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Reviews: Jay Rayner describes St Leonards as “a funfair ride”; David Sexton says Neptune at the Principal London “feels like a hotel restaurant”

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Reviews: Jay Rayner describes St Leonards as “a funfair ride”; David Sexton says Neptune at the Principal London “feels like a hotel restaurant”

St Leonards in London Shoreditch is “not so much a meal out as a funfair ride”, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

From [chef Andrew] Clarke and his leaping flames comes a plate of blackened onions, dusted thickly with fiery ground red pepper and laid in that tuna-bone caramel. It’s formed by doing something complicated with tuna bones, sugar and stock until it forms a sweet, sticky fish sauce that has us ordering bread to chase dribbles about the plate. This is not a dish for chatting over. It is a dish for talking about. It’s bold and serious; it’s what ambitious onions want to be later in their career. Some will hate it. The prosaically named vegetable plate is the most Brunswick House of the dishes: it’s whatever’s good at the moment, grilled and dressed with salsa verde and glugs of peppery olive oil. Tonight, it is nutty borlotti beans, slippery sheaths of skinned red pepper, artichoke hearts, more onions and the like. It’s the good stuff given due care and attention.

Dinner at St Leonards, lubricated by well-priced, classic French wines, is not so much a meal out as a funfair ride. Many people will be completely thrilled. And some may come off mouthing, “Never again.”

Price: £75-£120 for two, including drinks and service


neptune_centre-banquette_final_jan2018-copy

David Sexton of the London Evening Standard says Neptune at the Principal London hotel on Russell Square feels like a hotel restaurant

Although the room has been redecorated by [Margaret] Crow with Russell Sage Studio to appear both casual and plush, pink and peachy, these efforts are defeated by the scale and ornateness of the place. The furnishings – rattan furniture, worn velvet chairs, veneered tables with serrated edges, drooping foliage and florist’s bouquets – might seem boho and funkily salvaged in Hackney but here they appear tired. Maybe they’re going for a splashy quasi-Bloomsbury look, what with those big paintings of red naked ladies emerging from floral sarcophagi. But it might have been better to have embraced the room’s formality. The dim yellow-orange lighting – the pendant lamps draped in cloth for that upskirt look – was peculiarly depressing.

From the mains, hake (£18) came with a green herb crust and a watery sauce, containing skinned broad beans and fat mussels, plus some slightly random halved plum tomatoes. Monkfish (£23) was two steaks wrapped in ham with asparagus and braised lettuce, again in a green jus. These were nice enough, and the fish well-cooked, but they lacked punch and were a bit reminiscent of first-class in-flight catering – or, as it might be, decent hotel catering.

Score: 2/5


nuala

Nuala near London’s Old Street may not look much, but the food is really great, discovers The Times’s Giles Coren

They brought a top-class beef tartare with an egg yolk on it, grilled bread and grated Westcombe Cheddar. There were furls of Romaine lettuce with a delicate egg cream, mussels with crunchy crubeens, a ham hock terrine, some good burrata with broad beans and sorrel, raw bream with white peach, some mackerel with pickled cucumber and crushed macadamia nuts, spring greens with ricotta and crispy chicken skin, everything brightly coloured, light, well-balanced, everyone getting a mouthful or two of half a dozen things, and a standout dish of orzo with cuttlefish.

Score: cooking 7/10; service 9/10; space 3/10. Total 6/10.
Price: £380.26 for six including service


crockers-chefs-table-tring

“Terrific, a sizzling, swirling Catherine wheel of a triumph,” writes The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon reviewing Crockers Chef’s Table in Tring

We started with a quick-fire round of snacks. Marinated feta and peas on a sliver of filo, garnished with mint; a squid-ink cracker dotted with cods’ roe; crispy pig’s head; and then a soft little taco, about the size and feel of a mouse’s handkerchief, and filled with smoked chicken, celeriac and mustard. All four were tiny, but bristlingly intense.

Next, freshly baked bread made with Ridgeway, a locally brewed beer, and served with delicious Marmite butter. Then, the official starter: slow-cooked quail, beautifully tender. It was followed by the fluffiest hake, cauliflower and a dab of curry sauce.

The main was Cumbrian lamb: a croquette of belly, dark and moody, plus rump so soft it was practically liquid. A baby could have eaten it. Next was a cheese course: a specially made cows’ milk cheese called Lancer, washed in more of that Ridgeway beer and then flambéed. Lord, it was punchy. A real biff on the nose.

Score: 4.5/5. Price: £160 for the tasting menu for two, without alcohol


sabor-dish

Sabor in London’s Mayfair is a restaurant to lift any jaded spirit, writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times

I have now eaten pretty much everything on the shortish menu and daily changing blackboards. Turbot or brill, grilled in metal cages and anointed simply with ajillo (garlic and parsley oil), allowing the creamy meat to sing. Milk-fed lamb sweetbreads in a boozy sauce piquant with capers and topped with a frill of deep-fried kale to ground the ethereality of the glands. The single, grilled carabinero (vast, scarlet deep-sea prawns, a rare luxury) – a frightening amount of loot for what amounts to a couple of mouthfuls. But what mouthfuls: wobbly, translucent flesh of smoky sensuality, sweet brininess. Sucking its head is the second rudest thing you can do with your mouth, but the pleasure will be all yours.

