The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler reviews Caractère, the first restaurant from Emily Roux and former Le Gavroche head chef Diego Ferrari
The menu is divided by traits (their word), namely Curious, Subtle, Delicate, Robust, Strong and Greedy – the last being desserts. Kate and I start with choices from Subtle and Curious. Her celeriac “cacio e pepe” with extra-aged balsamic vinegar at £18 turns out to be a star of the show. It is innovative, delicious, on the ball, of the moment and – if cheese is allowed – vegetarian.
Blanched tagliatelle-like strips of the vegetable, dry and al dente, form a skein that is wrapped in a sauce pungent with black pepper and, we figure, pecorino. Just a few drops of what must be mightily expensive balsamic to justify that Olympic leap in food costs are added at the time of service.
Delicate can be read as dainty and dexterous in cured and seared pollock topped with lardo di Colonnata – terrific combo – through which crisp potato is folded. The small size of the serving disconcerts its recipient. “Not much bigger than a Milky Way,” she later laments. It also cools very quickly, which misplaces its magic.
Roots in York is “another winner” for Tommy Banks, displaying “Willy Wonka levels of ingenuity”, writes Michael Deacon of The Telegraph
If you think bread with custard sounds odd, wait till we get on to the eel doughnuts. Yes, actual bits of eel stuffed inside three actual doughnuts, each perched on a bitingly sweet squidge of apple purée. My tastebuds didn’t know whether they were coming or going. Mad, but lovely.
Also among the starters were sour pea falafels, served with dreamy whipped pork fat. The pork fat tasted like cream. No, not cream: cream’s evil brother. Speaking of fat, another starter, the beetroot, had been cooked for four hours solid in beef fat, then served with cod’s roe, goats’ curd, and tiny seed crackers (the crackers jutting out of the top of the beetroot at intervals, like the plates on a stegosaurus’s back). I wasn’t quite so keen on this one. For all its technical extravagance, and pretty presentation, flavour-wise it was the dish with the least pizzazz.
Great main, though: ox cheek, with cheese, cauliflower and crispy kale. The meat could not possibly have been softer. Never mind falling off the bone. It practically fainted.
Price:around £70 for three courses for two without alcohol. Score: 4.5/5
The Observer’s Jay Rayner describes Clam & Cork in Doncaster as a “good-natured… joyous, simple find”
We are won over straightaway by a plate of five fat crab claws in the lightest of lacy tempura batters, pockmarked with pieces of fresh red and green chilli. There’s a garlic and lime mayo to dredge them through and the instruction to hold the tip of the claw with a napkin because the shell will still be hot from the bubbling oil. It’s a lot of fresh crab for £9.50.
A south Indian fish curry, full of fillets of meaty white fish treated with tenderness and care, comes in a sweet and deep caramel-coloured sauce of the sort that makes me fear for my shirt. It is heavy with roasted spices and attention to detail. Even the timbale of rice in the middle of the plate is a beauty. Some kitchens just can’t do rice. It comes out in a soggy clag. This is a delightful dome that breaks apart into fluffy grains at the tap of a fork. That is what somewhere like Clam & Cork does to you. It is so good-natured, such a joyous, simple find, that you end up sighing over well-cooked rice.
Price: all dishes £6.50-£11.95. Wines from £16
Michael Wignall arriving at the Angel at Hetton in North Yorkshire is “the best thing that could have happened to this treasure of a place”, says Elaine Lemm of the Yorkshire Post
We launched into the starters with a chicken terrine with a shard of crispy chicken, whisper-thin slices of plum, tiny piles of mousse and pickled mushrooms were skillfully placed on the plate, all parts carefully balanced with nothing fighting for recognition, though the tiny mushrooms did lack pickling flavour. Salt baked celeriac, fresh cheese, hen of the woods mushroom, black garlic, winter truffle came with the same precision and was faultless.
What is not to love at the promise of aged rump of Yorkshire beef, oyster mushroom fondant and those chips for him, and me, Cornish plaice, tempura, hash potato, tomato, and shellfish sauce. Silence descended and with each mouthful we looked at each other and just a slight nod passed between us, words were not needed as this food was so good it spoke its own. Without wanting to go on by singling out the chips when there was so much else to rave about, but getting this level of crispness, pop of flavour and softness out of the humble potato is nothing short of genius.
Price: £132 for dinner for two with three courses and wine
Merienda in Edinburgh is “eccentric, contemporary yet old-fashioned, but not self-consciously trendy”, says The Scotsman’s Gaby Soutar
From “Gardens and Fields”, the winner was probably the Portuguese pork belly (£7.80), which looked like a champion milliner’s creation, with a plume of feathery herbs, crispy shallots, parsley and borage flowers on top of the meaty chunk. We might have preferred the red wine jus to be more than just a pretty scrape along the bottom of the dish. Still, lovely.
The baby pears with baked Brie (£6.90) was a particularly small dish, like the end of something, rather than the whole shebang. We treasured each mouthful, with a “port and honey fluid gel” that added to the sticky sweetness.
