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Reviews: “Ikoyi would feel challenging whether you were from Nigeria or Nantwich,” writes Grace Dent

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Reviews: “Ikoyi would feel challenging whether you were from Nigeria or Nantwich,” writes Grace Dent

Ikoyi [in London] would feel peculiar, challenging and unique whether you were from Nigeria or Nantwich,” writes Grace Dent in The Guardian

[The] dambu nama is made from longhorn beef and comes atop a delicate tartlet of whipped bone marrow pancake not much bigger than a 50p piece. Ikoyi is Lagos via the Ledbury. Chef Jeremy Chan and his business partner Iré Hassan-Odukale employ West African ingredients – scotch bonnet, grains of selim, ndoleh leaves – to bring new life to very British things such as Exmoor caviar, Orkney scallops and wild Scottish turbot. They serve this mashup of tribute, innovation and cultural trickiness in a pale, minimal, modern room while playing Warren G’s ‘Regulate’ and ‘Blue Lights’ by Jorja Smith. The staff deliver it all brightly and politely.

Ikoyi’s stand-out dish for me, at £14, was a perfect, albeit small, rich disc of malted barley dough, not dissimilar to a souped-up slice of Soreen, topped with mushroom suya – or, to describe it more accurately, a pine-infused pile of earthy morel, miso and yaji ragú with an emulsion of pine and kumquat. The turbot (which is painfully fashionable right now – in fact, merely saying “turbot” makes you more relevant) comes on the bone with a squid-ink sauce, okra, steamed onions and sea beets. A plate of barely grilled duck arrived on an uda-infused, smoked candied bacon sauce strewn with sour camomile onions and cassava. We drank a bottle of the house red – Tinto Prunus 2015 – and puzzled our way through each delivery. The Kent mango, ogbono and buttermilk pudding is a slice of perfect parfait shaped like a credit card. It’s one of the nicest things I’ve put in my mouth this year.

Ikoyi, six months after opening, is one of the most damning things a restaurant can be: not always delicious, certainly dear, but clearly important. If West-African cuisine is close to your heart, your boundaries will be tested beautifully. If, on the other hand, you’ve missed the past 3,000 years, there’s no better place to jump in than here.

Food: 8/10; atmosphere 6/10; service 8/10. About £60 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service.


meraki-london

Tony Turnbull reviews Meraki in London’s Fitzrovia in The Times which he says is “nice enough”, but the heart isn’t there

A tiny pot of hummus came flecked with smoky lozenges of eel (if three tiny pieces a fleck can make), and was lent added crackle by nuggets of toasted buckwheat seeds. A bowl of Santorini tomatoes with goats’ cheese and caper leaves was more generous, but so it should have been for £14.

This lot had already set us back £32, so it felt shameless to charge another £5 for two thimbles of tiny crispy pitta triangles – probably equivalent to a single pitta in total – but not half as shameless as the crass attempt to up-sell us. When the waiter arrived with our order, he’d also taken the trouble to laden the tray with the three other mezze we hadn’t ordered – tzatziki, kopanisti, which is a feta and red pepper puree, and melitzanosalata, or aubergine dip – which he then tried to palm off on us. Come on, guys, show some self-respect.

My beef fillet kebab (£26) was a generous portion of meat, and deftly cooked, even if it did pick up a little of the flavour of the wooden board it was served on as it cooled. Horta greens were properly bitter, as they should be; florets of “burnt cauliflower” were also bitter, which they really shouldn’t be – charring yes, burning no – and I couldn’t be bothered to delve deeper into the bowl for the promised blob of Cretan butter, a Greek thickening agent not dissimilar to cream cheese.

It was all nice enough but felt more like an international rather than specifically Greek experience, as though it was already number four in a rollout that had its heart elsewhere.

Score: 6


barbakan-york

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon is “blissfully defeated” by Barbakan in York

Barbakan is Polish – and the Polish like their food heavy. I went for lunch with my wife, son and parents, and we were taken aback by how big the portions were. Not necessarily in size, but in density. “That’s the Polish way,” said the Polish waitress, shrugging. “Although,” she added wryly, “some Polish people are complaining that the portions are too small”.

My first dish actually wasn’t Polish: it was the Hungarian potato pancake. Not that it matters where it came from, because it was terrific. The pancake thick on the inside and crisp on the outside, and spilling from it a delicious slick of beef goulash.

I also had a proper Polish dish, the golabki: cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced minced pork and rice, and served in a tomato sauce. Again, very good.

My parents both had the zawijaniec, which was another kind of pancake, this one stuffed with buckwheat and vegetables, baked in a tomato sauce, and topped with a huge fat rug of melted cheese. It was served nuclear hot, but was otherwise excellent. My wife had the courgette fritters, which, for Barbakan, were unusually light, but also a little bland.

Otherwise, everything was tremendously filling. I felt like a walrus piling on extra layers of blubber for a hard winter. My mum liked her main, but said she’d have preferred it to be half the size, with the other half replaced by a nice dainty salad.

Normally I feel neurotically compelled to finish everything on my plate, even if I’m no longer hungry. But at Barbakan I just couldn’t. I was defeated. Blissfully defeated. A great lunch – but how I’d have loved that lie-down afterwards.