Sabor is a restaurant to lift any jaded spirit, to remind us of the joyous carnality of eating and drinking, the thrill of frosty booze hitting the back of the throat, the sybaritic pleasure of good ingredients, of salt and fat and fierce heat. It’s not groundbreaking or revelatory or reinventing the genre. But it is the kind of place that makes me glad to be alive.

Price: £123 for two, including £12.5% service charge


The Guardian’s Grace Dent falls in love with the “physical assault of a menu” at Ynyshir in Powys

Nothing over the first 14 or so courses is creamy or soothing: lamb saddle is flavoured with kombucha, while a riff on Welsh cawl features fermented mussels, raw asparagus and dashi. An Isle of Wight tomato salad offers no refuge: the fruits are dehydrated, then laced with rapeseed oil. A barbecued prawn is cooked three ways, then infused with wild garlic and yet more pickles. A slice of wagyu with fermented lettuce gives way to a plate of duck mousse with birch sap and smoked eel. Still, one feels like a bigger person afterwards for enduring all this boldness.

Each of the six puddings was a triumph. A bedazzling take on tiramisù made of frozen mascarpone and Marsala was simply glorious; a riff on sticky toffee pudding that featured medjool dates was even better. What Ward is doing down in the Dyfi Valley is unique. It will surprise me if he stays with only one star. Gareth Ward cooks for himself, not the customers, and long may his delicious pigheadedness continue.

Score: food 9/10; atmosphere 9/10; service 10/10.
Price: £75 for the 11-course set lunch menu; £110-£125 for 19-course dinner, 
both plus drinks and service


petersham-food1

The cooking at Petersham Nurseries in London’s Covent Garden is mostly good, verging on the very good, according to Kathryn Flett in The Telegraph, but you’re paying more for the experience than the food

No set menu offers here, though if you hanker after veal steak, no problem: yours for £34.50. Plus another £7 for a bowl of new potatoes, and six quid for a green salad. To start, I had a very good crunchy parmesan-soused asparagus risotto, although my guest was rather less whelmed by their own asparagus and crumbled hard-boiled egg with bottarga (cured grey mullet roe; nom-nom): “It would have been nice to know in advance that it was going to be cold. I wouldn’t have ordered it because if I’d made this myself I would’ve been disappointed.”

For that £34.50, my chargrilled steak with sage and capers was admittedly huge – gloriously unladylike, it would have made a nice snack for Desperate Dan; I couldn’t finish it. And nobody blanched when I asked for the T-bone to be doggy-bagged for my actual (lucky) dog. My guest liked their generously chunky fish stew with native lobster, gurnard, squid, dill, sea aster and aïoli, too. “And for thirty-two quid, I should hope so…”

Score: 3/5. Price: £170 for lunch for two


HOTELS

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Penally Abbey in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, offers a magical family hotel stay far removed from the usual bells and whistles, child-friendly offer, says Hattie Garlick of The Sunday Telegraph

There are just 11 bedrooms in this Strawberry Hill Gothic house, plus: a dining room that glows with seaside light; a rose-hued, fire-warmed sitting room; a cosy bar; a pretty conservatory; and gardens that tumble in tangles of green towards the sea.

This is not Welsh holidaying as I remember it. It is souped-up, nostalgia-hued, infinitely more luxurious version. Some things do improve with time.
So I wave a cheerful goodbye to battered sausages and opt for the six-course taster menu, informed by head chef Jerry Adam’s love of foraging and fermenting (he puts on a wonderful, locally sourced kids’ menu, too).

I consign cornflakes in Aunty Myra’s caravan to the past, and replace them with wild flowers and handmade ceramics on the breakfast table, croissants, granola and wild Welsh honey from local company Coedcanlas, which also makes a jam specially for the hotel.

It’s not the done thing for a reviewer to be so fawning. But the truth is, I’m loathe even to share this place with you. It’s just so, properly, akshully lovely.

Score: 9/10. Price: from £265 a night in low season, £315 in high, for a B&B room with sofa beds for a family of four


amberley-castle

Jane Knight of The Times recognises Amberley Castle in West Sussex, for its unique qualities, but bemoans the lack of pool and spa as well as the patchy WiFi

If ever a castle was made for a summer weekend, Amberley is it. The 12 acres of formal gardens with rose-covered arches, yew topiary and two lakes are perfect for a stroll, and you can sit within the 60ft-high curtain wall, soaking up the history as you enjoy afternoon tea. Play croquet in the dry moat, try the 18-hole putting course or take a stroll on the South Downs. Inside, it’s a medieval wonderland of suits of armour, secret doors and wood-panelled rooms.

Some of the 19 rooms have four-poster beds; others have been given a contemporary makeover with light, bright fabrics. All have original touches, from wooden doors surrounded by open stonework to beamed ceilings. Bathrooms, with L’Occitane products, are more functional than opulent; some have showers over the baths.

Score: 8.5/10. Price: from £195 for a B&B double

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