John Lanchester enjoys small plates of great food at London's Riding House Café, the new venture from the team behind the Garrison and Village East
The cooking is good, too: not flashy or risky, but sound and focused on known crowd-pleasers. Squid with paprika, chilli, chorizo and olives was the punchiest dish; veal meatballs with lentils was subtle but comforting: either would have been a very successful big plate. Pork belly had good depth of flavour and came in good-looking chunks - presentation is at a noticeably high level for the cost. A couple of dishes looked pretty but lacked impact: sea bass ceviche was advertised as having lime and chilli, which it did, but it had a lot more yellow pepper, which unhelpfully dialled down the flavour. Steak tartare, always tricky to balance, was dominated by the taste of chopped gherkin rather than by that of raw meat. On the other hand, salt cod fritters really did taste of salt cod (they're often mainly spud) and came with a lively aïoli, and the only pudding we could manage, a rhubarb and raspberry fool, was a mess - but in a good way, like an Eton mess, a large, fruity meringue in a glass that crunched together when you stuck in your fork. It would be great, as the small plate fashion rolls inexorably on, if everywhere that joins the bandwagon does so as professionally as the Riding House Cafe.
Price: Meal with drinks and service, from about £25 a head.Riding House cafe review in full >>
Reliable and with a few flourishes, the Bishop's Dining Room & Wine Bar in Norwich, is the perfect middle-class fantasy of a restaurant says, Jay Rayner Bishop's, which occupies a tight burrow of a townhouse, is overseen by Alex Tranquillo, a chipper Italian who used to do complicated things as a head waiter at the old pre-Ramsay Savoy Grill in London and now does simple things here. At the front is the bar, where they take their wines seriously, though not in a po-faced manner. Wines by the glass appear to change with the menu, and Tranquillo is quick with suggestions in a way that suggests he actually gives a toss. At the back is the tiny dining room hung with far too many oversized crystal chandeliers, as if mocking its own pretensions. There is space for about 20 people, and on an early weekday lunchtime it was full of people who looked like they knew they were on to a good thing. And so to the food: £17.50 for three courses at lunch, rising to £28.95 for the same at dinner, where the menu is longer and the dishes a little more complex. What matters is that the fundamentals are done right: that a smoked ham hock terrine has a salty savoury jelly, a proper spiky piccalilli and still warm toast; that grilled asparagus comes with a poached egg, the yolk of which runs languorously.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service: £70 (lunch), £100 (dinner)Bishop's Dining Room & Wine Bar review in full >>
Giles Coren finds great hangover food at Spuntino, London W1, but adds that while über cool, Russell Norman's restaurants aren't great on consistency Sliders are mini burgers, halfway from drive-thru to canapé. The mackerel one was a bit scary for a hangover - in that sort of state, one doesn't really want to think about oily fish that's hung around a bit, then got mashed up and burgered. But the ground beef and bone marrow slider was stunning: so soft, so purply pink and practically raw you could have eaten it with your gums, after your incredibly cool teeth had fallen out from smack rot like Pete Doherty's. And the good, crispy shoestring fries were so thin you could poke them into your mouth no matter how strong your druggy comedown lockjaw. And if you can't face food at all there's a great chopped salad to fiddle with and leave. Or the mac cheese, which was under-seasoned and greasy this time, but was good when I came here the first time. But not the eggplant chips, which were overdone and dry and thus lacking entirely in aubergininess. (Consistency is not the kitchen's strong point, here or at Polpo/Polpetto; but consistency is what you go to boring Michelin restaurants for, not fun places.)
