Grace Dent finds the afterlife she hopes for at Xier in London’s Marylebone
It is a badly kept secret among us coddled, gouty, 52-columns-a-year restaurant critics that we fear and avoid the lengthy, fine-dining tasting menu.
But just as I’m questioning the entire point of modern haute cuisine, somewhere like Xier in Mary- lebone, London, pops up. Xier lives upstairs at chef Carlo Scotto’s new dual project on Thayer Street.
Xier is British produce cooked by an Italian who’s clearly influenced by Japanese flavours. It’s a lot like how I hope heaven will be; a sort of tasteful, pale VIP room, away from the riff-raff, with a nook full of vintage cognacs.
I want an afterlife where small bowls of fresh, soft, satisfyingly clumpy stracciatella appear with dehydrated wild strawberries and organic honey, then a bowl featuring one orgasmic half of a singular arancino on a sticky, compelling kohlrabi jus. I want eternity to be somewhere where the pudding part of the menu is simply marked “Sweet tooth” and, when it’s time, staff triumphantly appear with not one, not two, but five separate desserts. One being a Grand Marnier rhum baba with chantilly cream.
Somewhere during my fourth course – beurre noisette gnocchi swimming in warm kombu tea – I said, “This place is as good as the Ledbury. It’s not just one star. It’s more like two.” Because, just like Brett Graham’s dependable slice of perfection, Xier has all the plates spinning at once. It’s surprising and challenging, but you’re still at the reins, having an actual dinner, rather than gripping on solemnly as the chef whisks you through 14 courses of self-indulgent noodling.
Scotto uplifts a red prawn crudo with teases of raspberry, red caviar and yuzu. He serves salmon with foie gras and Bramley apple, and pigeon with purple potato and hazelnut crumble. A chunk of black cod in caramel miso comes with asparagus and shiso perilla-infused oil. My favourite course was a rich bianchetto truffle risotto deftly laced with sumac.
Xier could be the best opening of 2019. On all your behalves, though, I will enjoy being proved wrong.
Price: Ten-course tasting menu, £90 plus drinks and service. Score: food: 10/10; atmosphere: 9/10; service: 10/10
Marina O’Loughlin visits ravishing Bath, but fails to locate a meal to hurtle towards at Eight and Noya’s Kitchen
Over the years, I’d given up heading towards Bath in search of wonderful restaurants; it just wasn’t worth the schlep. Now I’ve had not one but two hot tips. And two tips make a trip. We’re hoping for great, cosseting things from Eight, a tiny, thoroughly upholstered dining room in an equally tiny boutique hotel of ancient uneven floors and wonky staircases.
They’re not offering small plates, or main courses, but servings of a uniform size somewhere between the two. By the time I’ve waded through a hefty courgette dish, its successor, an excellent slab of hake on a black squid-ink risotto, has started to lose its appeal.
There’s a successful plate of guinea fowl, again with a number of chums: chorizo, white bean purée, Savoy cabbage, herb and wine reduction, all working together in far more harmony than the courgette. The kitchen clearly has ambition, but they might like to rein it in a touch?
I have higher hopes of Noya’s Kitchen. Owned by Noya Pawlyn and recommended to me enthusiastically, especially by people who had loved her supper club. And it’s lovely. Everything has the pleasing, hand-knitted quality of a talented Vietnamese home cook, and starters are a joy: goi cuon, summer rolls bulging with mint and coriander and fine rice vermicelli, crunchy cucumber and carrots and a suave omelette stained green from more herbs that greedily slurps up a sprightly nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Main courses are less endearing. Bun cha, a chicken version of the dish more usually done with aromatic pork patties, is fine, if a little bit disappointing after the bravura starters. But it’s the beef pho that’s the let-down: lighter, in the Hanoinese style – rather than the heavier Ho Chi Minh City version (although I believe Pawlyn is originally from the south) – it’s a little thin, lacking that thrilling, bass-note resonance of the best. Perhaps we’ve landed on day one of the broth. Still, it’s all fresh and vibrant and done with love.
Bath is ravishing, but man cannot live by architecture alone.
Price: Eight: £73 for two, without service charge; Noya’s Kitchen: £67 for two, without service charge
For a luxurious getaway without being OTT, Harriet Addison recommends the Samling in Windermere, Cumbria
One of the Lake District’s most famous hotels, the Samling, set in 67 acres of grounds, has had a facelift. The pièce de résistance is the restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Windermere and the surrounding mountains. You can walk cross country from the Samling into nearby Ambleside; for the more adventurous there is an entire menu of activities, from helicopter rides to sheepdog trialling. You can also book the hot tub, which has a lake view. Inside, there’s plenty of art – I spotted original drawings by Matisse and Miró.