We loved the lush prosciutto wrapped chicken saltimbocca (£7.90), but weren’t totally taken with the sweet red pepper foam draped across its shoulders, as from a fire extinguisher. And if only we could work out what we were supposed to do with the stocky side dish of “wine and chicken jus”. When a few of the contestants on Come Dine With Me have done it, you know that a dish served in a pretend plant pot trope is a bit hackneyed.
“I don’t care if Tesh only spent a weekend at Noma manning the whelk-fermenting station: this guy cooks like an angel,” writes The Sunday Times’s Marina O’Loughlin, reviewing Folium in Birmingham
There’s lamb – insanely rich fatty neck, slow-cooked for what tastes like days, plus a hunk of the leaner saddle, rosy-pink. The meat juices are lip-sticking, the blobs pungently saline with anchovy, or seaweed or more of the lamb fat. Or fragrant from the sweet woodiness of Jerusalem artichoke. Desserts are those modern numbers that feature a Hollywood blockbuster list of supporting acts – one with sheep’s milk yoghurt, the green astringency of spruce and lemon thyme, and white chocolate like a pneumatic, chewy Aero; one with dark chocolate, seductive chunks of cobnut crumb and burnt-cream ice cream made silky from its bath in liquid nitrogen.
All of this is quite thrilling. But to me, the most dazzling dish is positively stark: what looks like nothing more than a creamy slab of beautiful meaty turbot with a little frill of its extremities on top. But then you absorb the smokiness of its dashi broth – homemade dashi, I’m guessing – and gleaming crystalline dots that turn out to be gelled champagne vinegar, the preternatural creaminess of the mashed potato underneath, also gently smoky from butter scented with toasted hay (yes, hay). And you realise that, yet again, lurking beneath the minimalism are creativity and sophistication. And it’s so, so good to eat: fish and potatoes have rarely been this bewitching.
Price: £50 per person for the five-course tasting menu, plus £45pp for wine pairing
Lounge on the Green in Carlisle is “unpretentious but definitely forward-reaching”, according to The Guardian’s Grace Dent
My crowd rampaged through the menu, loving especially the excellent, rich, soft braised brisket on a pleasing cauliflower risotto with horseradish shoots. The Lakeland beef rump was perhaps the menu’s most robust dish, appearing like a glorious challenge, topped with haggis-stuffed potatoes, a pile of onion rings and red wine gravy. A well-judged fillet of sea bass with buttered lobster arrived with saffron potatoes on orange and dill root veg.
As with the best impromptu dinners that turn into great memories, the thing my lot have kept talking about is the puddings. A just-sweet-enough, gorgeously presented blackberry creme brûlée came with the nuttiest, most delicious pistachio ice-cream I think I’ve ever tasted. A feisty, dark chocolate mousse was flecked with raspberry “textures”. The sticky toffee pudding was a plentiful wodge that will firmly glue the trap of any family member who may have whined that the fayre was too fiddly.
Price: £21.95 for two courses,£29.95 for three courses, both plus drinks and service. Score: food 8/10; atmosphere 9/10; service 9/10
Jane Knight of The Times checks in for an “exotic but expensive” stay at L’Oscar London, which she finds veers “on kitsch in places”
Fun, frivolous and fabulous, L’Oscar is dramatic with a capital D. Built as a Baptist church in 1901, the grade II listed building has been resurrected by the designer Jacques Garcia, who added opulent, exotic furnishings to original details. And there are crystal birds (473 of them) wherever you look, from the lamps in the bedroom to the impressive seven-storey chandelier dangling down the wooden staircase.
In its aim to mix the glamour of the Oscars and the bohemian living of Oscar Wilde, the hotel walks a fine line between glitzy and gaudy, occasionally slipping over into tacky, as with the mirrored ceiling in the café studded with orange LED lights. [The bedrooms are] very sexy. Each of the 39 rooms is different, but even the smallest ones feel spacious and luxurious (with duvets that cost £12,400 each).
Price: from £333 for a double room; from £12 for mains. Score: 8/10
Augill Castle in Kirkby Stephen, North Yorkshire, is the perfect place to stay for “an elegantly dishevelled weekend party”, says Hattie Garlick of The Sunday Telegraph
Our adjoining room has William Morris wallpaper and an iron-framed bed that proves the most comfortable place I’ve slept. Antique studies of butterflies are framed on the walls, battered hardbacks occupy a shelf and vintage suitcases sit at the end of the bed. “We never wanted it to feel like a hotel,” explains [owner] Wendy [Bennett]. And she’s right. If you are attached to slick service, minibars, minimalism and huge TVs, Augill is unlikely to be your bag.
You pour the drinks yourself, from an honesty bar that stocks British wines, independent spirits and local beers. Maisie the spaniel pads between the long oak tables that guests share at breakfast and dinner. The latter is only served Thursday to Monday. Sunday night is pizza night, on Thursdays pasta is served, and Fridays and Saturdays are for a three-course set menu (I had aubergine fritters, lamb shank and crème caramel, the kids opted for a Just William supper of macaroni cheese, sausages, jelly and ice-cream).
Price: from £240 per night for a family of four in a two-bedroom suite, including breakfast