Price: great value. Easily get by on £15/head for food.Spuntino review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>
The Sunday Times
AA Gill finds good quality ingredients and cooking at the River Café in Glasbury-on-Wye, Hereford
Camilla had a lemon sole, a wonderful little fish too often overlooked for the magisterial Dover sole. This was a pristine example. I had the lasagne that stopped my friend giving Jones the post his Christmas box every Tuesday. As an alternative to sex, I must say it was a nonstarter. Even Welsh sex. As lasagne, it was exceedingly good. This is a dish that succeeds at engineering rather than inspiration: it has to have the right relationship between all its constituent parts, and they, in turn, must get on together but still be identifiably separate. Personally, I like an unctuous anointing of béchamel, and I got it. It's well worth the detour, if not from London, then definitely from anywhere else in Wales. We might also have had pasta with brown shrimps, monkfish, a cotoletta alla Milanese or mushroom ravioli. There was some good ice cream for pudding, recommended by a charming child in a tiara on the next table. Good, local, cloudy apple juice to drink, and the service was utterly, embarrassingly, bucolically charming, and a tacit reprimand and balm to city cynicism and insincerity, if a teensiest bit forgetful and slow. In truth, it was about as quick as a Welsh pub quiz.
Price: £50 for two plus drinksRiver Cafe review in full - available only to Times online subscribers >>
Tracey Macleod finds the food at Quince, Silvena Rowe's new restaurant at the Mayfair Hotel, London W1, isn't quite the draw she hoped it would be
Some, but not all, of the dishes we tried reflected the dazzle of the menu. Our meal started traditionally with a nice update of the Turkish staple borek - cigar-shaped filo tubes - the wafer-thin pastry filled with spinach and slow-cooked lamb shank, blousily spiced. Hummus came pimped up with sautéed king prawns; the lack of affinity between the two ingredients explained why no one has tried this surf'n'earth combo before. A main-course salad which married burrata with pomegranate, tomatoes and chunks of bread was a winner, ditto a brace of spice-coated lamb cutlets, which disappeared in two bites. But I was mystified by my main course, temptingly billed as "grilled golden five spice halibut, with everything green, flowers and green harissa". Everything green, it transpired, was an assortment of shoots and micro-herbs, served naked. I'd already eaten four lunches, filming for a TV food show, and even I wanted more. The essence of Middle Eastern hospitality is surely abundance, and there was something grudging about the portion control here - a rice pilaf with blueberries, pistachios and lemon balm was great but yielded only a spoonful for each of us.
Rating: Food 3/5; Ambience 3/5; Service 4/5
Price: Three courses à la carte £80 a head before wine and serviceQuince review in full >>
The Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell finds Marcus Wareing's Gilbert Scott, London NW1, doesn't quite live up to her anticipation Main courses are where the train runs out of steam (sorry). My soles in coffins is pale in look, texture and flavour. The soft fish on top of soft potato with a soft, vaguely winey sauce is, to use a modern word that I try never to (because it's irritating), "meh". There appears to be a jacket potato skin on top. Hmm. Mr M has Suffolk stew. It is, for him, just the wrong side of pungent. The anchovy that thickens and enriches the sauce is poorly judged and a bit too fishy. The mutton meatballs themselves are a lovely texture but it never quite comes together. A clod of colcannon would be brilliant to soak up the sauce if only we wanted to, though an oomphy Sicilian red Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2008 chosen for Mr M's mushrooms and mutton by Marion is nigh-on perfect. Indeed, the ebullient Marion has served us well (in every sense), and we're ready and able to tackle puds. A "jaffa cake" is light sponge with piquant orange and a slick of dark chocolate on the side, while a delicate Earl Grey ice-cream offers the perfect backdrop to the dish.
Price: £120 for two, with wineGilbert Scott review in full >>
The Sunday Telegraph
Zoe Williams says Spuntino, London W1, is a don't-stand-on-ceremony ‘finger food' restaurant that is all very Depression-era, but in a good way The aubergine chips (£4) were good, rolled in a sesame carapace and fried to a very burnished crunch; some yogurt on the side was intensely fennely. I continued with a ‘slider'. I don't like the word; I wish they'd called them ‘mini burgers'. Anyway, there were three varieties; I tried the ground beef and bone marrow (£4.50), which was fantastic. There it stood, a powerful hit of meat, the lingering luxury of a smidge of bone marrow, a wee bun, and what more could you ever need, to fuel your night out? I wasn't too full, I hadn't leveraged my fortune, this was what my father - and yours too, probably - used to call an elegant sufficiency. J is a veggie, so I didn't even have to fight her off it (you wouldn't want to share one - too small and messy). We carried on with calamari with ink and chickpeas (£8). Of course, when I saw the first word I had an image of crispy rings in batter (the ink! The chickpeas! There were so many clues here that this was a stew, but my subconscious wasn't listening). The squid was excellent, with a wonderful fresh texture that banished any sense-memory of rubberiness. The chickpeas seemed smaller than usual and tastier. And of course it's always fun when food is black - who could not enjoy that?