The bedrooms are classic Lakeland cottages, beautifully decorated in muted tones, with painted beams, exposed slate and plush sofas. Most rooms have lake views.
What’s the food like? Spectacular, although the only options in the dining room at lunch and dinner are tasting menus, from three (£45) to five courses (£65). The food is inventive, with, for instance, confit and salt-baked turnip with juniper, barbecued eryngii mushroom and sansho pepper on the vegetarian menu. On the main menu I was blown away by the slow-cooked Lancashire pig, Thai-spiced langoustine, finger lime and a spiced shellfish and coconut broth – all in one dish. You can have a more relaxed meal, such as a beefburger (£16.50), but you’ll have to eat it in the sitting room or as room service.
Price: B&B doubles, from £230. Score: 9/10
The innovative Hotel Indigo, located in a former jute mill, is the place to enjoy Dundee’s spirit of invention, says Janet Christie
The transformation of a former jute mill – the twin Bell Mill and North Mill – with its floodlit iconic bell tower modelled on Santa Maria della Salute Bell Tower in Venice, is an example of what can be done with these cathedrals of industry. Built in 1822 by the Baxter brothers, it was the world’s largest linen manufacturer by the 1870s.
From the light-filled foyer through the restaurant/bar to the 102 rooms on the floors above, Dundee’s heritage is subtly referenced, with retro Game Boys, jute shuttles and jam jars in the lobby and Grand Theft Auto cheats and Keiller’s logo tiles in the bedrooms, providing the perfect base to re-discover the city’s past, present and future. Definitely boutique, with bare brick walls, hardwood timber floors, pendant lighting and a relaxing palette of silvers, greys and taupes that is studded with zaps of zesty colour from bespoke cushions to wall art.
Modern and comfortable, the rooms feature big, comfy beds covered with covetable lambs- wool blankets by Duncan of Jordan- stone graduate Hilary Grant. There’s a TV, fast WiFi, sophisticated multi-mode lighting and wardrobes that conceal a mini bar, tea and coffee making facilities, iron, hair dryer, hanging space and robes, with Arran Aromatics toiletries in the sleek en suite shower room. A second glance registers references to Dundee’s innovative past and present, from the single orange marmalade tile embedded in the shower wall to a copy of the Beano on a shelf.
Jay Rayner celebrates simplicity in his visit to Matt Healy x the Foundry in Leeds
Healy has created a proposition that can work in many ways. At the top of the menu is a list of charcuterie and cheeses, plus a few nibbles for those who just want something with a drink. We get a plate of sourdough which comes with a scoop of pre-whipped Marmite butter for the grown-up child within, alongside a bowl of chorizo in cider, for the adult hovering just behind them. The bread goes quickly because there are too many possibilities to dip it in and drag it through.
From the small plates list comes a plank of smoked eel. It perches atop a perfectly made celeriac rémoulade with a mustardy kick. The fish is dressed with discs of pickled radish for crunch. It is in no way radical, but it is special.
The sweetest of clams bathe in a wine-boosted broth thickened with olive oil, and handfuls of coriander. Newly arrived spears of asparagus are placed under a translucent shroud of lardo. There is half a soft-boiled egg. These are things that need to be introduced to each other. They get along very well indeed.
The simplest dish is shredded Savoy cabbage with pancetta and the squeaky crunch of hazelnuts. It’s less a recipe than a great idea. Any reasonable cook could taste it and immediately know how to do it at home. They’ll wish they’d thought of it first.
Price: snacks and small plates, £3.50-£9; large plates, £18.50-£29.50; desserts, £7; wines, from £20
Tom Parker Bowles finds solace in a steak at Hawksmoor Air Street, London
The walls are wood-panelled, the hubbub thick enough to spread on toast, the lights alluringly low. This is a place to sink into and escape, a place of gentle carnivorous worship. Potted beef, sealed with a lid of butter, has the depth and consistency of slow-cooked stew. You pile the soft strands into Yorkshire pudding and drench in proper onion gravy.
Sides are suitably robust. Jansson’s Temptation, that Swedish symphony of cream, sprats and onion; the sort of macaroni cheese that’s more cheese than macaroni. Only the beef fries fail to please. Suitably dripping with flavour, but a touch undercooked.
No such problems with the beef, a vast 120g slab of Chateaubriand, cooked the rarer side of pink. Exactly as we want. There’s no need for endless chat about breed, or how long it has been aged, because at places like Hawksmoor, they know their stuff. Have faith. There’s a serious char to the exterior, a deep bovine base note, and a long, languorous depth that lingers long after the last bite has gone. This cow did not die in vain. In short, steak as both succour and high art, in a restaurant that never lets you down.
Price: about £60 per head. Score: 4/5