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Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin discovers a ‘foodie's Narnia' at The Moorcock Inn while Grace Dent finds ‘huge potential going to waste' at Severn and Wye Smokery

29 May 2018 by
Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin discovers a ‘foodie's Narnia' at The Moorcock Inn while Grace Dent finds ‘huge potential going to waste' at Severn and Wye Smokery

Marina O'Loughlin, writing in The Sunday Times, describes The Moorcock Inn (pictured) in West Yorkshire as ‘a foodie's Narnia.'

"From the moment "snacks" arrive, you realise you're in for fireworks. Fritters of jack-by-the-hedge (aka poor man's mustard) bound in crisp, frilly batter, the leaves adding such horseradishy astringency, it makes vegetables pickled in homemade vinegar seem sweet by comparison. Miso for mayonnaise is also homemade. Bouncy little whelks come barbecued and veiled in lardo. Their bread, dear God, their bread: solid and softly smoky, with a gorgeous elastic crumb. Divine. And that raw-cream butter: feel free to baste me in this till I'm well and truly done.

"A rib of aged goat the colour of an ancient mahogany sideboard and every bit as glossy is taken round each table to be introduced, like a child at a wedding. It has spent the night basking in the wood oven out back and delivers concentrated essence of goat, like mutton that has lived a truly debauched and interesting life. When it arrives on the plate, wilted spring greens, fatty smoked neck (I think) and a bitter little rubble of sloeberry are its only companions.

"I'm dizzied by the work that goes into a roast beeswax ice-cream. Yes, beeswax. Trust me. (Also, by now I'm on about glass seven from an astonishingly assured natural-wine pairing.) It involves melting wax from wild burr combs and caramelising honey over wood, before steeping in cream infused with thyme and hogweed seeds. Or something. It has the texture of a perfect semifreddo and, as it floods my mouth with silky sweetness, I get odd, alluring notes of the polished, wood-panelled convent rooms of my youth."


The food at Alchemilla in Glasgow is not made to be photographed but to be fabulous to eat, says Jay Rayner in The Observer.

"To banish the memory of the violated globe artichoke at the Farm Girl Café a few weeks back, I order it here and it is the time machine it should be. It takes me back to my old mum's grown-up dinner parties in the late 70s, when this was her go-to starter: the thistle properly trimmed top and bottom and simmered in a little acidulated water, a big generous dish of thickly emulsified vinaigrette for dipping, a little pile of salt on the side if you fancy a quick dredge. It is one of food's great, consuming pleasures. Pull off leaves, dip in dressing, drag over teeth. Ask for an extra napkin.

"From the short list of fish dishes, a smoked haddock carpaccio is ribbons of the same, lightly cured in an acidic dressing, with knots and tangles of roasted and pickled red peppers. The only meat dish we try is onglet, that determined steak cut which makes up for a lack of tenderness with flavour. It is paired with pickled clams and I choose it because it sounds a little weird. But the moment I try it I'm reminded of a dish of onglet with pickled walnuts. The ripeness of the beef and the acidity of the clams dance happily. Across the top are thick leaves of spinach, wilting in the warmth. What's striking is the way the beef has been properly rested before reaching us. As a result, when we clear the plate, a glorious broth of juices and dressing has pooled. It takes a staggering effort not to pick up the plate and drain it straight into my mouth.

"This food isn't intricate or precise. It is not made to be photographed. It is designed to be fabulous to eat. It is the product of extremely good taste. It is hugely satisfying. More to the point, even if the bread hadn't done the job, any one of those dishes would have convinced me I was in very safe hands."


ramael scully
ramael scully

Giles Coren of the Times reviews Scully St James's where he felt like a #fraud.

"Then I took a picture of a row of spotlights in the ceiling above my head. Now, why did I do that? Oh yes, to remind myself to say how awfully trapped and irritated I felt, being pinned to my chair by the searing glare of the spot and how the waiter kindly dimmed it at my request, which didn't really help. And to point out how nice, mid-level sconces on the walls would light everyone much better.

"And then I pointed my phone down again, at a bowl of chickpeas. Why did I do that? Because they were delicious, I suppose. Fried golden and almost crispy with … Are those curry leaves? I think they are. And, anyway, excellent with the little glass of Mount Horrocks riesling we had begun with.

"We had a small piece of monkfish (they age it here in that fridge for a few days to let the muscly flesh break down a bit and develop some flavour) with stinky sambal belachan to help it along and a mild coconut curry sauce called sothi, served prettily in a black bowl. And then two squares of beef short-rib cooked long and slow (of course) down to treacly lozenges, decorated with the slices of radish that used to be on everything at Ottolenghi and are now on everything everywhere.

"So, yeah. Decent place. Perhaps not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. Struggling a bit to marry up its sterile business district location with the progressiveness of some of its cooking, the theoretical zeal of its chef and the Blade Runner moodiness of its interior."


The Guardian's Grace Dent finds 'huge potential going to waste' at Severn and Wye Smokery, Gloucestershire.

"Upstairs is a vast, semi-formal seafood restaurant and downstairs a cafe. There's a large farmshop, too, complete with an impressive, glass-fronted fish shop. The smokery supplies Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and the Royal Chelsea Flower Show; it exports to Bahrain, Singapore and the Sudan. They chip their own oakwood for smoking. They release their own elvers back to wetlands, to nurture eel stocks. On paper, then, everything about the place screams all-new Petersham Nurseries meets a charming Countryfile segment on British freshwater fishing meets the type of place Lynda Snell off The Archers takes you for a scone in a bid to bribe you into playing Suzuki in a culturally insensitive Ambridge take on Madama Butterfly.

