John Lanchester reviews
Friday, June 29, 2012 - The chicken is the more dramatic main course option: it's served upright, claws intact, on a specially designed platter. I was more in the mood for steak, or 'mighty marbled Glenarm sirloin', as the menu calls it. The meat is aged in a Himalayan salt chamber (why Himalayan salt? dunno) and came rare. Hix is good at sourcing and this was a very good piece of meat, flawlessly cooked. It wasn't particularly exciting, and I think I can cook it at least as well at home. But as I'm probably making clear, I didn't really see the point of Tramshed, which may merely mean that I'm not the intended customer.
Friday, June 22, 2012 - Zhug is a chilli-hot sauce from Yemen, a bit like an Arabian version of salsa. Malouf uses it to liven up a dish of fried courgette flowers with orzo and artichokes - beautifully done, and not easy, since courgettes flowers and stems normally call for different cooking times and techniques, but here they arrived in one piece, respectively fried-crunchy and just al dente. Wild sea bass, crisp and moist, had noticeably more flavour than farmed fish does, and came with fennel and 'barrel-aged feta'. I'm not sure I've had that before: I think I'd remember, because this was the best feta I've ever tasted, asserting its presence with mild, creamy acidity, but not too much to overpower the fish. This cost 29 pounds. As I say, the prices are an issue, but not enough of one to stop the place being permanently packed.
Friday, June 15, 2012 - A crab starter, for instance, came with a curried mayonnaise that had a carefully calibrated bit of spiciness - just enough to bring out the freshness of the crab and accompanying papaya – and a crunchy ball of fried cod on top. No tricks there, just dead-on-accurate cooking. I don't normally eat foie gras, but Holland's version reminded me why people do, and the cherry that came with it in two ways - a preserve and a liquefied gel - was the ideal blend of sweet and sharp...Service was friendly and super-efficient. If all fine dining was like this, no one would yet be fed up with it.
Friday, June 08, 2012 - I found myself struggling with the sheer quantity of food. A tasting menu should be about tasting, not stuffing. Having said that, I suspect most customers won't be eating like that, and they're right not to do so. The level of cooking is so high that it's a pity not to be able to enjoy it through sheer fullness. A risotto of spelt, the perfect yielding but resistant texture, came with cubes of ox tongue and veal heart, both slow-cooked and then fried crisp. This was a big, meaty, umami-rich dish, satisfying and thoroughly thought-through. After that came a piece of halibut, crisp on the surface and moist beneath, on brandade and, below that, tapenade: fishy, salty, emphatic, unctuous.
Friday, May 25, 2012 - They've really pushed the British flavours: they've gone for it. The 'Old Spot' was pork shoulder with quince and bramley sauce, stilton, crackling and watercress. This was a kill-or-die-trying attempt at Britishising the pizza: rich and fatty, though the globs of stilton were a bit weird. I admired its brio without loving the pizza. The 'Chilli Freak' had two things I like: an admission that chilli is now a key British flavour and the use of six different types of chilli. That's a great idea, because chillies have such a range of flavour beneath and alongside the heat. But it was simply too hot.
Friday, May 18, 2012 - The room is like no other restaurant I've been in. That's because of the decor – there's just so much of it. No surface is undecorated. There are tchotchkes, trinkets, pictures, candles, jars, lights, and decoupages of old magazines literally everywhere. It is the busiest, cosiest, homeliest, least restaurant-like restaurant imaginable...The food is wonderful, too, in its way - its very, very Russian way. The pierogi (dumplings) were a surprise: they were more like tiny brioche loaves with a filling inside (a choice of three, sea bass, beef and pork, cabbage and egg). A bit heavy, I thought, but a table of Russians was tucking into them with enthusiasm, so maybe this is how they rock their pierogi back in the old country.
Friday, May 04, 2012 - I particularly liked the Don Ceviche, small chunks of sea bass with aji amarillo chilli in the milk and aji limo chilli on the fish, and it was interestingly different from another sea bass dish, 'Barranco I Love You'. That's a silly name but it was a serious starter in which the bass was sliced thin and served with an aji amarillo tiger's milk and pieces of intriguingly tasty giant Peruvian corn...I left Ceviche happy, and wanting either to go back or to visit Peru. I know which is likelier.
Friday, April 27, 2012 - Having dissed the room and the wait, my grumbles are now over, because the cooking is excellent. There was a real assurance to a brilliant dish of crab mille-feuille in a tuile biscuit flavoured with tomato; its accompaniment, apple sorbet and watercress, was perfect. Snail ravioli in a 'froth' of garlic and chablis wasn't the butter-parsley-garlic bomb of tradition but a light, comforting version...The full-on Frenchness of all this is a welcome reminder of how good French cooking can be.
