“Simple seafood dishes of understated brilliance” sums up Nathan Outlaw’s Siren, which recently opened at the Goring hotel in London’s Belgravia, writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times
“Simple seafood dishes of understated brilliance,” says the website with enviable swagger. And if the first flurry of food to arrive is anything to go by, they’re entitled. Superb homemade bread – even the gluten-free is excellent – with whipped cod’s roe and seaweed butter; crab risotto: perfectly all’onda but with bite, scented with tarragon, spring onion and brunoise tomato, the whole small portion almost overloaded with sweet white Cornish crabmeat. All this is everything I want to eat in a traditional luxury hotel. But then cuttlefish black pudding arrives to thrill and startle. I’d imagined a kind of seafood sausage, ink-stained, but it’s actual porky black pudding, rich and crumbly; instead of being studded with fat or rice, it’s chewy little chunks of cuttlefish. There’s a dome of burnt apple sauce and remoulade of kohlrabi, the whole thing like some crazy Iberian/classic French/full English mash-up that makes your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure.
Sadly, and especially given its fish focus, both main courses could have benefited from being whisked off the heat minutes earlier. Shame: the quality of both turbot and red mullet – the former tricked out like a posh fish supper in proper crisp batter carapace on warm tartare sauce (exactly that); the latter in a lagoon of slightly acidulated butter, punctuated by tiny, meaty brown shrimp and caramelised red chicory – is otherwise as sparkling as the lobster chandelier.
Price: £238 for two, including 12.5% service charge
Arros QD in London’s Fitzrovia “works in parts, grates in others”, writes Giles Coren in The Times
I must say I didn’t care all that much for the “chapas” or “contemporary rice” that is part of the big deal here. It is a sort of fast-food version of paella, cooked in the oven in small tins and served in bespoke trays with a hint of Gucci about them. We had one with smoked eel and bonito flakes and one with rather dry, gritty calamari on top. Not being cooked over flame, there is none of the crunchy bottom known as the socarrat that Spaniards (and Catalans) treasure so much, and after a couple of mouthfuls I got that feeling of, “Thank you, that’s enough rice. I’ll get back to you for some more when I’m poor and starving,” that I also get whenever I eat risotto.
So then I came back, alone, the following Monday, which is now, to have the paella Valenciana with chicken and rabbit… A wooden spoon goes in and lifts the sticky sediment. Underneath lurk the caramelised rice sugars of the socarrat. I stir them into the grains to give them that earthy, smoky scent of the wood they cooked on. It is a good paella. There are big butter beans, or something like them, sliced runner beans, incredibly tasty tiny artichokes, thighs of rabbit and chicken, which are fine, if a little dry, and not really the point. On the whole, these are deep, rich, rustic flavours.
Price: Tasting menu, £85 a head. Lunch with a glass of cava, £140. Score: molecular stuff: 7/10; chapas: 6/10; paella: 8/10; total: 7/10
The Guardian’s Grace Dent is “in the deepest of umbrages” with the newly opened Wahlburgers in London’s Covent Garden
What begins to head in the direction of our table is puzzling. First a cardboard carton half filled with burned sweet potato fries, then a bowl of what appears to be undressed, cheap penne that, on closer inspection, are sitting in a puddle of thin cheese soup.
Kate orders the basic “Our Burger” – made with a third of a pound of mixed cuts of Scottish beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, pickle and Paul’s signature sauce (best not ask). The sauce, I think, is the best part. My Impossible burger is delicious with caramelised onions and sweet tomatoes masking a fake meat patty to the point that it could actually be beef. Kate leaves half her genuine moo option: “It’s OK, but it’s just not the standard of patty you’d expect for this price.”
Here, let’s order a Birthday Cake frappé! “Vanilla ice-cream, vanilla vodka, crème de cocoa, vanilla frosting, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles.” In my mind’s eye, this will be like your birthday knickerbocker glory at Wimpy in 1981: enormous, multi-layered, gooey, fluffy and joyful. It arrives, and it’s a long, straight pint glass filled with what looks like vanilla Complan with a few hundreds and thousands on the rim of the glass. It’s thicker than porridge and will not suck up the straw.
Price: about £20-25 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 2/10; atmosphere: 3/10; service: 3/10
The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is less enthralled with Siren, with the caveat that “it is early days”
It would be sacrilege to coat Dooncastle oysters in panko crumbs and deep-fry them, so the three prepared this way for a first course served on a cake of cabbage surrounded by “oyster salad cream” for £16 are presumably humbler molluscs. The treatment is just about defensible, but a small piece of tasteless turbot in a puffa jacket of batter for a £36 main course, served with warm tartare sauce and sautéed capers, is not. In a perverse way, it feels like an insult to chippies everywhere. As is the side dish of fried potato wedges.
