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Reviews: Marina O’Loughlin says the Little Chartroom in Edinburgh is “divine”; while Fay Maschler deems Hicce in London a work in progress

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Reviews: Marina O’Loughlin says the Little Chartroom in Edinburgh is “divine”; while Fay Maschler deems Hicce in London a work in progress

The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh is “divine”, writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times

Main courses follow this pattern of augmented simplicity: cod with a resonant blurt of piperade, romanesco and pink fir apple potatoes. The most complex main — of only three choices at each course – is quite the event: various iterations of venison. Thick collops of the loin, tender and gamey; a savoury tangle of braised neck; a kind of sausage roll of venison haggis – delicate pastry, punchy, peppery stuffing – Brussels sprouts, salt-baked celeriac and chestnuts.
The only (minor) hiccups are an unconvincing smoked hummus dotted with chickpeas and little tempura anchovies that comes with the cod and muddies its clarity – just an odd distraction. And the vegetarian/vegan choice: hmm. I’m not sure even the meat-averse would be singing many hymns of praise to “Hispi cabbage, pine nuts, turnips, artichokes and purple sprouting broccoli”. It turns out to be exactly as described, not much more than the sum of its parts. But we order it as a side plate and it does this brilliantly. As a main course, it might have converted me straight back to bacon.

Price: £98.50 for two (without service charge) 


hicce-dish

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler deems Hicce at Coal Drops Yard at London’s King’s Cross as a work in progress

A seafood opener of tuna prosciutto with lemon crème fraîche uses a rewardingly muscular central cut. Sliced carrots from a jar need brinier brine and/or more steeping time. Our selection of hotsticks served from noon-3pm deliver salmon, sesame, fennel – although tricked out with keta (salmon roe) a bit sparse for £10 – quail eggs, button mushrooms, watercress, which my companion says reminds her of those tricks you play on children at Halloween offering them Granny’s eyeballs, and broccoli, tangerines and hazelnuts.

The bigger main course of the day is Ibérico ribs, which need a shinier, glazier finish to be truly beguiling. Miso potatoes, one of the sides, are based on Red Duke of Yorks, which have champion innate flavour, but too much butter or too little miso in the sauce makes for just a creamy rather than an interestingly exotic result. The slice of pecan chilli and chocolate tart served with ricotta ice-cream has scant trace of pecan or chilli although there is a pretty curl of candied pepper as garnish.

It is early days for Hicce which perhaps opened to order – there was an ordained day at the Coal Drops Yard collection – rather than when they felt absolutely ready. The menu seems sketchy rather than substantial.

Score: 3/5


Michael Deacon of The Telegraph reviews the first UK opening for Filipino fast food chain Jollibee in London and finds himself liking it

First: an item named the Yumburger. This was a slim, floppy, somewhat damp hamburger slathered with a strangely sweet mayo. With it came remorselessly addictive chips – the type you find yourself thrusting down your throat by the fistful, long after your stomach has begged you to stop.

The next item, however, was the big one. This was Jollibee’s fabled fried chicken, aka Chickenjoy… with Jolly Spaghetti. Yes, that’s right. Fried chicken, with spaghetti. And not your run-of-the-mill spaghetti, either. This was smothered with a red sauce that was not just startlingly sweet, but sprinkled with slices of hot dog.

It’s the fast-food equivalent of a Christmas novelty song that you tell yourself is rubbish, but can’t stop humming. The chicken was straightforward enough, though. Juicily big portions, with a stupendously crunchy skin.

 Price: around £8 for three dishes for one. Score: 3/5


two-lights

“I wasn’t sated, but I was educated, and that’s absolutely the next best thing,” The Guardian’s Grace Dent on Two Lights in London’s Shoreditch

A whole roast artichoke arrives prettily with a sweet, sunflower-seed miso dip. We pull and dip, and pull and dip, then cut the soft innards, enjoying the ceremony possibly more than the vegetable itself. A wobbly, bulging burrata sits, ready to erupt, in a vibrant green, delicious puddle of creamed kale and seaweed. A highlight is delicate, lightly flamed slices of bonito topped with a splodge of American mustard and a suggestion of pickled onion.

