The Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa reviews the Fortnum's Bar & Restaurant at the Royal Exchange in the City of London
There is nothing mind-fryingly inventive about some well-cooked British classics and a massive ice-cream sundae. And there are cheaper routes to a comforting feed. But I can think of few better places to briefly hit pause on life in the company of those you care about the most. We left with a fuzzy, festive glow, making plans to return next year. All traditions - even three-century-old ones - start somewhere.
Price: £168. Score: ambience 4/5; food 4/5
Din Tai Fung in London's Covent Garden is producing food "miracles", writes The Times' Giles Coren
These first [dumplings] were eight of the classic pork xiao long bao for £10.50. Each one made of very fine pasta, fully strong enough to bear raising from the steamer with clumsy chopsticks, a plonk into the spoon, a nip in the teeth to suck out the delicate, rich broth, time to pour in a few drops of ginger and then gobble the whole thing down. Lesser soup dumplings stick and break. Certainly at barely more than £1 a dumpling.
Chilli crab versions were good too (£10/4); prawn and pork shao mai (£8.80/4) were done up like little moneybags with a fat little prawn on top; chilli prawn won tons (£7.80/6) were a bit more freestyle, and then the same won ton in a generous noodle soup at £10.80 was perhaps getting to be more carbs than a middle-aged man really needs at this, or any, time of day. We threw down some dan dan noodles (£9.50) with their nutty soup and a good crispy golden prawn pancake (£9.50), although most of the fried dishes were off - such as the gyoza, the crispy won tons and the spring rolls - because, said our waitress, the chef was not happy yet with the quality.
But we were. For it was high. I have eaten richer, fierier, more eye-popping versions of these dishes - at Royal China Club on Baker Street the day before, for example, where I went to set my dim sum dials in preparation - but at these prices, in these volumes, the delicacy and repeated replication of the platonic ideal is nothing short of a miracle.
Score: cooking 7/10; process: 8/10; novelty: 9/10; score: 8/10
Bright in London's Hackney is "joyfully confident, not a beat missed, not a fluffed note", writes The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin
The pure, meaty pleasure of pheasant thighs, marinated in teriyaki, spatchcocked onto metal skewers, grilled with judicious ferocity, is dished up with nothing more than a section of lemon, soured cream and shavings of peppery fresh horseradish. Uncomplicated, ballsy and oh-God-yes.
Arroz negro as inky as its name suggests, smoky-tender squid lounging on top, the whole thing brightened, appropriately, with citrus. Scarlet prawns fired over charcoal, a stalwart since the early days; little wonder - they're a marvel of blackened shells and almost raw meat, the heads, as if by magic, leaching a perfect, pungent bisque. Lamb ribs, the butchest of things, with a smack in the chops of salsa verde. Underlying all this ease and insouciance is real effort: stock made from smoked fishbones, perfectionist sourcing, the kind of pasta dishes that require maniacal dedication.
It's not flawless, but what is? I'm not sure the staff have ever met hungry people before. The lovely Rory, who treats even the most demanding member of our party with patience and wit, seems bemused when we keep ordering. The number of dishes suggested for three of us - a trio of snacks, one pasta or rice dish to share, one main course - is clearly designed for people who subsist on the kind of diet that allows the wearing of leather leggings. We wind up pleading for more of the excellent bread, needed to sponge up the outlandishly lovely sauce that comes with a slab of turbot: cider butter, rich and sticky from a fish still clinging fiercely to its bones.
Price: £198 for three, including 12.5% service charge
Michael Deacon reviews the "resolutely unpretentious" Greene Oak in Windsor in The Telegraph
The menu is long, varied and colourful. To start I had the beef-shin croquettes: fat blobby fingers of deep-fried meat, ragingly hot - although I might have liked them with a little more salt. They were served with a dip of truffle mayonnaise. I wasn't completely taken with the pickled vegetables, featuring beetroot, courgette and artichoke. Squirmingly sour.
The next dish, though, was an absolute beauty: the cod tongue (it isn't really tongue - it's actually part of the cod's throat). Garlicky, salty, slithery, the flavours furiously strong, punchily pungent, and presented on a crunchy great doorstop of brown toast. It might be a bit full-on for some, but I loved it.
My main was the venison, a row of little pinky-purple haunch steaks, served with bashed swede, haggis and elderberry jus. Personally I think if you're going to boast about no 'frills or foam' you should ruthlessly expunge your menu of the word 'jus', and replace it with something more manly and plain-speaking ('fancy watery gravy-type stuff from That London' or whatever). Anyway, the venison was gorgeous, although do order a side of chips or mash because it doesn't come with anything carby.
Price: around £65 for three courses for two, without alcohol. Score: 4.5/5
Lino in London is "dancing on the knife-edge of modernity" says Jay Rayner in The Observer
They bake their own open-crumbed sourdough bread and culture their own butter. They are big on fermentation. Behold, a killer snack of crisp-shelled croquettes filled with the lactic push of sauerkraut and the sharpest of aged cheddars. Meat and non-meat dishes sit side by side, with equal billing. The kitchen works with the humbler ingredients: so it's flank steak, mackerel and beetroot, rather than flashy marquee names like names like fillet steak, turbot and truffles.
