Grace Dent declares Darby’s in London’s Vauxhall to be “heroically good” in the Guardian
From 5pm until 7pm, six Blackwater Wilds oysters and a pint of Guinness will cost you a tenner. A decadent, airy cloud of well-seasoned chicken liver mousse with an unforgettable Jerusalem artichoke and truffle “jam” is £12. Fresh slices of fig and walnut sourdough arrived with melted, truffled Baron Bigod, which may well be Britain’s greatest soft cheese. Darby’s winning formula may be a well-worn one, but it’s one that never bores me: and that is simply to take incredible produce and serve it carefully. Or, as Gill puts it on the restaurant website: “Our single philosophy is: ‘We have a wonderful product, let’s try not to feck it up.’”
A plate of dayboat monkfish fillet, again in seaweed butter, is heroically good. A side of crisp, beef-fat potatoes turns out to be those thick, crisp, SpongeBob SquarePants-shaped, concertina-style slices of heaven. Two glasses of chablis down, I declared: “This is my favourite restaurant this year.” “But you said that about Xier,” Charles said. “A woman can change her mind,” I replied, while pushing that affogato into my flip-top head, slightly high on the potent shot of espresso poured over malted milk ice-cream.
About £40 a head à la carte; set lunch £18 for two courses, £22 for three, all plus drinks and service. Food: 9/10; atmosphere: 9/10; service: 9/10
The Times’ Giles Coren says Eric Chavot is serving up “a pretty wonderful, classical French lunch” at Bob Bob Cité in London
Eric’s onion soup is superb. Onions slow-cooked until there is nothing left of them but their sweet, sweet souls, with booze, lots and lots of booze, and a great cheesy belly-flop of a Comté crouton.
So then hit “Le ‘Pie’ de poulet with morels and sauternes” for a delicious, rich, tarragony chicken blanquette under a glossy but wafer-thin crust – quite right to put that “pie” in inverted commas when there is no pastry surround – and a side of scorched hispi cabbage with “green goddess” (a slick, creamy herb dressing that appears more than once over the afternoon) with maybe some of the fat, angry lobster macaroni cheese with its golden crunchy crust.
I’m going to skip over the details of the beautifully cut “chunky saumon fumé” with its lemon jelly and green gazpacho and the surprise failure of some too bouncy cubes of tasteless pastrami in a “duck egg au plat” that had promised a bed of “salt beef hash” to cut straight to an île flottante for the ages: a float-away foam like the fluff on a Badedas bath, crusted with roasted almond flakes, on a cool sea of crème anglaise, under which sat an ocean floor deposit of caramel, ripe for the fracking.
Cooking: 8; glitz: 10; modesty: 5; score: 7.67
…while the Mail on Sunday’s Tom Parker Bowles is equally delighted by Bob Bob Cité, which he describes as “a spectacle, a treat, and delight”
Within seconds, there’s a chilled glass of Perrier-Jouët in our hands, and we’re off, into one of the greatest French onion soups to ever burn my tongue. The silky softness of the slow-cooked onions, the rich, resonant depth of a macho beef stock, the hunk of grilled baguette smothered in an inch of oozing comte.
It’s as classic as they come, made to the recipe of Chavot’s mother. Merci Maman. Snails arrive hidden under the most ethereal of potato foams, embellished with shards of crisp bacon, yet what seems overtly showy really works. It adds another layer of texture to the garlic-drenched, softly chewy molluscs.
There’s that chicken pie, so adored at the original Bob Bob Ricard, but somehow better still. The burnished, buttery pastry inscribed with a crowing cock, the contents bathed in a magnificently sumptuous and sybaritic Sauternes and morel-spiked sauce. In short, the Louis IX of chicken pies. Chavot’s blanquette de veau, a dish we don’t see enough of, is a study in lovely beige, discreet, soft and entirely classic. Pomme puree is more butter than potato, as is right and Robuchon. Service is as slick as the polished floor’s sheen, yet discreet and unobtrusive too. Bob Bob Cité is a spectacle, a treat, and delight. One of London’s great dining rooms. With Chavot’s cooking to match.
Rating: 4/5. About £50 per head
Despite some mild wrinkles, the Evening Standard’s Jimi Faruwema sees himself returning to Gezellig in London’s Holborn
My trompette courgettes came thick-sliced, carefully grilled and arrayed with ewe’s curd, broad beans, a minty green broad bean purée and ragged hunks of crouton — but it could have used some chilli heat or even acidity to push against all the slightly passive, verdant freshness. Joe’s pot roast turnip, however, was a stormer: flawlessly cooked, fanned discs of root veg garlanded with terrific, sorrel-draped duck hearts and livers, accompanied by a mini jug of fragrant duck broth and a sexy little crostini piped with a rich blob of duck liver parfait.
