Marina O’Loughlin of The Sunday Times is won over by the riches on offer at Farzi Café in London
Restrained this is most emphatically not. Imagine butter-roasting bone marrow? There’s rich and then there’s Farzi Café rich, for toothless oligarchs who find the suave, fatty centre of split beef bones not quite slippery enough. With its vaguely gynaecological instrument for scooping and one or two lacy vegetable crisps, the tiniest morsel of this is palate-flooding. Escargots have also been #Farzified by so much butter, so much garlic and black pepper, they could be any vaguely meaty little boluses; a side dish of tiny, rather uncrusty brun pao rolls sponges up the hectic excess. I’ve never seen the point of offering wagyu beef processed into oblivion: burgers, bolognese, even hot dogs, for pity’s sake. Here, the expensive meat is blitzed into fleshy-smooth seekh kebabs, overkilling it. But, I’m afraid, it’s all irresistible.
The chicken tikka masala, rather than the usual collision of woolly meat and tomato-soupy sauce, is a sophisticated number, multilayered, not slick and smooth but almost chunky, genuinely poky with its quantities of fresh chilli. It’s the poor Brit-Indian bastard child suddenly discovering they’re heir to the crown of a maharaja. The accompanying fluffy naan is topped with Cornish Cruncher cheese: fusion, or evil exploitation of poor West Country cheesemakers?
The only dish with any- thing resembling a theatrical flounce is a Keralan-style moilee, crowned with a delicate crisp netting stained black with squid ink: garnish as fascinator. This fish curry is deconstructed into fat chunks of lobster, pretty much the whole tail packed into its shell, and sweet, tender mussels. Our waiter expresses some gentle Italian consternation at the idea that we should swamp the blameless seafood with its jug of coconut and turmeric sauce, but it’s ravishing. And yes, rich, rich, rich. There’s a little dollop of buttery “gunpowder” mash on the side, just in case arteries are in any danger of imminent loosening-up.
Price: £147 for two, including 12.5% service charge
The Guardian‘s Isabel Choat finds much to like at Mollie’s Motel and Diner as, it seems, does most of Oxfordshire
The brains behind Mollie’s is Nick Jones, credited with reinventing the country house hotel when he opened Babington House in 1998, and whose Soho House empire now spans three continents. Now he is on a mission to reinvent the roadside stay in the UK.
Although the concept is inspired by US motels, Jones wanted to avoid the retro look; bedrooms are modern and soothing thanks to blond-wood panelling, a pale colour scheme and decent sound-proofing – I can’t hear the traffic at all. And the Egyptian cotton, “rainforest” shower and Cowshed products (the spa brand is part of the Soho House group) are a pleasant surprise in a £50 room (£75 from May).
The diner is also more classic than kitsch. I like the greeny-blue leather booths, tiled floor and chrome bar – and so does most of Oxfordshire if the queue at 6.30pm last Saturday is anything to go by. The menu features diner favourites: burgers, rotisserie chicken, shakes – but made with high-quality ingredients. The food arrives quickly but the kitchen seems to struggle with a full house and drive-thru queue: my chicken quarter (£6, free-range, marinated for 24 hours) is juicy with lots of flavour; but one patty in my son’s “dirty double bacon burger” (£10) is burned to a crisp.
The initial success of Mollie’s is no doubt driven in part by the Soho House connection – not many motels host a celebrity opening party – but once the stardust has settled, the big red sign will continue to be a beacon to anyone intrigued by the idea of 1950s America on an English roadside.
Price: doubles £50 (£75 from May)
Elaine Lemm of The Yorkshire Post finds that the Box Tree in Ilkley doesn’t need a Michelin star to shine
Simon Gueller has been away from the stove more or less for the past few years, but he is back, acknowledging the loss of the star has galvanised him to get back there. There’s a new head chef in the shape of Samira Effa, another considerable talent.
We shared freshly baked sourdough slathered with a Marmite butter which I enjoyed so much I could have left right there and then. I’m happy I didn’t, as next up was a textbook langoustine bisque with two fat, delicious langoustines in a creamy, sea-scented soup with fennel and cucumber.
There was rapture over a duck breast which had seen the rigours of brining, sous-viding and finishing to produce the “softest and tastiest duck ever”, he said. And he was more than happy with the leg meat, alliums and turnips too. An exemplary turbot with pillow-soft purée of celeriac, sea kale, a smatter of Avruga and squeaky fat mussels had the same rapture from my side.
