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Reviews: Fay Maschler is in admiration of Da Terra; while William Sitwell describes the dishes at Hicce as faultless but ill-matched

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Reviews: Fay Maschler is in admiration of Da Terra; while William Sitwell describes the dishes at Hicce as faultless but ill-matched

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is in admiration of Da Terra in London’s Bethnal Green with its “fascinating” wines

We have chosen the short menu but that turns out to be only a manner of speaking. A parade of nine dishes marching at a measured pace, starting with beetroot topped by sardine, trout roe and crème fraîche intertwined with fronds of samphire and finishing with exquisite petits fours including exhilarating pâte de fruits and little triangles of fervent lemon tart is ideal, mellifluous, in balance, like a troupe of acrobats.

Scallops tricked out with herbs, little balls of apple sorbet and fennel in a pearlescent sauce served on the shell placed on a plate full of pebbles is a gift to the eye as well as the palate. A dazzling dish of chicken skin covering protectively the meat and an egg fits into the items that Amy later collates as “the little crunchy, nesty things”, a category that can be applied to the nugget of cod served with a seaweed rice cracker, charred cabbage and a scattering of nubbly crumbs.

A rectangular piece of short rib topped with tiny open mushrooms in neat rows resembling octopus suckers also comes with magic buttery crumbs plus an ointment-like scoop of mayonnaise. Homemade bread with delicate calligraphic markings is served with butter as we know it and also an emulsion made from green olive oil.

Rating: 4/5


hicce

The dishes at Hicce in London’s King’s Cross serves were faultless but ill-matched, writes William Sitwell in The Telegraph

The menu presents a variety of small dishes and condiments, which you are supposed to share. Apparently it’s a sort of Norway-meets-Japan-and-comes-back-to-Britain concept. But I’m none the wiser having dined there.

And this is where I become anxious, because yes, the food and all that is associated with it is intriguing, but hand on heart, even though I tried to like it, I just have to conclude that it wasn’t entirely enjoyable. Clever juxtapositions of flavours, textures and sauces just aren’t enough unless they’re brought together with a big spoonful of tasty joy.

A dish of cauliflower with calcot onion and romesco sauce provided zero eating pleasure. Near-raw cauliflower, charred here and there, with some sweet onion and drizzles of slightly spicy tomato sauce.

A plate of octopus, seaweed and fennel wasn’t much fun either. It was the sort of dish I felt I ought to eat (it had ‘good-for-you vibes’ with its fennel shavings and herbs), but I recall more pleasure as an eight-year-old holding my nose while a spoonful of medicine was forced into my mouth.

Rating: 3/5. Price: Dinner for two around £60, excluding drinks and service


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The Times’ Giles Coren reviews Stem + Glory near Barbican in London

We were both starving so the first thing to arrive, a small bowl of shelled edamame beans with “nippon sauce” and salt, we thought was absolutely fantastic. World-changing. Epochal.

The cauliflower gratin was good and savoury though, perfectly balanced and with loads of heft and darkness supplied by truffle, black garlic and mushrooms in a wine-scented stew underneath – a paragon of vegan cooking. And then kimchi pancakes which were also tasty in a kind of onion bhaji way.

And then you get to having eaten quite a lot of vegetable matter, which all chews down into a limited number of flavours – all at the front of the mouth, tangy, nothing at the back where the fats normally stick. So do you now really want to eat blue corn tacos with pulled jackfruit marinated in anchiote sauce with guajillo chilli, pineapple kimchi and pickled red onion? To be fair, the taco is well made and firm, but you’ve already had most of those things in another form by then, those pickles and kinchees and jammy fruits with that same, sweet, composty flavour.

Cooking: 6; service: 7; vibes: 7; score: 6.67. Price: £30/head without booze


The Observer’s Jay Rayner describes Monsieur Le Duck in London’s Spitalfields as “a delightful night out… like the first night of your French holiday”

The menu is short. For £17 you get a mixed salad full of butch, hefty leaves and a light dressing to start, followed by one of the mains, plus a side. There are nutty puy lentils or green beans fried in garlic butter, seasonal greens with lardons or thin frites, a little potato skin clinging to their ends. All are exactly as you would wish them to be. And so, to the duck. Spoiler alert. If you don’t like duck, don’t come here. Likewise, if you do like ducks, but not dead, cooked ones, also don’t come here. This may seem obvious, but you can never underestimate the boundless stupidity of some people.

It is offered four ways, three if you can’t quite tell the difference between the two ways with breast. All of them need a sprinkle of extra salt but it’s there on the table so I’m not whining. The breast, either grilled over coals or gently pan-roasted, is the deep purple inside of rare calf’s liver, as it damn well should be, with crisp skin, the fat almost fully rendered, as it also damn well should be. There’s a burger of minced duck, which is a couple of inches thick, pleasingly dense, and constantly on point to leak juices down your chin. Stand by with a napkin.

Salad, main course and a side £17. Desserts £6. Wines (500ml) from £15


pucci-2

The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin finds an “uneasy mix of retro pizza and new-wave small plates” at Pucci in London’s Mayfair

The pizzas are remarkable, truly. It’s like the third wave of UK pizzaioli never happened — no slow proving, no 90-second wood-oven blasting, no weeping buffalo burrata flown in daily from Campania. I order a pepperoni, thinking it’ll feature some kind of recherché, rare-breed meat, perhaps from the new brigade of British charcutiers. But the vast flat item that arrives, its little cups of oily, undistinguished sausage pocked on it in such a way as to agitate trypophobics, its Ryvita-dry cornicione, isn’t likely to worry even PizzaExpress with any urgency. It tastes like the 1980s.