Friday, April 13, 2012 - When I said we'd be swapping plates so that we both ate the whole menu, the waiter smiled and said, 'Deconstructed fine dining is what we're all about.' That's it! Superbly skilled and technically inventive cooking, but with no napery and faffing and need to sit up straight...My pork belly came with an innovation, savoury praline, and turnip tops - very interesting indeed. Part of the point of belly is a bit of crunch on top, yet the praline, sticky and involving, went fascinatingly in the exact other direction.
Friday, April 06, 2012 - You'll rapidly notice that there's a lot more cooking going on than you might expect. The ingredients are listed as potato and parsley, but that makes it sound plainer than it is, with the potato tasting rich and creamy, and the wonderfully lavish parsley playing a leading role. A main course dish of savoy cabbage came wrapped around a savoury filling of milk-soaked bread and cheddar, with blue spuds on the side, a red wine reduction and a celeriac puree. This was a very happy plateful...The feel of Orchard is closer to a caff or sandwich bar than to a restaurant. But what a sandwich bar!
Friday, March 23, 2012 - It sounds as if it should be perfect, for a neighbourhood place. It isn't yet, though, and I say that with some surprise, since Trinity is pretty much my favourite restaurant. The execution of the good ideas is competent, but not more than that. The toad in the hole, for instance, is a good quality Cumberland sausage set down on an agreeable batter in a hot skillet; that's all fine, but then a small boat of gravy is poured over, which sizzles to dramatic effect, but makes the batter soggy. Guinea fowl Kiev is a nice idea, on the basis that anything Kiev is so uncool it's swung all the way back around to being cool again. But the dish arrives as a large, sausage-shaped thing in a heavy, breaded coating, and is so weighty that it isn't all that great to eat.
Friday, March 16, 2012 - The cooking has subtlety as well as power. Cauliflower panna cotta is light and fresh and delicate, and comes with crisp wafers of cream cheese, for texture and sharpness, and with slivers of acorn. I'm not sure the acorn added much, but it was fun to try. A single fat scallop comes with a Mersea oyster on top and is dressed with a beautifully light apple and cucumber broth. This 'tasted of the sea' in the sense of being delicate, faintly salty and appetite-sharpening. In a richer vein, but also very impressive, was a tiny dollop of onion soup with a miniature wafer of gruyere and finished with the inspired addition of crabmeat. It was everything you want from an onion soup packed into one small flavour-bomb.
Friday, March 02, 2012 - Lee's cooking is a good fit for Quo Vadis. There's a clarity to it, an emphasis on simplicity and impact...Turbot came in thin slices with similarly sliced artichoke; the two flavours were fascinatingly complementary, a savoury umami note running through both, and the dish managed to be both warming and light. From the grills, I had the onglet, which came so lavishly dressed with black pepper that it was in effect onglet au poivre. There was horseradish, too, and pickled walnuts, another English idea that went thrillingly well both together and with the steak.
Friday, February 24, 2012 - With mains, the meal lifted off. Anthony Bourdain once said that it's impossible to avoid the word 'unctuous' when discussing pork belly. I surrender: the belly was unctuous, all fat rendered and the meat dense but soft. The accompanying cabbage was spiked with something, maybe allspice, that gave it a subtle, elusive sweet note to complement the pork. Fillet of bream, cooked with perfect technique, came on a bed of herb and anchovy risotto made with one of those softer, non-arborio rices, with a dollop of salsa verde adding a note of freshness and acidity to a beautifully balanced and flavourful plate.
Friday, February 17, 2012 - The simplest way to describe what's wrong is to say you can get most of what's on the menu better and cheaper elsewhere...Unfortunately, the things you can't get anywhere else are things you don't want to eat. Pork siu mai are a happy-making thing that don't need to be improved or rarefied, just executed in the version all siu mai lovers already love. The addition of truffle is a subtraction - a costly subtraction, at 9 pounds for four small dumplings. Robata-grilled king crab leg was deeply strange.
Friday, February 10, 2012 - Aurelia is in Cork Street, in darkest Mayfair, where nothing is cheap; even so, the bill isn't so much steep as cliff-like...The pasta we tried, a wild boar ragu, was a very satisfying plateful, the rich, tangy sauce dressing the noodles with just the 'pauper's touch' recommended by Italian-American chef Mario Batali. I'd have happily made a meal of just that, with an antipasto and a salad. Croquetas are comfort food and as such hard to make into something exceptional, but Aurelia's are superb, with a perfect balance of crunchy exterior and melting interior, and with a salt cod filling that you can actually taste. They outshone the other two fried dishes I've tried.