There was more of this palate-blitzing joyfulness evident in Joe’s lamb main; served both as blushing, sliced fillet and, I think, fatty breast, and swarmed by incredible things like herbed mash, jus-plumped capers and a roasted tomato taken to an uncharted realm of deep, bursting sweetness. But again my dish, effectively a giant fish finger of poached plaice with a fantastic golden Comté crumb, piled with Jersey royal crisps and nestled on a swamp of smashed spuds, leeks and buttermilk, felt both expertly done and a little one-note, taste-wise.
Ambience: 3/5; food: 4/5. Total: £103.50 for two
The Orangery at the Old Manse of Blair in Perthshire is “a venture built on love and conviction”, writes Murray Chalmer in The Courier
Two of us had chicken and goose liver ballotine, burnt apple puree, chutney and oatcakes to start (£8.25). The meat was wonderful; rich, earthy and perfectly balanced. Everything on this plate was harmonious, singing from the same sheet. Our only criticism is that the oatcakes had been replaced by a brioche type bread and there just wasn’t enough of it to scoop up the ballotine, which was so mousse-like in texture it really needed some ballast.
Main courses were spot on. Alvin had breast of chicken, new season asparagus, boiled potatoes, baby gem and mustard cream (£14.95). Now this isn’t food that’s aiming to reinvent the gastronomic experience or win awards for innovation BUT everything on the plate was there for a reason and the whole thing tasted as fresh as a spring morning. Perfectly cooked, moist chicken – a delight.
I had roast fillet of Shetland salmon, herb crust, crushed new potatoes, braised fennel and Arbroath smokie essence (18.95). It was wonderful with nothing extraneous on the plate although, in truth, I didn’t get any sense of the Arbroath smokie essence which you’d expect to be a slightly pugilistic, bantamweight element to a very well-balanced dish.
Prices: Starters from £5.25; mains from £13.95; desserts from £6.95. Value: 7/10; menu: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 9/10; food: 9/10; score: 41/50
The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin describes Sette in London’s Knightsbridge as “overwrought Italianish food” in an atmosphere of “anodyne opulence”
Everything here is over the top: beef short rib swimming in sticky meat juice, its puddingy farro “risotto” dolloped onto the plate with all the finesse of a disgruntled dinner lady, is not so much antipasto as Vegas buffet. Duck and foie gras ravioli — are you ticking off those luxury signifiers, folks? — are strange triangular packages that seep a granular beige goo, an overreduced, sickly squeeze of marsala scribbled on top. These are, as another tastelessly rich American might say, nasty.
Crab tagliatelle: the actual pasta is good, a vast portion under a glass cloche — they love a glass cloche — that’s lifted to release a gust of pasteurised-tasting seafood, an unfortunate cat-foody parp. Main courses (I’m not going to flatter them with “secondi”) are as overaccessorised as a hooker at the Grand National. Fine little collops of veal, gnocchi alla romana, sweetbreads and roasted vegetables: almost an excellent dish, sadly ravaged by another tacky demi-glace and snort of harsh gremolata.
Total: For two, including 12.5% service charge £216
Every sinew is strained to deliver hospitality at the Woodsman in Stratford-upon-Avon, writes William Sitwell in The Telegraph
I started with leeks ‘cooked in the embers’ with flecks of ricotta and a buttery sauce. The finest example of this I ever had was cooked by a man called Mark Blatchford when he had a restaurant in west London called John Doe. He placed a whole leek in his enormous charcoal oven, peeled back the charred parts to reveal soft leaves, over which he drizzled a nutty sauce. This version wasn’t quite as soft and rich, but still mighty fine.
Emily then had a T-bone of fallow deer, which came as unappealing-looking dark brown/grey chops. But it was quite the most beautiful piece of venison I have tried. Rich and tender flesh and not too gamey.
I had a wooden board lined with chunks of charred and pink Hereford beef. It was perfect along with some marrow bone topped with breadcrumbs and a lovely faggot. But I wished I’d had a whole plate of fallow to myself. And I’ve been wanting one ever since. If deer can be this good I don’t know why more chefs don’t cook it.