"We start with forgettable ‘King's cured smoked salmon' that comes tossed on to a plate with a handful of capers, and lukewarm salmon skin crackling that's spongy and tastes of oil. Instantly, I feel somewhat worried. But the intensely smoked sprats are fantastic. Our request to try some of their famous eel in a dish that isn't a creamy stew containing pork is met with a puzzled: "No, the pork is all mixed in."

"This is a venue with huge potential that's going completely to waste. If this multimillion-pound project were in London, you'd be met at the door by half a dozen keen things with hospitality management diplomas. You'd be rattled through the basic tenets of historical smoking methods, then offered a menu featuring six different ways with eel and elver. It would be a single sheet, but it would trumpet the fact that they have crevettes, sea bass, gilt-head bream, south coast squid, yellowfin tuna and a dozen other fresh fish on site, alongside proper fishmongers and enthusiastic chefs."


Ardiciocca
Ardiciocca

The Evening Standard's Mina Holland reviews Ardiciocca, Fulham, London, where 'first impressions implied existential crisis.'

"[Ardiciocca] claims to be London's first Italian 'gluten-sugar-dairy-guilt-free' restaurant, a change in direction for restaurateur Roberto Costa, the man behind small steakhouse chain Macellaio RC, who - with coeliac chef Simona Ranieri - presumably saw an opportunity to marry the culture of lifestyle dietary requirements with the capital's love of Italian food. First impressions implied existential crisis. Opposite a Mountain Warehouse on North End Road, Ardiciocca's windows featured the eponymous artichokes next to some pineapples.

"Now, a menu with so many food restrictions inevitably leaves a limited toolkit of ingredients with which to supplement textures and flavours. Ardiciocca therefore leans heavily on pickling and fermenting. To start, we ordered a greige pile of fermented Jerusalem artichoke with avocado and a duck egg shell emptied of its contents. While I am familiar with the premise of slow-cooking eggs at lower temperatures for a softer, silkier result, this was more of a biology lesson than lunch, the egg's albumen still clear and quivering.

"A lamb stew with kimchi (obviously) was less the unctuous slow-cooked spezzatino we had imagined, more Come Dine with Me prop. A side of grilled Romanesco was inexplicably scattered with raspberries; sweet potato chunks were the only thing we almost finished. A red quinoa salad tasted of fridge. Cod came with an intensely salted, hard slab of black rice flour 'polenta'; 'seasoned with the tears of Italian nonnas', said my partner.

"We left hungry, of course we did, and £85 poorer. Back in my kitchen, I made pasta with Marmite (an Anna Del Conte classic): when there's spaghetti in the cupboard, there's a quick meal to hand. Amen to that."


Joris Minne reviews Pot Kettle Black in Belfast for The Belfast Telegraph.

"Restaurants in strange and arresting locations are not a new concept. We've seen them on river barges and suspended 100ft above the ground from a crane. One was due to be installed in the former underground public toilets at Donegall Square North, but I'm not sure what came of it.

"So what about our PKB? Two brothers, Chris and Gerard McQuillan, and their mate Michael McKnight, all well-versed in the culinary arts (you may know them already through their other endeavour, Gypsy Kitchen), have taken the lease on the containers and are cooking up all sorts of brunches, lunches and dinners.

"The Eggs Benedict, a vast double confection of two bagel halves, two poached eggs and plenty of Hollandaise, is graced with fine big, glistening logs of pork belly, boosted by shredded kimchi cabbage. It's all perfectly executed; the eggs bleeding dramatically beneath the blanket of Hollandaise at the touch of a fork, the pork belly, both belters of salty and fat streaky meat; the accompanying lovage taking the bad look off everything.

"Other unlikely combinations which work very well here are the crab BLT, with fresh chopped mango and fennel on a slab of toasted sourdough. The bacon, lettuce and tomato all feature, but don't overwhelm the generous spoonfuls of crab meat lodged within.

"Top dish here, however, is the braised lamb flatbread. A Middle Eastern triumph with za'atar, dukkah, yoghurt and cucumber providing all that sultry Lebanese flavour. The flatbread is light and the meat is plentiful, its kofti credentials perfectly intact.

"The three guys deserve to succeed. There is a real passion and love for what they do. They're glad to have your business, but they're happy to show off a few skills, too."


Hotels

Grand Hotel & Spa in York
Grand Hotel & Spa in York

Tom Chesshyre of The Times says the newly expanded Grand Hotel & Spa in York offers a great base to stay in the city.

"This year 100 new rooms were added in a swish annexe at the back of the distinguished redbrick main building, which dates from 1906 and was originally the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway company (you can still see the vaults where its gold bullion was stashed, near the pool in the basement spa). A new restaurant, Rise, and a swanky lounge with complimentary drinks and nibbles for guests who have booked one of the 20 suites have also been added. More than £15 million has been invested and the number of rooms at the hotel has doubled.

"Rooms throughout, whether in the original building or the new one (formerly an Aviva office), are contemporary and stylish, with muted colours and splashes of modern art. Expect espresso machines, superfast wifi, swanky marble bathrooms, velvet armchairs and beds with extra-comfortable mattresses. The cheapest "classic doubles" cost from £140 B&B."

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