Friday, January 27, 2012 - The prime movers behind the restaurant are Indian, and the best food here is Indian. If you go to a swanky hotel in India, you'll quite likely be eating at a buffet anyway, so the concept feels less of a stretch. Pizzas were iffy, dim sum was just about OK, burgers came in a weird, rigid, poppy-seed bun, Irish stew was a mysterious parody, sushi was poor (all you can eat sushi for 6.99? Really?), cauliflower cheese and pork stir-fry would have been all right if they hadn't suffered from the buffet curse of being below tepid by the time I got back to the table. That's another thing - your separate trips to get food, followed by multiple queueing, make this an oddly uncompanionable form of eating. It doesn't seem to matter, though, because they're already planning to grow.
Friday, January 20, 2012 - Those of us in favour of de-naffing the mixed grill have something to celebrate at 34: a lamb mixed grill consisting of a chop, a slice of leg, a kidney and two pieces of breast served Ste Menehould (poached, deboned, breaded and grilled). The mint and apple sauce on the side wasn't needed, because the lamb had so much flavour - a carnivorous classic. Short rib of beef is a nice thing to see on a menu over here, as opposed to in the US, where they're obsessed with it. The 34 take has a deep, sticky brown sauce that's delightful on the first mouthful but less thrilling by the tenth. Puddings weren't bad: a mint chocolate bombe was crazily sweet, but I suppose that's part of the point. The bill was a lot less sweet.
Friday, January 13, 2012 - I went for the wiener schnitzel. This is a simple but unforgiving dish, because it can be a perfect balance of buttery, crisp, light and meaty, but it can also be pure stodge...The Delaunay version is at the higher end of the scale, but not the very top, since the application of the crumbs was slightly irregular and the cutlet a fraction short of that perfect meaty crunch. Chips on the side were good, but not the perfect, delicate frites they serve at the Wolseley. Our crab cocktail starter was a fraction underseasoned.
Friday, January 06, 2012 - Fish curry had rice at one end, fish and sauce at the other, herbs and fried garlic on top. It was fine, and pickled cucumber on the side offered acidity and sweetness; if you cooked it at home, you'd expect a pat on the back, though not a round of applause. Lamb meatballs were so soft they were off-putting, and the tomato and tamarind sauce was heavy-handed; if you cooked it at home, you'd be mumbling about needing to tweak the recipe...It's a perfectly OK local cafe-restaurant. If Granger & Co weren't new, and he weren't on TV, there would be no queues; but it is, he is, and there are.
Friday, December 30, 2011 - I think I like the cooking at Soif even more than that at Terroirs. At lunch, the menu is free-form, inviting you to mix and match different dish sizes; at dinner, there is a more traditional division into starters and mains, though the food itself is similar. The best thing to do is order some charcuterie and nibble away while you make a plan. Maybe it's possible to make a mistake in ordering, but I've been a couple of times and haven't yet. At the very meatiest end of the spectrum, the tete de veau is deep and intense in flavour, the heartiest version of this neglected dish that I've ever had. The accompanying sauce ravigote, sharp with cornichons, is a classic, and cuts the fatty richness perfectly.
Friday, December 23, 2011 - Soft-shell crab tempura is a success, the balance of textures and seasoning just right; another hit is scallops on a bed of glass noodles, again showing good technique. All the post-Nobu restaurants serve black cod and the version here is good, cooked just a point, not as crazily, jammily sweet as some interpretations. The star of the meal, though, is a superb mango souffle...Some of the other cooking - a giant barbecued prawn, tuna sushi, beef skewers - is a little more ho-hum, not so much in the execution, which is always accomplished, as in the conception. The crew at Australasia can really cook, but some of their dishes are a little familiar.
Friday, December 16, 2011 - Chicken 65 is a highly spiced, highly evolved chicken goujon, with a tomato-based dipping sauce: a really good dish with a subtle note of welcome greenery in its herb garnish. A Bengali crab and fishcake was dense inside but light and crisp on the crust, the spices maybe a bit dominant but nonetheless very tasty, and the accompanying dip - a dark purple smear I couldn't decode (something to do with tamarind?) - was very well judged. Kandahari quail was barbecued in a sticky, satisfying, piquant mix of spices and pomegranate...I'd certainly go back to Roti Chai, maybe when Oxford Street is past its holiday hell.
