John Lanchester finds authentic tapas and an impressive list of sherry at José, London SE1, the first solo venture by Spanish chef José Pizarro
Everyone who has ever been to Spain has eaten a dodgy tortilla. The lucky visitor has also eaten tortilla so good they wonder how something so simple as a tepid stuffed omelette can scale such heights. The plain tortilla at José, filled with caramelised onions, is this second type of tortilla, resembling a highly evolved quiche. Anchovies can also go wrong: too sharp, too acidic or even too anchovy-ish. The ones here were sweet and soft - impeccable. A duck egg came on top of a sweated vegetable stew called pisto (a bit like ratatouille). There's a lot of good cooking going on here, much of it by Pizarro himself, who was right there at the stove at 6pm on a Monday. The other reason for going to José, apart from the food, is the sherry. José makes a big thing of its list, and the bar staff will suggest food matches for you. Sherry is in my view the most underrated great wine in the world, and maybe the only one that's underpriced for what it is. José is a proper bar with proper tapas and proper sherry - all good.
Price: Meal with drinks, from about £25 a headJose review in full >>
There's nothing wrong with dinner and a show, but at Circus, London WC2, the food deserves a chorus of boos and jeers, says Jay Rayner
To be honest I was predisposed to hate Circus before a single piece of food had arrived. Then again sometimes taking an instant dislike to something can save time. It wasn't just that they did not return my phone call requesting a table - I'm waiting still - or that, booking online, they demanded a credit-card number. There was also the less-than-charming announcement as we arrived that we had to give the table back in two hours. Maybe the receptionists had tried the food and were trying to be kind. It is not the concept of Circus I dislike. Dinner and a show is a great idea. You just have to do both bits well; here neither part of the equation works. This is not to reflect badly upon the performers, who give it their all, or would do if they were given enough time and space in which to do so. But Circus is a messy compromise, built around the need to keep moving the punters in and out, to keep hosing them down with over-sugary cocktails - think type 2 diabetes in a glass - and pelting them with over-priced platefuls of what might make great props in a freak show but, here, pass for main courses. The room is simply too small for the promise of the name to be realised.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £130Circus review in full >>
The Sunday Times
AA Gill finds steak with the texture of "fat-slag thigh" at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, London WC2
Onto the main event. The steak. There are half a dozen cuts on offer, and another dozen additions and condiments, including half a lobster and two fried eggs, which, I'm told, is a euphemism for a flat-chested lady in Sydney. At the suggestion of the well-versed and enthusiastic waitress, we had a bone-in prime rib for two with dripping chips, which she implied were guaranteed to shorten your life by 30 years, but would be worth it. The beef came on an iron trivet. It was adequate rather than generous. It had been sliced, and contained large, pale jelly gobs of adipose fat. It was undercooked for this particular cut. I'd left the timing up to the kitchen. The meat had the texture of fat-slag thigh. The mechanics of eating felt like something you should do in a gym. I ordered béarnaise, which was cold, fatty mayonnaise, and tarragon and anchovy butter that was fatty fish. Neither was enough to lift the meat, which was soon tepid, then congealed. Eating it was to stuff hunger, not tickle pleasure.
Price: £60 plus drinks for twoHawksmoor review in full - available only to Times Online subscribers >>
The Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell finds excellent food but disappointing service at Mark Sargeant's first solo venture, Rocksalt in Folkestone, Kent
We nibble on some Kentish sourdough bread with Rocksalt taramasalata for £1.50. It's very good indeed, pale-pink, tangy and rich, and sets us up for starters proper: a tankard of grilled prawns, potted crayfish tails, fish soup and dressed crab with harissa and toast (all about £7.50). The generous shell-load of mildly spiced crab is my favourite, but the more poky crayfish ensemble is a close second. And the soup is the real deal: rusty orange with dense, shellfishy flavours. I consider a prawn but the tankard (it's a half-pint) is already empty and P is holding his greasy, shrapnel-flecked hands aloft. There's no finger bowl. We flag down a waiter. "Uh, sorry, I should have brought one." The debris of the starters remains in front of us for 10 minutes. No biggie, since we're people- and seagull-watching and anticipating the arrival of duck-fat chips.
Price: About £100 for two, with wineRocksalt review in full >>
The Sunday Telegraph
Zoe Williams says despite its good pedigree the Magdalen Arms in Oxford is dark, dreary and a complete disappointment
T had the smoked mackerel with horseradish, dressed leaves and pickled beetroot (£5.80). It was an incredibly generous serving of salad, I must say. The mackerel was mushy and not flaky, as if it had come from an inferior supplier, in the region of a supermarket or a petrol station. Likewise, the beetroot, which had that tangy flavourlessness of the mainstream jarred variety. It's not an expensive place, but I think even at these margins they could have pickled their own beetroots without breaking the bank. It's possible that they did, and just have a very boring recipe. My main was even worse. This chunk of pollack (£14) arrived, its skin very well salted, as if it thought itself fit to be eaten. In its dreams. It was wrinkly and grey, like an ancient hairless cat. I couldn't work out how they'd even brought it to such a pass - no frying-pan could have been involved - and then I had a mouthful that seemed tepid, but had a hot spot. A microwave! How quaint! I mean, fine, they say these machines are great for fish, but I think you have to come up with a skin solution better than "hope they don't notice". The flesh was also a bit grey.
Price: Three courses £25.45Magdalen Arms review in full >>
The London Metro
Marina O'Loughlin finds Dinner by Heston Blumenthal a bit too slick and polished, a typical hotel restaurant
Dinner is a well-oiled machine, operating as smoothly as that pineapple roaster. But it's not slaying me: too slick; too polished; too Mandarin Oriental. Wealthy Americans will adore it. Bizarrely, it's not even that innovative: I had a version of the meat fruit in Hong Kong's Amber, also in a Mandarin Oriental; and Marco Pierre White used to reference the dates of his dishes - including a chicken oyster salad, similar to Heston's salmagundi - in this very location. The whole historical provenance shtick is, in any case, to be taken with a pinch of the old sel marine: as Heston has said, "we take the notion" There's still a months-long waiting list for reservations. But, to use the language of the tedious, Michelin-collecting kind of restaurant-goer, I've "done" it twice, which is enough for me. With a bill hitting £200, including only three glasses of wine (albeit one, a Nuits St Georges, at £21 a glass), it might be enough for you, too.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review in full >>
The London Evening Standard
David Sexton says Silvena Rowe's first solo venture, Quince at London's May Fair hotel, has some way to go
As a main, half a corn-fed chicken (£17.50), roasted in a stone oven, with garlic, za'atar and cumin salt and cut up into pieces, was excellent and didn't need the powerful green harissa it was served with. Good shoestring fries (£4.50) came with a milder red harissa aioli - and there was your chicken and chips! Can't beat it. Island of Ghia halibut "grilled golden" (£24.50) was less convincing, a slab of dryish fish we were urged to shred over various shoots and leaves, plus some more of the green harissa. Overall, the meal felt rather fussy, with all those sauces and dips, yet still a little repetitious in its flavours and spicing, distinctively sour. This is food that really goes better with cold beer and sunshine than with wine and an international hotel dining room - though the Mondavi Pinot Noir (£29) we had is a wine that can answer back assertively to almost any dish, to say the least. The final bill was £167.91. Ouch. You can have a very good time in an ocakbasi joint in Dalston or Finsbury for several nights running and pay less than that.
Price: £160 for twoQuince review in full >>