Upwardly mobile 20 September 2019 The founders of coffee and brunch chain Caravan are on the move, taking their business model to new Chelsea restaurant Vardo
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Reviews: Bodega Rita's at Coal Drops Yard, Farzi Café and more

08 April 2019 by
Reviews: Bodega Rita's at Coal Drops Yard, Farzi Café and more

Bodega Rita's sandwiches might be the only good thing about the desolate urban environment of Coal Drops Yard, writes Ed Cumming in The Independent

The Bodega menu comprises sandwiches, some breakfast options, wine and a few snacks. There are good vegan and vegetarian options in the sandwiches, apparently, but we ignored them in favour of "The Tony," which as its Soprano-ish name suggests is basically a riff on a New York-Italian sub, with salami, prosciutto, pesto, loose cubes of giardiniera, slightly spicy mayo and smoked cheddar cheese. Written down these flavours probably shouldn't work but they do, aside from a slight sliminess of mayonnaise on cheese, just as they do eaten outside a deli.

The "Debbie Drowner" was even better. It takes its cue from the classic "french dip", an American sandwich where you dunk a beef, onion and cheese baguette in a little bowl of gravy. Debbie Drowner was bread stuffed with cubes of chicken, bright pink onions, a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds for texture, all garnished with a fat bunch of coriander. The sauce was earthy with cumin and hot with chipotle. They provided a spoon, or else you could just dip Debbie directly. Eating it put so much juice on my hands that by the end I felt as though I had done something vaguely obscene.

Between Monty's and Max's and Dusty Knuckle these are happy times for London's elite sandwiches. Bodega Rita's is right up there. Given how empty Coal Drops Yard is, it's lucky they only need about eight people to fill it. When the sun shines you can buy a Tony and a beer, sit outside and marvel at how so much money can go so wrong.


The Telegraph's William Sitwell is left befuddled by Farzi Café in London's Haymarket

So out came an avocado sprinkled with Indian chaat bits. No spice and under the chaat just half an avocado. What did I want that for? A plate of snails arrived. Very nice snails, covered in garlic and swimming in a pond of melted butter. I didn't want snails. Then came the 'cottage pie'. Of course it was deconstructed: little wedges of soft Wagyu beef with a swirl of mashed potato and a spoonful of purple potato. Reconstructed in my mouth, all very weird and tasty, but I didn't want it.

Among all that, arriving at various times came the dal arancini, which were tasty, delicately spiced intriguing mouthfuls. The chicken tikka pieces were so miraculously tender, they almost had no texture and I could have swallowed them whole. My verdict: more odd than good. The plate of dal was deeply dark and ghee-filled. We asked about the rice but they said we didn't need any as it would come later in the form of a biryani we hadn't ordered.

Score: 3/5


"The excellence is in every detail", writes The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin reviewing Locanda Locatelli in London's Marylebone

There's majestically rough-hewn and rustic pizzoccheri - like thick, truncated tagliatelle made from nutty buckwheat and dressed with savoy cabbage and leeks, sage leaves, masses of black pepper and just-molten Bitto mountain cheese whipped through with butter. (Locatelli was one of the first chefs in London to offer regional Italian dishes and this is from Lombardy, his home territory.) There are classics: ravioli del plin - from the Piedmontese for "pinch" - little parcels of veal both delicate and meatily robust, the traditional sage and butter saucing boosted by an intense veal jus. There's a special of house-made tagliatelle in a rabbit ragÁ¹ that renders the bunny as butch as buck. My gnocchi are heaven: you know those people who have kinks about baths of baked beans or being splattered with jelly? I feel a bit like this about these tiny, almost diaphanous dumplings stained dark with porcini, so light you get the sense they're being anchored by their quantities of black truffle. They don't offer up their charms immediately, but creep up on you: almost chocolatey and sexily soporific. I want to lie on them and just sink in.

