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Reviews: Michael Deacon describes the food at Maribel as "exquisite"; while Grace Dent has a "damned good lunch" at the French House

19 November 2018 by
Reviews: Michael Deacon describes the food at Maribel as "exquisite"; while Grace Dent has a "damned good lunch" at the French House

The food at Maribel in Birmingham is "exquisite", writes Michael Deacon in The Telegraph

There was a gougère (a blob of savoury choux pastry) with punchy Gruyère cheese. There was a miniature twist on Caesar salad: cos lettuce, chicken, quail egg, anchovy and Berkswell cheese. There was prawn with cucumber, wasabi and oyster leaf. There were little balls of smoked eel and apple, served on a dab of horseradish, topped with a nasturtium leaf, and presented under a comically enormous cloche, spilling with dry ice. And there was sourdough bread with yeast butter.

Usually I think this kind of preliminary micro-snacklet is a waste of time, designed solely to show off the technical wizardry of the chef. The diner gets next to nothing out of it: one gulp and it's gone, before your tongue has even noticed the thing's there.

The same applied to the courses that followed. First, mackerel with potato, seaweed and buttermilk. Soft light, and meltingly creamy. Then pork, served with parsnip, clam, pear and Stinking Bishop.

Next: sea bass with fennel, shrimp and caviar. Slippery, sweet and salty, all at once. Then veal with artichoke, chervil root and Swiss chard. Tender, rich and nutty.

Two puddings. A mini Eccles cake with Yorkshire Blue (yet more strong cheese), followed by rice pudding with plum sorbet and caramelised milk skin. Both were… Well, you know what they were. I'm not typing it again.

Price: Six courses for two £130 without alcohol. Score: 4.5/5

The Guardian's Grace Dent has a "damned good lunch" at the French House in London's Soho

Borthwick presents a short, pleasing, changeable menu. Some Carlingford oysters. Perhaps rabbit rillettes or pork terrine with pickles. Maybe soft ox cheek with black pepper, or salt cod brandade with soft-boiled eggs. For afters, expect apple and quince crumble with shortbread, lemon posset with shortbread or peut-Áªtre un poached pear. This is classic, earthy cooking. It is a damned good lunch…

We shared a piece of sourdough toast slathered in goats' curd. This arrived with a confit bulb of garlic with soft, translucent pearls to tease out with a knife and smear. We ate that with a thoughtfully constructed salad of roast squash, fresh watercress, pickled walnuts and roast Jerusalem artichokes. A bowl of lamb broth, more of a light stew than a bolshie soup, appeared with piece of pungent, rich Welsh rarebit. We ate brill in anchovy butter with a side of dressed green leaves and a plentiful pot of ridiculous, hips-be-damned pommes aligot.

Price: About £30 a head plus drinks and service. Score: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 8/10


The Telegraph's Kathryn Flett finds "almost jewel-like pretty-somethings" at Coal Office in London's King's Cross

We shared two wonderful breads: a sheeny glazed brioche with a hint of cholla (would that all bread had a hint of cholla, frankly) and an airy pretzel-on-a-stick. "Looks like an Anish Kapoor," said Nick. Then, after more mouthfuls: "I'm already coming back." (Phew! One box ticked).

A little saucepan of hot Parmesan-sodden polenta with asparagus and dash of truffle was chased by a kind of aubergine pizza, with the aubergine as the base, loaded with almonds and coriander, pomegranate seeds, green tahini and pistachios.

"Plate for the Brave", meanwhile, is a series of blazing chilli-based dips, like a snack for the Three Kings, plus a beetroot and horseradish concoction that you can slather over everything. We also had the very zingy shikshukit lamb and beef kebabs, while the appearance of the chicken livers called to mind a tiny Tracy Island set in the eastern Med and made of, er, food. Or, as Nick put it, "an ocean of mash ­lapping against the shores of the isle of liver".

Score: 4/5. Price: £100 for lunch for two


This week, The Times' Giles Coren reviews Berenjak, PittaBun and Maison Bab in London

[At Berenjak was] a koobideh kebab (£10) of goat shoulder (from male kid goats surplus to the UK dairy industry) minced with onions and pepper and moulded round a skewer then grilled. I got one delightful mouthful of the firm, dense, perfectly seasoned meat before Kitty devoured the whole thing.

Their homemade bread [at PittaBun] is good, the spicy fries are all right (all fries, like all kebabs, are better than no fries), the staff were sweet (it had only been open a couple of weeks and we were the only customers) but the "charcoaled slow-cooked pork belly" in the bun was flabby and unremarkable. No discernible char to it. Not horrid, just dull. The tzatziki, tomatoes, onion, mint and parsley came on strangely McDonald's-y, too. Indeed, it felt not unlike the sort of McPitta you might well find on the menu in "Greek Week" down the Golden Arches.

Let me tell you about the 15-hour pork shawarma [at Maison Bab]: it is stacked in-house from free-range meat, then after slow-cooking it is charcoal-grilled for caramel and smoke flavours, then wrapped in a nice, thick rustic flatbread with "burnt pickled cabbage" and chermoula mayo, and is … mind-blowing. The depth of meat flavours, the sweet and sour, the rattle and hum. My mouth cried. My heart did somersaults.

The Times' Marina O'Loughlin wanted to hate the Grill in New York, but ends up loving it

I love the little circle of buttery pommes Anna on a crab cake made mostly of crab. I love the way that the friable skin on my honey and mustard duck breast, dry-aged for a month, crunches in the mouth before melting away like the crackling top of a crème brÁ»lée.