Friday, November 25, 2011 - A crab and potato empanada was like a tiny Iberian Cornish pasty, maybe a bit pastry-oriented but still good. Potted shrimps were a tad light on seasoning, but came warm in a pool of their melted butter, with pickled cucumber to add a note of vibrancy to the crustaceans. Desperate Dan's favourite food was, and maybe still is, cow pie. It's not an easy thing to find in restaurants, but Abbeville Kitchen offers a convincing substitute in the form of its steak pie, served for two, with intensely tasty slow-cooked braising steak in a rich, rosemary-spiked sauce and a heroic, suety pie crust. People who eat it will fall asleep vaguely remembering that they did something impressive that day, even if they can't recollect exactly what it was.
Friday, November 18, 2011 - The other starter, sea bass in a broth of seaweed and cockles with a pickled oyster on top, was the only flat note in the meal: it was a bit polite and muted. Main courses made up for that: a saddle of venison was served the perfect degree of under-doneness with a robust dumpling of its haunch, cavolo nero, celeriac, pickled red baby onions and a rosehip and hawthorn berry emulsion. It looked ravishing and tasted just as good. Pork fillet, served just-pink, came with braised belly and a tagliatelle heavily spiked with fennel, a salad of raw fennel and sorrel, and the aforementioned Kalamata smear. A lot going on, all of it good.
Friday, October 14, 2011 - The menu is St John-style laconic: 'Courgettes and romesco', 'Cauliflower, red onion and Stichelton'. The simplicity leaves nowhere for the chef to hide when things go wrong, and there were a couple of points when it did: the pigeon was near-raw and the lentils tasted faintly but unmistakably burnt. Apart from that, the food ranged from good to very good. That cauliflower dish was wonderfully tangy, and the melted blue cheese made the ensemble almost gamey. A terrine of smoked Old Spot pork had masses of herby kick. Mackerel came chopped up with mustard and blackberries, a fresh, light and original take on the fish.
Friday, October 07, 2011 - We tried a 'tasting' plate of three little pieces of sirloin - American, British and Australian - at the Park Lane price of 48 pounds. They were classic US steakhouse steaks: beautifully cooked, perfectly seasoned, ideally charred, unimprovable in texture. There's a word missing there. Do you spot it? Flavour. The meat had a little, but not nearly enough. The steakaholic friend with me expressed sombre disappointment and felt no need to finish them - quite a strong statement at that price...Look at it the way Mr Micawber would: by not going to Cut, two of you can save 240 pounds.
Friday, September 23, 2011 - The restaurant's ingredients-first approach leaves things to speak for themselves, which is good, but there are moments when they speak a little quietly. Scallop sashimi with radish and a dollop of squid ink was exquisitely fresh - Hedone really is a masterclass in sourcing - but could have done with a kick of sharpness or acidity...These are high-level criticisms, and Hedone is only going to get better. Part of the honesty of the place is in admitting that it's a work in progress, a fact that the knowledgable and charming staff are happy to discuss.
Friday, September 16, 2011 - Having liked the place and the idea, I found I didn't like the food quite as much as I wanted to. The problem was the execution, which verged on the rough and ready. Devilled kidneys is a nice thing to see on a list of starters, but the outcome was both too chewy and too bloody, and came dumped on a thick slice of white bread - a real flavour-neutraliser. I also liked the thinking behind reinventing prawn cocktail using signal crayfish (an evil American invader), and the bloody mary sauce, as a version on sauce marie rose, was a nice twist, but again it was a bit bland and coarse on the plate, served with brown shrimps and lots of lettuce. Delicacy isn't a virtue in the kitchen, but precision is, and it was sometimes lacking here.
Friday, September 02, 2011 - I hated the idea of 'vintage potatoes' but the dish itself was amazing, a potato served with its own dehydrated crispy skin and an edible 'ash' of onion, along with two purees, one of shallot and one of lovage. Unusual and brilliant. There's a rich, savoury undernote to the best dishes at Roganic, the other standouts being brill (with a 'chicken salt' made from chicken juices and cracked wheat) and shoulder of hogget (with pureed and glazed artichokes, caramelised sweetbreads and chenopodium mushrooms).
Friday, July 22, 2011 - Crab raviolo isn't a new idea, but here it was beautifully executed. It tasted vibrantly of crab, for a start, the texture of pasta and crustacean was perfectly blended, on top of a leek fondant that set off the sweetness of the crab. This was completed by a lobster sauce, with brown shrimps and samphire as a garnish. Rump of veal came pink, thinly sliced, and served on its own juices with piquillo peppers, slivers of parmesan, dabs of aioli and a herb chiffonade. People sometimes say they don't know how to identify umami, the fifth taste that the tongue can detect: this dish was a lip-smacking education in the subject.
