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

13 June 2011 by
What's on the Menu? – A round-up of the latest restaurant reviews

The Guardian
11 June
John Lanchester finds very good cooking all round at the Pheasant in Harome, the Star Inn owner Andrew Pern's other restaurant in the Yorkshire town
The chef at the Pheasant is Peter Neville, a long-standing lieutenant of Pern's. His food is like his boss's, in being inventive without trickiness and in prizing vivid flavours. It cleverly appeals both to customers who want no-nonsense tasty grub and to people looking for something sophisticated and modern. Neville likes emphatic flavours. There was a bit of a paradox on my visit in that the dish that most plainly showed his approach was the only one that didn't work, a main course of oxtail with slow-cooked squid and fried calamari. You could see the idea: that the rich, sticky meat and the rich, sticky seafood would complement each other and be given some texture by the crunchy calamari on top. But the end result was just too much: the flavours went all the way up to 11, and kept going. Still, it showed a real interest in maximising the impact of the dish, and that's the right side on which to err.
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service, about £90.Pheasant review in full >>

The Observer
12 June
Jay Rayner says Soseki, London EC3, is a restaurant that is as concerned with sustainability as it is with offering authentic Japanese flavours
Caroline Bennett, the restaurant's owner, has won a number of accolades for her work on sustainable seafood and was a consultant on Charles Clover's important film The End of the Line, about the impact of the global fishing industry. For all that, Soseki wears its principles lightly. This is a Japanese restaurant which happens to look beyond what happens on the plate but doesn't bash you over the head with homilies. Indeed, if you didn't know about its philosophy you might be hard pushed to spot it. During our meal, there were only two points where it made itself felt, once successfully, once less so. Witness a brace of "unagi", those sauce-glazed and grilled tassels of eel, across lozenges of rice. Here, rather than being fashioned from eel, whose numbers are depleted, they are made from dogfish, whose numbers aren't. Though it lacks the mouth-filling oiliness of eel, it still does a brilliant job. My companion, who had declared herself hardcore when it comes to Japanese food, didn't spot the difference until it was pointed out to her. A nori roll made with canned (un-endangered) tuna was far less successful, a claggy mouthful which did the ingredient few favours.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £100-£150Soseki review in full >>

The Independent
11 June
John Walsh says that despite interiors reminiscent of Weirdsville Arizona, Lord Sugar's Essex gastropub Sheesh, Ye Olde King's Head in Chigwell, serves surprisingly good food
The menu is over-familiar, starting with dips, salads and squid, proceeding with grilled lamb, fish and chicken, finishing with baklava and yogurt. But at every point in the meal I was startled by how un-boringly every dish was prepared and presented. We began with the dips; they came in long black dishes (did I mention all the crockery's black, too?) with the most delicious hot flatbread I've tasted outside Istanbul. Tarama was as light and pink as an angel's powder-puff, hummus was fabulously garlicky, cacik a creamily white cucumber dream. Two aubergine dips seemed over-generous, aubergine-wise, but a salad of chopped tomato, onions and herbs was marvellously clean-tasting. A stand-alone starter of squid, pan-fried with white wine, tomato and basil, was pronounced delicious, the squid so tender it was "like eating pasta". On the black table, five large main courses on black plates were simultaneously plonked. A spindrift of chopped parsley lay on the outer rim of each like green snow. Such drama! Valerie's sea bass - a thuggish monster whose baleful eye regarded us with loathing - was simply grilled with salt, a squeeze of lemon and a long, seared chilli. Eating it, she said, was "like eating in the open air - I can taste the sea".
Rating: Food 3/5; Service 3/5; Ambience 2/5
Price: About £90 for two with drinks
Sheesh, Ye Olde King's Head review in full >>

The Sunday Telegraph
12 June
Forget the human hair in the pigeon, forget the raw carrot - St John hotel's real sin is to appear so complacent, says Zoe Williams
K was less keen on it than I, and a much bigger fan of mine: a piece of hake surrounded by brown shrimps and a burnt-butter sauce (£20). I didn't enjoy this enormously; hake is a very sweet fish, burnt butter is rich and a bit sweet on its own, and obviously you can't expect a few shrimps to stand up to an onslaught like that. I came away thinking it was way too much, while also curiously unsatisfied, as if I'd blown my chance of a proper main course on a Cornetto. Desserts were fine. K had a chocolate and caramel tart (£8.40), which she thought was a bit too pricy and I thought was a bit too chocolatey (the filling was very rich - to have chocolate pastry as well was overkill). I had the sundae (£8) of which the stand-out feature was the fennel ice-cream, which was very fresh and herby and impressive. The strawberries were as tart as anything, though, which took me back to the carrots. There are three purposes to a restaurant: one, for food you'd never think to make; two, for food you'd never be bothered to make; three, for ingredients you simply don't love yourself enough to source on a daily basis. We can all pick up any old fruit or vegetable that looks but doesn't taste like itself. This place is a bit complacent.
Rating: 6/10
Price: Three courses, £32.70
St John Hotel review in full >>