There is a sparklingly fresh fillet of mackerel grilled until the skin blisters, with crunchy discs of their own pickled cucumber, or hunks of earthy roasted beetroot with an intense, savoury black garlic purée that demands to be licked off fingertips. An oxtail and potato hot-pot is an under-appreciated extremity braised down to its deepest, tangled best. A lasagne of pumpkin and Jerusalem artichoke, made with silky, butter-yellow folds of pasta, is the best of autumn raised up to the luxurious.
Price: small plates £7 to £10; mains £14-£19; desserts £6.50; wines from £24
The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh has sailed into Grace Dent's heart, she writes in The Guardian
My main was a beautiful piece of cod, browned on the skin, fleshy beneath, sitting on an acutely tidy bed of lightly charred romanesco, plus a Basque-style pipérade made with stewed red peppers and topped with pink fir apple potatoes. [Chef Roberta] Hall's cooking is unique, delicious, risky and completely remarkable. I am a new and avid fan. A venison dish was a decadent plate of mostly brown things: tender venison haunch, some with bone attached, heart and lung spliced up into a feisty haggis, roast celeriac and an occasional pan-fried Brussels sprout.
But, for me, puddings were the real stars of the show. You may feel differently, but it's hard to quibble with a thick slice of soft malt loaf smeared with soft Swiss vacherin, drizzled with sticky mead and topped with freshly shelled hazelnuts. The dish had the simplicity of a midnight fridge buffet, but with Michelin star-worthy swagger.
Price: about £35 a head; set lunch £16 for two courses, £19 for three, all plus drinks and service. Score: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 8/10
Mademoiselles in Whitby, North Yorkshire, is the real deal in French cuisine - and there's not a Gallic shrug in sight, writes Amanda Wragg in the Yorkshire Post
Salade tiède de gambas Á l'ail et Á la mayonnaise Á la truffe translates into a plate of huge fat juicy prawns, sweetly roasted garlic cloves and a deep, richly truffled mayo. Mousse au chèvre is a cleverly constructed goats' cheese stack, the cheese whipped into submission and scattered with sweetly pickled tiny onions, bosky girolles and red onion confiture; it's a very pretty plate of food.
I rarely order a chicken dish when I'm out - it's the one thing I can cook competently at home, but suprème de volaille appeals, and of course I couldn't have made it. Beautifully moist white meat (smacks of sous-vide?) is dotted with grapes, chestnuts and a sublime tarragon butter. My chum chooses the hake supreme (merlu poÁªle avec sauce au homard - lobster sauce) which arrives with the nigh-on perfect duo of asparagus and samphire, the fish cooked bob on. A bowl of veg comes too - almost an anachronism, I can't remember the last time that happened, but there's bite in them so I have to stop being sniffy.
Price: £27.50 for two courses ;£32 for three courses
Fiona Duncan of The Sunday Telegraph discovers a sanctuary in the form of the Lord Poulett Arms in Hinton St George, Somerset
I last visited the inn well over a decade ago. In 2002 it had been bought and revamped by a London couple who did a great job of creating a stylish yet genuine dining pub, full of character. When they decided to sell up last year, the property nearly fell victim to one of the ever-present pub groups that circle like sharks looking for bait to gobble up, standardise and leave for dead. Instead it went to exactly the right buyers, who have done exactly the right thing with their new acquisition.
Which is to leave it, for the most part, well alone. "I fell in love with the place the moment I saw it," says co-owner Charlie Luxton. And if you know his other two estimable hostelries, the Beckford Arms in Wiltshire and the Talbot Inn at Mells, also in Somerset, and you saw the prettily papered hall, the beams hung with hops, the roaring open fires, the carefully sourced collection of country furniture in three user-friendly areas - one for locals in wellies to drink at the bar and two for dining - you would know exactly why.
Price: from £85 for a double rooms per night, including breakfast. Rating: 9/10
Alice Howarth of the Evening Standard checks into the Gara Rock near Salcombe, Devon, for a spot of rest and relaxation
A little Soho-house, a little nautical, the hotel's interior blends style and cosiness well. Taking inspiration from the surrounding coastline, the colour palette is dreamily relaxing with pastel blues, sage greens and slate greys taking prominence. Floors are clad in washed wooden panels and geometric tiling while illustrations of varying sea creatures line the walls. Large sofas and upholstered chairs surround the living room's open fire place and the ceiling is adorned with exposed light bulbs and fishing ropes.
You can tell the food is popular at Gara Rock just by entering the open-plan restaurant. A constant buzz, it's open to locals as well as guests and it's not hard to understand why dining here has clearly caught on. For lunch and dinner, you can devour straight-out-the-sea crab sandwiches, chard and herb ravioli or perfectly pink bavette and finish off with chocolate and olive oil mousse or apple tart with (seriously delectable) Granny Smith ice-cream. If you're staying more than a weekend, the fact that the menu is the same each day isn't ideal, however trying a new dish each time is well advised.
Price: from £270 for a double room two-night stay