Price: £231 for two, including 13% service charge


"Gloria cuts through the gloom like a shaft of pure, unfiltered Amalfi sun," writes Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday, reviewing Gloria in London's Shoreditch

From the very first bite, an alabaster mess of stringy, coolly lactic, gently smoked stracciatella, you know that Gloria has both fur coat and knickers. The cheese wears the winsome sweetness of the exquisitely fresh. Impeccably sourced, too. Indeed, once you cut through all of that lusty innuendo, the menu lists its suppliers, along with their telephone numbers. Gloria may be fabulous fun, but it's deadly serious about its food. Culatello is indeed a mighty piece of ham, shaved tissue-paper thin, so it mixes the silken with a great intense oink of hog.

Crocchè (Italian croquettas) provide a joyous contrast of crisp crust and oozing, guanciale and black truffle-studded centre. They teeter just the right side of too much. A pizza 'Robert De Nitro' is more Mean Streets than Bad Grandpa, with an intense tomato sauce, pools of molten mozzarella, fistfuls of ricotta, robustly spicy salami and blistered, puffy crust. It's a fine pizza in its own right, putting most of those 'artisan' joints to shame. But here it's just one more joy in an endless cavalcade of carb-soaked delight.

La Gran Carbonara uses just pecorino, guanciale, egg yolks and lashings of pepper, as is right and proper. But this being Gloria, it's mixed up tableside with all manner of theatrical flourishes, in a hollowed-out round of the cheese. The pasta is taut and just-chewy, each strand caressed by rich, salty sauce that shoves two fingers up in the face of moderation. Strip away all the gleeful excess and you have classic trattoria dishes, as traditional and straightforward as the room is over the top.

Price: £30 per head. Score: 4/5


The Guardian's Grace Dent has a forgettable experience at Sabai Sabai in Birmingham

Service was quite prompt. Or at least it was until one particular set of waiters finished their shift just after our appetisers - the aforementioned toong tong and kanom jeeb, same fillings twice, one fried - and then went outside for a ciggie. This resulted in one of those handover periods, in which there was no one on the floor at all, making me feel like staging a coup and shouting, "I'm the captain now."

Kao pode tord - long, lumpy sweetcorn fritters on skewers - were actually rather glorious, and that laab bet (minced duck salad), although rather one-tone, did display evidence of lime and chilli. A bowl of prawn geng bha jungle curry was perfectly acceptable, with a clear broth that had a definite heat, veg and krachai, although we were now in £14-a-dish territory with a side of nondescript sticky rice at £3.95 on top. We ordered vegetarian pad see ew noodles to see if any great effort would be given to making this collision of tofu, udon and mangetout and carrot delicious. Spoiler alert: there wasn't.

Price: about £35 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 6/10; atmosphere: 6/10; service: 6/10


Peg dares to do something a little bit unexpected, writes Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard, praising the restaurant in London's Hackney

We were encouraged to order almost everything from the kushiyaki-based (ie grilled skewers, with a particular focus on poultry) peg-board menu and we didn't quibble. Chicken livers ('gateway offal', as my friend observed) were richly juicy and lifted by a good sprinkle of fresh horseradish. Leek-like Japanese bunching onions had a scorched, caramelised crust and a generous sloshing of a scarlet red, tickly-sour paste we were told was pickled kumquat yuzukosho. Chicken thighs were plump, with heat-bubbled skin and blobs of a similar, effectively acidic green chilli and jalapeÁ±o goo. A powerfully gingery bowl of ferments and pickles - almost obligatory for this neighbourhood - did not disappoint.

Fried chicken wings were almost dainty; lightly crumbed, dusted in kicky togarashi spice mix and served with a smooth, bright sunbeam of lemon mayo. And while a minced chicken meatball lacked a sauce to punch it up, even spinach and onion weed chawanmushi - that day's variety of an ever-changing, slightly set Japanese savoury custard - won me over, seeping dashi-rich broth and offering a tight embrace of savouriness.

Price: £71.20. Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 4/5


The Observer's Jay Rayner advises readers to be brave and take a chance on the boisterous Seveni in London's Southwark

For the barbecue we have platters of king oyster and enoki mushroom, the strands curling in the heat. There are corn cobs and more rice cakes. This cookery works just as well for non-meat items as it does for the animal. There are ovals of rib eye and scored pieces of pre-seasoned pork belly just waiting to be seared. We pull at our skewers, play with the barbecue and sprinkle on the glorious, uncompromising fairy dust of chilli and cumin.