Friday, July 08, 2011 - The chef's speciality main courses and the breads are where it's really at. Chicken karahi was chicken in smallish pieces, on the bone, in a tomato-based sauce with lots of coriander to lighten it and spicing so complex I couldn't identify one specific dominant note - which is one way of identifying a really good masala. Bruchi lamb was a new one for me, a dense mutton (I think) curry that was half-dry and cooked with crunchy potatoes and fried onions. This was chewy and strong-flavoured, a real no-faint-hearts Kashmiri special. Saag paneer was more pureed than I like my spinach and seemed heavy on the ghee, which I'd have to say is an issue at Mangla. Luckily, a garlic nan was on hand to cut the richness and/or mop up the sauce. Paratha, another of the region's world-class breads, was another hit.
Friday, July 01, 2011 - There is something underwhelming about that if your expectations are keyed to Mayfair, grande luxe and beautifully presented plates (Ottolenghi's, for instance, are on a different level). To enjoy Quince, then, you have to be in the mood for a gap between the fancy setting and the relatively plain main courses, which focus on grills. Lamb and beef kebabs were complicated mixes of meat, spices, chopped pistachios and herbs, and came with an emphatic tzatziki on the side. Dips and meat, yes, but in a good way.
Friday, June 24, 2011 - Razor clams with chorizo, squid with allioli and salad (the body served whole, the tentacles chopped), prawns with chilli and garlic, and clams with fino sherry and bacon were all outstanding. When it's very fresh and perfectly cooked, high-grade seafood is distinguished by a subtle sweetness below the initial savoury impact. That was present here, and beautifully drawn out by the saucing and seasoning. All these dishes were around the 6 quid mark...Jose is a proper bar with proper tapas and proper sherry.
Saturday, June 18, 2011 - The especially pleasant service carried on through the meal, a strong positive feature. Another strong positive is the price...The cooking is good, too: not flashy or risky, but sound and focused on known crowd-pleasers. Squid with paprika, chilli, chorizo and olives was the punchiest dish; veal meatballs with lentils was subtle but comforting: either would have been a very successful big plate. Pork belly had good depth of flavour and came in good-looking chunks - presentation is at a noticeably high level for the cost. A couple of dishes looked pretty but lacked impact.
Saturday, June 04, 2011 - The meal got off to a slow start with a vichyssoise that had an odd fishy note, and a low-key grilled mackerel with a dill-heavy, potato-heavy Russian salad. So far, so-so, but the lunch picked up dramatically as it became more Welsh. A 'boudin' of pork shoulder and belly wasn't at all boudin-like in texture - it was firm and chewy, more like an Italian cotechino - but tasted sensationally porky and came with a shallot piccalilli that was a perfect accompaniment. The next dish was spatzle with morels, crisp bacon and a small puddle of perfect meaty reduction to integrate the other elements - not at all Welsh, but very good cooking.
Saturday, May 21, 2011 - The first thing that hits you is the Victorian drama of the room. It's on a curve, like York station, with huge windows offering a view of both street and sky, and the highest restaurant ceiling I can remember...'Kentish pigeon in a pot' was gamey and faintly liverish, and came with mushrooms, prunes and a thrillingly deep-flavoured sauce. Cauliflower pudding, from the accompaniments, was a nutmeg-oriented version of cauliflower cheese, minus the cheese. The only problem with the tempting list of historic puddings is that you might be too full for one. If you aren't, check out Mrs Beeton's snow eggs, an English version of iles flottantes.
Saturday, May 14, 2011 - The Full English Breakfast - a slow-cooked egg on top of a vivid tomato sauce accompanied by croutons and emphasised by the dark undernote of mushrooms underneath. It tasted like a cooked breakfast, while also tasting and looking like an elaborate restaurant dish - quite a trick. Even better was another starter of chopped squid and cauliflower, where the two white al dente ingredients blended into each other in such a way that it was hard to tell which was which; the dish was taken to a higher level by a sauce of dark, roasted squid juice that looked like a clearer, more flavourful version of squid ink. It was sublime.
Saturday, May 07, 2011 - 'Authentic specials' include a wonderfully hot, sweet, deeply flavoured ox tripe stir-fried with chilli. I also braved yook hwe, a magnificently crazy starter of chopped raw beef, stirred with finely sliced pears, egg yolk, soy sauce and sugar, and served with the beef still partially frozen...Then it's time for the grills. The house special is marinated beef rib, cooked over the white-hot brazier and then chopped into manageable portions by a waitress with scissors. Then you wrap it in lettuce.
