The Caterer

Reviews: Myrtle; The Sea, The Sea and more

03 June 2019 by
Reviews: Myrtle; The Sea, The Sea and more

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler reviews Anna Haugh's Myrtle in London's Chelsea

Not one, as provided, but two slender sausages of black pudding neatly wrapped in potato strings before frying served with with apple purée and apple curls at £11 as a first course would not spoil the appetite for a main course of, say, roasted beef fillet with Burren beef-stuffed boxty in a tarragon and confit shallot jus at £32, which is excellent meat but also rather priggish in presentation.

For dessert we share buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb jelly and cinnamon doughnuts. It is a superb assembly, light and wibbly and painterly with the acidity of the fruit challenged by the soft sugary cheeks of little doughnuts. A restaurateur friend later raves about the chocolate tart with orange ice-cream, saying that it is the best chocolate tart he's ever had.

Score: 3/5

"It's all so simple, so clever, so glorious to eat", The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin gushes over The Sea, The Sea in London's Chelsea

We start falling silent at the arrival of a tray of immaculate oysters with two little jars, one of an evolved mignonette with shallots and samphire stained a beetroot purple, and one of chopped hazelnuts, spookily echoing the sweet salinity of the shellfish. Many oysters - those of the Ile de Ré or Etang de Thau, for instance - have innate notes of hazelnut, so this is such a smart move. With each successive arrival, we're more and more schtum: sashimi-sliced cod, silken and tender, with skeins of slender raw potato noodles on top - no, really, they work like a charm: emerald with coriander oil, a nod to Carreira's Portuguese background and, I suspect, lightly pickled, tsukemono-style. The suavity of the fish, the crunch of the potato, the pungent grassiness of the coriander: hush my mouth. Mussels, by contrast, in their buttery miso broth, are a study in relatively conventional subtlety.

I'm worried it's making me gush, but it's all so simple, so clever, so glorious to eat. My favourite dish is monkfish liver, aka foie gras of the sea: miraculously unbitter, whipped through with sorrel and something citrussy - yuzu? On the side, "rice cakes", Japanese rice sandwiched in crisp nori sheets, like flattened onigiri. It's a borderline insane collection of flavours that makes me gasp with pleasure.

Price: £137 for two, including 12.5% service charge

"In a time where those mediocre middle-market chains are falling like flies, this is how to get things right," writes The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles, reviewing Araceli's in Woking

Suadero, slow-cooked beef brisket, reminds me of the Mexican street, that joyous combination of bovine depth and glorious grease. All enclosed within a decent fresh tortilla. A dribble of Zaca Zaca, home-made chilli oil, a splodge of guacamole, a spoonful of onions and a lusty slug of fierce, habanero-spiked El Yucateco, then devoured in three bites. It's a six-napkin taco, as the juices stream down my hands and arms, staining the front of my shirt. There's tinga de pollo too, where chicken is cooked in the most subtle of chipotle and tomato sauces. And, best of all, a cochinita pibil, stained orange with annatto, sharp with orange juice, and deliriously soft and juicy. Again, good tacos are nothing without decent salsas. And I pile this one high with a zinging pico de gallo, plus the requisite dousing of hot sauce. It's as good a taco as I've eaten anywhere in this country. Hell, it could hold its head high in YucatÁ¡n.

Empanadas, bright yellow with a soft, spongy texture, are filled with huitlacoche (that beloved corn fungus with its slippery texture and slightly musty taste), and potato and chorizo. Even the Californian-style burrito, so often a lumpenly stuffed afterthought, is a mighty riot of cochinita pibil, cool sour cream, perky salsas, black beans, chilli and rice. The soft flour tortilla wrapping is as delicate as a silk handkerchief. 'More burro than burrito,' says Bill as he chops the great log in half. Not so much little donkey as fully grown adult beast. Not that we're complaining.