Rating: 4.5/5. Price: Dinner for two: £70 without drinks and service
The Evening Standard’s David Sexton says everything he ate at Les Platanes in London’s Mayfair was “mediocre or worse”
Mediterranean clams marinières (£10) was a generous portion of clams in their shells, in a buttery, winey sauce, flecked green with a herb, probably agretti. As well as being gritty, the clams lacked freshness, almost worryingly so, served moreover in one of those idiotically sloping bowls into which fork or spoon slip over and over again, a basic annoyance that reveals not just a lack of care, but the absence of simple sensuality, every time.
Our turbot (now £28) was a large chunk, on the bone, slightly over-cooked but, much more unappealingly, tired to the point of having lost its native good taste, a sad end for a noble fish. The stuffed artichoke barigoule on the side was the best prepared part of the meal, a Provençal springtime classic, here surprisingly bolstered with diced pancetta. On the other hand, we were brought a side of beans we had not ordered — and when we got the pommes de terre “grenailles” we had asked for, they seemed hastily refried potatoes that had been sitting around for a while, over-dressed in thyme.
Chaotic service detracts from a truly glorious mess of seafood at Octopus in Guernsey, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer
Scallop “beards”… have the savoury-sweet edge of the best seafood and are satisfyingly chewy. We start with them, but I can see how they would also work as the perfect bar snack if, say, you had investigated the promise of their 50-strong gin list.
We also get a sausage roll, and a fine porky thing it is too, in a pastry shell as glazed as an antique piece of wooden furniture. But the key to the menu here lies in the middle, where there’s a list entitled crab shack, offering oysters, whole crabs, lobster and various fish of the day served in ways many and various. From this we get three rock oysters straight up, keenly priced at £1.70 each, and three more grilled under a burnished Champagne sabayon with spinach and seaweed, which is all cream and acidity and surf and hurrah.
It’s a great way to start and it needs to be, because it takes 50 minutes from sitting down for any of this to land on the table. Waiters have to be flagged down like racing taxis as they attempt to skim, wild-eyed, past us. Generally, if we get the attention of one, they tell us they need to find another. There’s also some shameless upselling. While ordering starters I’m asked randomly if we’d like to add some scallops to that. What? To a huge sausage roll, six oysters and a bunch of curly deep-fried seafoodie bits? No, not really, thanks.
Starters and snacks £3-£9; mains £10-£49 (for sharing); desserts £5-£9; wines from £19
The Dakota Manchester “oozes glamour”, writes Cathy Toogood in the Telegraph
The fifth property in the Dakota Hotels repertoire oozes glamour, from its imposing black building to dark and moody interiors. Embrace this glitzy vibe while sipping a drink in its chic bar, cocooned in a candlelit booth in the restaurant, or relaxing in a tasteful bedroom where attention has been paid to detail.
Sleek public areas are done out in a dark colour palette, with rich fabrics and atmospheric lighting. Venetian blinds between the reception area and the bar, wooden screened booths in the restaurant, and candlelight give the feeling of being on a glamorous film noir set, while touches such as a rag doll cheekily climbing on to a table in reception, a glass-enclosed fire and pops of colour from velvet cushions soften the look.
All 137 rooms have the same classy grey colour scheme, with dusky purple mohair throws on beds and comfy velvet or leather furniture. Thoughtful touches such as a slate to rest hair straighteners on, Sky TV, high-quality Canton tea on hospitality trays, and underfloor heating come as standard, while even entry-level classic doubles don’t feel cramped.
Bathrooms have stylish, gleaming grey tiles and all but classic doubles have tubs, some roll-tops, plus an enormous sunken whirlpool tub in the grand deluxe suite – which is, apparently, the largest suite in Manchester. Upgrade to a garden king room or one of the 20 suites for a complimentary daily-stocked minibar, Nespresso machine and robes.
Score: 8/10. Double rooms from £135 room-only; or from £165 with breakfast for two, year-round
The relaunched Minster Mill in Oxfordshire offers wonderful facilities and appealing, informal fine dining, writes Harriet O’Brien in the Telegraph
A converted mill house with modern extensions, this redevised hotel glories in a picturesque setting on the banks of the River Windrush. It has wonderful facilities including a spa, tennis court and fishing and it offers appealing, informal fine dining with adventurous options.
There’s a simple, fresh and modern look to the 38 bedrooms. With a pared-back Scandi feel, décor of neutral shades is uplifted here and there by colours from textured headboards, easy chairs and throws on beds. There are six garden rooms at the far end of the property, two with their own small conservatories.
Six particularly appealing rooms are in an annexe overlooking the river and have private terraces with fire pits. The smallest, classic, rooms are a bit tight on space.
Rating: 8/10. Double rooms from £150 in low season; and from £170 in high.