Giles Coren writes in The Times that the Lygon Bar & Grill in Broadway, Worcestershire, offers “a simple menu of well-executed, mostly British dishes that people will actually want to eat”
In good time they brought out a wonderful warm loaf of crusty granary bread with not quite enough butter, a nice thick garden pea soup (£7) and two absolutely historic cheese soufflés (£10 each), lightly browned on top, still bubbling in their black skillet and fiery with strong cheddar. They came with a brilliant little salad of green beans, radishes, peas, spring onions, lettuce, carrot and other bits and pieces, reinforcing the strength of the vegetable game here.
My main was the least good thing, a cylinder of rolled lamb shoulder (£21) from which all the fat had been so daintily and elegantly trimmed that it was all a bit chewy and dry. You’ve got to leave some fat and connective tissue on a slow cook to give it juiciness and heft. But the cutlets from the same animal were out of this world. Kitty took an adult portion (£24) which was two double-bone cutlets served quite rare and devoured them. I gnawed the bones she left and saw why. Sam had a kid’s portion of the fish and chips (£9) and it was good.
The Lygon Bar and Grill is great. It looks absolutely magnificent – one of the most impressive dining rooms I have eaten in for work – and they have done a very clever thing in reining in cheffy ambition despite the grandeur of the surroundings, to provide a simple menu of well-executed, mostly British dishes that people will actually want to eat.
Cooking: 6; service 7; dining room: 10. Score 7.67
“The food ranges from pleasant to peculiar,” says Grace Dent, reviewing Bryn Williams at Somerset House in The Guardian
The room, once you have completed your mission to locate it, is sage-coloured and leather-banquette-strewn, and feels a bit like sitting for a Holbein painting. Mock-vintage vignettes of ye olde fruit festoon the walls as the odd nautical nod to the fact the wing was occupied by the navy from 1789-1873. Many of the clientele possibly remember this period.
The food ranges from pleasant to peculiar. A snacky pre-dinner warm loaf of soda bread transpires to be the highlight. A starter of discs of heritage beetroot, a piece of cured organic salmon and a blob of smoked rosemary mayonnaise feels simpler than a Celebrity MasterChef plate. Another starter, a scattering of pickled radishes and apple over a piece of damp pork belly with a large wobbly piece of fat attached, is simply unappetising. I manage almost none of the tough roast cauliflower, half an unspliced head, topped with golden raisins, capers and salted grapes, because, even for a vegan-food cheerleader – I seek this stuff out daily, damn it – the dish is a mess. My guest has red mullet, which was allegedly grilled, with a peculiar olive tapenade in tempura batter and roast broccoli.
The puddings are clearly pre-made, but the passion fruit and banana baked vanilla cheesecake is definitely passable. We left as soon as possible, largely to escape the piped jazz muzak or any more cocktails such as the Blood and Mescal, served in a cheap highball glass, without garnish. As we left, security eyed us as if we were a nuisance, symbols of the downside of building revenue, treating the place like a restaurant when it is, in fact, living history. In truth, I can’t say I disagree.
Price: about £45 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 6/10; atmosphere: 2/10; service: 7/10
“How to Handle the Rich but Slightly Remedial”: Marina O’Loughlin reviews Orrery in London’s Marylebone in The Sunday Times
After kicking off with something simply beautiful – an eau de nil wild garlic soup of supreme lightness topped with a granola-like crunch of root vegetables and squiggles of puffed wild rice – it all gets a bit overexcited. Classic chicken-liver parfait isn’t delivered modishly – a spooned, rough quenelle, a few artisan salt crystals – but topiaried and tweezered, a neat pile of apple chutney here, a globe of compressed apple there, little blobs of bright apple gelée, tendrils of baby salad. It is excellent, silky, rich and pungent, but wears its titivation as comfortably as a rugby player in La Perla.
Smoked haddock is less successful, the powerful funk of the fish overpowering even chorizo and migas-like breadcrumbs scarlet from the sausage’s oil. There are tomatoes and sunny yellow mayonnaise; something green underneath could be anything. Pea sauce, apparently. None of these stands a chance against the bullying fish.
From the classics playbook comes black leg chicken with wild mushrooms and vin jaune, that Jura cousin of sherry. It’s a carnival of beige, the bird’s flesh almost spoonable, a soothing there-there-there of a dish. Another old warhorse, tournedos Rossini, has been – oh God – deconstructed. Foie (perfect) sits on caramelised endive; crouton reinvented as a kind of savoury biscuit plonked by the beef like a conquering flag; the fillet has a slightly disturbing tenderness that suggests a dunking in a water bath. There’s airy pommes mousseline and a sauce périgourdine (not quite sufficiently truffled demi-glace). “Here’s luxury for you,” it bellows. But this is a classic for a reason – I just wish they’d left it the hell alone.
Total: For two, including 12.5% service charge, £130
Jay Rayner reviews Forest Side in Grasmere in the Lake District. Writing in The Observer, he describes it as “a very good hotel restaurant”
There’s a lot of salt-baking going on here, to get the most of their vegetables, the majority of which come from their own kitchen garden tucked in behind the hotel. Celeriac is salt-baked until it tastes intensely of itself and served with plump mussels and two burnished fillets of lemon sole pressed together. In the other dish kohlrabi gets the salt-baked treatment, as a supporting act to pearlescent flakes of salt cod, with pickled nasturtium flowers and a lovage emulsion, providing just the edge of bitterness. This is precise, finely calibrated stuff. It stops you, makes you pause and stare for a moment. Or it does, if you are one of those people capable of rooting their emotional wellbeing in their lunch, which I am.
