The Times, 12 January
Giles Coren visits Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London W1
It has always been possible to make social and historical generalisations about the arrival of great French chefs in England. Generalisations are usually wrong, but they often seem right at the time, and historians make them because if they come off they can make a chap look awfully clever. For example, I think it is fair to say that the beginnings of modern British cuisine can be traced back to the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when our aristocrats returned from exile in France, bringing with them French chefs to cater for the exotic new tastes they had acquired during the interregnum. Is that true?
The Daily Telegraph, 12 January
Mark Palmer visits the Horse and Groom, Bourton on the Hill, Gloucestershire
People don't use the term "up-market" as much as they once did. In the late 80s and early 90s, it tripped effortlessly off lazy tongues in the same manner as the dreadful expression "been there, done that" (and even worse add-ons such as "got the T-shirt"). Now, it's been replaced by either "up-scale" or "high-end", both indicating intent but not necessarily complete execution. Something similar has been happening by way of food in pubs. First, there was plain pub grub (chilli con carne, scampi in a basket), then along came the noisy, self-confident, stripy-shirted gastropub and now something altogether more "high-end" is plying its trade: the restaurant with rooms. In Bourton on the Hill, in the heart of the Cotswolds, Horse and Groom is a classic of the genre, straining to be a little bit of everything but not quite managing to be anything in particular.
Horse and Groom - The Daily Telegraph review in full >>
The Independent on Sunday, 12 January
Terry Durack visits Beach Blanket Babylon, London E1
I do so love a good wet/dry split. That's the ratio between sales of drink and food, according to those old romantics in the hospitality industry. At the new east London incarnation of Notting Hill's 18-year-old bar-restaurant Beach Blanket Babylon, the split is apparently 50/50, but I don't think anyone has told the punters, most of whom seem to think eating is cheating. Two girls sit up at the bar sharing a plate of chips and a bottle of wine (90/10?), and six City boys at the long, bare wooden table next to me order steaks to go with the cocktails, wines and beers that surround them (70/30?). I start with the princess of cocktails, an expertly tended Porn Star Martini (£7.50), a legendary mix of Cariel vanilla vodka, vanilla sugar, PassoÁ¡ passion-fruit liqueur and passion-fruit pulp, first created by mixologist Douglas Ankrah, founder of the London Academy of Bartending. The punchy, zingy contents of the oversize Martini glass are Paris Hilton blonde while the vanilla gives it a touch of girl-next-door Kylie Minogue. It also comes with a shot glass of champagne that lifts it right up to Grace Kelly status. It is a gorgeous thing.
Beach Blanket Babylon -The Independent on Sunday review in full >>
The Observer, 13 January
Jay Rayner visits Lumiere, Cheltenham
Help! Come quick! I am sinking beneath a tide of press releases. Big ticket, overblown, massively hyped new London restaurants are opening at such a speed - here comes Hibiscus, here comes Ducasse, here's the new place from that nice chap who used to feed Princess Di - that even with my profane, herculean, gold medal-winning appetite I have not a hope in hell of keeping up. I can at least watch a lot of rich people risk their money. The investment to launch these places was pledged a while back when everything was gilt-edged; now, house prices are falling, negative equity is the new dinner party topic (if you can afford to hold dinner parties) and £100-a-head meals are going on to the back burner. I can't claim to know who it will be, but in the next few months some big investors are going to lose a shed-load of money. Which is nice.
Lumiere - The Observer review in ful >>
Jan Moir visits Hostaria Del Mare, Modena, Italy
Snow is falling on the medieval rooftops of Modena as the city stirs back to life after the Christmas and New Year festivities. The metal shutters of cafes rattle open, as loudly as express trains, while the aroma of fresh coffee drifts along the cold air in the winding streets near the Piazza Grande. Unsurprisingly, most of this city's best and most celebrated restaurants remain closed for the holidays, doors firmly shut after the last tortellini-stuffed customer waddled home in the wee small hours of January 1, 2008. Not even a sausage stirs at Hosteria Giusti, reckoned to be the oldest salumeria in the world (it opened in 1605, and I don't mean five minutes past four) which serves lunch at a quartet of scrubbed wooden tables in a backroom each weekday. There is nothing doing at Osteria Francescana, the contemporary Michelin two star restaurant where Frank Bruni, the feared critic from the New York Times, praised the 'five ages and five textures of parmesan' preparation an autumn or so ago.
Hostaria Del Mare - areyoureadytoorder.co.uk review in full >>
by Janet Harmer