The duck breast came head to head with a dessert of a classic rhubarb soufflé for best dish of the evening. A massive round of applause for whichever chef produced that plate of loveliness.
Clearly, you do not need a star to shine. The magic of this brilliant chef and his brigade, added to the warmth and professionalism that is Rena and the team front of house, ensure the Box Tree shines as bright as ever, if not even better.
Score: welcome: 100%; food: 100%; atmosphere: 100%; price: 100%
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ – and an unimpressed William Sitwell, writing in The Telegraph, can’t help but compare Tamarind to other Indian offerings
Tamarind’s lobster: juicy and crisp, yes; but tossed in spicy red-chilli jam? It’s a sort of high-end version of the late-night student-munchies moment when the kitchen is ransacked for food and a Ryvita squirted with cheese spread ends up under the grill, before being served with a garnish of ketchup.
The other joy-thief comparison that I just cannot help making is between the curries at my local Indian restaurant in the town of Brackley, in Northamptonshire – Dhan Shiri – and Tamarind. One serves curries of differing colour, texture and spice: bowls of pale-yellow butter chicken; deeper, almost scarlet-red little tureens of prawns.
Then there is Tamarind, where the supposedly differing dishes of Kerala prawn curry, ‘infused with aromatic spices’, and Old Delhi butter chicken, ‘slow-cooked in caramelised tomatoes and fragrant spices’, actually came in identical sauces of the lightly red, tin-of-Heinz variety, with a similarly sickly, sweetly sour taste.
Tamarind compares rather better in other areas. There’s a substantial wine list; the service very upscale, gingerly hovering; and they make extremely good dal. Tamarind has recently reopened after an eight-month refit costing God knows how many squillions. If it had rebooted as a hole-in-the-wall gaff serving a single dal dish, I’d be its biggest fan.
Score: two stars
The Observer‘s Jay Rayner heads to Belfast to try out Aubergine and Le Gavroche alumni Brian Donnelly’s award-winning ramen concept, Bia Rebel, and it ticks all the boxes
They make their own wheat noodles. Their meaty broth has 26 ingredients and takes 40 hours to make. [Owner Brian] Donnelly starts with a sofrito, the finest dice of vegetables cooked down until they have given all they have to give to a dish, which apparently takes hours. A chicken broth is made with chicken wings, also cooked for hours. It is blended with dashi broth. They add a 606 egg, so called because it is cooked in a water bath for six minutes and six seconds. You sense that Donnelly loves that detail. He then smokes it over Oolong tea. Not Lapsang souchong or Darjeeling. Oolong. It is a very good egg, the smoky yolk perfectly fixed in that place between runny and set.
…For the most part, what you get, apart from a satisfyingly full belly, is the sense of what is too often referred to spuriously as a passion project. This is the real thing. Apparently, their contract of employment includes one instruction: “Don’t be a dick.” This is a sentiment we can all get behind. Nice people. Good food. Great price. Six words which tell you all you need to know. But then you’d have had nothing to read on a Sunday morning.
Price: ramen, £6-£8; sides, £4-£6
The Times‘ Giles Coren takes his own fiercest critic Sara Tor to Leamington Spa’s La Coppola – and finds the decor more exciting than the menu
She fancied the mozzarella and tomato salad with avocado mousse, which turned out luckily to be just crushed fresh avocados and perfectly fine, with good, fresh but not historic or rare mozzarella, and then pasta alla Norma, which was penne with aubergine, tomato, mint and “garlic bocconcini mozzarella” (can one garlic a bocconcino?). It was a large portion of harmless, domestic veggie pasta, a bit studenty-looking, a bit of a splat and maybe a bit of a press at £13.50 but, oh, that blossom! Those fairy lights!
I had the melanzana parmigiana (why have I never seen it spelt the same way twice?), which was perfectly delightful, and then threw in an extra starter from the specials menu because I simply could not leave without having ordered the “Gamberoni alla Dolcelatte – pan-fried prawns in a light dolcelatte and coffee sauce”. And you know what, they were delicious. The prawns were plump and squeaky and not at all squishy and the sauce was light but punchy, which really helped the boring old shellfish, and then there was this scattered brown powder which must have been the coffee and I think, I think, it actually contributed positively, gave just a slightly crisper finish to what might otherwise have been too rich and open-ended a mouthful. Reader, I would order it again.
Score: cooking: 5; service: 6; interior: 10; score: 7; Price: £35/head without booze