Although Tom Kitchin’s Bonnie Badger in East Lothian plays it safe, “almost everything is as good as it can possibly be” writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times
Despite there being a distinct lack of wheel-reinvention, almost everything is as good as it can possibly be. That ham, egg and chips, for instance: the home-butchered ham hock slow-cooked, then – a bit randomly – re-formed around one of the beast’s smaller bones and wrapped in a sticky-sweet glazed crépinette so that it retains its structure. The eggs come in a little skillet, the “white” (actually whole egg) a softly scrambled, almost moussy mass, an extra yolk perfectly wibbling on top, all gratined with buttery crumb. There’s a little bowl of pineapple salsa (ham and pineapple, geddit?) and fat chips. It’s a dish that’s equal parts bonkers and satisfying.
The more overtly sophisticated stuff comes from a specials menu: big crabmeat-packed raviolo with a bisque so rich in seafood, I basically glug it from its jug. And local lamb, the saddle roasted, the shoulder braised, on another perfect purée, this time of celeriac. It’s a collection of solid hits, confident enough in the quality of the ingredients not to try too hard, but nailing it every time. Deliver more than you promise: now there’s a novel idea.
The only criticism I can drum up about the place is their determination to play it safe; but given they’re dealing with an audience who probably finds this all thrillingly newfangled, why not?
Price: £115.50 for two, without service charge
The Observer’s Jay Rayner enjoys a “hugely cheering meal” at EartH Kitchen in London’s Dalston
In the small plates list, all priced around £6, greenery dominates. We have a salad of sweet-salty brown shrimps with the crunch of mandolined kohlrabi and bitter leaves, again under a sprightly vinaigrette. That ox heart is sliced thin and jerk spiced before being seared. It is mixed in with more leaves and pieces of long-roasted aubergine and the high waft of fresh mint. What’s striking about these dishes is the way meat is used less as focus for the plate, and more as a flavouring. Then there are spears of purple sprouting broccoli, lightly charred and liberally slathered with a Dijon mustard dressing. It’s a version of that old stager leeks vinaigrette, after it’s engaged a personal trainer, taken off the gum guard and learned a few moves.
There are half a dozen main courses in the low to mid-teens, including a “Ridley Road” vegetarian curry, so named because the ingredients come from that street’s market nearby. The most expensive, at £16, is a whole roasted pigeon. It arrives on a fiery heap of roasted carrots, and spiced red peppers cooked down until they have collapsed into a gloriously happy, flame-coloured mess. Those vegetables are worth the price of admission by themselves. But with it comes the pigeon, cut in two, and laid across the support act. The meat has the high funk of game that has been properly cared for. This is what pigeon should taste like. Too often it doesn’t.
Price: starters £5-£6.50; mains £12.50-£16; dDesserts £5-£7.50; wines from £24
“Whatever they do, it’s magic,” writes Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday, reviewing Angela’s of Margate
This is a lunch that starts strong and grows stronger still. Head chef Rob Cooper sure knows his way around a fish. Potatoes too, Harrison oven-roasted Great Gatsby potatoes, as good as you’d find at home. A plump wodge of hake is gloriously fresh and gloriously cooked, sitting in a shellfish bisque that manages to be both delicate and intense, with a nudge of Spanish and a good ooof of French. There’s a whole scallop in there, and a fistful of mussels, a plateful of gleeful piscine abundance. It could be the poster boy for a united Europe, although unlike Brexit, there’s swift resolution. The whole dish is dispatched within moments.
Then there’s the Dover sole. A mighty fish, elevated here to almighty status. Perhaps the best I’ve ever eaten, the texture firm, with a whisper of bounce, the flavour the very essence of marine vim. It comes with a salsa verde, but there’s no need for any embellishment. We pick the flesh off the bones. Coad later tells us they rest the fish for 15 minutes after cooking, as it were a piece of beef. Whatever they do, it’s magic. Fresh, locally caught fish, treated with reverence and adoration.
