The Observer’s Jay Rayner declares former Fäviken chef Tom Kemble’s cooking at “hidden gem” Bonhams, London W1, so good that he almost didn’t want to tell anyone about it.
He writes: “Steamed courgette flowers, as delicate as a dandelion head ready to blow away on the breeze, come filled with white crabmeat. There are slices of bull’s heart tomato, confited to make them move themselves, a tiny dice of crunchy courgette and a puddle of warm, foamy crab bisque, which is where the intense throb of the brown meat has gone to live out its days.
“There is the same intensity to the frothy, brassic green beurre blanc with a slab of turbot, cooked to an acutely timed to mother-of-pearl. A heap of wilted spinach underneath, a length of charred cucumber alongside, a few peeled and smoked Jersey Royals for company and the job is done. Likewise, with slices of duck breast, and a boned-out confit leg, with crispy skin, made shameless by the fat it has been cooked in. They share a plate with baby beets, halved cherries, the crack of fresh almonds and an underlying source of all these things. There is nothing attention seeking about this food; it is just great ingredients given a seeing to buy a chap who cares.”
A modern Spanish tapas-style bar, Barrafina on Adelaide Street, London WC2, is the second in a chain run by brothers Sam and Eddie Hart and while the Sunday Times’ AA Gill says it had all the right ingredients, they were put in the wrong place at the wrong volume.
“Best was a Spanish pasty filled with intensely flavoured oxtail. And then La Pasionara insisted we try the Iberian steak – the meat of the moment. This one was so well hung, it almost tasted of Stilton. “But then they’d covered it with a cheese sauce, so the two bacterial flavours of rot fought each other like zombies wrestling in a graveyard. [Australian food writer] Pat [Nourse] pointed out that hot beef and cheese rarely go well together. What about a Philadelphia sandwich, I asked. Well, exactly, he replied, with heavy emphasis.”
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler advises Wimbledon stars to choose Sarah and Eric Guignard’s the White Onion for lunch rather than supper.
“A second visit for lunch is more of a special occasion as I am with my daughter Alice, who is over from Australia, and she has just had a birthday. Upon discovering this, the manager becomes extra-attentive, positively avuncular. A revelation is that the set-price menu features nearly all the same dishes as the à la carte but at a price for two courses (£16.50) that is markedly less than an à la carte main course.
“Plaice and prawn tempura has feathery light batter, and maybe it is the same chef who attends to desserts producing an unctuous chocolate moelleux with honeycomb and caramel ice cream that we share. Assiette of Herdwick lamb with smoked aubergine purée, confit garlic cloves, chickpea batons and a lavender and lamb jus becomes a notable find in this more humane pricing system. Even the cheese board, allegedly supplied by La Fromagerie — uninvitingly priced at £12.50 in the evening — is £5.”
Writing in the Evening Standard, Grace Dent gets a sinking feeling at Vintage Salt, atop department store Selfridges, where her shrimp tasted like a less moreish McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish.
“I did have a reservation, which was a mixed blessing because if Vintage Salt’s staff were a ship, they’d be the crew of the HMS Feckless and would sink ten miles outside Portsmouth as someone would have forgotten to shut the cargo doors. I thought of this joke during the 35 long minutes I waited at an empty table with no drink between finishing my shrimp burger and the foisting of a pudding menu in my hand. I could have hovercrafted between Southsea and Ryde three times.
“The shrimp burger — minced shrimp in a patty with scant care for seasoning, breadcrumbed, deep-fried, served on brioche — arrived tragically alone on a large empty plate. A side of ‘wilted spring greens’ was, in fact, tough, roughly chopped Chinese cabbage backstroking in oil and a snip at £4. These people should be dressed as pirates not sailors. I would rather spend three days with Somali container-ship intruders than one more evening listening to Vintage Salt’s ‘deep house’ Muzak, which sounds curiously like a CD bought at Forton Services.”
Time Out’s Guy Dimond reviews the Ivy, one of the grand dames of the London restaurant scene, recently refurbished and relaunched.
“The new menu combines old Ivy favourites with some recent additions. The famous shepherd’s pie is there, with its rich browned-meat flavours, along with old-fashioned seafood dishes such as plaice with earthy brown shrimps, doused in a buttery sauce. The Ivy made its name on this sort of comfort food: it’s like what you might get at a top boarding school, only better.
“Our meal made it clear that you still don’t come to The Ivy for brilliant cooking, but complaining about that would miss the point of the place. It’s a wonderful experience despite some culinary shortcomings. The room is beautiful, and the staff hospitable till the moment the doorman waves you off. This is why The Ivy remains a treasure: five-star service and a room so good you barely notice the three-star food.”
The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin visits two Kent pubs – the Duke William in Ickham, fronted by Mark Sargeant, and the Compasses in Crundale, which is a labour of love for chef Rob Taylor. No prizes for guessing which she prefers.
“This is a tale of two pubs. On the surface, very similar: both deep in the chocolate-box depths of the Kentish countryside. The first, the Duke William in Ickham, comes from a big-name chef. Mark Sargeant is ex-Ramsay and, like so many of the sweary one’s alumni, has set about empire building. It’s been Farrow & Balled to within an inch of its life, dark grey cocoons the interior, fur throws are scattered over wooden settles, there are numerous “quirky” touches (filament lightbulbs, decorative trays, mini Etch-a-Sketches).