The Times
11 June
Giles Coren finds great, albeit expensive food in a great location at Coq d'Argent, London EC2, but the service is a bit too fussy for him
I had 12 of the best snails I've ever had, in garlic and tomato butter. So fat and sweet and salty and moreish, I could have eaten a thousand. I could have totally cleared your garden. (Though slashing the portion size to only six snails on the set lunch, especially when it comes in at £28 for two courses, is making rather a show of one's meanness.) And then coq aux morilles, which was three hefty joints of perfect chicken with chunks of smoked bacon and mushrooms in terrific juices. Though there was too much fuss in the service, which involved a man dressed as Abraham Lincoln laboriously transferring every item in the stew from a copper pan to a plate with a neat ball of mash on it for what felt like nearly a week. I'd rather he'd just left the pan behind for me to toss the potato in and hunker down. Henry had the daily asparagus special which was so small he barely noticed how delicious it was, and then steamed sea bream en ballotine, which was as sweet and delicate and beautiful as the sound it makes on the page.
Rating: 7.67
Price: £28 for two courses
Coq d'Argent review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>

The Sunday Times
12 June
AA Gill enjoys the food at the Sir Charles Napier in Oxfordshire, where the menu is perfectly matched to the customers: a mixture of summer-holiday European and stalwart English rural cliché
There's foie gras and lobster, and asparagus with pheasant eggs for starters, and all the ritual meaty varieties of Sunday lunch, but with the option of bouillabaisse, or veal cutlet with polenta. I started with a risotto and Camilla had a Swiss soufflé, and here, I'm afraid, I caught the first chill, the first inkling that all was not as I'd hoped. It was going to be gallingly disappointing. The food was rather good. No, dammit. Really quite good indeed. My risotto was well made and silky, though the mushroom reduction had that faintly Bovril, stewed taste that comes from too intense a stock made from dried fungi. But it was far better than you'd expect from a pub. The smoked haddock and cheddar soufflé was generous and accomplished, each of its three ingredients - fish, cheese and egg - rising to the occasion. For the main course, Camilla had the pork, which was from two cuts, loin and leg, and of course from a named breed: middle white. What could be more Animal Farmishly appropriate for this place? It was as good as a commercial Sunday roast can expect to be. My ballantine of chicken, with spring vegetable broth, had been chosen particularly because it was the most likely to disappoint, but turned up as an elegant triumph, perfectly cooked and prettily presented, with each of its subtle and fugitive flavours tripping across the palate like a preschool ballet class.
Rating: 4/5
Price: £114 for two including drinks
Sir Charles Napier review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>

The London Metro
8 June
Marina O'Loughlin says the Gilbert Scott, London NW1, is average and cramped without the flair or drama of similar establishments
Two stars for one of the country's most thoughtful chefs might sound mean-spirited, but it's all about scale. And expectation. Two stars means "adequate". Our experience is, well, just that. Marcus Wareing, the man at the helm of this much-anticipated new restaurant - the double whammy of Michelin-bedizened chef and the reinvention of the great Gothic building have had the same effect on the dining classes as Cheryl Cole's X Factor shenanigans have on Heat readers - is seriously talented. The last meal I had at his eponymous gaff in the Berkeley hotel was as close to flawless as it gets for fayn dayning, albeit delivered in a buzz-killing albatross of a room. But I'm not sure informal is his forte. The new restaurant, in a wing of the new St Pancras Renaissance hotel, is almost as tall as it is long. Tables are so close together we can inhale the aroma from next door's Mulligatawny. Do I also smell revenue optimisation?
Rating: 2/5
Price: A meal for two with wine, water, service and cover charge costs about £140
The Gilbert Scott review in full >>

The London Evening Standard
9 June
David Sexton finds himself queueing for top tapas at the first of former Brindisa chef Jose Pizarro's two solo ventures, Jose in London SE1
Given how hopelessly squished it was, the delivery from the tiny kitchen, in which six cooks were hard at work, and from the likeable bar staff, was impressively fluent and unflustered. We were soon offered a little Kilner jar of spicy, dry-cooked broad beans, good with a glass of sherry. Pizarro has a short printed menu with everything you'd expect - Padrón peppers, boquerones, Jamón Ibérico, patatas bravas - but it's much more about being a "market restaurant", making the most of whatever looks good that day. Red mullet, black olives, capers, orange (£8) was fantastically fresh and tasty, without any of the gaminess that fish soon acquires when tired, the fillets served with a tangily dressed, sweet-tasting little salad. Clams, fino sherry, ham (£7) was equally good, big clams in a salty liquor, perhaps a little overpoweringly meaty if you usually eat your vongole more simply. A cold spinach, goats' cheese and walnut tortilla (£4) was basically a great wodge of bright green spinach, only lightly eggy and cheesy, the walnuts providing a soft crunch. Pizarro isn't trying to make each small plate a big hit, as many places do - this food is simple, clean, not over-emphatic.
Rating: 3/5
Price: £60-plus for two including wine
Jose review in full >>

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