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Reviews: Giles Coren discovers a brilliant local restaurant at Hām, London, while the “gilded universe” of Gleneagles’ Birnam Brasserie makes no sense to Jay Rayner

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Reviews: Giles Coren discovers a brilliant local restaurant at Hām, London, while the “gilded universe” of Gleneagles’ Birnam Brasserie makes no sense to Jay Rayner

The Times’ Giles Coren discovers a brilliant local restaurant at Hām, London

When an email came through telling me about a new restaurant called Hām, which “translates to ‘home’ in Old English”, I thought, “No, it doesn’t! Don’t you go telling me what words in Old English do and do not translate to, you, you, you… restaurant PR! I actually SPEAK Old English! I gave three of the best years of my life to it in a foggy old town in the Thames Valley, and I happen to know that the Old English word for home is…”

Actually, I have no idea. Maybe it is hām. I googled it, but Google seemed to think that ham is some sort of cured meat product made from the back leg of a pig. Which sounds disgusting.

The menu was wonderfully tight: five starters (one fish, one fowl, one meat, two veg) and five mains (one fish, one chicken, one pork, two veg) that had been devised on the day in response to the produce that came in – a practice that used to happen only at places like the River Café and then at more messianically produce-driven restaurants, but is now coming to ordinary high streets in the most exciting way.

Norfolk quail (£12) was roasted, jointed and laid over braised young artichoke halves and an edible kelp called kombu, wettened with the bird’s juices, sweet, clear and uncomplicated. Excellent gazpacho (£8.50) had a square of delicate rainbow trout sitting proud and island-like at its centre, with a tangle of lemony shredded sorrel on top. The thrill for me was all in the tempura vegetables (£7.50) climbing vibrantly out of a golden puddle of hollandaise. Excellent cooking, real mastery of the hot fat – no grease, just crispness and the meaty tang of vegetables that have steamed perfectly in their golden carapace. Yum.

Score: 8/10. Price: Under £100 for two


Grace Dent is bowled over by the food at Leroy, London, from the founders of Ellory, in The Guardian

A “snack” of salted crisps with smoky whipped cods’ roe appears. Then a plain white plate with the finest, saltiest Cantabrian anchovies. (By the way, yes, I did say crisps with cods’ roe. If you’re cooking dinner for friends in Rhyl or Rusholme tonight, simply open a bag of Walkers ready salted, serve with taramasalata for dipping and tell your guests that this is what they’re doing in London.)

Vegetarians will do beautifully at Leroy, or at least they did on the menu I ate. The beetroot salad was abundant with hazelnuts, and I demolished it like a large greedy squirrel. I was similarly enthusiastic about a plate of sublime white asparagus, roasted simply in butter and titivated with a dipping egg yolk.

The greatest thing on the menu, however, was the spiced purple broccoli. My guest argued in favour of a filthily good bowl of lambs’ sweetbreads in an earthy, nettle sauce, but no, this tender yet al dente broccoli appeared on a puddle of rich, curried oil with a cleansing swoosh of excellent ricotta. This dish was a rosy-cheeked ramble through an organic allotment before finishing up with your knickers around one leg and eating a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle, and I, for one, am 100% supportive of this type of cooking.

The muscat crème caramel was light, banging, boozy and pretty much perfect. They serve my favourite El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez by the glass. Ellory was good – we all loved Ellory – but Leroy is much, much better.

Score: food 9/10, atmosphere 9/10, service 9/10. Price: about £30-£35 a head, plus drinks and service


The “gilded universe” of of Gleneagles’ Birnam Brasserie in Auchterarder, Perthshire makes no sense to Jay Rayner writing in The Observer

The menu draws on the French brasserie tradition by way of golf clubhouse. Escargot and steak tartare sit alongside an £11 BLT and a £26 salmon clam chowder. Yes, I will keep banging on about prices. A £14 frisée salad with lardons of deeply flavoured dry-cured bacon comes with an unadvertised crisply fried ham hock cake, which the yolk of a perfectly poached egg breaks over tidily. A king prawn, fennel and grapefruit salad includes under-ripened avocado that barely snaps. It gets left on the side. Happily, the prawns have been deveined, although at £17 they should probably have been offered a few spa treatments, too.

The special of the day is advertised as a pork and duck confit cassoulet. The fact that it only turns up on Thursdays gladdens my heart. It means there’s time to give this classic dish the attention it deserves. A cassoulet should take 24 hours to make and be a celebration of the interplay of ingredients. The cheaper cuts – the pork belly, the garlic sausage – become so much more than themselves thanks to time and heat. In a proper cassoulet, the beans become a vehicle for a certain fatty lusciousness. The breadcrumb crust is pushed in under the surface again and again, thickening the stew. I’m practically dribbling at the thought of a real cassoulet.

Which this isn’t. At the bottom are white beans in a violent tomato sauce. The belly, the sausage and the duck confit have been plonked on top. Breadcrumbs are represented by a piece of garlic baguette. It’s a £23 travesty.

Price: £140 for a meal for two, including drinks and service


The Petersham in London’s Covent Garden fails to impress Marina O’Loughlin, she writes in The Sunday Times

I eat my main course without it even registering. I can remember nothing about birthdays or conversations or other people’s names, but I can tell you exactly what I ate 15 years ago. Not here: I’ve had to refer to my photographs to let you know it’s hake with Gavi di Gavi, asparagus, peas, broad beans and crème fraîche. It’s fine; forgettable, a shade overcooked, but fine.

