What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

03 October 2011 by
What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

The Guardian
1 October
The huge Honda factory in Swindon means lots of Japanese businessmen in need of food and shelter. And Mount Fuji at the Stanton House hotel provides a home away from home, says John Lanchester

I'd love to be able to report that the food is so good there's no point going to Tokyo, but I can't, because although it's perfectly decent, it is no better than that. A pre-dinner nibble of jellyfish and sesame seeds with tiny flecks of chilli was delicate and precise and soothing; slow-cooked belly pork laced with mustard was superb. Sushi and sashimi were both excellent, and I'd have been happy to stick to them. Grilled eel with Japanese omelette was very sweet, as were the chicken teriyaki and chicken yakitori. Japanese cooking is fairly sweet anyway, since it contains a lot of mirin; if more sweetening is added, as it often is in home cooking and in restaurants that emulate home cooking, it can go over the top. Mount Fuji's overall effect is that of a place where the execs go for dinner and a few drinks, rather than to scale culinary heights. That gives it a pleasant and very relaxed feeling, enhanced by the attentive and effective one-woman service. If I ever get to go to a businessmen's chill-out restaurant in Tokyo, I plan to sigh contentedly and say, "This place reminds me of Swindon."
Price: Meal with drinks and service, from £35 a headMount Fuji review in full >>

The Observer
2 October
Jay Rayner's meal at Bistro du Vin, London W1, was notable for all the things that were wrong
It's just such a shame the whole experience is so terribly mediocre. It's not catastrophic. The cooking isn't so bad that you will be left questioning the meaning of existence, which is a pity. Truly hateful experiences at least give you anecdotes with which to entertain the kids. This is just glum, off the mark, and costly for it. Nobody wants to spend £110 on a meal that makes them shrug. The one good dish was a disc of white crabmeat with brown crabmeat on top, and slices of thinly cut toasted sourdough. Deep-fried sweetbreads, however, were a disaster. They had been grotesquely overcooked and were so hard you could have gravelled a path with them. The accompanying charcuterie sauce was over-reduced to a varnish. An onglet steak was OK, but the chips were limp and dull, and the béarnaise sauce had the over-thickened, gloopy quality of something that had been bought in which, given my legal obligation to assume it was made on site, is a shame. The nicely glazed shortcrust pastry shell on my beef-and-onion pie gave way to a half-empty pot of merely OK filling. Either use a smaller dish or fill it up a bit. Roasted marrow bones had been allowed to cool for too long, and the marrow had started to congeal.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £110Bistro du Vin review in full >>

The Independent
1 October
Christopher Hirst enjoys a wonderful French meal at McCoys at the Cleveland Tontine in Staddlebridge Northallerton, Yorkshire

In keeping with the surroundings, I plumped for a starter of French black pudding in three styles. "There's no way of making this sound glamorous," said John, our waiter, delivering the noir trio. "That's a black pudding sausage roll and that's a croquette of black pudding with blue cheese." The third element, a cylinder of black pudding au naturel, spoke for itself. Sitting in an ooze of dark, fruity sauce, the cooked coagulations were deeply satisfying. How come soft French black pudding is so much better than our version? From the carte de jour, my wife kicked off with seafood mezza of seared tuna, smoked salmon and the best squid rings I've ever stolen from anyone's plate. Though the wine list rapidly soared to the stratosphere, my choice of a £23 bottle called ViDivi, a merlot/grenache blend from the Catalan producer Espelt, drew a consummate plaudit from John: "I've just bought a case myself". It was terrific. The same applied to my wife's rump of lamb, which came in the form of four chunky rosé ovals accompanied by peas, broad beans and borlotti beans. The only oddity was the kitchen's approach to plate embellishment, which looked more like an accidental daub than a fashionable smear.
Rating: Food 4/5; Ambience 5/5; Service 5/5
Price: About £100 for two with drinks
McCoys at the Cleveland Tontine review in full >>