From the Sichuan menu we get fragments of deep-fried chicken, hidden in a heap of red chillies, which provide an earthiness rather than just heat. You get to go on a treasure hunt in search of prime bird. There is quick-fried pig kidney in a mess of sauce and strands of shredded potato, still with a little bite, with yet more dried chillies. There is a dish described as stir-fried Chinese chive with egg. In truth it's the other way round, which is to say a big, billowy plate piled with the most savoury of herb-flecked scrambled eggs. It's a breakfast dish for someone in need of a wake-up. Only thick squid tentacles, in another of those big, slumpy red-brown chilli sauces, doesn't do it for us. It's all just a bit rubbery.

Price: skewers £1.40-£5.50. Starters £5.50-£7.50. Main dishes £8.80-£18. Barbecue minimum spend £35


The Telegraph's Keith Miller reviews "posh junk" food at Dead Rabbits Saloon near London's Finsbury Park

Apart from the fact that the bone marrow could have done with being a bit hotter, I've got no complaints at all about the food. Wings were crisp and greaseless, burgers sloppy and slurpable (though they pulled a South Street switcheroo on the cooking levels, so my Bill the Butcher was medium and my friend's John Morrissey medium rare), the fries nicely seasoned.

They do that thing of slathering goo over too many dishes, but everyone does that in places like this nowadays. And the burgers are very… tall, which presents a challenge: when you bite down on one side, you have a panic-inducing sense that the cenrtal strata of the burger are slipping away from you on the other. But again, that's a widespread issue - and one that can be resolved with a well-aimed cocktail stick, though this brings risks of its own.

Price: £40 for burgers, sides and soft drinks for two. Score: 3/5


Hotels

The beauty of Ellenborough Park in the Cotswolds is that there's nothing modern or outwardly trendy about it, writes Alice Howarth in the Evening Standard

There's nothing modern or outwardly trendy about Ellenborough Park but that's the beauty of it. A storied manor house, it has stuck to its roots, boasting English country-inspired interiors.

We stayed in the Kauto Star which featured two plump sofas, velvet armchairs, a king-sized bed and two vast wardrobes (just incase you overpack). The expansive bathroom proved the showstopper though. Marble-floored with a roll-top standalone tub, a walk-in shower and double sink, you could while away the whole evening pampering in there.

There are three different dining options at Ellenborough and the food is really excellent. The Horse Box is the pub-grub stop with fish and chips, burgers and pies on the menu and it's likely you will be joined not just by hotel guests but by visitors spending the day in the Cotswolds too. The Restaurant is the fine-dining option. Expect to sample the likes of foie gras with dashi jelly and milk bread, lemon crusted Cornish hake and violet meringues. The sommelier will be on hand to help you select the perfect accompanying wines. For those who want to go all-out, the afternoon tea in the Great Hall won't disappoint either. Expect the full works - Champagne, finger sandwiches, bouncy scones and dainty just-out-the-oven cakes.

Prices start from £209 per night including breakfast


Stephen McClarence of The Times enjoys a stylish and relaxing stay at the new barn conversion-style annexe at the Duncombe Arms in Ellastone on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border

This convivial village pub has just opened Walnut House, a new barn conversion-style annexe across the courtyard with 10 rooms. It's the brainchild of Johnny and Laura Greenall, an engaging and well-connected couple. "We used to drive past the pub and it was in a sorry old state," Laura says. "We said, 'Why don't we do it up?' " So they did, reopened it in 2012 and now, at 7pm on a Friday, the bar and restaurant are buzzing.

All 10 [bedrooms] are elegantly furnished, with writing desks, plenty of plaid and calming olive greens and dove greys. There are comfortable beds, quality bathrooms, Bamford toiletries and long views over open country.

Price: B&B doubles from £150. Score: 9/10

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