The signature prime rib comes on its trolley. We may have been asked what size we'd like, but are too busy boggling and end up with something that would feed three; succulent, rosy, perfect, a frisson of freshly grated horseradish on top. It's impossible to finish, as are "buttered dumplings", an overstuffed bread basket (man, the pretzels …) and broccoli "Chinois". And that's before we factor in an extra Flintstoney devilled rib that comes with the beef.

Is it worth it? I'm afraid it is. I'll genuinely never forget the experience. I feared it would be Trumpy; it's not - it has class. Is it the greatest, most ambitious, most technically flawless food? Not even close: it's the sort of thing that could be produced by well-drilled, competent line cooks. Good-quality ingredients, done by rote, as reliable as a McDonald's. Is it delicious? Yes, yes, yes: boosted by salt and butter and sugar into hedonistic excess. That duck: mon amour.

Price: $340 (£260) for two, including 20% service charge


The Observer's Jay Rayner reminisces at the Wok Inn Seaside Noodle Bar in Blackpool

The stars of the piece are the main courses listed under "Around Asia", many of which are served in brightly painted stacked tiffin boxes. I'd say "take the beef rendang", but I don't want you to take it, because it's mine. All mine. You lift the lid on the first layer and are hit by a massive blast of freshly roasted spices. It's not just the tiffin tins that are multi-layered. It is one of those deep savoury curries which goes on and on. The gravy is so intense that you crave something to mop it up with to the very last stain against the shiny metal.

That's all right because in the next layer there's a flaky multi-leaved roti canai. It is a true wonder of flat bread baking: buttery, a little singed, lacy and layered and an utter delight. (You can have one as a starter, with a dish of curry sauce for dipping in.) The third layer contains a generous dome of steamed rice and below that is a sweetly dressed crunchy salad. For £12.90 it's both an awful lot of dinner and an awful lot of fun. You pick here, spoon there, fork away and combine. A massaman chicken curry, which they describe as "old skool Asian fusion", courtesy of its Persian, Malay and Indian roots, is no less thrilling or stacked. It is ripe with coconut and peanut and more roasted spice; with the soothing starch of potato and lip-smacking gelatine which only comes with the long cooking of meat on the bone.

Price: snacks and starters £2.50-£6.50; mains £8.50-£13.95; wines from £16.50

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler describes a "consoling time-warp sensation" at Oslo Court near London's Regent's Park

Our first courses of lobster cocktail and trout mousse wrapped in smoked salmon are specials. There is more lobster beneath a particularly kicking Marie Rose than I can manage while still contemplating the roast pheasant to come. It arrives as a whole bird, is taken away to be carved, and returns in gratifyingly juicy pieces coyly flirting with the decorative theme of pink.

I am hoping that his steak Diane will be flamed tableside but it arrives on a plate smothered in its sauce of pan juices, shallots, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns and brandy. He is not disappointed, he says, as that it is exactly what he is expecting.

An array of vegetables - why have just one or two when you can have about six? - is spooned into several warmed kidney-shaped dishes and when plenty of boulangère potatoes are requested the plate is piled high.

Score: 4/5


The Maven in Leeds has plenty going for it, writes Jill Turton in the Yorkshire Evening Post, even if it perhaps appeals more to millennials than baby boomers

Four of us motored through 16 dishes that arrived thick and fast (apart from the noted clams and poussin). Some were really good, others fine and a couple just OK. Chargrilled broccoli (£7) on top of cornbread came in the OK camp. Tenderstem broccoli was accurately cooked, with a decent romesco sauce - peppers, garlic, almonds, paprika - but a slab of dull and dry cornbread dragged down the what sounded like a promising bit of greenery. The crab cakes (£7.50) were fine, so were the clams, though £8 for half a dozen clams in garlic and sherry again seemed a bit steep.

The very good dishes were the kale and the chicken. Blanched kale came on top of whipped white beans, with freekeh and caramelised celeriac.

Our best dish was the honey-fried chicken: two decent pieces of heavily-battered and deep-fried chicken served with a drip of honey and a lively kimchi slaw - crunchy and slightly sour. Indeed, all the "slaws" that accompanied the dishes were good, none of them thankfully dolloped in mayo, but clean, fresh and crisp.


The Resident's Harriet Flood reviews Villa di Geggiano in London's Chiswick

Paccheri pasta served with buffalo ricotta and a pea purée… was so unexpectedly deep and flavourful it took us both by surprise.

We were still raving about it when two plates of buttery black ravioli filled with cod were placed before us. After one bite, I proclaimed it my favourite dish - as I had done with each previous dish, and would continue to do so until we had finished dessert.

I was excited to try the venison and it did not disappoint. Paired with a glass of deep earthy red wine, the meat was succulent and rich in flavour, having been lightly coated in a crust of herbs.



For a great bolt hole with characterful rooms and friendly service, Louise Roddon of The Times recommends the Queensberry hotel in Bath

Stylish yet relaxing, this Georgian hotel spans four honey-coloured townhouses between Bath's Circus and Assembly Rooms. Originally the 8th Marquess of Queensberry's home, it has a sumptuous yet playful look: jaunty prints in the bar, quirky wallpaper in glamorous bedrooms and the whole layout connected by an Escher-style maze of staircases. Best of all, its Olive Tree restaurant was recently awarded the only Michelin star in Bath.

The owners, Laurence and Helen Beere, aim to create the feel of staying in a friend's swish pad, so each of the 29 bedrooms has a different look; period features (cornicing, Georgian fireplaces) offset bold Indian-themed wallpaper and earthy Farrow & Ball tones, with colour splashes in rugs, cushions and sofas.

The beds are heavenly and vintage-look Burlington fittings complement sizeable tiled bathrooms.

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