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Reviews: You'd have to pay Marina O'Loughlin to revisit Jamie's Italian; Fay Maschler awards a rare five stars to Coal Office restaurant

17 September 2018 by

You'd have to pay The Sunday Times's Marina O'Loughlin "quite a lot" to revisit Jamie's Italian at Westfield Stratford in London

The food that initially arrives is perfectly fine: a "creamy" burrata, splayed over carta di musica and strewn with pesto-slicked, supermarket-quality baby tomatoes. Not bad. And arancini: the rice with bite, freshly fried, nuggets of mozzarella and sun-dried tomato at their core. Their (unnecessary) tomato sauce is wildly over-reduced and metallic with what tastes like paprika, but, you know, fine. So far, an improvement on the likes of Prezzo or Zizzi.

Tagliatelle with truffles is appalling, a honking, salty swamp of a sauce, brown and dusty with nutmeg. Tiny chunks, not shavings, of tasteless black truffle lurk around, like mouse poos in soup. Then the "hand-crafted ravioli" section for lobster mezzaluna (sic), squid-ink crescents allegedly stuffed with lobster, langoustines and prawns. The inky pasta is decent, the stuffing could be anything vaguely fishy. Fork-mash crabsticks, bung in chilli, and the effect would be similar. Its oily, split sauce has been introduced to a crustacean at least once. I'm offered parmesan; apologies to my late Italian mother, but I take it. I haven't the energy to tell you what has been done to the blameless tiramisu to render it "epic", but, with its glossy, chewy dome and lake of sugary chocolate sauce, it is not an improvement.

Total: For two (no service charge) £80 [Threadneedles site pictures]


coal-office-restaurant
coal-office-restaurant

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler awards a rare five stars to Coal Office restaurant in London's King's Cross

Why five stars? Both evenings delivered what can be only be described as the untrammelled joy of enlightening, healthy eating out not undermined by a depressing bill.

Score: 5/5


tast-cucina-catalana
tast-cucina-catalana

"Tast is important, uncompromising, at times lost in translation and possibly not all that much fun," writes Grace Dent in The Guardian, reviewing the Pep Guardiola-financed Catalonian restaurant in Manchester

A long, sweet slice of tomato-topped coca bread comes doused with olive oil that's poured theatrically from a glass teapot: warm, fresh and crunchy, it's devoured and we order another. Aubergine chips, for want of a closer description, arrive on a bowl that looks like an emoji. They're drizzled with a dud anchovy mayo, molasses and sesame, and are oddly moreish while not being entirely delicious. Red pepper croquetas, however, are fantastic: fluffy, crunchy and with heavenly, sweet innards. They're a true work of art.

A larger bowl of shredded king crab appears in a pink, wobbly, marie-rose-flavoured blancmange, to be eaten, I supposed, with a spoon, just like Angel Delight. A plate of monkfish appears. Or, rather, four small pieces of cold monkfish and three prawns on chilled, rather anonymous, beige sauce flecked with a saffron mayo that is saffron only in colour.

Xuixo de crema is showstopping: a warm, plentiful wodge of fresh puff pastry filled with custard, and lying in a slovenly manner in a puddle of dark chocolate. We order crema catalana, too - a rather humble-sounding vanilla custard with a smattering of berries - and end up talking about it for days.

About £35 a head, plus drinks and service. Food: 7/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 8/10


hammer-pincers
hammer-pincers

Michael Deacon gives a blow-by-blow review in The Telegraph of the tasting menu at the Hammer & Pincers in Wymeswold, Leicestershire

The first course proper was a duck liver parfait with cherry on brioche, with a scattering of pistachio. Delicate, subtle, and both savoury and sweet. Next was sea trout with a tapioca seaweed crisp and wasabi emulsion. The wasabi was ferocious. Snapped at me like a dog lunging for a postman's leg. Loved the sea trout: burstingly juicy.

…the fourth course was a corker: pig's cheek croquette with chorizo, celeriac, skinny little sticks of apple and a hot yellow comet-trail of mustard. It was beautiful. Almost as good was course five, a seafood one: shrimp and scallop, with a delicious, fat, pink blob of smoked halibut roe.

It was followed by no fewer than three puddings. The first was a slice of lemon tart with strawberry and elderflower sorbet. The third was Beauvale blue cheese, gougère pastry, quince glaze and green apple.

But the best, no question, was the second: peanut butter mascarpone cheesecake. Smooth, crunchy, dark, light, sweet, salty: a swinging cavalcade of texture and colour. Total joy.

Tasting menu for two: £120 without alcohol. Rating: 4.5/5


perilla
perilla

The Times's Giles Coren is blown away by Perilla in London's Stoke Newington

The menu was small and most of the highlights appeared on a five/six-course tasting menu (£44) so we ordered that. The first two snacks out of the kitchen fair blew me away. The first with its beauty: a shimmering green floret of kale, baked crisp and blobbed with jewels of emulsified egg yolk and avocado. The second with its soul and vision: "Yesterday's bread soaked in moules marinière", a firm sliver of soaked bread presented in a nest of mussel shells and tasting like the perfect last bite of all the shellfish suppers I finally managed to nail on ÁŽle de Ré.