Perhaps my mind-blank is caused by boggling at the pal’s chicken, probably the most vanilla option and spectacularly inept. It’s a big, dry, skinless breast marooned in a khaki mushroom goo. There’s a dollop of lurid yellow mash, poopy in its presentation, waxy and weird, the colour coming from its dense Mayan gold potatoes and olive oil. By way of greenery, a single leaf of wild garlic wilts on top; without it, the dish would be so oven-ready meal, it could come on a compartmentalised tinfoil tray. Perhaps it’s our fault for sticking to such safe choices, but it’s hard to get excited by the idea of “broad bean and Mayan gold potato masala”. Or “casoncelli verde with ricotta di bufala, the first of the season’s nettles and parmesan” – five tiny dumplings at £15 for a starter: in yer face, cucina povera.

Price: £186 for two, including 12.5% service charge


The Telegraph‘s Michael Deacon is impressed by the selection of dishes at the Blackbird, Bagnor, however fussy kids might feel differently about the healthy menu on offer

We loved the bread. It was wheaten bread, a form of Irish soda bread, made using treacle and golden syrup. It tasted thick, dark and sweet: closer to cake than bread.

My wife’s starter was the buffalo ricotta: pale, cold, clay-like cheese with a sweet dressing. I had the scallops with pink grapefruit, sesame and coriander, served in a shell-shaped dish on a bed of salt. It was a very small helping, but what there was of it offered nice combinations of flavour and texture: juicy, sour, slippery, soft. What I really liked, though, was the bonus dish served alongside it: deep-fried pastry crisps. Addictively salty, and deafeningly crunchy.

The fish, though, was a spotlessly wholesome salmon, shimmering with goodness and not a crumb of batter in sight, so naturally my son wasn’t interested. Maybe the four-year-olds of west Berkshire are raised paragons of nutritional virtue and run their own clean-eating and wellness blogs. Children whose tastes are closer to my son’s, however, may be disappointed.

Pudding was the rum baba, which I loved: a doughnut ring of sweet stodge, topped with a blob of rum and raisin ice cream, and served with a slither of salted caramel mousse. Lord, that rum baba was boozy. Good thing about the smoking ban – if someone had flicked open a lighter within 20 feet of that pudding, the whole place would have shot up in flames.

Score: 3.5/5. Price: £70 for three courses for two without alcohol


Writing in The Evenings StandardSophie Heawood enjoys “thoughtful, small, sweet sharing plates” at Cornerstone in London’s Hackney Wick

Chef and proprietor Brown comes from Cornwall and specialises in seafood, which he mastered at the last kitchen he ran, Outlaw’s at the Capital in Knightsbridge. So he does oysters so sexy and scallops so fresh that you can almost taste their muscle memory of swimming.

Clear slivers of cured monkfish tasted so innocent until my tongue hit the lime pickle, which was a total slut – the sort that would steal your girlfriend and you’d just let it. The crab dish with tomato and basil was slightly disappointing, with textures mushed together on the plate as if they’d be better supported by a styrofoam pot at the seaside and a kiss-me-quick hat. But we were soon back in business with the roast pollock, a firm, kind gentlemanly fish with a huge dollop of revelatory Café de Paris hollandaise.

My favourite dish of all was an odd one: a cuttlefish stew, which had been cooked in cider, a theme echoed by tiny pieces of diced raw apple on top of it. I’m still thinking about its hearty gentleness three days later. These were thoughtful, small, sweet sharing plates.

Brown left Knightsbridge to open Cornerstone here, and has stated his intention to turn Hackney Wick into London’s new food destination, which is both exciting and sad. They say it changes when the sun goes down around here – or it soon will, once Cornerstone puts it on the map.

Score: ambience 4/5; food 4/5


Excellent service that makes you feel right at home comes as standard at Restaurant 22 in Cambridge, says Ibrahim Salha of The Independent

There aren’t many restaurants that make you feel immediately at home, but it’s always a pleasure when you do. Most people think when you go to a restaurant you’re paying for the food and wine but you are, in fact, stumping up to spend some time in someone else’s property. After all, they are renting you out the space in their extended home for the duration of your meal.

[The tasting menu] starts off with snacks, taking small plates to an altogether more tiny place, but perfectly sized to get your appetite in motion for the rest of the meal. Best among these is truffle macaroni cheese, a nugget of fried pasta incorporating gorgeously salty cheese and an outstanding truffle flavour. One bite, and it’s gone. The beauty is in the fact you want more but it sets you up for the next quick bite: plump nocellara olives followed by Stilton gougères.

At this stage, it feels like the meal may have already peaked and the only way is down, until the starter of locally grown asparagus is presented. It’s served topped with a smoked duck egg which has been grated, alongside toasted hay mayonnaise. With every bite I’m left scratching my head as to how so much meaty flavour has been imparted on this vegetarian dish. And the grated egg adds a wonderful texture which is somehow both alien and incredibly familiar.

If it wasn’t clear at this stage, the main course really hammers home the point: the level of cooking here and the ingredients are both fantastic. The simple words on the menu don’t do it justice. Where you think you’re receiving lamb, a potato and mutton terrine, heritage carrots and samphire, you’re frankly undersold on what actually appears. It looks more like a Flegel painting than something on the table in front of you; an expression of colours that hint to deliciousness. How was it? I’m sure you realise at this stage it was excellent, particularly the carrots, cooked in carrot juice to maintain the flavour and ensure it hasn’t been watered down. Superb.

Score: food 5/5; service 5/5; value 5/5.

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