There is the same intensity to the main courses. Pork loin comes with a pleasing ribbon of crisped fat, on bashed Jerusalem artichokes, with a deep, limpid pork jus dotted with puddles of herb oil. More diverting still is a piece of aged beef rib, served on a smoked butter emulsion. There are other things, too, of course. There are hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, and heaps of deep orange smoked squash. But what stays with me is the flavour of that beef, as though it has been hanging out by a winter bonfire, intensifying its own flavour, and gathering the tang of wood smoke on the cool late winter air.
I want to rave all the way unto dessert, but I can’t, not quite. It’s not that they aren’t clever. They really are. But the intellectual, precise approach obvious in the savoury courses doesn’t fully transfer to the sweet end of the meal, where you need lusciousness and indulgence. Curls of dehydrated, caramelised apple are a wonder. The buttermilk custard and the lovage ice-cream beneath them are very pleasing. Likewise, the tiny tuft of apple cake alongside them all. But it comes and goes without quite caressing the sweet spot. The same applies to a disk of pear laid with a woodruff ice-cream and a granita and crumble. It is Tinker Bell delicate, a whiff of sugar rather than a full dive into the cookie jar.
Meal for two, including drinks and service: £120-plus
Michael Deacon describes Daddy Bao in Tooting as really good food that will fill you up cheaply in The Telegraph
The starters included golden kimchi (fiery cabbage), fried chicken (super crunchy), and pork dumplings (bit wet and insipid). Ultimately, though, Daddy Bao is all about – funnily enough – the bao. If you’ve never had a bao, think of it as a cross between a burger and a cloud. A bao is a kind of Far Eastern bun, but much lighter than the bun in any Big Mac or bacon roll. It’s a bright, white, spongy puff of joy. So soft and gentle and loving. Imagine an edible pillow. A tiny edible pillow.
Spilling out of the tiny edible pillow will be one of a range of thick fillings. I tried four of them. The beef brisket (with spring onions, wasabi slaw and coriander) was juicy with a flicker of spice. The pork belly (with pickles and roasted peanuts) was gorgeously tart.
The so-called ‘drunken prawn bao’ (prawns marinated in beer and fried) I wasn’t so sure about. An awkward clash of textures between crunchy and spongy. Imagine eating a sandwich full of Frosties. On the other hand, an apt name – drunken prawn bao – because as my friend pointed out, bao is ideal food for a hangover: so carby and absorbent.
My favourite bao, unexpectedly, was the tofu one. The main reason I liked it was that it didn’t taste like tofu. Or at least, not tofu as I know it. Tofu as I know it tastes like something you’d use to grout the bathroom. At Daddy Bao, though, they braise their tofu with ginger, add some kimchi and crispy onions, and it tastes delicious. A proper little firecracker. If you’re a meat eater, and they handed you this without telling you what it was, you wouldn’t guess. There can be no higher compliment.
Price: Dinner for two: about £35 (without alcohol). Score: 4/5
Writing in The Telegraph, Kathryn Flett finds the smoke a little overpowering at the Coal Rooms in London.
The menu features multiple Googleable hipster treats. There’s “London fettle” (ewe’s cheese) “aged cheeseburger sausage”, “smoked lamb neck”, “burnt hispi” (presumably because “burnt cabbage” sounds dreadful), “smacked cucumbers” (I should have ordered this, obviously, and I failed – my bad) and a sauce called “Red Wine Barney McGrew”.
I was already well into my starter of corn tacos with pumpkin mole, chimichurri – more often served with steak, but it zinged along with the pumpkin – and the aforementioned fettle, dusted with fat pumpkin seeds. This was marvellous; at once cleverly rich, profoundly tasty and moreish.
I took a bite of my Chap’s coal-roasted cauli with miso bagna cauda – an olive oil and anchovy-based dip – and the (umami) furikake seasoning, which sounds like a lot of fuss for a cauli but I rather loved it, too – more than he did, anyway. “I’m not sure about the taste of coal… so…” he continued with impeccable logic, “it follows that this may not be the place for me.”
By which point I was deep into my main course side order of “Peckham Fatboy” mash, raclette, gravy and onions – a meal in itself, overshadowing the so-so smoked ox-cheek.
The problem with smoking everything in sight is, of course, that it potentially obliterates all subtlety and turns everything into a generically smoked meat-flavoured texture (the Chap felt the same about his smoked lamb neck) – and nothing else we tasted all evening had quite the panache of the tacos.
Score: 3/5. Price: £80 for dinner for two
Tom Chesshyre of The Times enjoys the peacefulness of the well-run Calcot hotel in Tetbury, Gloucestershire
Calcot is an institution of a country house hotel with a renowned spa. Rooms have been spruced up and a new head chef has been installed – Richard Davies, who has Michelin-star experience. There is also a new casual pizza place with a wood-burning oven in a converted barn.
The 33 rooms are spread across the main building, a fine 17th-century Cotswold stone structure, and its outbuildings. They have a pared-down, neutral look in shades of oatmeal. Furniture has been tastefully selected and updated.
Price: From £209 B&B
Writing in The Sunday Times, Sue Bryant says the Southampton Harbour Hotel provides the strongest argument yet for spending the night in the city on the eve of a cruise
The Harbour hotel is cool, and not just by Southampton’s standards, yet it’s not intimidatingly hip. When I stayed last month, the rooftop HarBar was buzzing with an air of happy decadence, from families with kids to groups of friends swigging champagne and weekend-breakers tucking into afternoon tea, a snip at £17.95.
The HarBar is part cocktail lounge, part living room and part bistro, with glass all along one side and wooden decks with rattan sofas and colourful beanbags. Pizzas and burgers come from an outdoor wood-fired oven. The views are stunning. As well as ships lined up along the dock, you can see right down Southampton Water to the hazy Isle of Wight. All 85 bedrooms have uninterrupted views over the marina.
Price: Doubles start at £265, including breakfast