The Sunday Times, 5 December
AA Gill is amazed at the Bath Priory's attempt to recreate an elegant age that never existed Normally I have a pretty engraved memory for food, but whatever this was, it slid past the alimentary recall without leaving an impression. There was some venison, a lobstery crayfish thing with foam, a partridge that had been dismembered and teased. Was the pudding chocolate? Is there honey still for tea? Can't remember. I think it was all quite good: the chef here is an absentee cook, Michael Caines from Gidleigh Park, who is in the second division of TV celebrity chefs and is trying to create a bijou tasting box of twee hotels. What I do remember are a lot of waiters, and a marvellous tintinnabulation of exotic accents, all of which are mocked by the old English ambience. They offered selections from the bread basket, little glasses of things that I hadn't ordered and didn't want. They told me where the fish had lived, and that today's special words were "nestling" and "drizzled". And I can see from the bill that, as they put it, the grand total for this pre-memorable experience was £166, including a £9 glass of wine. What amazes me is that anyone is still trying to flog this ridiculously laughable theatre of life, this Princess Di memorial version of an elegant age. It's two hours of your life that are taken over by Gilbert and Sullivan. The place they tried to re-create never existed.
Price: £32 for three-course set lunch
Bath Priory review in full >>
The Observer, 5 December
Family-owned Italian restaurant group San Carlo is a chain that knows what it's doing, says Jay Rayner, who visits its latest outpost in Leeds
When the frittura di pesce Portofino for two arrived it was so large, so volumous, that I became suspicious I had been rumbled and they had decided to deep fry the entirety of the day's catch just for me. Then I saw exactly the same dish being heaved on to another table - a pile of golden, lightly battered king prawns, knotted squid tentacles and sizable scallops, leaving the plate almost greaseless - and I realised this was just the way they do things here. A bowl of good tartar sauce, another of a chilli dip. Halves of lemon. A sense that no one really minds if you eat with your fingers. In London they'd charge north of £25 for something like this and make you feel like they were doing you a favour; here, it's £17.70. The same was true of ribbons of good tagliolini in a ripe tomato sauce with a hint of chilli and the contents of half a lobster at under £17, the whole rested prettily on the emptied shell. Calves' liver, with the smokey char of a proper grill, came in an unfinishable trio of thick slices with a butter and sage sauce, and rare as requested.
Price: Meal for two, including drinks and service, £90
San Carlo review in full >>
The Independent, 4 December
John Walsh finds hefty cuts of meat but great attention to detail at Holbeck Ghyll Hotel in Windermere, Cumbria The Ghyll (how one keeps re-inventing it on one's lips as "Holbeck Grill") is a bit of a shrine to hefty cuts of meat and equally hefty French reductions, offset by teensy-tiny, dolls'-house vegetables. My best end of lamb was perfectly cooked, pink but firm and tasty, served on a purée of shallots and surrounded by tiny mushrooms and even tinier carrots in a rosemary jus. It was a lovely re-thinking of the Sunday-lunchtime classic and worked marvellously. Angie's daube of beef with pomme purée, root vegetables and girolles, though not an enormous plateful, was butched up with a dense wine jus that lined one's oesophagus and stomach walls like anaglypta wallpaper. The puréed potato concealed unannounced truffles. The girolles were dark, dense and threatening little French muggers. This was a stonking dish, drenched in flavours, that would have defeated a Hawkshead trencherman, let alone a slender blonde from London. It was wonderful, but it was just too much. We had no room for pudding, but I couldn't resist the crème brûlée with apple sorbet. Its blow-torched roof was as thin and light as a wisp, the cream itself divinely supple - and the final grace-note was a trio of cooked apple slices, as frangible as potato crisps.
Rating: Food 4/5; Ambience 5/5; Service 4/5
Price: About £120 for two, with wineHolbeck Ghyll review in full >>
The Independent on Sunday, 5 December
Mya Lacarte in Reading serves a a menu that promotes and experiments with British produce. But it's not quite good enough to lure Lisa Markwell back for a repeat visit You have to love a kitchen that turns out a pre-starter snack of pork crackling shards with apple sauce for dipping. The menu is at pains to point out that the restaurant offers "British seasonal produce with a fantastic twist", stating that every ingredient is sourced within our national borders - and in flashes like the crackling, it works. Less successful is a starter of beef terrine. I wonder why you don't see this often on menus, but not enough to order it myself, sending in wingman Mr M. One forkful is enough to confirm the reason for its scarcity: the Hampshire-bred meat is admirable, and the piccalilli offers a polite punch, but it's a grimly brown dish in every way. Cerney goat's cheese mousse with beetroot carpaccio and purée, gingerbread crisp and raspberry dressing is as much of a mouthful as its title - a curious mingling of gingery tang, creamy cheese and earthy vegetable, but it works and is very pretty indeed on the plate (although where a restaurant that makes so much of its seasonal and local credentials gets fresh raspberries in November is unclear).
Price: About £60 for dinner for two, including wine
Mya Lacarte review in full >>
The Sunday Telegraph, 5 December
Zoe Williams is rather taken with the Indian café-style concept that is Dishoom in London WC2 P was late enough (five minutes) for me to sneak in some lamb samosas (£3.90) before he arrived and these wowed me. Crisp, golden, insanely attractive, they were everything that fast food wishes it could be but almost never is. The seasoning was just right - hot but not fierce - and so didn't need the tamarind and date chutney, nor the yogurty one, nor the house chilli chutney. All so delicious, though, that I piled them on anyway. P arrived and had to play lunch catch-up by ordering the calamari (£4.50) quick smart. The babiest of baby squid arrived, simply done - breadcrumbs, squidge of lime, exquisite and a bit festive, like grown-up Hula Hoops. P carried on with the spicy lamb chops (£9.70) - black pepper, chilli, cumin and coriander, garlic for sure, salt in a pleasing amount, everything perfectly balanced. The meat was all you'd ever ask from a rack of lamb - charred on the outside, pink in the middle, totally lamby. I ordered the chicken tikka (£6.50), the grilled vegetables (£6.50), some naan (£1.90), some funny stretchy pancake bread (roti, £1.70) and some black dal (£4.50).
Three courses: £17.80. Rating: 7.5/10Dishoom review in full >>