Still, the more I ate, the less convinced I became. Carbs are thin on the ground at Two Lights; their nods to “sides” are a lettuce wedge with a pale and interesting tarragon dressing or chunks of roast celeriac smeared with a walnut butter that is either revolting or revolutionary, which neither myself or my friend Lyndsay could decide on, despite clearing the plate. The grilled shortrib with sweet beetroots is gorgeous and a reassuring crowd-pleaser for guests not quite down with the whole WTF-ness of Lovecky’s vision. They may be a little more irked by his guinea fowl, which arrives in sausage form, cuddling into a bed of sausage meat stuffing and a citrus yuzu sauce.

Price: about £40 a head plus drinks and service. Score: food: 7/10 ; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 8/10


Tish in London’s Belsize Park does a good salt beef sandwich and chicken soup, but unless you’re kosher “all you really need to know is that it’s there”, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

The chicken soup is a beautiful thing. It is crystal clear but full of depth. Come here when you are on the edge of death or have a minor cold, one or the other.

For my main course I order the gentleman’s schnitzel. That’s a veal schnitzel with a fried egg and capers. It turns up without the egg or the capers or, as it happens, the veal. She’s brought me a chicken schnitzel. I express dismay. She says: “We’re out of veal.” I say: “You didn’t think to tell me?” She shrugs and offers to get me something else. I tell her not to. (It reminds me of the story of the Jewish wedding where the chopped chicken livers were served in the shape of a carp because they didn’t have a chicken mould. True story; I put it in a novel.) It’s actually a nice chicken schnitzel. A seabass fillet with artichokes and a vegetable casserole is a solid bit of Mediterranean cooking. There’s a red cabbage and beetroot coleslaw which could keep the dry cleaners in work for months, and chips which rustle.

Price: starters £8-£16, mains £14-£29, desserts £4.50-£8. Wines from £23


levan

The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa says Peckham in London has “been given another hell of a boost” in the form of Levan

Slivers of house-pickled sardine, artfully arranged on gorgeous, golden aromatic olive oil, were as punchy as they were pretty. Comté fries (which are possibly already rivalling that pink stairwell for Insta fame) arrived as sunshine-yellow, finely crisped bricks made of chickpea flour with soothingly cheesy middles and a hefty dusting of more cheese on top.

Croque monsieur, as a concept, has possibly been ruined for me by any number of microwaved service station atrocities. But this one, clattered by pepper and boosted by rich béchamel, did its gooey, dirty thing. Caramelised celeriac ravioli was an indisputable banger: fat pasta parcels seeping out silkily creamed root veg, plus crisped Jerusalem artichokes and cavolo nero, splashing about in the impeccably balanced sweetness of dashi butter and lovage oil.

It’s not all perfect. Proportions were slightly askew in the tamari-cured egg yolk that came on a too-thick puck of black pudding-ish boudin noir, and the sheaf of crispy skin above excellent halibut was too salty. A pudding of pumpkin sorbet with seed brittle had, as Simon noted, an unfortunate similarity to partially defrosted baby food.

Price: £114.30. Score: Ambience: 5/5; food: 4/5


skosh

Award-winning York restaurant Skosh richly deserves all the plaudits that it receives, says Elaine Lemm of the Yorkshire Post

A hen’s egg with St Andrew’s cheddar, mushroom and Pedro Ximénez sherry is a close contender for the signature dish here it is so popular and no wonder it is a smart little dish that sets up the appetite for what is to come. I never thought cauliflower could be as sexy as the one served here bathed in a sticky, rich Indian-Chinese Manchurian sauce; unbelievable deliciousness and my stepdaughter and I fight for every last speck in the dish. Venison dumplings with a cep purée and elderberry vinegar are not to my taste. For me, they read better than they performed and, compared with all the other dishes I have enjoyed at Skosh, look and feel a little clumsy, but I am being very picky now. We both agree that the chargrilled Galician octopus with pear and black bean is stunning. And, then there’s the cod mentioned above, which is sublime. A heavily scented cardamom bhapa shake and elderberry jam doughnut are so exceptionally well received across the table that I have dessert envy, which makes me less enthralled with my custard bun which is nonetheless very good.