Price: about £30 per head. Score: 4/5
The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa discovers a “soul-lifting little restaurant, delivering lightly reconsidered jerk shop staples [and] abominably flavoursome curries” at the Island Social Club residency in London’s Haggerston
Of the stews, colombo de poulet – a hymn to the French Caribbean islands, delicately spiced but generously clogged with pumpkin, scraps of squash-like ‘cho cho’ and chicken steamed to that desirable point of ribboning softness – was pretty fantastic. But if you eat meat, you have to absolutely promise me you’ll order the curry mutton; it is a greige, almost comically unphotogenic brew of quartered potatoes and luscious, slow-cooked meat in a thick, Scotch bonnet-laced sauce of fathomless depth and complexity. Cold Red Stripe and a chunky, zingy, dairy-free coleslaw offered a necessary fire blanket for the mouth. And there was of course that ragged, ‘bussup-shut’ roti (as in a busted up – or torn – shirt): griddle-kissed, pancakey and nothing less than a tactile, sloppy delight.
Dan wasn’t sold on the solitary pudding, a crumbly, sweetened square of cornbread with vanilla ice cream and a not wholly welcome drizzle of sweet chilli jam, and I had to agree. But it didn’t really matter by then. Yes, it is straightforward and rough-edged, perhaps occupying a midpoint between restaurant and supper club. But Island Social Club genuinely broadens understanding of wider Caribbean culinary culture through the medium of patiently coaxed, undeniable deliciousness.
Price £75.50 for two. Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 4/5.
The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett is underwhelmed by Orasay in London’s Notting Hill
I wasn’t drawn to seafood today, but the prettily ribboned coils of mammole artichoke with peas and a scattering of monk’s beard chased (albeit veeeeery sloooooowly – with no explanation, we had to wait best part of an hour between the starter and the main, polishing off a side of so-so bread and butter) a Desperate Dan-sized Tamworth chop taking the weight off its bone on a comfort-food mattress of buttery white beans and turnip tops. All of which worked well, alongside a generous side of spiced-up, chilli-dappled, purple sprouting broccoli that I’d have preferred to be crunchier.
Lucy, meanwhile, seized by some sort of temporary madness, chose to follow her smoked salmon, beetroot and sorrel with the roast cauliflower, almond cream and capers. Lucy’s salmon looked and tasted exactly like a nice little slab of salmon accessorised by mini-beetroots, however when her cauliflower arrived, I got the giggles. Being roughly a quarter of a medium-sized cauli it wouldn’t have made a generous side, much less a main – and at 15 quid, it was clearly aimed squarely at lady bankers.
Price: £140 for lunch for two. Score: 3/5
The Telegraph’s William Sitwell is plumping for the “warm-hearted, spirited, locally sourced guts and glory” of Two Lights in London’s Shoreditch
The ‘crab and elderflower on beef fat chip’ [was] a lesson in straight-talking menu description. Two fat chips, crispy skin, waxy potato, holding sweet dollops of creamy crab. Beautiful. We also had mussels that came on flatbreads, covered in melting lardo (fat from a pig’s back), with slices of onion for acidic balance. Simple but effective, this was a dish of fabulous imagination.
Then came a pile of broccoli. It had a white anchovy sauce splattered over it, along with chicken skin and walnuts. This was a step too far for me. I’m not scared of broccoli and prefer to taste it, but this was obliterated by a wrecking ball of salty cream and crunch. If there’s a fine line between unpretentious flair and mess, Chase [Lovecky] has just crossed it.
There was also a dish of ‘roasted half of St Brides chicken’ which may be a fowl raised on a patch of ground in east London, but was a very small bird and quite expensive at £36.
It came with a side order of decent gravy and something labelled ‘biscuits’. In the States, biscuits are in fact scones, in the same way that chips are crisps and cookies are biscuits, and one can only assume that Chase gets some kick out of the confusion. In fact, having scones with roast chicken is a sort of cultural slap in the face for a Brit. “We’ll take your scones with jam and cream and send them back at you with a wrong name and some chicken.”
Price: £87 fro dinner for two, excluding drinks and service. Score: 3.5/5
The dishes are simpler at Checkers Pantry in Montgomery following a new, more informal, direction for the formerly Michelin-starred venue, but the quality hasn’t been compromised, writes Andy Richardson in the Shropshire Star
So there we were: two former Waterside Inn and Checkers Restaurant chefs cooking us soufflés for less than a tenner and main courses for £11. It was like being first in line at the Harrods Boxing Day sale – and being given an extra 50% off.
I ate the vintage cheddar soufflé with apple and almond and homemade bread… The soufflé used to appear on the Checkers menu back in the day – and it’s lost none of its appeal. Absurdly light with a rich and satisfying cheese sauce that caramelises in a metal dish as it cooks through; it was sensational.
