Fay Maschler reviews Ottolenghi’s Rovi in London’s Fitzrovia, which is producing “a new definition of virtue, health, temptation and redemption”, she writes in the Evening Standard
A spray of hot grilled tomatoes is served with cold yogurt sprinkled with Turkish Urfa chilli flakes, fingers of grilled country bread and a small bunch of greenery. Its simplicity is belied by the palpable pleasure delivered when these textures and temperatures come together.
From a protein-led menu section we try squid and lardo skewer with red pepper glaze and fennel salad, which turns out one of the more exhilarating things you can do with squid and another luscious brochette of onglet (beef skirt) beef fat and fermented green chilli. VG it says beside hay-smoked pink fir apple potatoes. In my senile way I suppose it quite rightly stands for Very Good. Of course it is vegan, like quite a lot else.
Whatever mealtime you choose, do not omit ordering the dessert of apricot clafoutis with fig ice-cream presented cradled in a fig leaf. Unlike cherry clafoutis, where the batter can get claggy, the size of apricot halves serves it better and, dusted with icing sugar, it is superb.
The menu teems with inventive combinations, writes The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon reviewing Gazelle in London’s Mayfair
First, those oysters. Outstanding. Big, fat, bulging beasts, explosively juicy, the yeast emulsion adding a buttery nuttiness. My friend has eaten oysters everywhere from Norfolk to New Orleans, and he instantly pronounced this the best he’d ever tasted.
Next, that halibut. The menu had mentioned the orange and the elderflower. It hadn’t mentioned the charcoal. The fish was jet-black. It was also chopped into slithery fat strips, moist as tongues. Good, mind you.
The “monkfish, burnt seeds” featured more of the charcoal, plus a green pool of pistachio sauce. After a couple of mouthfuls the plate was a toad-coloured murky swirl: a bit like when you’re six, and you decide to see what happens if you mix all the paints together at once. Lovely fish, though: meaty but light at the same time.
Price: about £100 for dinner for two without alcohol. Score: 4.5/5
The Observer’s Jay Rayner describes Jamie McCallum’s cooking at the Painswick in Gloucestershire as “solid, extremely enjoyable stuff”
Long-braised pork is finely shredded, spun through with fresh herbs, pressed, then seared in a hot pan until the surface is crisp. It’s served in an oblong so sharp you could use it as a ruler. There’s a dollop of a coarse salsa verde and one chargrilled spring onion.
That pork dish is built on the classic restaurant trick of getting all the hard work in early – the slow cooking, the shredding, the pressing – so you spin it quickly into something very pleasing on service. The same method is used in a main course of slow-cooked lamb, with the brisk summery delights of peas, broad beans and fronds of shimeji mushroom. The lamb has been rolled and bound, slow-cooked, chilled and sliced up before being seared. You could argue it’s exactly the same as the pork preparation and I would argue back that I really like it.
Price: £100 for a meal for two, including drinks and service
There are better places far more worth their salt, writes Grace Dent in The Guardian, reviewing Rüya in London’s Mayfair
An opening plate of isli patlican is an inauspicious portent: puréed aubergine innards with walnut tastes of relatively little, and comes with cold, greasy aubergine crisps. Spiced lamb lahmacun “with herbs” is a crisp, folded pizza-alike with nicely rich, lamby topping that could be defined as spicy, though it lacks the swagger of an impromptu Green Lanes dinner; the “herbs” turn out to be a small mound of lacklustre flat-leaf parsley. Black Sea pide with slow-cooked egg yolk appears, which the waiter then stabs and smears all over the top with great purpose. It tastes more like egg and soldiers in Surrey – inoffensive eggy bread – than a feast of the senses in Istanbul.
And now on to our big-hitters: monkfish buğlama, at £28, and a piece of 24-hour slow-cooked beef short rib with a “Turkish chilli barbecue glaze” for £32. On reflection, I should have ordered triple-cooked chips, but felt at the time that we had ordered enough, so went for a side of confit baby artichoke with pomegranate and pine nuts instead. And so it comes: four pieces of slightly tough monkfish in a clear broth similar in taste to Heinz spring vegetable soup. Heroically awful. And then a ceremonious delivery of exceedingly delicious, soft, yielding short rib perched on a smear of chickpea. “Let me serve it for you,” our server insists, dividing the meat and abstemious chickpea on to our two plates, then whisking away the serving dish. The artichoke salad is a drab, tough, bitter affair.
Price: About £65 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food 2/10; atmosphere 6/10; service 5/10
The Times’s Giles Coren is unimpressed by Babel House in Mayfair, London
I asked about the “Pikey caviar”, which at only £20 a portion I reckoned would have indeed to be pretty pikey. But he said actually it was pike caviar and was very unique and excellent. And he was bang right. It was. It was white, for one thing, and looked pretty in its shiny metal bowl with dark borodinsky melba toast. It was quite loose, so that it more resembled tapioca than caviar, but I dipped a toast into it and it was … unbelievably delicious.
Our lovely waiter had made great play of the beef tartare (£15) and how it had so many ingredients it really “explodes in the mouth”. Was it going to be like some sort of meat Space Dust? No. It was a puck of roughly chopped meat, a little sinewy, so that when you lifted away a forkful it sometimes came with a daredevil beef chunk dangling beneath it by a gristle bungee cord, like when James Bond falls out of a helicopter and grabs on to a rope at the last minute and dangles there in space. And it tasted only of truffle oil. That bland, bottomy scent. With a faint hint of egg and the occasional nip of caper. No beef flavour at all. With your eyes shut you’d have, well, who knows what you might have thought it was?
Score: food 1/10; service 7/10; location 8/10; total: 5.33/10
“The food itself ranges from the terrific to the gnarly,” writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times, reviewing Dammika’s in London’s Victoria
The food itself ranges from the terrific to the gnarly. Mutton roll – pancake rammed with mutton and potato stew, palate-walloping with chillies, curry leaves and coriander, and fried in breadcrumbs – is a vast, priapic unit. This Sri Lankan stalwart is never what you’d call dainty, but Dammika’s has all the subtlety and delicacy of a Bible Belt preacher. Kingfish with a desultory smattering of salad, a chippy-sized portion, is also spiced, breaded and fried. Both are billed as starters; both would easily feed two.
And the star of the show, egg hoppers – bowl-shaped, fermented rice flour and coconut pancakes in whose gooey depths lurk a whole egg – with “our traditional accompaniments”: pol sambol, a dry coconut relish, and seeni sambol, a treacly sludge of caramelised onion, both hotter than hell. Zero pandering to mimsy western tastes here.
Price: £131 for two, including 12.5% service charge