The Caterer

Reviews: Darby's in London's Nine Elms, Mana in Manchester and more

05 August 2019 by
Reviews: Darby's in London's Nine Elms, Mana in Manchester and more

It's impossible to hate anything about Darby's in London's Nine Elms, writes The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles

Boozy chicken liver mousse is blissfully light, and blanketed in a generous flurry of summer truffle. Sourdough bread, baked in-house and toasted, is charred and chewy. Proof that the bakery is every bit the equal of the kitchen. A lobster roll, New England via New York, melds soft brioche bun with great chunks of fresh lobster, enveloped in a cornichon and roe studded mayonnaise. I wolf it down in two soft, salty bites. A proper slow-cooked veal ragù coats great fat ribbons of home-made pappardelle, the sort of dish you'd hope to find in your local Italian. But rarely do. While there's still more of that summer truffle infused within Baron Bigod, a wonderfully creamy, English brie-style cheese, melted on more of that toast. Smoother than a Roger Moore chat-up line, and every bit as sweet, this is cheese on toast with serious allure.

We share a whole turbot, cooked, just like at Brat, over coals. It's pristine in its freshness, though a smidgen overcooked. I crave translucence at the bone, and the flesh, though sweet, veers towards the soft. A minor quibble, and they let me take away the bones for stock, vacuum-packed and slid into a Darby's paper bag. Earthy, buttery new potatoes sit merrily by its side. There are beef-fat potatoes too, great rectangular slabs of sliced, pressed and roasted delight. In a place that has Irish blood coursing through its veins, two kinds of spud seems entirely apt.

Price: About £40 per head. Score: 4/5

Each dish at Mana in Manchester is a small, fancifully presented art project, according to the Guardian's Grace Dent

"English tostada with all the flowers of spring" is a play on a tortilla, loaded with petals clinging to its cheesy innards. It's a "Will this choke me?" sort of mouthful that turns out for the best. A small hedgerow of spruce is delivered to the table with chargrilled langoustine attached to spikes and enlivened with cured egg yolk. Oysters are served dramatically, cooked in chicken fat, wrapped in cabbage, shoved back in their shells and served on dry ice, which appealed to the goth in me. Yakitori eel glazed with yeast and deep, red blackcurrant vinegar is a certain star of the show: it is so incredibly funky. Not in an Earth, Wind & Fire way, but more in a Vincent Price on Jacko's Thriller "The Funk of 40,000 years" way. A funk that curls your toes with its all-powerful, umami thrust.

I needed all the wine to help block out the tail of "retired dairy cow" we were then invited to eat with rhubarb and oxalis, and which came with a backstory involving pastures and time resting. I do not entertain such stories. They feel like being taken to see Watership Down as a child, and thinking it's going to be a pleasant story about bunnies. On much safer ground were two wondrous dishes of gaspingly fresh English peas with caviar and plum and, my very favourite, a bowl of sweet, velvety charred onion petals with fermented barley and kelp.

Price: Set menus only, dinner £105 a head, plus £75 matching wine flight; Sat lunch £50, plus £45 wine flight, all plus service. Score: Food: 9/10; service: 9/10; atmosphere: 7/10


Littlefrench in Bristol is "warm and welcoming and delicious", writes Marina O'Loughlin in the Sunday Times

The undoubted showstopper is a vast, whole John Dory - a fish that should be every bit as revered as the now de rigueur turbot - roasted whole in brown paper so its flesh yields perfect, meaty fillets at the touch of a knife and we wind up playing winkle-out-the-cheek for the last hidden nugget. Or maybe it's the chips. Golden, crisp, salty, plunged through the fish's sauce - the scene-stealing bastard child of hollandaise and tartare, rich with tarragon - these are unmissable. One pal suggests they might be "too crispy"; he is now dead to me.

Price: £178 for four, including 12.5% service charge


The Telegraph's Keith Miller says flavours are "bold and original" at Haywards restaurant in Epping, Essex

Out of fully four (four!) star-chasing amuses, one was a melon-and-ginger shot that grabbed us by the scruff of the neck, plonked us on to the groin-mangling bucket seat of a metaphorical Raleigh Chopper and freewheeled us back to the seventies - a time, presumably, before chef Jahdre Hayward was born; another a mini Bakewell tart of the kind consumed in bulk by my namesake Keith Talent in Martin Amis's last vaguely good novel, London Fields (1989).

Hayward's food, we thought, was beautifully presented, with leaves, flowers, micro-squeezings and, in the case of my quail starter, a crisped-up squiggle of rÁ¶sti that belonged on a hat in a Cecil Beaton photograph, skilfully deployed to jazz up the main ingredients on the plate.

