Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin enjoys the nerdiness of Edinburgh Food Studio; Grace Dent leaves Alchemilla "determined to come back again"

10 September 2018 by
Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin enjoys the nerdiness of Edinburgh Food Studio; Grace Dent leaves Alchemilla "determined to come back again"

You don't have to be a food nerd to enjoy Edinburgh Food Studio, writes Marina O'Loughlin in the Sunday Times, but following a visit you may well be converted

If any of this sounds overearnest - and I appreciate it might - it's anything but. It's a celebration of the sheer hedonism of putting unspeakably delicious things into your mouth. There's a girolles and spelt dish that sounds like a chore, a bit 18th-course-in-the-hardcore-Kyoto-kaiseki-restaurant. It turns out to be so spellbindingly good, so ripe, so buttery, so deep and brown and savoury, so satisfying that I gawp at it like an idiot. (And, clearly, it renders me garrulous too.) There's a sense of fun and excitement about the place, even if they're the scholarly thrills of study and discovery. They roast their own coffee, mill their own flour, ferment their own vinegars, make their own miso, throw their own bloody ceramics. If they weren't so charming, I'd want to slap them quite hard for making everyone else seem as though they're just not trying.

Total: For two, including 12.5% service charge £123


The Guardian's Grace Dent leaves Alchemilla in Nottingham "full, cheerful and determined to come back again"

An opening course called "potato cooked in seaweed, fermented garlic and smoked cream", I felt dead sure would be a teensy squirrel's egg cup full of titivated new potato. (Listen, it's not my first time at the posh restaurant rodeo: I'm not expecting actual WHO-recognised sustenance.) But no - I take that back, because at Alchemilla I was brought a fist-sized baked spud drowned in smoky, salty, sea-herby sauce. I cannot say it was perfect, but like all beautifully prepared carbs covered in cream, it was certainly compelling. I ate it like a just-hatched creature you'd watch on a nestcam.

My high point was the lemon tart. Or a suggestion of one, if what you're hoping for is an entire wobbly slice. Alchemilla's version is as big as a matchbox, yes, but it's a glorious tickle of baked, verbena-laden custard drizzled with Manni olive oil and served with frozen yoghurt. I left full, cheerful and determined to come back again.

Set menus from £50 a head, plus drinks and service. Food: 8/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service 9/10


The Observer's Jay Rayner declares there is still space for another piri piri chicken restaurant in the form of the "delightful" Casa do Frango

The menu is split between small plates to start and mains which are anything you like, as long as it's chicken. Of the small plates the star is the gazpacho, which is what the version at the Painswick was aiming for and missed. It's less a cold soup than a thick, rustic stew roughly blitzed and full of garlic astringency and sunshine. You will want to share it and your garlic breath with a close friend. The right kind of grilled chorizo comes with vinegary pickled peppers and a black olive mayo. Grilled prawns are substantial specimens with lots of good head-suckage potential.

And then there's the main event. On the website they say the chickens are "sourced locally" which I'm going to take literally to mean they bought them in the next-door market. A chicken actually raised in Bermondsey doesn't bear thinking about. They are small, meaty, very flavourful and, at £9 a half, good value. There are three marinade options, though if you don't want the piri piri I'm not sure why you'd come. It's salty and spicy in all the right places. The chips are good, the tomato salad fresh and well dressed and for fun there's the African rice, planted with shards of crisp chicken skin. Rice with crispy chicken skin sounds to me like a great night out.

Starters and sides: £4-£10; chicken: £9; desserts: £3-£5, wine from £20 a bottle

…and Michael Deacon from The Telegraph concurs, recommending Casa do Frango as a piri piri chicken alternative

The piri piri sauce comes separately from the chicken, glowing furious orange in a little glass beaker, like something you might concoct in a school chemistry lesson. I poured some on to a wing and took a bite. Much as I love spicy food, I felt wary. There are, after all, a lot of different kinds of hot, from autumnal glow to raging furnace, and when you go somewhere new you can't be sure which kind you're going to get.

This kind, it turned out, was crafty. A prankster. It started out innocuous, even mild. Then it started to get warmer. And warmer. Stealthily, on tiptoes, the heat was creeping up on me, its face spread with a gleeful, taunting leer. I started to feel nervous. This was going to hurt.

But it didn't. Abruptly, the heat died down and vanished. It was fine. Nothing to worry about. Relief. The piri was playing tricks on me. Anyway: it was good, as was the chicken, which had been butterflied and cooked over wood charcoal. Glisteningly succulent.