Saturday, April 30, 2011 - So the venue's odd and the owner's absence was odd; the food completed the trilogy. It wasn't car-crash bad, but it wasn't far off. Several dishes seemed misconceived. A 'coarse chicken liver terrine' was OK, though it was dry and had no perceptible taste of liver; the accompanying grain mustard looked very pretty - lovely fat grains - but didn't taste of anything. Roast pumpkin risotto had frisee lettuce on top and looked pretty, with cubes of roast pumpkin and croutons for texture, but it tasted overpoweringly of lemon...Final taste left in mouth: sour.
Saturday, April 23, 2011 - Tripe and onions was a soft, comforting version of a neglected classic, remarkably sweet thanks to the caramelised onions, and served with a topping of breadcrumbs for crunch and mash on the side (it's the sort of sweet main course children would love, if they didn't know what it was). Bacon and snails sounded heavy, but had a cleanness to it, and the meltingly tender snails were a component in their own right, not just a delivery system for the sauce...So that's the food: superb. My one reservation is to do with the dining room, which is a little cramped. It's an awkward space to start with, and 50 covers is pushing it.
Saturday, April 16, 2011 - Dandelion salad with a poached egg and smoked eel was an early spring classic, served with a zingingly acidic vinaigrette; sharp cooking in every sense. A noticeably generous portion of crab was served on a slice of sourdough, with salad, as a starter - a simple dish, but good crab served plainly is hard to beat, and this was a very good-value portion for 7.50. The only so-so dish was my main course confit of lamb rump, which was a bit sticky and had its richness emphasised with a goat's cheese sauce...It all works well, and there's nothing amateur about the Fox and Grapes. If I lived locally, I'd regard it as very good news.
Saturday, April 02, 2011 - The hams are a highlight, as they should be, since Spanish ham is the best in the world: a selection of four costs 7.50...The cooked tapas were also successful. Pinchos morunos are skewers of marinated rib-eye steak, chewy and firm-flavoured. Croquetas are rich balls of bechamel and ham, a bit bland for me, but croqueta-lovers will love them. Braised pork cheeks in sherry were a satisfying main course dish in a starter portion, and campera, a salad of peppers, green beans, egg and potato, was fresh and colourful.
Saturday, March 26, 2011 - The reasons for its success? Naturally, it's rocket science: the food is good, the service efficient and very friendly, and the bill small. The Nepalese classics are present and well-executed, especially a hearty version of momo served with a lightening, delicate hemp seed chutney. Then it's all about the mutton - or, rather, the lamb...The vegetable dishes were great: musurko dhal - made with red lentils, showed a liberal use of garlic and, I suspect, quite a bit of ghee - had that nicely layered sense of many different spices working in harmony. All in all, the balance of the cooking was just right.
Saturday, March 19, 2011 - The Salt Yard group are great aficionados of the Iberico pig, and the porky things here are excellent, in particular the presa, a cut from between the shoulder and loin, served medium rare, with a jus spiked with shallots, and a dressing of capers and lemon...Short rib of beef had great depth of flavour but an offputting, hash-like texture; but then, any dish would have found it hard to compete with that presa. One or two other dishes were startlingly acidic by contrast with the mellow meat flavours: mackerel escabeche with roast beets was very sharp, as was a salad of salsify, chestnuts and potatoes.
Saturday, March 12, 2011 - The pork chop with sauce Robert was the best pork chop I've ever had: cooked sous-vide and finished on the grill, it was succulent, and the sauce, a demi-glace spiked with mustard, was amazing. (It tasted of sausage. I've no idea how they did that.) Spiced pigeon, again cooked sous-vide, came with artichokes and ale sauce, and was, again, an authoritative, rich, note-perfect piece of cooking...The room is lovely, with an open-plan kitchen and upsetting views of people exercising in Hyde Park.
Saturday, March 05, 2011 - North Road was a pleasant surprise, with some real high points. One of the best ideas - caramelised pork jelly - while not original, was still brilliant, setting off a leg of pork cooked in hay and three 'textures' of celeriac, raw, pureed and fried. Also brilliant was a starter of raw, or maybe very lightly marinated, scallops with smoked bone marrow and unripe berries - a rich, subtle dish. When Hruskova is on form, you genuinely feel you're getting a glimpse of something new...This leaves a lot of room for underwhelmedness when it doesn't go exactly right.