Otherwise, the chef — called, endearingly, Tilly Turbett — can cook. But I’ve no idea whether she’s been saddled with the uneasy mix of retro pizza and new-wave small plates or it’s her own idea. Quite a few dishes feature yoghurt: sweet, tiny beetroots with pistachios and unnecessary honey; charred tenderstem broccoli with a zhuzh of tahini; lamb chops. There’s no guidance as to how to approach this: do you have a glazed Barbary duck breast with sweet-potato mash, pomegranate molasses and a whiff of ras-el-hanout as well as, or instead of, a pizza? Is the calamari — in uniform rings that look (if not taste) like refugees from Bejam — a starter or a main course? Search me.

Total: For two, including 12.5% service charge £160


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The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett finds food to beat the winter blues at Chesil Rectoy in Winchester

As easy-listening jazz burbled and the fire snapped and crackled, I worked my way through the ALC menu – first, an unctuously flavoursome haddock and leek rice-fest with lightly battered prawn beignet and lime beurre-blanc; one of the best risottos I’ve had in a while.

My rice was followed by two very pink, very large duck breasts on a deep bed of red cabbage, plus a ramekin of quacking confit – a big fleshy dish, “robust” box duly ticked; it’s rare that I can’t finish a main course, but I struggled.

We shared a dessert of white chocolate mousse and dark chocolate brownie, lifted from fine to near-stellar by an exceptional passion fruit sorbet. Coffees were chased by a couple of Baileys truffles and white chocolate fudge, and so, eventually, (via an 118-mile drive) it was home to bed, conceivably until April.

Score: 3.5/5. Price: £90 for lunch for two


Grace Dent describes Jolene in London’s Newington Green as “earthy, imaginative, slightly saintly, but with a dirty underbelly” in The Guardian

Jolene’s small evening menu is, as one would imagine, ever-changing. There was, on the midweek evening I popped by, a smattering of charcuterie – lombo and jamón de Teruel – plus a freshly baked, intensely garlicky garlic bread. All the following dishes I recall as being quite wonderful: nutty brown jerusalem artichokes roasted in rosemary with just the right level of crispness and mushy give; a “risotto” made from spelt with sage-roasted pumpkin and crunchy walnuts; and a plate of fresh, lemon-enlivened tagliatelle with capers and oregano. There were quails in muscat grape sauce on offer, too, and pork loin in apple sauce, but we opted for a chunk of fresh and brilliantly judged hake that came dressed in a green cloak of slightly intoxicating olive salsa. A side of cavolo nero turned up in an oil, garlic and chilli dressing and tossed though with salted ricotta.

There’s bias in this review, for sure, because this is my sort of food. Earthy, imaginative, slightly saintly, but with a dirty underbelly of oily, salty largesse in each forkful of spelt, cruciferous veg or sustainably harvested, starchy carb.
For me, at least, Jolene is a great place to have up your sleeve. It’s neighbourhoody and completely welcoming, but still ever so slightly pretentious in places. You will leave well fed, and possibly waddling, after the praline choux ring smothered in chocolate sauce. Please take one, just because you can.

About £35 a head, plus drinks and service. Food: 8/10; service: 9/10; atmosphere: 8/10


Joanna Blythman is disappointed by the second El Cartel in Edinburgh in The Herald

Where the original El Cartel was electric, exciting, this one is monotonous, mundane. It’s as if its vivacity has been replaced by a tick box exercise, the dutiful copying of the inspiring original dishes, gradually losing most of its sparkle in the process. Like Chinese Whispers, El Cartel’s founding message has become distorted somewhat in the telling.

Our pick of the daily specials, a vegetarian taco based on squash, sets the tone. The sweet vegetable is partnered with eye-wateringly vinegary pickled onions mixed with a brown salsa that might possibly have a connection with chocolate, but with bossy cinnamon in overdrive and enough chilli – and I like a lot of chilli – to ride rampantly over other flavours and reduce them to mere textures. It’s one of those peppery chillis that sets up residence on the back of your tongue. I take a big slug of my rather medicinal lime Margarita and am grateful for it, even though it leaves freezer burn on my lips.

The tacos here are flexibly flabby, irregularly formed, hand pressed in-house daily using proper Masa Harina corn meal. They’re one of the best things about El Cartel. Duck carnitas are probably the star dish, fatty, crisp-skinned mouthfuls lightened with pineapple, brightened by hot Jalapeño chillis, everything calmed down by an emollient pecan salsa.

Food: 7/10; decor: 7/10; service: 7/10; value: 7/10


HOTELS

Jane Knight of The Times is impressed by the new Piglet cabins and garden rooms at Soho Farmhouse in Great Tew, Oxfordshire

The addition of 40 Piglet cabins and 10 garden rooms to the original 40 cabins means it’s much easier to get a booking. Facilities include a sleek spa with indoor/outdoor pool, tennis courts, a plush cinema showing up-to-date films and a plethora of eating options.

While the original timbered cabins channel a Little House on the Prairie vibe, the snug Piglets, at 26 sq m, are more Scandi hygge than frontier chic. Inside are all the normal Soho House trimmings: emperor-sized bed, a Roberts radio, Bakelite phone and a shower brimming with Cowshed products. The garden rooms are a more modern take on the cabins, with bath tubs in the rooms.

Score: 9/10. Price: Piglets cost from £270 a night, room only

 

 

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