Score: 4/5. Price: Dinner for two around £50 without alcohol


In his first review for the Evening Standard, Jimi Famurewa reviews Soane's Kitchen in London's Ealing and finds it traditional erring on the side of bland

Going for gently augmented versions of the 'main and dessert' set lunch menu (an enticing £15 for two courses, £18 for three), we kicked off sharing radishes with labneh and basil oil, and burrata on top of 'zero waste' chimichurri (presumably made with blitzed veg scraps, though all our smiling waitress would offer was that 'the way it's manufactured, nothing is wasted'). The radishes were a photogenic vehicle for nothingy, murmured basil flavour and the crunch of pomegranate seeds. The burrata was even more timid; an oddly rigid balloon of mozzarella accompanied by a splodge of feebly flavoured green gunk and a needless scattering of peas.

I reflexively scanned the table for a nonexistent salt shaker and a theme formed. Mark's ham hock salad - a mass of thickly quartered green and yellow tomatoes, shredded pork, watercress, poached egg, more peas and an unbilled, enjoyably bacony crumb - was good in a clodhopping, sausage-fingered sort of way. But my cod fillet with Noughties-era pea puree, crispy skin and yet more loose peas (by then I half expected a handful to be scattered over the bill) was underseasoned and fairly dismal.

There are seedlings of a bolder, more focused restaurant hidden away here; I hope one day they get to fully flower.

Ambience: 4/5; food: 2/5. Price: £65.50

The Telegraph's Matthew Bayley takes a tour of Xi'an cuisine at Xi'an Biang Biang Noodles in London's Aldgate

The menu - which features glossy photos of the dishes you can order - takes you on a laminated tour of Xi'an cuisine, from street food to cold starters to dumplings and noodle dishes. Smacked garlic cucumbers, sliced into thick batons, arrive first, zinging with vinegar. Pork dumplings are little volcanoes of meaty flavour, a small hole in the top of the casings oozing mild, nutty chilli oil.

The pork "burger" - braised, shredded, sweet meat enclosed in toasted flatbread conjuring up memories of that kebab - is fragrant but perhaps a little dry.
Cold noodles come coiled and slippery, dressed with more chilli oil - and diced cucumber. They slide down with refreshing ease. The showcase Biang Biang noodles - apparently named after the sound the dough makes as it is slapped on the counter during the kneading process - are thick, wheaty ribbons. There are myriad options, but the version we chose came with chunks of juicy beef braised to the point of collapse, the noodles stippled again with oil.

There was satisfying freshness to all of the food we tried, an evenness of ­flavours, a happy contrast of ­textures and temperatures. There was also an otherness, a sense that these were ingredients and combinations we were not ­familiar with.

Price: Dinner for two: £70. Rating: 3/5

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler checks out RedFarm in London's Covent Garden - the London outpost of the New York cult dim sum brand

Three colour vegetable dumplings in an almost translucent wrapping are a masterpiece of construction with fillings discernably different in flavour and texture. These arrive surrounded by sautéed and charred saladings which bring little or nothing to the party but establish the kitchen's fondness for extraneous garnish that embraces a mushroom ragout muffling the chilli kick in chicken dumplings and a version of a vegetable katsu curry sauce floating lamb dumplings with various veg.

"Mains" ranging in price from £12 for asparagus - which farm is that from? - to £36 for marinated and grilled rib-eye steak could be skirted in the pursuit of economy and Sino certainty but if it is offered on the specials board do try Shrimp-stuffed Chicken. Possibly lightly brined, certainly with a kiss of smoke, the piece of breast with wing attached has ravishingly crisped, magically seasoned skin and a Vi-Spring mattress of juicy prawn. However westernised it may be, it cannot be gainsaid when it comes to enjoyment. But Wide Rice Noodles with Roast Duck is just a travesty of ho fun and no fun at all.

Rating: 3/5

Giles Coren thoroughly recommends the Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire in The Times

Sam always has two portions of deep-fried calamari (I'll show him a dead squid one day and scare him back on to lobster) and Kitty mostly has the incredibly good (thick, tangy, charred but juicy) cheeseburger on the kids menu.

Esther drools like a rabid schnauzer at the mere mention of their three Cornish scallops on the shell with seaweed butter (but she won't touch the corals - my family are weird - so I eat those). And whatever else I have there I can't even walk past without stopping for the incomparable tempura oysters, piping hot, crispy and golden as the sun itself, nestling back in their shells on a blob of garlicky crème fraÁ®che, then usually whichever of the fish dishes Louise - who owns the place with her husband, Pete - says is best.

We had all the aforementioned dishes (the burger really is staggeringly good), and Esther added a delicious warm salad of local courgettes, tomato and parmesan and I had a beautiful charcoal-grilled monkfish tail with a curried element to it, a saag aloo-like mound of smashed potatoes and spinach.

