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What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

07 February 2011

The Times
2 February
Giles Coren says Heston Blumenthal's pure genius makes Dinner, London SW1, the world's best new restaurant
It is the first new dining room to open in Knightsbridge for 100 years that is not incredibly boring, ugly and joyless. And that is saying something. And the menu is thrilling. And believe me, I am not easily thrilled by menus. I spend almost two thirds of my working life thinking, "Oh God, will I ever be spared the horror of this job?" But not yesterday. For yesterday's menu offered me such ancient British standards as salamagundy, savoury porridge and hay-smoked mackerel, named on the menu with their rough date of origination (respectively 1720, 1660 and 1730), which I knew would be flecked with the authenticity of ancient texts such as William Rabisha's The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected and Charles Carter's The Complete Practical Cook, but then reinvigorated by Blumenthal in the wacko professor method most recently seen in his Heston's Feasts series of historical food programmes.
Coren's Dinner review in full >>

The Guardian
2 February
Dinner reclaims and reinvents our own cooking heritage, reinvigorating the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of traditional British cooking, says Matthew Fort
Over two sittings, I tasted virtually all the 25 dishes on the menu. It says a great deal that even under these intense circumstances so many startling dishes, and some outstanding ones, emerged from behind the terse menu labels. Take meat fruit. What you're served looks to all intents and purposes like a glossy tangerine, complete with brilliant green stalk and leaves. You break the skin - actually, mandarin jelly of great refinement - to find perfect chicken liver parfait, subtle, supple, rich in the way that millionaires used to be rich, with elegant and understated good taste. Or try the broth of lamb (c1730), in which a consommé of extraordinary, perfumed intensity is artfully modified when you cut the yolk of a slow cooked chicken egg sitting in the middle, and by the crisp nuggets of lamb sweetbreads and lightly acidulated celery, radish and turnip dotted about.
Fort's Dinner review in full >>

The Daily Telegraph
5 February
Matthew Norman says if there's been a more flawless and exhilarating restaurant opening in the past decade than Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, he missed it
Blumenthal and Dinner's head chef, long-term collaborator Ashley Palmer-Watts, have gone back to the future, raiding ancient foodie history for recipes long forgotten by all but a few culinary archivists, as in his Feast programmes for Channel 4. Each dish appears on the menu with a date and most with a reference to the relevant cookbook ("Spit roast quail: 1591, A Boke of Cookrye by AW") We kicked off by sharing "Meat Fruit" (13th-15th century), a velvety chicken liver parfait inside an orange ball of mandarin purée and oil, served with sourdough toast. "Och, that's unbelievable," purred my wife of this subtle branding device for the hotel which accommodates Dinner. "The full, rich flavour of chicken liver, but light, as if it's been whipped. And the mandarin really brings it alive. Genius." We were well stuck into a delicious riesling when one of the myriad waitresses delivered two more triumphs. The missus raved about her "hay-smoked mackerel (1730)", the fish surrounded by a colourful honour guard of leaves and set on a salad of gently pickled lemon. "Unspeakably fresh and zingy. I haven't tasted the like since I went to the Tokyo fish market at 5am." Rating: 10/10Price: Three courses with wine: £90-£100Norman's Dinner review in full >>

The London Evening Standard
3 February
Fay Maschler finds a few faults at Dinner but loves the meat fruit and desserts
Turkey pudding resembled a log of boudin blanc rolled in fine crumbs. "The level of technical expertise needed to produce that is worthy of the late Bernard Matthews," pronounced Rowley [Leigh]. Despite garnishes of girolles and cockscombs (more a texture than a taste) it was deeply dull compared to the excellent Beef Royal, a 72-hour slow-cooked short rib of Angus served with smoked anchovy and onion purée and ox tongue. Were a vegetarian to stray misguidedly into Dinner, he or she might well be disappointed by the £20 dish of Braised Celery (c. 1730) with Parmesan, pickled walnuts, apples and onion, which we shared. What tipped the meal into four-star territory were the desserts. Pastry chef James "Jockey" Petrie is a brilliant, apparently rather scary practitioner. Tipsy Cake (c.1810), the lightest creamiest imaginable brioche baked in an iron cocotte, comes with a slice of roasted pineapple burnished on a rotisserie that is turned by a giant clock mechanism in front of an open gas - a pity about it being gas - fire in the high visibility kitchen. Taffety Tart (c.1660) with candied rose petals featured the most incredibly intense blackcurrant sorbet. A filling of caramel made with Jersey cream boldly cut with lemon erupted from a baked suet pudding. Rating: 4/5
Price: A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about £180
Maschler's Dinner review in full >>