Saturday, February 26, 2011 - Mussel and bacon chowder with a garnish of ground bacon and chives, which was outstanding. Pintail duck, something I'd never eaten, was superb meat, beautifully cooked and rested, and came with the best bread sauce I've ever had. Home-cured ham: fantastic. Braised turbot with crab: running out of superlatives. Lamb breast poached, then breadcrumbed and fried, served with mint sauce: genius idea. The rack and shoulder of the same lamb with cabbage and a fabulously deep, resonant, unsticky meat sauce...The Sportsman is so good that even the Michelin guide has had to bow to reality and award it a star.
Saturday, February 19, 2011 - I'm not going to say that the Dock Kitchen is a duff restaurant or that Parle can't cook: it isn't and he can. But there seems to be a consistency problem, because on the day I went for lunch, it just wasn't at the level it has hit for other people...Having said all that, there was one really good dish, a starter of clams with roasted coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves - a complicated swirl of flavours, with each mouthful subtly different. Whoever cooked that can cook. Overall, though, I was disappointed by the Dock Kitchen, which I suspect was having an off day.
Saturday, February 05, 2011 - I had a cold dish of smoked mackerel with fresh herbs and leaves on a bed of udon with a sensationally good sauce. It was so vividly flavoured, and yet also so fresh and (thanks to the veg) so sharply green-tasting, that it added up to a perfect winter cheerer-up. As for the noodles, they were amazingly good, with a mystifying depth of flavour and a perfect texture. The hot dish was a beef atsu-atsu. I think the meat was brisket; slow-cooked, it was falling into shreds, and came with a broth of beautifully judged weight, meaty and enveloping without being too rich.
Saturday, January 29, 2011 - The cooking was underwhelming - not bad, just underwhelming. Pork scratchings were satisfyingly crunchy, but underseasoned...As for the famous barbecue, well, that was underwhelming, too. The pork belly was undercooked to my taste, so the fat hadn't properly rendered. I don't want to eat unrendered pork fat. It came with a lot of Bramley apple. The special was picanha, a fantastic grilling cut that was served with Lang's award-festooned barbecue marinade and chimichurri. The beef was excellent, but the marinade and sauce fought each other.
Saturday, January 08, 2011 - The cooking is excellent and the list of hits I had was almost as long as the list of dishes I tried - and it was a long list. Salad of chopped octopus; lamb chops flavoured with cumin; a beetroot dish that was like a hummus made out of borscht and spiked with feta and walnuts - that was great, and I say that as someone who doesn't like beetroot. The two stars of the meal were chiccarones - small squares of pork belly, again flavoured with cumin - and fried chickpeas, recommended by the waiter, which came with chopped tomatoes, chilli and coriander, and were a spicy, crunchy, compulsive treat.
Saturday, January 01, 2011 - One stand-out dish is a starter of snail and bacon pie. If there were a food award for Best Transgressive Oversize Vol-Au-Vent, it would go to this bad boy, not least because of the lavish white sauce inside - 1970s heaven. Also exceptional, in a fancier idiom, is a crunchy croquette of salt cod brandade with sauteed squid and 'cromesqui', a dumpling filled with livid green parsley sauce. A main course roast cod came undercooked and in another of those skillets, but the effect was more than cancelled out by a truly outstanding version of the classic dessert ile flottante.
Saturday, December 18, 2010 - Purnell is a brilliant cook. The touch of playfulness apparent in that monkfish dish shows up elsewhere in his food, too...The food looks beautiful, too. It is taken as axiomatic among high-end chefs that we 'eat with our eyes', but few of them can actually make their food look arrestingly pretty on the plate. Purnell can. A starter of cured and slow-cooked mackerel came with shiitake and onoki mushrooms, a blob of mild wasabi and mizuna on a black plate, and looked gorgeous. (I say that as someone who doesn't in general like black-plate faffing.) It tasted exceptionally good, too.
Saturday, December 11, 2010 - I'd be lying if I said our meal was perfectly perfect. That D-rump was over-energetically seasoned, a pepper sauce wasn't very nice (not enough pepper, too much veal stock) and I thought all three of our steaks were a notch more cooked than we'd asked for, though that's a tricky area in steak...As for the cocktails, they're brilliant. The list itself is a masterpiece, scholarly and genuinely interesting about the history of its drinks - it makes you feel more intelligent for having read it. I tried one of the 'anti-fogmatics', a marmalade cocktail - it was delicious.