Price: about £15 per head. Score: 4/5

Octopus, chorizo, saffron aÁ¯oli
Octopus, chorizo, saffron aÁ¯oli

Keith Miller reviews the Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote, Oxfordshire in The Telegraph and describes it as "mostly excellent cooking, grounded in the familiar but full of ­personality and surprises"

Pierogi with rabbit were three little stegosauri of joy, the meat rich and rendered, and delicately spiced; the parcels browned and bubbly like miniature Findus Crispy Pancakes, if you remember those. Kohlrabi with pear was arranged in elegant looping ribbons, like the calligraphy on a banknote. Spring lamb was a pair of chops, very pink, with a nugget of buttery sweetbreads and a few morels; pork came with smoked prunes, sauerkraut with chopped sausage (bundled up in a cabbage leaf like a fieldmouse's picnic) and a tiny chalice of back bacon, cradling a pool of sauce.

Once we had taken delivery of a chilled chocolate pudding with Horlicks and vanilla (rich and theatrically presented - a jug of hot sauce, served separately, with which to puncture the hollow top of the fondant puck, a touch of gold leaf, a cute, little abstract expressionist skidmark on the plate - but a little oversweet) and a raspberry soufflé, sharpened with yuzu (quivery, excellent), we ­almost had to ask for a toot on the defibrillator to get us upright and on the road again.

It seemed petty to nitpick about a few tiny misfires in the cooking, of the sort with which devotees of the Proper Sunday Lunch would anyway be familiar (a rustle of dryness in the pork; a faint tangle of chewiness in the lamb; that oversweet pud); and otiose to wish for a couple more sub-£30 wines.

Price: Sunday lunch for two £170. Score: 4.5/5

The Soak
The Soak

The Observer's Jay Rayner is baffled by the inconsistency at the Soak, the new restaurant at the Grosvenor hotel in London's Victoria

From a list headed "Plants & garden" there is a silky cauliflower soup, bobbing with gnocchi flavoured with Comté cheese, and a dish of smoked kohlrabi laid on a bold pea-green risotto of spelt. From the large plates there is a meaty roasted wood pigeon, served pink, in a deep glossy jus with ribbons of fermented mooli. It doesn't need the bullying pickled anchovies. Very few things do. We finish with a bright, sharp lemon tart with buttery biscuit base - I know what I did there - and a masterful dark chocolate and honeycomb baked Alaska which deserves and gets all our attention. And with that we went home and everything was lovely.

Except it wasn't, was it? So, let's go right back to the beginning. A salad of cider-pickled eggs with hazelnuts and chicory is a grim reminder of 1970s pub food when a boiled egg salad was considered classy. The pickling of the eggs, the only thing which might have made it interesting, is meagre and insipid. Hot and sour pickled prawns with a lime and carrot salad reads beautifully. That's the only thing it does. It is a dull plate of crunchy, rubbery things. If you're going to use words like hot and sour, they'd better be. They aren't.

For the money spent, which is significant, the whole experience is deeply unsatisfactory. But it's also something else: it's just seriously, inexplicably weird. And that is what sums up the Soak.

Price: small plates £5-£16. Large plates £19-£36. Desserts £7-£8. Wines from £27


The Times' Giles Coren reviews Hide Above in London's Piccadilly

It's a compulsory tasting menu but not an excessively long one, which starts with a wee cupful of mushroom broth; a plate of raw vegetables - a little radish, one pea pod, a wedge of lettuce, an asparagus tip, a rolled furl of courgette - with a delicious camomile mayonnaise; a sliver of smoked goose impaled on a beautiful feather; a flick of cured beef rolled round a bleached bone; two translucent segments of onion, pink and white, with allium flowers and a single small basil leaf with a pine infusion (a kind of tree tea) poured over it; a single, insanely delicious spear of Pertuis asparagus from Provence (favoured ingredient of Louis XIV and £45/kg to buy when I looked online) with a smudge of fresh, fluffy ricotta made that morning; a little cheese crisp, three slender salad leaves, three pale flowers and a blob of the most perfect, goblin-green pesto; then a hen's egg shell in a smoke-scented nest of hay, full of egg yolk that has been turned out, warmed with smoked butter and mushrooms and returned, deliciously unset. Divine mouthfuls that leave you satisfied but unfilled…

We skipped the optional foie gras with its £26 supplement on very straightforward ethical grounds, and hit the fish course, whose delightful little bream tempura with celery and oyster was a step above the roast scallop on a (liquorice) stick with wood sage honey and saffron buttermilk. Lots of flowers on everything again. And then a meat course in which both options sang: a couple of tiny lobes of sweetbread with a crunchy glaze, almost like Chinese restaurant toffee apples, with a foaming fennel and coffee-bean broth (and more flowers), and an actually quite generous piece of well-grained, wonderfully flavoured Herdwick lamb with smoked cockles.