The Guardian
5 February
John Lanchester says there's a lot to be said for sticking to what you're good at - and Koya, London W1, is very good at making noodles indeed
Koya serves a variety of peripheral dishes, tempura and miso soup and whatnot. My advice would be to skip them and stick to the udon. (One side dish of mixed tempura included banana - what's that all about?) There are three basic types of dish: atsu-atsu, or hot udon in hot broth; hiya-atsu, cold udon served with hot broth to dip in; and hiya-hiya, cold udon served with a cold sauce to dip in or pour over. Broadly speaking, the hot dishes are for winter, the cold for summer. It was a very cold day, but I felt I had to try both sides of the menu, so I had a cold dish of smoked mackerel with fresh herbs and leaves on a bed of udon with a sensationally good sauce. It was so vividly flavoured, and yet also so fresh and (thanks to the veg) so sharply green-tasting, that it added up to a perfect winter cheerer-up. As for the noodles, they were amazingly good, with a mystifying depth of flavour and a perfect texture. The hot dish was a beef atsu-atsu. I think the meat was brisket; slow-cooked, it was falling into shreds, and came with a broth of beautifully judged weight, meaty and enveloping without being too rich. The balance of these components and the great noodles was unimprovably good. Price: Meal for one with drink, about £12-£15Koya review in full >>

The Observer
6 February
Jay Rayner has a patchy experience at the Devonshire Brasserie, Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire But still they come, presumably for the food, which, in places, is better than average. As luck would have it we were told the menu would be changing completely the very next day, so dishes described here can be taken only as examples. None of them is likely to shock or thrill, but the kitchen seems to know what it's doing. There is a carefully seasoned smoked-salmon tartar on a soft blini, surrounded by strips of lightly pickled cucumber formed into a square to frame the tian of fish. A pea-and-tomato risotto could perhaps have done with a minute more, but it is dotted prettily with seared queenie scallops, and laid with fillets of red mullet that fall apart on the fork. A long piece of sautéed sea bass loiters across a coffin-shaped lozenge of curly kale and bacon and, while the greens are terribly over salted, fish and vegetables taken together do the right thing. The use of saffron in a fondant potato, which could turn the whole puck into a lump of soap, is so measured as to question its value. A braised blade of beef, dark and rugged and barely holding itself together, is topped by a disk of buttery oxtail and breadcrumbs, and were it not for the small strand of clingfilm left around the disc, it would have been a marvellous dish. A sweet-and-sour confited shallot cut through the meat assault. We had space for just a lemon tart and while the filling was spot on the pastry was too dense. Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £90Devonshire Brasserie review in full >>

The Independent on Sunday
6 February
Lisa Markwell says Alan Yau's Busaba chain still offers the same comfort 10 years after its launch Still feeling New Yearish, we stay off the alcohol and have a jasmine smoothie (unusual, not displeasing, although it does look like puréed frogspawn), cherry soda and home-made lemonades, which are perfect foils for the deeply savoury, tangy Thai food. The menu hasn't changed in years either, since Thai-food expert David Thompson consulted. Classic starters of chicken satay (£4.95) and vegetable spring rolls (£3.90) are well executed, but it's the green papaya salad (£6.90) I'd recommend to anyone - almost unbearably zingy, with tender strips of fruit and crisp dried shrimp getting a punch of flavour from the chilli heat. That clears the passages good and proper for more Thai crowd-pleasers. Grilled duck with tamarind sauce (£12.40) is rich and tender, cut thick, and I need almost all of the coconut rice, served in a dinky bamboo pot, to soak up the juices. Mr M and neighbour Paul fight over a beef green curry stir fry with sweet basil (£9.40) and the phad thai (£7.40), which is the probably the least remarkable dish on the menu. But it is comforting in the same way that a phad thai eaten at the kitchen counter out of a foil container when you're hungry is. Rating: 7/10
Price £38 for two, including soft drinks
Busaba Eathai review in full >>

The Sunday Telegraph
6 February
Zoe Williams says the food at Kopapa, London WC2, is dramatic but it just all depends whether you're pro or anti that kind of thing We went for four tapas dishes between us, then a main course each, which the waiter assured us was normal (he may have been humouring us). The headline dish is the chickpea-battered lamb's brains with tomato masala (£5.30). I've had brains before, and the risk paid off: icky in conception, delicious in reality. This, however, was icky in conception and inedible in reality: spongy, pale, ominously sweet and a bit frightening. It was like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The chickpea batter didn't leaven the atmosphere. The tomato masala was quite nice. I tried to get a second opinion off T, and he said, ‘I look at that plate and just think "catastrophic brain injury".' Then I remembered that his next appointment, after our lunch, was with a brain specialist, on account of his having recently had a catastrophic brain injury. I could have ordered more tactfully Rating: 5/10
Price: Three courses: £29.05
Kopapa review in full >>

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