Marina O’Loughlin says Brasserie Blanc, Raymond Blanc’s high street chain, is designed for the kind of people who find Jamie's Italian a bit new-fangled and leery
"My brasseries," it says on the menu, "are places where you can relax and enjoy honest French cooking." I don't know about you, M Blanc, but I find it hard to relax in an environment of deafening noise levels, stressed and overstretched staff, and legions of people processed like so many frozen frites. And I'm not sure where pasta with Jervaulx blue cheese (from North Yorkshire), chestnut and apple fits into the pantheon of honest French cooking, the pasta (it looks like Sicilian casarecce) tired and limp, the topping slapped on and whacked under the grill so that skidmarks of cheese are blasted on to the Blanc-branded bowl. Chestnuts aren't fresh, apple isn't peeled. It's removed from us, virtually untouched, with a grimace of apology. "Maman Blanc's miscellany of salads"? Really? Fridge-cold, damp celeriac remoulade, perfunctory carottes râpées, sort-of-Waldorf, beetroot, endive with blue cheese. Why would you go to all the trouble of peeling and coring cucumber, and of serving the dinky little spoonfuls on a handsome oyster platter, when it all has the air of something scooped out of a plastic catering pack some time earlier in the day?
Score: Food 3/10; Atmosphere 5/10; Value for money 3/10
Price: Three-course meal from about £35 a head, plus drinks and service.
AA Gill says the food at vegetarian restaurant Mildred’s, London W1, does little to dispel vegetarianism’s holier-than-thouness to compensate for taste and care
For main course, there was a cinnamon-spiced stew and a Sri Lankan curry. It took an hour to get to the table and, in truth, I couldn’t remember which was which. Mine was mostly beans, Camilla’s was mostly pumpkin. And then she crunched something, and pulled a lump of wood out of her mouth. That’ll be the cinnamon stew, then. They both had a brash, monotone flavour and a toothless texture that grew boring after the third mouthful, and by the fifth I felt that I had eaten a dead scarecrow. The detox salad was fresh and well made and had pretty much everything in it that dares poke its little green head above ground at this time of year. A new year’s detox juice tasted like detox juices taste year in, year out — carrot and ginger. For pudding, there was a really depressing banoffee pie made without condensed milk, and a cheeseless cheesecake with salted, butterless caramel, and a vegan ice cream, no cream and no eggs. It was like the joyless stuff we got during rationing. I finished with a barley cup, which is noncoffee coffee made of chicory and toasted barley that smells strongly of kipper bones and stale wee. The bill was a very reasonable £76. The problem with all this is its veggie chippiness. It’s trying to compete with meat and dairy, trying to do the same thing better: there were sausages and burgers on the menu.
Score: Food 2/5; Atmosphere 3/5
Price: £76 for two
John Walsh says there’s nothing bad or wrong about French bistro Goode & Wright in Notting Hill, London W11
The food, prepared by Finlay Logan, is remarkable. Mr Logan is a Scot of precision and flair. He's a whizz with oysters. A buttermilk-fried-then-grilled oyster served with spinach on a sourdough bun to resemble a 'slider' was a delightful miniature. My duck tartare with oysters was served with raw egg yolk to mix in – it was slimy and slithery in texture but tasted delicious cut with cornichons, capers, parsley and pickled chilli, the whole assembly offset by the crunch of sourdough toast. Duck foie gras poêlé, another touch of decadence, came anointed with truffle honey and served with a brioche – and a shot-glass of sauternes. "Zere needs something sweet to welcome zer foie gras," muttered Jimmy. (Pretentious, lui?) Main courses brought a smoked haddock brandade – a familiar winter dish, but served here in a whiskey tumbler, with a poached egg lurking in the middle of the mash and some roundels of chorizo, surmounted by grated pecorino cheese. Such boldness. "It's superb," said Max, "but you don't want to find the egg halfway down, you want it all over the place at once – you know, like Juan Mata." (He's a Chelsea fan.)