The Independent on Sunday
2 October
The mark-up on the wine leaves a sour taste in Amol Rajan's mouth at Galoupet, London SW3
Wine is allegedly the central attraction of Galoupet, named after its owners' vineyard in Provence and which by appearances has slipped comfortably into the ostentatious despotism of Knightsbridge. It has a giant Enomatic machine at the front, from which 36 wine varieties can be extracted via a top-up card system. It looks like a spaceship designed by oenophile aliens, and the idea is to encourage contemplation of how different wines and foods best align. There is also a basic retail service, so this restaurant acts as a local off-licence for the denizens of SW3. Unfortunately, this makes buying wine to accompany the food very annoying - eventually. For reasons I cannot fathom, at the end of the meal we are shown the retail list, so that only then is it clear how much extra we're paying for the privilege of sitting in this long, thin room, with its clinically white upholstery and tilted mirrors. The last of these are a nuisance, because by hanging off opposite walls, they make it hard not to spend the meal staring at the back of one's head. The summer menu has 14 dishes, six of which come in both small and large sizes, and each comes with a recommended wine. It is mostly underwhelming fare; several dishes have ingredients speaking at, rather than to, one another. They give off noise rather than polite conversation.
Rating: 5/10
Price: About £125 for two, with a mid-range bottle of wine
Galoupet review in full >>

The Daily Telegraph
1 October
Matthew Norman is impressed by the high-end service and chef James Sommerin's complex but unfussy cooking at the Crown at Whitebrook, Monmouthshire
An amuse-bouche of poached quail's egg with tiny chunks of great bacon (a rare case of an ironic reinvention of the English breakfast that works) gave way to fabulous sourdough bread, and then to two sublime starters. From the set lunch menu, I had braised oxtail, all stringy and melty and served with gorgeously browned, semi-caramelised shallots, an unfilled raviolo and the cutest cubes of jellified Madeira you could ever wish to lend a little tang to a gentle dish. Equally delicate was the Idiot's loin of wild rabbit, from the à la carte menu, with almonds, pear and - a novel touch - a rectangle of gingerbread. "I respect the gingerbread idea without quite adoring it," the Idiot observed, "but overall this dish is exciting, innovative and imaginative. This place is making me happy in the way that one of those obscure treasures you sometimes stumble across in France makes me happy. I love the intricacy and effort the feeling that someone has been preparing for hours for no other reason than to delight you." Having for once made sense, he cannily observed the old showbiz rule about always leaving the stage with the audience wanting more, and nipped to the gents. The maître d' sidled over to fold his napkin and lay it at the corner of the table.
Rating: 4/5
Price: Set lunch: £26.50 for two courses/£29.50 for three; à la carte, £49.50 for three courses
The Crown review in full >>

The Sunday Telegraph
2 October
Meat aficionados will flock to Wolfgang Puck's first European venture, Cut, London W1, but Zoe Williams find its slick interiors, macho clientele and full-fat menu a bit rich
All restaurants selling wine at £6,000 a bottle have a ‘luxury' interior - they have to. Most of them coo luxury; some speak luxury out loud, and that's mainly done with a chandelier or five, and good-looking staff. And then, once in a while, a place yells luxury: all the surfaces are so reflective that you can't see who you're eating with, all the art is by Damien Hirst in his ‘why do one painting when you could knock out 15?' era, and nine decorative plates appear on the table before you get to your real plate. Cut is such a temple. 45 Park Lane, roars the art deco lettering above the door; it looks like Miami, only much, much more luxurious. And the other main indulgence is the meat - not just in price, though of course there are cuts of wagyu for scores of pounds, because how else can a table of men out-rich each other? B started with the prime sirloin steak tartare (£19), which was wonderful meat, hand-cut so it had a nice, chewy, variegated texture, with a teeny quail's egg yolk perched on the top, in its shell, and all mixed in with a capery herb aïoli, which was very smooth and discreet. I normally prefer my tartare with a bit more punch, but I realise I've been wrong all this time.
Rating: 3.5/5
Price: Three courses: £58.10
Cut review in full >>