Score: welcome: 5/5; food: 5/5; atmosphere: 5/5; prices: 5/5


Mushroom, pine nut, black mustard
Mushroom, pine nut, black mustard

Giles Coren has “not had better food in a worse restaurant” than Gazelle restaurant in London’s Mayfair, he writes in The Times

We are handed a menu and it is explained that these dishes are for sharing and we’ll need five each and they are all mind-blowingly expensive and we realise we are not going to get out of this house of crapola for less than £500. And then they bring the first “snack”. It’s called “beef, caviar” and costs £7.50, but it’s only one mouthful so we’ve ordered four at £30 (no BOGOFs, alas), and … Oh my word, that is deeeee-licious.

The beef is cured and red and fat and sticky like Ibérico ham, with a flavour of grass and smoke and woodland and sweat and sunshine and the decent smear of caviar on top is good stuff, oscietra, and is both utterly perfect and entirely unnecessary, like a lot of good things. And like most of what was to come.

Do not die without eating the “squid, sandalwood, cured jowl, girolles” or the “scallop, yeast, imperial caviar” which are dishes for the ages. And, oh, the presa with carrot purée, the venison with chestnuts, the puffed frozen coconut with cucumber jus and caviar, and the “pigs’ tails, Jerusalem artichokes, Manhattan”… It was beautiful, it was molecular, it was funny. Truly, in all my life, I have not had better food in a worse restaurant.

Price: £525 for four people having just enough food and a couple of drinks. Score: cooking: 9; service: 6; vibes: 1; score: 5.33. 


Hotels

the-islay-room-1-the-machrie

Despite service that is hit and miss, views and food are worth the journey to the Machrie Hotel & Links, near Port Ellen, Argyll & Bute, says Gabriella Bennett of The Times

Set above a circular outcrop on Islay’s southwest coast, the Machrie has a traditional building at its core and is flanked by contemporary wings housing the double-height dining room and a snug with log fire and floor-to-ceiling windows. The space blends whimsical decoration – Donna Wilson cushions and jolly wall art hinting at the hotel’s famous golf links – with furniture rooted in Scottish heritage, such as sofas upholstered in tweed flecked with rainbow-coloured yarn. There is a 30-seat cinema, a spa (no pool) and a small shop.

[The food is] pretty special. The Isle of Mull cheese soufflé (£7.50) was a cloud of joy. Rich, umami flavours in the roasted chicken supreme with fondant potatoes (£18.50) and sea bass with Islay mussels and fish velouté (£18.50) show this is a kitchen that knows how to put together a good sauce. However, the open-plan 18 Restaurant & Bar has a bright, corporate feel that does not feel quite mellow enough for late-night dining.

Price: B&B classic doubles cost from £145. Score: 7/10 


brownber-hall

Kevin Rushby of The Guardian recommends Brownber Hall near Kirby Stephen, Cumbria, as a stylish base for walking

Peter and Amanda Jaques-Walker, the owners, came to this remote spot on the northern edge of the Howgill Fells to pursue their interests in cycling and rock climbing, plus of course hospitality which, we are to discover, they do with amiable charm. The place is warm, there is banana cake and tea ready on the sideboard, plus an interesting selection of books and magazines. I’ve brought my own steely-eyed implacable hotel inspector, Sophie, with me and even she is impressed by the reception. The decor is soon wowing her, too: any hint of pomposity, or decay, and she would pounce but the worn chic of the sofa is judged perfect; the retro cocktail bar and the rugs on polished floorboards all pass muster. She even slips off her boots, announcing, “I feel at home.”

So far so good, but will the bedroom meet with approval? As we enter, it is the spectacular views towards the Howgill Fells that draw me immediately to the window. Sophie barely notices the panorama. Instead she prowls, stroking the throw blanket on the bed, squeezing a pillow, testing out the chaise longue, then disappearing into the bathroom. I’ve checked out the view – that must be the footpath I want, heading across some tree-dotted park-like acres towards the Smardale nature reserve – now I examine the tea tray. Fresh milk. Tick. Biscuits. Yes.

Price: from £90 for a double B&B

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