Then burrata underneath slivers of finely mandolined but barely cooked new potato and fresh gherkin with wonderful olive oil; a glistening and varied leaf salad (no two leaves repeated) under which nestled a dune of petits pois Á la franÁ§aise with cod rillettes turned into it; and then five perfect slices of Herdwick lamb, uniformly pink with a ribbon of yellow fat and a paper-thin brown crispy edge, under which puddled a courgette and parmesan cream that was the perfect condiment to it. And the meadowsweet crème brÁ»lée was rich and eggy and - Esther said - sexual.

Cooking: 8.5; service: 9; space: 8.5; score: 8.67


Jay Rayner from The Observer leaves Xi'an Biang Biang Noodles in east London feeling all is well in the world

The beef and noodle dish our man ordered us to have is a great call. Piled on the plate like this, ribbon noodles have a tangled, bleached offal look, as if they were innards. Don't let me put you off. These ribbon noodles are absurdly satisfying: broad, slightly misshapen, slicked in fragrant oils and flakes of chilli. They are the very definition of joyous slurp.

The second dish comes with thinner hand-pulled noodles, in a dark and powerful hot and sour broth, bobbing with chickpeas and brassic greens. There is no way to eat this food elegantly so don't bother trying. Just get your mouth over the bowl, lift the noodles and suck. Festoon yourself in napkins tucked into every crevice of your clothing as if you are trying to mitigate the impact of a blast zone, which in a way you are. We finish with a plate of crunchy steamed greens in garlic sauce, and the sense that our waiter has done us proud.

Small plates £4.80-£7.50, big plates £7.90-£11.20, wine from £16.50 a bottle


The River Café in London gives you what you want but on its own classy, reassuringly expensive terms, writes Jimi Famurewa in The Evening Standard

Taglierini ai funghi, a twizzled, woody fist of noodles and finely chopped Scottish girolles, was okay. Penne rigatello - delicately diced summer courgettes and al dente tubes in a claggy, starchy sauce, bright with lemon and herb-flecked cheese - was far better. The mains upped the ante, with Joe's chargrilled leg of lamb (just pink, served with candy-coloured summer beets and a zingy, subtle horseradish) taking the form of an urbane Sunday roast. My branzino al forno, a doorstopper fillet of wood-fired Cornish sea bass with intense salted anchovy, smoky pale aubergine and the enlivening sweetness of Sorrento tomato, arrived aboard a pungent, mottled gold puddle that I spent a long, long time slurping off my fork. Wine-clouded and surprisingly full, we passed up a run at the famed chocolate nemesis cake and instead had pleasingly rustic scoops of stracciatella and roasted almond ice cream.

Ambience: 4/5; food 4/5. Total: £166.50


"Interesting, unusual… and a real treat," is how the Leamington Courier's Oliver Williams describes the Tame Hare in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Diners are first encouraged to pick two or three snacks as appetisers, which range in price from £2 per person for the restaurant's trademark sourdough bread and homemade butter to £5 for the frozen liver parfait with peach and dhukkah (an Egyptian seed and spice mix). My partner and I ordered both of these options along with the curried lamb fat popcorn which was as interesting as it sounds.

But it was the parfait, spread on the sourdough bread, which was an unusual exquisite highlight of this part of the meal.

The beef short rib with celeriac, kale and truffle I picked as my meat dish was rich and hearty while my partner was very impressed with the sweet and tender nature of her pork chop complemented with turnip, plum and burnt apple.

With the new menu and approach the Tame Hare and Jonny have shown they're able to make bold decisions in what they offer while maintaining the same high standards they have set from their relatively short time in Leamington and continuing not to ask customers to break the bank to experience and enjoy the lovely food they have on offer.

HOTELS

countryliving-st-george
countryliving-st-george

Will Hide of The Times finds the Country Living St George hotel in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, offers a stylish stay very friendly staff

Imagine you're flicking through a glossy home-design magazine, and wonder what would happen if the people who style the envy-inducing layouts created their own hotel. Wonder no more because the Edwardian-era St George hotel, opposite the Royal Baths in Harrogate, has been refurbished in partnership with the monthly magazine Country Living.

There are 90 rooms spread out along meandering corridors, decorated in "centre-spread chic", and the overall effect is a country-house feel, but in the middle of town. So you get muted tones of grey and blue, soft woollen throws and neatly stacked cushions on the bed, combined with smart TV and free wifi. Food is above average, but not lastingly memorable. My rarebit starter (£7.50) was bland, but things perked up with the pork belly main (£17.50). The chocolate fondant dessert (£6.95) appeared just four minutes after I ordered it. There's lots of local provenance, and the wine list was reasonably priced.

Price: Bed and breakfast doubles from £84


hampton-manor
hampton-manor

Looking for a romantic and luxurious weekend in the country Laura Hampson of The Evening Standard recommends Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Ardern, West Midlands

If Hampton Manor were a book, you would certainly not be able to guess the interiors by its cover. Built in 1855, the manor is set in 45 acres of lush woodland and was once the estate of Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel of which their Michelin-starred restaurant, Peels, is named after. While the outside is an oldfangled, glamorous manor, the inside is modern and chic; like walking into a Scandinavian interior catalogue - but with more character. The result is a historic house reimagined as a new-age country estate.

Hampton Manor is home to the Michelin-starred Peel's restaurant where you can choose from either a four-course or seven-course tasting menu for the reasonably-priced £75 and £95 respectively. We opted for the seven-course menu - which turned out to be closer to 12 courses with the added pre-dinner chef's snacks in the Parlour room, the amuse-bouche and pre-dessert among others.

Price: Rooms in the Manor from £190 per night

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