Grilled mackerel with green sauce – more a strident pesto than salsa verde – is dark and murky. Crab risotto lacks seasoning apart from an overload of tarragon – not even a spurt of lemon to pique the flavours. Slices of “cured” monkfish are so blandly innocuous as to almost disappear into the white plate. It is the cooked purple chicory on which flavourless red mullet in devilled shrimp butter rests that is the alluring part of that assembly. Dill sprinkled everywhere stamps with its heavy boots on individual flavours.
Baked hake with fennel and seaweed Hollandaise sports a noble tranche of fish, but best of everything we try – including a lacklustre fisherman’s stew – is cuttlefish black pudding with apple and kohlrabi, a punchy good deed in a disappointing world.
“Chef Stuart Andrew’s concise menu is an object lesson in the value of doing just a few things exceptionally well,” writes Jay Rayner in the Observer, reviewing Emilia in London’s Mayfair
An old stager like vitello tonnato is given a buff and a scrub, while still staying true to itself. The thinly sliced veal is carpaccio-red beneath a controlled Jackson Pollock of tuna and anchovy sauce, with caperberries and translucent petals of caramelised onion and leaves of rocket. It is a grand bunch of forkfuls waiting to happen. As is a bowl of tagliatelle. There is a cream-bolstered sauce of roasted garlic, the bulbs cooked down to a sultry funk and sweetness. Fragile pieces of slow-cooked rabbit are in there, all of it under snowfields of finely grated Parmesan and serious intent. I did a quick check and it works out at just under a billion calories a plateful. I cherished every single calorie. This dish manages the neat trick of elevated Italian cooking: of being both earthy and classy at the same time. Think Tommy Lee Jones with his shoes polished to a shine.
There is a saltimbocca of Middle White, thinly sliced pork lined with prosciutto and rolled over on itself. There are sage leaves fried to a crisp, and a silky carrot purée that is so soft and velvety it could be flogged by Olay as a new skincare product. The whole thing is brought together by a glossy jus, of a sort you can see your reflection in. It is a deep and encouraging plateful. Buried at the bottom is a pile of rainbow chard to suggest you’ve been good. Though if virtue is what you’re after, you want the bronzed piece of halibut on a heap of crunchy green beans with a deep puddle of garlic butter.
Price: antipasti and starters, £6-£15; mains, £21-£32; desserts, £10; wines, from £26
Surroundings may be a touch rustic, but the cooking is anything but at Castle Farm Midford near Bath, writes Tom Parker Bowles in The Mail on Sunday
We start with a peach and mozzarella salad, the fruit charred to luscious softness, the mozzarella as fresh as it is lactic. Roasted hazelnuts and sunflower seeds add crunch, wild rocket its verdant fire, nasturtiums a flash of colour. While a splodge of pesto brings everything together. Utterly fresh, and joyously simple, it’s Italian to its core, a dish of River Café-level delight. At about a quarter of the price.
Pork belly varuval first, originally a dish from south India, but here, served in its Malay form. It has a creeping, robust heat, a strident saltiness, a profound, lavishly spiced depth. Big, bold, brassy flavours, the sort you might expect to find in a Singapore hawker market, churned out by some fearsome granny who has made the same dish, every day, for the past 40 years. A very serious curry. Golden, flaky paratha, gleaming with butter, is incandescently good, a masterpiece of the form.
Price: about £20 a head. Score: 4/5
Despite disappointing food at the newly launched Langley hotel in Iver, Buckinghamshire, Richard Mellor of The Times is seduced by the service, spa, location and cocktails
The third Duke of Marlborough’s old Palladian hunting lodge, just west of London, has become a luxury hotel after four years of renovation. It’s pretty smart too; Victorian mosaic floors in the main house have been restored; the former stables and brewery done up as extra accommodation – the Brew House; and a vast basement spa of pools, Matt Roberts fitness programmes and Sisley treatments installed. Outside lies Capability Brown-designed parkland.
[The food is] delectable and inventive, but sometimes lukewarm. That was the case with my wagyu rib cuts. The stand-out starter was a crispy lobster “sandwich” with grapefruit and chives. The caramelised apple on toasted brioche at breakfast was also impressive, but the continental buffet spread was meagre at best. Hotel-exclusive cocktails in the dark-panelled Churchill’s Bar were delicious: my “Chinotto-san” was the best I’ve had.
Price: B&B doubles from £425 a night. Score: 8/10