Price: Four plates: £22.50Spuntino review in full >>
The London Metro
Marina O'Loughlin says the Riding House Cafe, London W1, is decked out so brilliantly that you just have to enjoy its glamour - but the food doesn't reach the same standard
I love the place. I'm marinating in decent Albariño and gung-ho, let's-give-it-five-stars-and-just-move-right-in goodwill. Even when I sit down, the handsome, dreadlocked waiter says to me: ‘Hello, beautiful madam.' It's all designed to induce the rosiest of glows. But the arrival of the food makes us crash like a pair of over-Smartied toddlers. The menu is a belter, roaming round the world - chermoula, ceviche, romesco, piperade - for dishes designed to appeal to the most jaded palate, many of them ‘small plates'. Not only is small something of an understatement - many are weeny - a lot of it just isn't very good. We like beetroot ‘carpaccio' - I'm now officially irritated by carpaccio as a synonym for ‘thinly sliced' - with fig and subtle goat's curd cheese. But baby squid is leathery, swamped by its soupy chilli and smoked paprika sauce and not much helped by fling-it-all-in additions of olives and chorizo.
Price: A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £80Riding House Café review in full >>
The London Evening Standard
David Sexton says Madison, the latest restaurant from the Inc Group located atop the One New Change development in the City, London E1, is astonishingly bad
Some menus make choice difficult by offering too many attractions. This one, though, "created by executive chef Nick Cuadrado", baffled by having none. Oddly presented on a clipboard, weirdly over-capitalised, it is by no means perfectly spelled either - "Elderflower granite", anybody? Native lobster and avocado cocktail, Thousand Island sauce (£11) was grim, with small amounts of tasteless lobster lost in a sharp and metallic tasting goop, served in a shallow Champagne coupe, making it awkward to eat. Crispy pork belly on toast Rockerfella butter (£8) was an extraordinarily bad idea, some dry, reheated chunks of fatty pork belly, in a garlicky and vinegary but still creamy gunge, dished up with one surprise fried oyster, in homage to the American way of monstering shellfish. The breads were hard to like, too, especially the one perversely combining sultana and caraway. Rib-eye steak, at £23 for 300g, is frankly described as "The gentleman's choice. Full of flavoursome fat and served on the bone". No jokes, please, so close to Father's Day. Ordered medium rare, it came grey and flabby, dumped on a wooden board, chewy, altogether Not Very Nice, as the menu might have put it. A bone marrow jus sauce (£2 extra) was just a tasteless red wine reduction, not that it could be poured over a board tidily, anyway.
Price: £120-plus for twoMadison review in full >>
Guy Dimond is impressed by the excellent French cooking at Medlar, London SW10
The entire menu sounds delectable, and every dish we tried exceeded our expectations. A chilled soup of courgettes was simple and summery, subtly flavoured with chervil and very prettily decorated with tiny pansy flowers, like wildflowers in a meadow, plus fresh oysters. More robust flavours are introduced with the red wine sauce, lardons and sautéed duck heart accompanying a fried duck egg. A more pronounced French influence is seen in dishes such as grilled black bream served in a bowl of artichoke barigoule. This Provençal vegetable stew had been pimped up with little blobs of rouille and mussels prised from their shells. Wood pigeon showed chef-patron Joe Mercer Nairne's considerable skill with meat cookery: tender but not bloody, served with tiny potato cakes and delicately flavoured with new-season garlic. Dish after dish wowed us with its balance of flavours and sublety of expression, such as a dessert of buttermilk panna cotta topped with English strawberries and crumbed pistachios - delicate and restrained, and all the better for it. Much the same can be said of the service.
Price: Meal for two with wine and service around £130Medlar review in full >>