You've got to go to this place. The cooking is so, so good. You've got to have a little side of cold Scottish langoustines with aÁ¯oli and the rich, punchy lobster bisque with croutons and rouille. The crab spaghetti is great, the duck rillettes, the profiteroles and the wine, oh, the wine…

Cooking: 8; wine: 9; service: 10; score: 9. Price: For four and a bottle of wine around £140

Nicky Findlay of the Bournemouth Echo finds "quality ingredients, cooked simply and served in a relaxed, friendly environment" at the Boathouse at Christchurch

For mains I had one of the specials, sea bass (£18.95), an elegant dish served with tender Sopley asparagus on crushed new potatoes, drizzled with herb infused olive oil and topped with a generous handful of fresh leafy herbs.

My husband ordered rope grown Cornish moules and frites (£15.95) in a classic mariniere sauce. Lukasz had tried to persuade him to try them in a Thai red curry sauce and he brought a side dish with a sample of it so we could compare and it was a no brainier - the sauce was exquisite.

These days, you often find that seafood is served with overpowering sauces and condiments which can mask the delicate flavours of the fish. But the Boathouse is a perfect showcase for the simple, elegant and natural flavours of great seafood.

Manor House in Huddersfield isn't shy about its quality - and delivers the goods, writes Amanda Wragg in the Yorkshire Post

The menu reads like a haiku. The food looks like one too. My starter is ''carrot, lamb, fresh curds, mustard'' which in no way does it justice. A single, soft carrot is sheathed in something so good it's bad (lamb fat, turns out, oof) with a scatter of herbs and weeny curd blobs here and there. Roast scallop, pigs head, cauliflower, grape is all those things, beautifully realised, the fat, sweet scallop set off with a paper-thin sliver of roast cauliflower. Also on the list BBQ celeriac, roots and whey, which is probably more fun than it sounds, and ''native'' lobster with lovage (£5 supplement). The food is imperious. A perfectly cooked piece of duck, so tender and pink it turns our heads, with a generous chunk of foie gras fabulously offset with bitter, buttery chicory and cobnuts pulled together with a deep, sweet bilberry sauce. It's the best duck dish I've had in some time. A hunk of pearly halibut has justice done to it, with slivers of artichoke, a puddle of the sweetest tomato reduction and sprigs of heady marjoram - this is consummate cooking, confident, creative and above all, packed with flavour.

Food: 5/5; drinks: 5/5; atmosphere: 5/5; prices: 4/5. A la carte meal for two with two glasses of wine: £137


A Master room
A Master room

Fiona Duncan of The Telegraph is bowled over by the magical design of the newly opened Heckfield Place in Hampshire, but highlights the "expensive to stratospheric" prices

There are 38 rooms, six signature suites and a cottage. They are all beautiful, with bespoke minibars, exceptional artwork and many charming, spoiling touches. Overall, they feel stylish, homely and countrified - the sort of rooms you just don't want to leave. Some have gardens or balconies; firepits are provided. The smallest Friends rooms (shower only) are intimate and cosy, but not in the least cramped.

The largest master rooms are huge and gorgeous, with hand-crafted circular tables, desks, sofas and armchairs. In all the rooms, lighting is well thought-out, and the books, alpaca hot-water bottles, iPads for in-room information and spacious storage are all welcome.

The signature suites vary in size and price from £1,750 to an astonishing (for a country house hotel) £10,000. One has beautiful hand-painted wallpaper, another a portrait of Virginia Woolf. Despite their huge prices, they feel homely, stylish and relaxing rather than vulgarly glitzy.

Rating: 9/10, price: double rooms from £350 per night, year-round


Graeme Green of The Times says the Grove of Narberth in Pembrokeshire is a lovely hotel, despite the uneven design not being a match for the high prices

The Grove of Narberth traces its history back to the 15th century and the hotel owners have just finished refurbishing the reception rooms, lounges, restaurants and a cool, contemporary bar. The Fernery Restaurant is the big draw. The main mansion's 14 rooms and suites contain original fireplaces, and antique furnishings are combined with modern features. The Herb Cottages are the most contemporary of the cottage suites, with farmers' tools used as ornaments. The Angelica Garden Suite (£490) is the pick.

Alex Barsby, who worked previously as the head chef under Michael Caines at the two Michelin-star Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon, has put the hotel on the map for foodies. His eight-course tasting menu never puts fanciness before flavour. There are intriguing combinations, such as salmon with wasabi, beetroot, parmesan and lavender cream. There's an emphasis on Welsh and Pembrokeshire ingredients.

Rating: 8/10

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