Marina O'Loughlin says that although extremely rich and heavy, there's nothing on the menu at the Balcon, London W1, that she wouldn't want to eat
Comforting dish follows comforting dish: a stout, twice-baked Stilton soufflé in a pool of Comté cheese cream with a tangle of accurately dressed leaves; mussels marinière on a sourdough Welsh rarebit. The apotheosis is a cast-iron dish of Scottish beef and chanterelle mushroom cottage pie, the buttery potato grilled until toasty, and topped with three fat, salt crystal-dotted slabs of foie gras, which melt into its searing heat. This, without doubt, is the richest dish I've ever eaten. It verges on cartoon luxury. You wouldn't think we could go on to eat freshly baked hazelnut madeleines dipped into dark, molten chocolate but you'd be wrong. There's quite a lot of shtick: a charcuterie station with beaming, under-employed stationmaster (maybe this is why they're so keen to upsell it to us); that eponymous champagne balcony. The adjacent bar is apparently modelled on Coco Chanel's apartment and serves intriguing and clever floral cocktails in scent bottles. Female sommeliers are designated "champagne angels", leading to some disappointment on our part that they aren't suspended from the ceiling on wires as they are at Las Vegas's Aureole.
Price: A meal for two with wine, water and service, costs about £110The Balcon review in full >>
The London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler says MEATliquor, a more permanent site from the team behind Meatwagon and MEATEASY, located in a car park site behind Debenham's in Oxford Street, London W1, offers tasty burgers at very reasonable prices
The welcome was genial. Please bear in mind that what follows is based on two long, late-starting lunches. Evenings, at least as far as noise and possible confusion are concerned, are undoubtedly different. Service was either all over us like a cheap suit or scarce on the ground - but always affable. We started with a cocktail devised by Soulshakers, as you do, and must. A New Cross Negroni made with Bombay Sapphire gin and Antica Formula Carpano vermouth served in a jam jar that looked as if it had once done service for Bonne Maman was wonderful. My friend Ed loved his St Thomas, also made with Bombay Sapphire shaken with fresh lime and fresh pink grapefruit, served in a champagne saucer. There are 17 other options as well as the rum-based House Grog "limited to two serves per person". Burgers are the backbone of a menu that evolves (a bit) all the time. Dead Hippie is apparently a tribute to visits Papoutsis made to Burning Man events in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. To compare it to a Big Mac would be heresy. Sloppy, greasy, pungent, sharp as sarcasm, sweet as kisses, it left Ed gobsmacked. The chilli cheeseburger was another perfect synthesis.
Price: A meal for two with drinks, about £55 excluding serviceMEATliquor review in full >>
Devastatingly pretty waitresses and wonderful food mean John Walsh has a lovely time at the Pig hotel in the New Forest, Hampshire
Pan-roasted South Coast cod was a big event: it looked beautiful, darkly crisp on top, creamily white below like the cliffs of Dover. "Look at those great white flakes of fish," said Angie in raptures. Atlantic prawns were an inspired accompaniment, a few dozen capers perhaps less so. (But then I can take only one caper per dish, usually on a pizza.) My Beaulieu pheasant with yellow leg mushrooms was a triumph. James Golding, head chef at the Pig, has a sure touch with game as well as fish. The pheasant breast was perfectly cooked, pink, tightly-textured and heftily flavoured, the skin perfectly seasoned. Baby chestnuts and sliced white sprouts (just in season now) rocked along like a hot rhythm section, lubricated by a yummy mushroom sauce that complemented the gamey tang without smothering it. A bottle of old vine grenache from the Aussie McLaren Vale made everything zip along. A warm poached pear with wild sloe-berry syrup and ginger ice-cream was fine, though I couldn't see what the role of the madeleine cake under the pear might be.
Rating: Food 4/5; Atmosphere 5/5; Service 5/5
Price: About £100 for two, with wineThe Pig hotel review in full >>
After years of disappointment, Jay Rayner finally discovers a gastronomic place of safety among Manchester restaurants - San Carlo Cicchetti
The menu is long, but also responsive to the seasons, having recently bent the knee to the arrival of winter. Most dishes cost between £5 and £7, and where it rises above that - such as with that luscious seafood stew from Livorno, which costs £11.95 - it feels justified. Perfect gnocchi comes baked in a cast-iron pot with a crust of dense cheese. Although the chicken livers on a crostini are a little overcooked, the sauce is so robust you forgive them. A crisp pizza base is spread with melted fontina cheese which, at the last minute, is laid with strips of smoked salmon so that the oils just begin to run. A thick piece of exemplary raw fillet beef is beaten out to twice its size to be draped over a hot plate to form their "warm Carpaccio" dressed with serious olive oil and curls of black truffle (a bargain at £10.95). Wide egg pasta tubes come with a sausagemeat and beef short-rib ragu full of soothing winter tones. We have a side dish of buttery peas with pancetta, and they are not the fresh kind but something verging on marrowfat, which makes this feel like an Italian dish by way of Salford. The zucchini fritti are indecently thin and crisp.
Price: Meal for two, including service, £80San Carlo Cicchetti review in full >>
The Devonshire Arms in Chiswick, London W4, didn't set Zoe Williams's heart on fire but with delightful service and decor, it's a lovely neighbourhood pub
I made J have the oxtail and rib cottage pie (£12.50), because it's not often you find an oxtail in a pie, let alone a rib (such a pest to have to prise the bone out); he didn't regret it, or at least he didn't admit to regretting it. It was extremely rich; they're both so close to the bone, these cuts, they ascend to heights of meatiness that a mere steak could only dream of. I did wonder whether I'd have been tempted to mix things up a bit for light and shade - maybe replace the rib with I don't know a mushroom? I liked it well enough, but if it'd been mine I'd have felt overwhelmed. We had some honey-roast quince (£3.25) on the side; it was unusual and savoury, with a grainy texture (I would normally mean that as an insult, but here it was lovely). The Cornish Smuggler (£8.50) was a mild but tangy cheese, with a dainty red marbling, like a cross between a mild cheddar and a Wensleydale. The portion was way too large; it should be half the size and price.
Price: Three courses, £26.38Devonshire Arms review in full >>
Guy Dimond says Jamie Oliver's latest venture, Union Jacks, is so good, you have to like it
Union Jacks is a "concept", and a very slick one, with a second branch in Chiswick already in the pileline. If it wasn't all done so very well - cheeky chappie service with a smile, good food, fun atmosphere - you'd have to hate it. But the fact is, Oliver's team has created a really good pizzeria, as well as a guilty pleasure. Despite claiming that its main dishes are "flatbreads", these are pizzas, albeit with some interesting toppings. Jamie's Italian seems aimed at the suburban, middle-income, mortgaged diner who doesn't mind chain restaurants; Union Jacks is lower spend, but also for people who don't mind a pizza chain in the making; too cool for Oxford Street, but not cool enough for Dalston. Oliver's army of helpers has collaborated with US chef Chris Bianco, lauded as one of the top pizza makers in the States. Bianco was there on our visit, working at the searing-hot wood-fired ovens and checking that the sourdough bases were coming out crisp and even. Oliver's influence is clear in the choice of ingredients - many of them British, with their provenance clearly spelled out. The fish used in the own-made fish fingers starter was not only fresh and good quality, it was also ‘"by-catch" - nice one Jamie.
Price: Meal for two with wine and service, about £45Union Jacks review in full >>