“Over two visits, we make major inroads into the menu, from sausage rolls to ice-cream. It’s all… OK. That’s about as excited as I can get about lamb neck curry served with a dome of plain rice and a vague aura of Vesta. Or roast beef, served in a steak-like slab and defiantly repelling the knife. “Our other pub comes unburdened by names or makeovers. Down the road in less picturesque Crundale is the Compasses, an 18th-century hostelry with none of ye olde English attitude you expect from that heritage. You brave some extremely free-range chickens to enter, there are garlands of hops and an inglenook fireplace, but the mood is workmanlike, not twee. Rob Taylor runs it with his wife, Donna; he’s alone in the kitchen. His food is warming, like a hug: pasties stuffed with lamb and onion, perfect for dunking in homemade mushroom ketchup.”
East London street food market Dinerama is an “al-fresco food extravaganza”, according to the Independent’s Lisa Markwell.
“On a Sunday lunchtime, three of us sit comfortably, shaded, sipping cider and eating from six of the 13 traders on site (a mix of eat-in diners, “shacks” and food trucks),” she explains. “It’s a total blowout, for £60 – and you could eat and drink very well for a lot less.”
The Independent’s Tracey Macleod returns to Asia de Cuba within the refurbished St Martin’s Lane hotel to party like it’s 1999.
“It’s midnight, but the restaurant is buzzing like a Chino-Latino cafe in downtown Havana, only with more international business travellers. Asia de Cuba’s Starck-designed interior hasn’t been destroyed. Not entirely. Those iconic pillars lined with books and old TVs are still there, but the purity of the scheme has been lost to a carbon-dateable-to-2015 colour-scheme of oxblood, teal and grey, buttonback leather upholstery and mismatched chairs.”
Sweet buns aside, the Telegraph’s Zoe Williams tastes disappointment at Alan Yau’s new restaurant Duck + Rice.
“We started, from the salad section, with the chicken fun pei (£7.50) – or, to translate that, “shredded chicken with gelatinous strips”,” Williams says. “The weird thing about the dish was that its appearance asked a lot of one’s spirit of adventure, but its taste was bland and ordinary. It was like bracing yourself to eat an alien that had been killed in a car accident, only to discover it tasted like a McChicken Sandwich.”
Writing in the Telegraph Susy Atkins says it might be a faff to secure a booking at the White Hart at Dartington Hall, but it’s worth it to experience an axciting menu.
“Head chef Anuj Thakur, in post just over a year, is clearly a talent and has designed an enticing menu that won’t scare those who want a classic gastropub-type meal, but which has original touches and an emphasis on local ingredients – particularly, in summer, on the marvellously fresh organic vegetables grown on the estate,” she says.
“And the setting! It’s as if someone dropped an ancient Oxford college quad bang in the middle of the South Hams countryside. Which is apt, since Dartington Hall has been a seat of learning – a retreat, and creative arts and training centre – since the Twenties when Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst bought and converted the 14th-century estate. (It’s now a charitable trust.)”
HOTELS Writing in the Times, Tom Chesshyre recommends the Slaughters Country Inn in Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire, for its decent priced rooms and laid-back, unpretentious air.
“This is an inviting pub with 31 bright, well-sized rooms with reasonable rates: in the middle of the week prices can drop as low as £85 B&B. Rooms are spread across a series of buildings and cottages; some are modern while others date from the 17th century. Expect purple and grey wallpaper, autumnal-coloured bedspreads, and smart bathrooms.
“The food on the dinner menu is modern British, with dishes including risotto of braised pig cheek with leeks and red wine, sea bream with vegetables and steamed cockles, and roast duck with braised chicory and turnips. My grilled mackerel starter with pickled cabbage, apple purée and watercress was piping hot, with the flavours of the cabbage and apple working winningly. The pork belly main was tender with a crispy top. The yoghurt ice cream on the apple tart pudding was fresh and sharp.”
Tony Naylor of the Guardian applauds the newly opened Innside, Manchester, for offering clutter-free bedrooms with everything you need, but declares the presence of a DJ at breakfast as bizarre.
“Given their hard surfaces and a grey/ white colour scheme reminiscent of a Joy Division album cover (we are across the road from the old Hacienda), these 208 bedrooms will split opinion. Some will find the gloomy corridors and monochrome suites too bleak. Personally I loved it, not least because it was exceptionally comfortable with its super-firm mattress, ergonomic furniture and solid Villeroy & Boch bathroom fittings. I could have stayed on the 10th floor for hours, watching Manchester beetle away below me.
“If the Bauhaus functionality of the bedrooms reflects Innside’s German origins, the ground floor lobby and bar-restaurant, Street on First, are clearly the creation of its Spanish owner, hotel giant Meliá. The look is pure modern Madrid minimalism, a vast glass box finished in stone and marble, dressed with elegant, slimline furniture and peculiar designer light fittings (not always that practical – I twice head-butted one at breakfast).”