Rating: 4/5. Price: Three courses for two: about £55 without alcohol


Amy Poon may be bringing her father’s food up to date at Poon’s pop-up in London’s Clerkenwell, but it needs more work, writes Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard

Seventh-generation master chef Bill Poon and his wife Cecilia retired from the restaurant business in 2006. Their daughter Amy, who as a girl worked in all of the family’s establishments and was absolutely hell-bent on not going into the business, has recently opened Poon’s pop-up in Clerkenwell in that odd three-sided square off Central Street that also houses the chippie plus plus that is Fish Central. Like so many pop-ups — trading in this instance probably until late May — it is destined for a permanent site and, I suspect, a roll out.

Thousand-year-old ‘Pi Dan’ eggs with preserved ginger have those weird amber-like whites and grubby yolks but are pleasant to chase round the plate with the bright red chopsticks. Won tons tossed in red chilli oil should certainly be part of an order.

Poon’s wind-dried bacon san choy bau could equally be titled pork in lettuce wrap and there is little trace of that beguilingly spectral mummified flavour in the signature dish of claypot rice with salumi and wind-dried bacon. The best part of this bowlful is the scorched rice that forms a combative crust on the inside.

Hainanese chicken rice, one of my favourite dishes in the world, bringing together as it does every advantage a chicken possesses including the potential for savoury bone broth to pervade rice before condiments including ginger are brought to bear. Somehow the plateful here featuring arid chicken misses the point.

Rating: 3/5


The Observer’s Jay Rayner stumbles across a gem in Chester’s Koconut Grove

To not try the dosas, their vast friable, lacy pancakes cooked from a batter made with fermented rice and lentils, is a crime punishable by other people pointing and laughing at you until you agree to have a long, hard look at yourself. The ones served here are more than 2ft across and rolled in on themselves so they hang off the plate. A couple of these would double for an eiderdown on a chilly Chester evening.

The masala dosa comes stuffed with soft, spiced potatoes and fried onions. You tear off pieces and get that cheery mix of crunch and soothing squish. On the side are a trio of condiments: at one end of the plate is a dish of a deep, strident masala sauce, served hot for dipping, at the other is a chilli and tomato chutney – in the middle is a cooling coconut relish. It’s an awful lot of action for £6.95. Add £1 and they’ll stuff it full of lamb or beef or, as in our case, spiced king prawns, that bounce pleasingly between the crispness of the dosa.

For main courses you could choose from the list of ‘Indian all time favourites’, but I’d talk about you behind your back and roll my eyes. Try instead the exuberantly pungent fennel lamb curry, which is dark and intense with a lofty hit of anise hovering over the fire and spice. More intriguing still is the gobi Manchurian. Cauliflower florets are first lightly battered and deep fried before being liberally drenched in a powerful chilli and tomato sauce. There’s a cheery Keralan fish curry made with coconut milk which is soft and curiously fruity, and an outrageously rich makhani dal.

Meal for two, including drinks and service: £45


jamaica-street-stores

Jamaica Street Stores in Bristol isn’t flawless, writes Marina O’Loughlin in the Sunday Times, but she loves it

The food is of a genre I’d call “Bristol eclectic”: lots of vegetable-based dishes without any vegetable fascism, an evident delight in the world’s spice cabinet, all seasoned with a joyous burst of levity and fun. We’re seduced by the idea of a ‘hummus’ of pumpkin, the addition of saffron staining the orange purée the extra hectic gold of a hallucinogenic sunset. And what to eat with this? Homemade crisps: the happiest of pairings.

Or their fried chicken, almost-but-not-quite Korean style, the batter fatter and airier and altogether more chip-shop; with its gravel of spiced peanuts and pool of kimchi mayonnaise, it’s quite the folksy fusion. Cauliflower, a judiciously blackened section of the inevitable vegetable, is turned from yawn into glamorous showstopper with its caramelly brown butter, crisps of kale and the gorgeous touch of a dukkah spice mix made with pistachios.

But it’s not all skipping hand in hand through the flower meadows, exchanging heart-eyes. Not so convincing is a kedgeree made with smoked pollock and spelt instead of haddock and rice; with its crisp shards of salted fennel on top, a kind of blowsy fennel-scented hollandaise and ‘confit’ yolk (it isn’t), this is all a bit too much, a bit sensory overload by mouthful three. By mouthful five I’m doing an impersonation of fur-balled cat. A clever-sounding celeriac dish — the roasted root, rounds of “burnt” apples, a hummock of truffled remoulade, crisped sage — is rather hard work. But at no point can you fault the creativity, the brio.

Total: For two, excluding service charge £67


HOTELS

number-38-bristol

Tom Chesshyre of The Times is bowled over by the “almost faultless” Number 38 in Bristol, describing it as “elegant, contemporary and friendly”

Sisal carpets, grey wood panels, abstract art, velvet armchairs and the odd antique create a refined look. Smart touches include directional bedside lights, digital radios, well-stocked mini bars and fancy REN products. The B&B spans two Georgian buildings; original sash windows provide views of either the Downs or the cityscape. Room nine and ten are the cheapest (from £130 B&B midweek and £135 B&B at weekends).

Breakfasts are excellent with a choice of full English, bacon and avocado with chilli flakes on toast, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and first-rate bacon and sausage sandwiches. Muesli, fruits, juices and yoghurts are also provided. My garlic chestnut mushrooms with poached eggs on sourdough toast was simply delicious.

Rating: 9/10. B&B doubles from £130

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