While the competent menu at Rex Restaurant Associates latest venture Colbert, London SW1, conspicuously lacks a wow factor, it will not impede its success, says John Walsh
I couldn't find a starter I fancied (radishes with Normandy salt and butter? Ham with celeriac remoulade? Steak tartare?) and settled for a Salade Niçoise. It's not a manly starter, but it yelped with freshness and looked brilliant: the pungent anchovies laid reverentially over the long, rain-washed beans, the glowing pink tuna tucked inside lettuce leaves, the quarters of boiled egg perfect in their orange-osity. Angie's prawn cocktail was served in a silver chalice rather than the traditional glass coupe, in a 3:2 prawns-to-lettuce ratio, and were coldly refreshing in a decidedly not Thousand Island dressing. Both starters were first-class assemblages, if that's what you want to start an autumnal supper with. Most of the eight main courses were old favourites: Moules Marinières, Steak Diane, Chicken Paillard with a fennel, rocket, radish and tarragon salad, Escalope de Veau Viennoise, the old breadcrumbed schnitzel escalope de veal Viennoise (God, the number of times I've eaten that at Delaunay), a Côte de Veau Roti, hugely overpriced at £36 (was it to share? The menu was silent about sharing)
Score: Food 3/5; Ambiance 4/5; Service 3/5
Price: Around £120 for two, with wine
That duff name apart, Marina O'Loughlin finds it impossible not be infected by the energy at the Ethicurean, a ramshackle former orangery in Wrington, Bristol
Maybe I'm going soft, but it's impossible not be infected by the energy in this ramshackle former orangery. From the poshest waitresses I've ever encountered - it's as if they're putting in a bit of work experience before getting engaged to Prince Harry or something - to the handsome, industrious kitchen brigade, it's all outrageously jolly. Funny, isn't it, how baking, pickling, and preserving have been wrested out of the hands of the Women's Institute and into the mitts of cute, whiskery boys? In among the jams and tray bakes, a negroni arrives with a stick of rhubarb by way of swizzle stick: you don't get much more hip-but-earthy than that. The food is almost entirely terrific, be it the rib-sticking simplicity of a vast wodge of mustard-laced rarebit with a salad plucked from the garden, or the intricacy of soused mackerel, sweet and sharp, dunked in a clear, saffron-tinted broth with rock samphire, ribbons of cucumber and carrot, and a bracing mint granita. There's suitably gamey pigeon breast on a nutty, pearl barley orzotto, all rich with sauce bordelaise; its salt-baked, candy-striped beets are almost too much. Almost.
Score: Food: 7/10; Atmosphere: 8/10; Value for money: 8/10
Price: Three-course meal, £25-£30 a head, plus drinks and service
Stunning views, local produce and bold cooking make the Cottage in the Wood in Keswick, Cumbria, worth walking up a hill for
There are girolles from Loweswater and turbot from Whitehaven, partridge from Alston Moor, that Herdwick from Yew Tree Farm, and Curthwaite curd ice cream. Sometimes this kind of label fetishism can read like shameless grandstanding. But when the cooking is so assured it makes sense. The dinner menu is short, just eight savoury dishes, but some can be had in both starter and main-course sizes. Three are £36, rising to £54 for five. Mackerel arrives, much like me by this point, lightly soused in the way this oily fish understands. Alongside is the sweetness of roasted beetroot, the understated bitterness of watercress and the kick of horseradish cream. A perfect tranche of turbot is partnered with a crisp disc of long-cooked pig's trotter and, to bring it all to life, a whizzy vinaigrette of cockles. Best of all is the big-flavoured Herdwick hogget served both roast and as a cylinder of something rich and braised, alongside a couple of pink fir potatoes and some baby leeks and glazed salsify. The plating may be delicate, but the cooking is big and bold. It speaks of a cook who understands that he has arrived somewhere special and is determined to make a virtue of it.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service £95
The Daily Telegraph
The food's top-notch and the service is slightly over-familiar. Matthew Norman gets - and enjoys - the full dining experience at The Foxhunter, Nantyderry
Nick began with the classical Tuscan dish of pappardelle with wild rabbit, smoked pancetta and baby onions. "The pasta is lovely and light, and there's a strong twang of dill and sage. This is really good," he said, "but", on receiving a forkful, "yours is special." So it was, this alluringly russet-coloured Cornish crab and herb risotto: the rice the perfect texture, and the crabbiness intensified by the richness of the stock. As she set, with a touch of languor, about clearing the plates, AJ continued to prep us for the day Nick and I, in a ground-breaking double-pronged Mastermind appearance, take The Extended Family of Matt Tebbutt for our specialist subject. We learnt, for example, that Matt and Lisa's children, who have a stronger technical claim to call her Auntie Jo than we did, both attend a unisex cubs group; and that all three of her own sons - 18, 14 and seven - adore rugby (what, here? In Wales? Whatever next?). "Another five minutes and she'll show us the stretch marks," said Nick. "I guess you have to be in the mood, but I'm enjoying the whole you're-part-of-the-family shtick."