The Sunday Times
2 October
AA Gill enjoys the food at Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi's first restaurant proper, London W1, but says the quality of the food can't justify the prices

Next was presa ibérica carpaccio, manouri and pine nuts, with small bits of ham wrapped round manouri - which I don't need to tell you is a cheese from Greece made from either goat or sheep's milk, probably because the Greeks can't tell the difference from behind. Pudding was a passable cardamom yoghurt and guava streusel. Streusel is the German word for crumble, usually put on cakes. And there was a vanilla rice pudding with pistachio and rose - rice and rose I'm assuming you know about. Altogether lunch was a curate's egg - an expression that comes from a Punch cartoon. The good things were fine, the more actual cooking that was involved, the more surely the dishes defeated the kitchen. The service was charm itself. And now for the bill. Without alcohol, and not eating as many dishes as the menu suggested, it was £150 for the three of us. Without wishing to draw lines or make judgements, I would imagine that quite a few of you would think that was a lot for a working person looking for a quick lunch, in a diner. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that's a long, long way north of good value. The quality of the production and the ingenuity of the dishes can't justify prices of about £12 a plate.
Rating: 3/5Price: £150 for three excluding wineNopi review in full >>

The London Evening Standard
3 October
Fay Maschler says Thomas Keller's French Laundry pop-up restaurant at Harrods, London W1, is a far-cry from the rustic original in California but some of the dishes are sublime
From Yountville California, the French Laundry is the creation of chef Thomas Keller and has twice been named best restaurant in the world. Ruched white net curtains close off the 70-seater dining area. It seems a far cry from a rustic two-storey stone building in Napa Valley. The nine-course printed menu is enlarged with unheralded canapés such as the Atlantic salmon cornet in a sesame seed tuile and truffle and "tea and biscuits" featuring terrine of foie gras and bergamot shortbread. No ingredient is repeated within the lengthy parade of tastes. Some are sublime, such as the Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm, which includes imported radishes, surely showing the biggest carbon footprint for an eentsy vegetable ever recorded. The chowder made with Sacramento sturgeon, razor clams, sweet corn and celeriac is sublime. "Chef Keller likes to eat salt and sweet when he goes to the movies", is the explanation for the caramel, peanut butter, Tahitian vanilla marshmallow and graham cracker content of the "S'mores", followed, of course, by mignardises and an angel cake to take home.
Rating: 4/5
Price: £350 for nine-course tasting menu
French Laundry review in full >>

The Metro
28 September
Andy Lynes says the St John's Hotel, London W1, offers an uplifting dining experience with attentive staff and carefully cooked delicacies
The St John style depends on choosing the right two or three things to put on a plate together and then having the self-restraint and good taste not to over-complicate matters. It's a purist approach that risks putting ideology before diners' pleasure (as I've experienced on occasion at Smithfield), but when it works - and our starters are delicious - you wonder why anyone would cook any other way. So much is made of the intestines-and-mash side of St John that it's easy to overlook the kinder, gentler side to the cooking. There is very little to scare the horses on a menu (which, impressively, is reprinted before we order our desserts to take account of items that have run out) that includes a comforting-sounding dish of bacon and beans and a classic roast grouse. A thick tranche of skate wing is cooked to perfection on the bone (or, more properly, cartilage) and comes smothered in a brown shrimp butter with a few bread croutons for texture. Despite being wrapped in a protective layer of bacon, a boned saddle of rabbit is slightly dry but is saved by a bed of soupy, mustardy green lentils. It's a dish that could have come out of a French country kitchen, belying another myth that St John food is exclusively British (not to mention the all-French wine list).
Rating: 4/5
Price: Dinner for two with wine, water and service costs about £120.
St John Hotel review in full >>

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