Price: £115 for the tasting menu. Score: cooking: 9/10; service: 9/10; space: 3/10; score: 7/10

Master Wei in London's Bloomsbury is "pretty damned good", asserts the Guardian's Grace Dent

Some people, somewhere - possibly the large surrounding student population - were certainly paying for and demolishing Master Wei's delicate, hand-shredded vinegary chicken, the dank delights of its spicy wood ear mushrooms with coriander or the cumin beef "burger", a sort of heavily scented, loose-form patty in a non-delicate, flatbread-style bun.

Master Wei is pretty damned good. And that spicy chicken is remarkable: deftly doused in a piquant, sour-sweet ginger dressing with slivers of sweet pepper. It may, at first glimpse, look like a plate of pale-brown nothingness, but stay tuned. The cumin burger is an acquired taste, let down slightly by a bun that's like something you might find vacuum-packed at the newsagent. Thinly sliced kelp was magnificent and came with a bowl of pickled veg that was a face-twisting blend of kimchi and punchily on-the-turn carrots. A basket of chicken pot-sticker dumplings certainly looked the part - flat, brown on all the right surfaces, stodgy and a touch oily - but the flavour was less than earth-shattering.

Price:m about £15-20 a head plus drinks and service. Score: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 6/10; service: 5/10

The Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa finds one of the best burgers he's ever had at Four Legs at the Compton Arms in London's Islington

New potatoes came heat-wrinkled and blitzkrieged with thyme, alongside a brimming saucer of judiciously garlicky aÁ¯oli. Salt cod fritters were more bronzed lumps of carbohydrate, this time usefully flecked with fistfuls of zingy dill, and pork belly skewers offered drippingly moist, flame-blasted scraps of pig beneath a subtle, sweet marinade. Brown on brown, but all of it good.

And then came a cheeseburger (which we only retroactively requested after seeing one making its way to another table) that I now think of haloed by celestial light and accompanied by a triumphal horn flourish. Oh man. It was a gorgeously ragged, thickly charred ship's wheel of a patty, slotted in toasted brioche, and carefully adorned with gherkins, an idealised riff on Big Mac sauce and finely diced onions commingling with a buttery spill of melted cheese; nostalgic, restrained and almost psychedelically beefy, it's honestly one of the best burgers I've ever had.

Perhaps it was the comedown after that, but the rest didn't fully hang together. Greaseless, fantastically crisp fried chicken pieces - served with collard greens, caper-spiked slaw and slices of buttered white bread - were bona fide soul food, but with wincing levels of salt. Ditto butter-glossed, new season asparagus spears, slopped in an intense mayonnaise-style sauce gribiche that, strangely, came over like nacho cheese garnished with chive flowers. A hillock of buttermilk pudding with the mellow tartness of poached rhubarb (the sole dessert) provided welcome respite.

Price: £82.50. Score: ambience: 3/5; food: 4/5



Lisa Grainger of The Times finds a top-quality refurbishment and friendly welcome at Linthwaite House in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, but highlights steep prices and out-of-place works of art

This mansion is in one of the prettiest positions in the Lake District: on a hill within walking distance of Bowness-on-Windermere, surrounded by 14 acres of landscaped gardens. A multimillion-pound investment has transformed it from an English country-house retreat to a polished, international-style boutique hotel: sumptuous velvet, leather and oak, and a world-class - if incongruous - collection of South African art adorns the house.

[The bedrooms are] cosy, solid and comfortable, if slightly suburban in decor, with headboards, curtains and artwork adding welcome splashes of colour. The six new 66 sq m Lake Suites, a few minutes' walk up the hill, are Scandi in style, with pale-oak furnishings and light-filled interiors in muted natural shades. The Loft Suite (from £595) is my favourite, with its free-standing oval bath, velvety blue sofa, characterful ceiling and cosy living area.

Price: B&B doubles from £200 in winter and £285 in summer. Score: 8/10

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