Saturday, November 27, 2010 - The idea is to copy the small bar/restaurants of Venice, which specialise in good and unpretentious food accompanied by good and unpretentious drinks. The signifiers are those of casual dining: the paper tablecloth is also the menu, and there are funkily tiny wineglasses already set up....It's not the subtlest or most delicate cooking in the world. Chilli and garlic prawns were too gloopy for me, and pigeon saltimbocca a bit rough. But at 7 pounds for each dish, the value is so good, you don't mind. I also liked the feeling that the fresh, unpretending food was coming straight out of the kitchen and on to the table.
Saturday, November 06, 2010 - I had a pig's head and black pudding terrine served with small cubes of apple jelly. It was brilliant, light and wonderfully piggy. The GBM dish of turbot and oxtail was off that day (stifled sob), so I had halibut with bacon and peas. The head waiter assuaged my concern that this might be too bacony, and he was right, since the flavour was salty and deep, but not porky, and beautifully balanced the peas and crisp fish. Pud was great, too - ethereal dark chocolate mousse served on chopped mango, with three lovely madeleines on the side. Treacle tart was thick and dark and not oversweet.
Saturday, October 23, 2010 - It's a short menu, with deceptively simple descriptions, a style derived from St John, the ideological mothership for this type of cooking, and Hilferty, an Australian, does a superb take on this punchy, ingredient-driven and flavourful British food...I had slow-cooked mutton chop on pearl barley, which was sticky, deep and very satisfying; it might have been an inappropriately wintry dish if the weather hadn't been so lousy, but it was, so it wasn't. A side dish of greens weren't greens but cabbage, well buttered.
Saturday, October 16, 2010 - My wife, having ordered a dish with sausage, felt that she wanted it to be more overtly sausagey. I could see her point. This is restaurant food, a refined, polished take on a cuisine that I prefer in its more rustic and domestic form. I know I'm veering dangerously near saying that the problem with Tinello is that it is too accomplished. I felt something similar about Locanda Locatelli after my only visit there. Other dishes were very good: brill with a broth of onions, clams and borlotti beans; roast baby chicken with spicy potatoes; and a lovely, not too sweet white chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo served with cocoa sauce.
Saturday, October 02, 2010 - There's a temptation to reach for exotic metaphors while describing bad food, but the commonest form of bad food isn't worth the effort: it's food that doesn't taste of anything at all. Biltong, for instance, a type of air-dried meat, is served as a starter, shaved, with a dip on the side. The beef had the texture of trainers and the taste of nothing...Ostrich rump had next to no flavour and a texture like a tennis ball, not exactly inedible, but putting up a damned good fight. Worst of all, by some distance, were the chips, which seemed not to have been seasoned and managed to be rigid all the way through.
Saturday, September 25, 2010 - As the name implies, it is a shed where they cook fish, rather than a formal restaurant. A bit of it is under cover, but not all, and much of the place is protected by nothing but umbrellas...The haddock was as good as it gets, the flesh moist and dense, the batter satisfyingly thick but also crunchy and light. Overall, it had the perfect texture and density...The chips were top-notch, and proper British chips, too, thick and potatoey, as well as crunchy to the bite, irregular in cut and full of flavour. The crunchiness was aided by the fact that they're cooked in beef dripping.
Saturday, September 18, 2010 - Both main courses were excellent. Braised rabbit leg with polenta came with a nicely non-reduced, satisfying stock-based sauce. The temptation is to spike the sauce with a reduction and make it more like a posh French restaurant dish than a homely Italian one, yet Zucca passed that test. Plain grilled swordfish with rocket salad and panzanella, the Italian bread sort-of-salad, was the kind of dish that offers the cook nowhere to hide, and lots of ways to go wrong. It was perfect.
Saturday, September 11, 2010 - The Mason's Arms is a first-rate gastropub in Devon, winner of this year's Michelin award for Britain's best pub...Halibut in a potato crust came with braised lettuce and a cider-spiked cream sauce; monkfish came wrapped in parma ham with a lot of slightly gluey potato puree. It was noticeable how good the quality of the ingredients was - Devon is exceptionally blessed in that respect, and Dodson makes full use of the bounty. Pudding was exceptional. The Mason's Arms is not cheap-cheap but prices are reasonable for what it is, and there's a cheaper light lunch option.
Saturday, September 04, 2010 - What redeemed Gauthier Soho was the level of the cooking. This had some quiet patches - a pigeon dish that was a little unemphatic, lamb that also seemed polite - but at its best is truly exceptional. The best thing I ate, a risotto of summer truffles made with chicken stock, was as good a dish as any I've eaten all year, perfect in texture and extraordinary in the intensity of its flavours...If it were my restaurant, I'd serve the cooking with fewer poncey trappings. But Gauthier can really, really cook.