Flavours were bold and original. A fantastic main of roast cauliflower didn't follow the beaten path of Ottolenghoid Orientalism, but took the road less travelled by, arriving with a Sicilian-style sauce (pine nuts, raisins, capers - it's usually eaten with fish) and some lovely little cylindrical ricotta dumplings.

Price: £140 for lunch for two. Score: 3.5/5

Margot Belfast
Margot Belfast

The Belfast Telegraph's Joris Minne describes Margot in Belfast as "cool and confident"

[The] spatchcock chicken is excellent having marinated long enough and grilled robustly well to create char and retain moisture. Gunner says he loves it. The halved langoustines have been briefly grilled and have a smoky cayenne bite.

They sit atop a lush little mound of linguine shot through with grilled courgettes, tomato sauce, ricotta and dill. It is lively and sparky and demands a decent glass of Chardonnay which they sell by the glass.

Cocktails are a key Margot feature and today's millennials take this kind of thing very seriously. Which means therefore that you will find Margot's own spin on the Irish coffee. Drinks here are "curated".

It's a cool, confident and very Belfast kind of place.

Long may Margot be with us.

Price: £37 per head

The Times' Giles Coren discovers "mostly brilliant" reimagined pub classics at the Swan in Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire

After pints of cider and Hooky from just down the road, it was chopped hanger steak with fresh horseradish and big crispy croutons laid over it with capers, parsley and a cool, sweet tomato dressing, tuna tartare cubed quite large with avocado and wasabi, scattered seeds and a pile of pink pickled ginger, asparagus spears with some fresh peas, Cantabrian anchovies and hazelnuts, all cool and crisp under a warm, runny coddled egg and a possibly somewhat overfiddled plate of crab meat with a boiled egg, separated and grated into separate piles of white and yellow, with colourful sploshes of other adornments - you could just sling someone a plate of picked crab and some toast and they'd be delighted.

The best of the starters, for me, was the bowl of barbecued native prawns with more of those lovely peas in a rich, spicy, yabbering sauce of garlic butter and Chipping Norton 'nduja. Yes, Chipping Norton 'nduja - even I laughed. Heaven knows what Adrian would have done. But it was perfectly judged in its summer heartiness and not overpresented at all, just slung down in front of you like they would in Spain, a meaty shellfish dish with delirious porky fish juices in the bottom and real Mediterranean heft.

Price £45 per head. Score: Cooking: 7/10; service: 9/10; Cotswolds: 10/10; score: 8.67/10

Bob's Lobster
Bob's Lobster

The Observer's Jay Rayner says Bob's Lobster at London Bridge is big on flavours and huge on joy

Behold: a deep, soothing bowl of a wine and cream-based chowder, bobbing with Ford Cortina-orange mussels, into which has been dumped a whole serving of rather good chips. Pile a few more pert mussels on top, along with a bacon crumb and finely diced green herbs and spring onions to make it look like all the vital food groups have been covered, and there you have it: solace in a bowl. It's a pescatarian take on Lancashire's classic chips and gravy. The ones on the top are crisp; the ones beneath are a yielding soggy mess of cream and seafood and potato and profundity. Lean over and shovel it in, until your cheeks are slicked with soup and the bad thoughts have gone away.

Shrimp and grits includes both those things: a large portion of big, shell-on shrimps and a sticky puddle of ground cornmeal grits, shown a good time in the open kitchen. The thick, gooey cornmeal has been spiked with jalapeÁ±os and bacon (if in doubt, add bacon. As we know, this is a fine code by which to live.) The prawns have been sautéed and the pan deglazed with bourbon. The boozy, buttery mess has then been poured all over the dish. It's not subtle, but it is good.

Price: Snacks and small plates, £3.50-£11; large plates, £12-£22; seafood tower, £40; desserts, £6; wines, from £25


Eight hotel
Eight hotel

Jessie Thompson of the Evening Standard says the newly opened Eight boutique hotel is now one of the best places to stay in Bath

This independent boutique hotel is based around a simple but effective concept: it's a converted townhouse and restaurant, with eight rooms and eight dishes. In a building that dates back to the 1400s, it stylishly combines modern decor with historic architecture, meaning guests feel part of a slice of history without missing any of the mod cons. The big Georgian bay windows that frame the restaurant and reception downstairs nicely frame what might otherwise feel like quite dainty rooms; they're also great for people watching.

Each of the rooms are tastefully decorated with a mix of simple soft furnishings with the odd quirky print thrown in, giving a splash of colour. Given they are each tucked around a winding central staircase, they are deceptively big in size too. Each room has its own en suite, and the biggest room, on the first floor, has a bath in the bedroom (and a TV that magically rises out of the bottom of the bed at the press of a button).

Price: Rooms start from £105 a night, including breakfast

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