Price: With wine: £60-£70 per head; set lunch: £22.95 for two courses, £27.95 for three
The Sunday Times
Filling in for AA Gill, Rod Liddle says if you like fish The Sportsman in Whitstable, Kent, is pretty much unbeatable
The main courses are chalked up on a blackboard - although you can, of course, choose the bloody tasting menu. Everywhere does a tasting menu these days. KFC probably has a tasting menu. I dithered, havered, tempted by the thornback ray because I liked the idea of eating something called a thornback ray, then veered away at the last moment and went for the brill. The brill was fab. This impoverished church-mouse cousin of the turbot came firm and moist, on top of a bed of shredded cabbage and surrounded by a light vin jaune sauce, that yellowish sweet wine from a section of France we don't visit too often, the Jura. Alicia went for the hake in a crab bisque, which I hadn't seen on the menu and therefore felt entirely justified in eating quite a lot of for research purposes. Again, dead simple: piece of fish, thinly sliced courgette, crab bisque and very good indeed. I was warned that my pudding was "very adult"; coffee and whisky trifle. I think I was warned about this because, even at the age of 52, I do not resemble an adult. I don't mean that I look young for my age, of course; I look like a fat old dog. But somehow, anyway, not adult. The trifle was basically a deconstructed tiramisu. I'm not sure I like food being deconstructed, not even in an adult manner, but this was fine. My wife had cheesecake ice cream with a pear puree, which I preferred, if I'm honest. A kid's dessert, isn't it?
Score: Food: 5/5; Atmosphere: 4/5
Price: Less than £100 for two
Despite the expensive bill, Outlaw's Seafood & Grill, London SW1, is at heart brasserie food that screams out for a big, bustling setting, not the dining room of a five-star hotel, says Andy Lynes
Our lunch in the quarter-full room (in the first week of operation, word appears not to have got out that there's a new gun in town) is punctuated by exclamations of ‘that looks fantastic', ‘that smells amazing' and ‘this is delicious'. All three apply to whole grilled lobster with orange and rosemary butter. Briny fresh and with sweetmeat cooked to perfection, it's a truly memorable dish. Scampi gets a similarly simple treatment, served as a starter with a rich, creamy mayonnaise and half a grilled lime. Outlaw has a thing about mayo - wonderfully light and crispy cod fritter canapés come with a verdant herb version, there's a warm tartare sauce accompanying the cod main course and a starter of crab on toast is bound with curried mayonnaise. The latter is something of a disappointment. Two carefully sculpted quenelles of sparklingly fresh white crab meat sit on lightly grilled bread. A scattering of finely diced fennel and apple add up to a polite, well-mannered plate that I'd have been happy with had I not eaten the Anchor & Hope's gutsy, rustic apotheosis of the dish.
Price: A meal for two, including wine, water and service costs about £160
The London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler says the cooking at the Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, London W1, is too close for comfort
Knappett, who comes across as endearingly shy, like a new teacher at a minor public school on the first day of term, elucidates the first item, giving more detail than the one word - scallop - on the 13-word list that comprises the rough paper menu. Horizontally sliced shellfish, thin as wafers, are served with pressed pineapple, fish sauce and sprigs of banana mint. Cool, refreshing, a spritely and sensibly low-key start. The word "cod" on the menu turns out to refer to taramasalata served as a dip for pork crackling - a combo I had encountered two days previously at St John Hotel, only there the salted, soaked and dried puffed-up skin wasn't dusted with powdered dried seaweed. Following this was "chicken" - fried chicken skin spread with mascarpone, dotted with bacon jam. Fried skin, then more fried skin must have been a deliberate ploy but it was as hard to fathom that rationale as it was later to understand the profligate hand with butter, first on lobster with sea aster, then tagliatelle with truffle, then in the sauce for duck hearts with nettle flowers and pickled elderberries, and enriching the assembly of short ribs (aka Jacobs Ladder) and beef fillet with bone marrow. "Do you think he has sat down and eaten this whole menu?" asked Joe in a rhetorical sort of way. Probably not, since the menu changes in part each day according to what has been bought, found or foraged. The fact is that the event (you can't call it a meal) lacked syncopation and sufficient rigour.
Price: Set-price tasting menu £68 per person. A meal for two with wine about £220