OTT, with brass sinks and rainforest showers.
Fiona Duncan of the Sunday Telegraph is impressed by the new spa at Cliveden House, which completes the multi-million pound restoration of the historic property in Taplow, Berkshire. The beautifully revamped and enlarged spa is in Cliveden’s walled garden. Its centrepiece is the swimming pool beside which Keeler first met John Profumo. So enmeshed is it with the story of the Sixties Profumo Affair that it is listed and has not changed since then. If you are my age, it’s impossible to look at, or swim in the pool without thinking of the Affair’s cast of characters and it gives the Cliveden Spa a sense of history that few others can emulate. Also newly unveiled is the Astor Grill, housed in the former Grade I-listed stables, whose cosy stalls are now lined with smart blue leather banquettes. It’s a nicely informal setting (jeans and tweed waistcoats for the staff) for an equally informal but excellent menu from top chef Andre Garrett, who also oversees the hotel’s palatial main restaurant. Breakfast is taken in that lovely room and it was from there that I trotted back to the spa for a Sarah Chapman treatment, probably the best facial I have ever had, with much specialist massage – flicking, pinching, stoking, pasting – to lift the visog and walk out looking, if briefly, like Keeler in her prime. If Cliveden has a drawback, it is that it is magnificent, but not particularly loveable. “There is a ghastly unreality about it all,” wrote Harold Nicolson. Nevertheless I can thin k of no greater treat than a night in one of its Parterre-facing rooms, with the Thames below, sandwiched between two treatment in its beautiful new spa, and a swim in both the serene indoor and iconic outdoor pool before heading home.