I ate a brilliant smoky beef and chorizo chilli with giant couscous, feta and guacamole. It was huge, precise, expertly seasoned and beautifully cooked. There was nothing not to like.
Joris Minne reviews Deanes at Queens in Belfast for the Belfast Telegraph, which he says “remains a class act”
Chef Malachy McCaffrey’s cooking rises above what went before. That’s saying something, considering all those awards and all. He is meticulous; everything which comes out is beautiful to look at, balanced, composed and appetising. His kitchen is where conventional dishes go to become classics. St Tola’s goats’ cheese with chunks of dark red beetroot and layers of leaves is a lesson in textures; a duck confit on bed of Mediterranean vegetables and fondant potato is crisp and crunchy, unctuous and moist in all the right places.
The adviser’s sea bass features two sizable fillets, skins roasted in the pan, the pearly white meat slippery and shining. The bed of cracked potato beneath is creamy and champ like in depth of flavours. Incidentally, a side order of chips turns out to be the best we’ve had, beating even those from sister restaurant, Meat Locker.
Deane’s at Queens remains a class act. It has that feature most sought after by restaurateurs and diners alike: reliability. Consistency is everything in this business. Which is why some win awards and others, even those who might be brilliant 90% of the time, don’t.
Price: £196.42 for four
Caroline Lindsay of The Courier reviews the Räv in St Andrews
Three large luscious meatballs sat atop a pile of fluffy mash, accompanied by lingonberry sauce and thinly sliced pickled cucumber.
I tucked in with gusto and found the meatballs to be densely packed and filling. I felt they could have withstood a slightly herbier seasoning – they weren’t bland but the taste wasn’t memorable, and oddly there was no salt or pepper on the table. But combined with the perfect mash and the opposing flavours of lingonberry and pickles, this was a hearty and ultimately enjoyable dish.
The blueberry tart, meanwhile, was a thing of beauty – full of berries, complemented by a crisp, sweet pastry. It was slightly dry though and a small jug of cream would have helped with this.
Price for dinner: Snacks from £2.50; small plates from £5; large plates from £11; desserts from £5. Score: value: 8/10; menu: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 7/10; food 9/10
The Telegraph’s Fiona Duncan checks into the “peaceful, deeply relaxing” Park House hotel in Midhurst, West Sussex
One could imagine the house as the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie murder mystery. There are 12 bedrooms in the main house (late Victorian, no beauty, but with roots in the Middle Ages) and unpacking in mine, No 2, on a wonderfully warm spring afternoon, I felt more Edwardian than baby boomer. In a room papered and curtained with blowsy white roses (country house style, yes, but too busy and frilly for today’s tastes) the windows look down on a long flower-covered pergola, a neat croquet lawn, a pair of grass tennis courts, a professionally designed, very testing six-hole pitch and putt golf course and an emerald putting green, all perfectly maintained.
Park House isn’t perfect: the awkward dining room needs improving and softening (plans are afoot) and some of the bedrooms would benefit from a gently updated country house look. But if you find the likes of Heckfield Place and Beaverbrook too look-at-me and too expensive, then consider this peaceful, deeply relaxing address, the sort of place where delicious cooking smells waft up as you descend the stairs for dinner (no fireworks but very enjoyable, cooked with care by long-standing chef Callum Keir).
Price: doubles from £135, including breakfast
Paul Bloomfield of The Times is impressed by the impeccable design and aroma at the new addition to No 131 in Cheltenham called the House
The Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton’s boutique hotel No 131 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, has annexed the similarly imposing Clarence House next door and transformed it into an eight-bedroom retreat. The style – Regency meets fin de siècle meets Soho House – is a subtle evolution from its older sibling, but the addition of spacious lounges, terrace and exclusive glasshouse bar have created a fantasy venue for guests.
What are the rooms like? First, they smell sensational, courtesy of Dr Vranjes diffusers, Bramley and Acqua di Parma toiletries, and flaky pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) on arrival. Soothing Farrow & Ball hues, monsoon showers, artfully distressed furniture, vast beds and huge, cloud-soft towels tick the boutique boxes, while original art (Peter Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Banksy) and industrial lighting add a contemporary edge. No corners are cut: flat-screens are luxe Bang & Olufsen, hairdryers are Dyson power jobs.
Price: B&B doubles from £150 on week nights, £250 at weekends. Score: 8/10