Score: Food 4/5; Ambience 3/5; Service 4/5
Price: Around £100 for two with wine (and absinthe)
The London Evening Standard
Rosamond Urwin says although STK, London WC2, the UK outpost of the US-based steak restaurant chain, is too expensive and takes itself too seriously, she still leaves full and with a smile on her face
Among the starters, a trio of miniature burgers — Wagyu beef with a “special sauce” in sesame-seed buns — were so sublime that if I ever returned, I would just order two plates of those and be done. The seared scallops were perfectly cooked and, while it’s surely time for a moratorium on London restaurants serving everything with purées (baby food), the curried cauliflower was well-matched. The only disappointment was the ethically questionable foie gras French toast which was rich yet oddly bland, the accompanying Granny Smith sauce needing more punch. There are a decent number of non-steak main courses — mostly predictable fare like salted sea bass and corn-fed chicken — but it’s not a place to go with a vegetarian friend. We stuck to the steak, most of which hails from the US — a shame given the bovine brilliance available in Britain. Feeling patriotic, I chose the one British steak on the menu — free-range and from Hertfordshire — while my date had Yankee sirloin. Both were ordered (and arrived) medium rare. They were equally good — tender, juicy, glorious — but then you have to be a pretty terrible chef to ruin a good bit of beef. And they certainly didn’t come cheap: prices start at £16.50 for a diet-friendly 150g feather steak and climb to £55 for a “cowboy” steak, which weighs a whopping 750g. Presumably a cholesterol test kit comes included.
Price: Dinner for two about £165 including wine and 12.5% service
Andy Lynes says Coya, London’s latest Peruvian restaurant in Mayfair, serves authentic and for the most part delicious food but is let down by the dreary, under-lit basement room
It’s the parrillada that steal the show. Costillas de chancho are pork back ribs flavoured with a tamarind glaze so bone-gnawingly addictive it should be a controlled substance. Chuletas de borrego prove how satisfying eating three beautifully cooked, tender lamb chops that have been marinated in dried chilli, ginger, garlic, rosemary and cumin can be. Although causa tradicional (cold mashed potato cakes topped with white crab meat and roasted peppers) and a corn sundae made with sweet corn ice cream, corn meringue and popcorn are just plain weird, Dwivedi is a class act and appears to have mastered Peru’s exotic culinary lexicon. It’s a shame, then, that the cooking (and knowledgeable, attentive and caring service) is let down by the dreary, under-lit basement room that’s a cross between a drinking den and the sort of faceless pan-Asian restaurant you find in international hotel chains. The unceasing and insistently loud salsa soundtrack has put me off Tito Puente for life.
Price: A meal for two, including wine, water and service costs about £150
Scotland on Sunday
The food at Tuk Tuk in Edinburgh is more decent than incredible, and it feels as if they’re muddling through the service but it’s affordable, lively and quirky so you’d have to be a real misery guts not to love it a little bit, says Gaby Soutar
Butter chicken (£4.90) was creamy and almondy, if slightly lacking in depth. The same goes for our other poultry offering – the chicken achari (£4.50) – which boasted two legs, one of which was stringier than the other. It was billed as being “cooked with lime and pickle”, but those ingredients seemed to be the exact items the tomato and onion sauce was missing. Still, not bad. Similarly, the vegetarian Frankies (£5) – a sort of Mumbai version of the burrito – had fabled contents that included “pickled vegetables and chutney”. In actuality, this rolled-up roti contained a lipstick red but rather bland spread of chickpeas, petit pois and roasted peppers. I wished I’d smuggled in my own jar of lime pickle. Another veggy dish – tarka dhal (£3.95) – was sweet with turmeric, but baby-foodish, as it was too watery and needed additional lentils to bulk it up. As many of our dishes were VERY saucy, we wished we’d ordered more than one smallish portion of basmati rice (£1.85) between two. Thankfully, as we are Jabba the Hutts, we had emergency mopping-up carbs in the form of masala chips (£2) instead. Totes amazeballs, as the kids say.
Price: Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £42.50
By Kerstin Kühn
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