John Lanchester visits Za Za Bazaar in Bristol, Britain's biggest restaurant at nearly 1,000 covers, and finds the all-you-can-eat buffet fares well against the high street
There are six separate cooking stations where you can load up on food, with a bar to the left to load up on drinks. This might sound brutish and basic, but the decor masterminds have used bright lights and Indian posters to jazz up the room; successfully, I would say. As for the food, the choice encompasses, to use their own categories, salads (subsections: salads, deli, sushi, take out), Far East (pho, starters, noodles, curries), Tex Mex (burgers, guest cuisine, barbecue, burrito and fajita), European (pasta, Brit classics, piri piri chicken, pizza), Indian (dosas, curries, kebabs and roti, starters) and desserts (cakes, ice-cream, pâtisserie, Indian sweets). Some of the food is prepared to order: noodles, pasta, dosas, fajitas and suchlike are put together by chefs while you watch. This helps ameliorate that depressing sense you sometimes have at a buffet that the food has been standing around for a while. The choice is numbing, and it would obviously be daft to assess the food as if it were trying to be fayne daining. Instead, Za Za Bazaar is pitched against the high street alternatives at around the same price point, and at that level does a pretty good job.
Price: All-you-can-eat, £6.99 lunch and £12.99 dinner Mon-Thur, £9.99 and £15.99 Fri-Sun. Za Za Bazaar review in full >>
Jay Rayner says 20 St John's in Norwich is a place that hasn't worked out how to do the thing it wants to do
The food is a mix of odd and uncertain and not quite. Sautéed field mushrooms come on what feel like toasted pieces of pre-sliced brown bread. The advertised smoked stilton - why would you smoke stilton? - makes no impact. It's a pile of things, as though cobbled together from ingredients at the back of the fridge. Dense cod fritters come on a big, dry pile of garden peas with hunks of chorizo. There is meant to be a butter and sage sauce, but there is no sign of it. A main-course duck dish is brown. Very, very brown: a few squares of roasted brown root vegetables, a huge brown breaded mashed potato croquette like a draught excluder, some slices of overdone brown duck. A brown sauce. It's a strange plateful for £17.50. Better are some plaice fillets with planks of crisp bacon and vast amounts of mash. We console ourselves with a well-priced bottle of St Emilion.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £90 20 St John's review in full >>
Although he enjoys the food, John Walsh suggests the owners of the Crooked Well, London SE5, should reconsider the atmosphere
The mains on offer didn't endear themselves. They featured pork belly and calves' liver, none of which appealed; whole trout and grilled seabass with mussels (doesn't hit the spot on a cold night); ricotta ravioli and ratatouille puff pastry (never on a Tuesday - or, indeed, ever). That left only the steak and the venison with red cabbage and white pudding - too rich for the wretched, half-thawed-out carnivore. Luckily, an evening special was announced - duck leg with chorizo and chickpea stew. Could there be a more butch, more comfort-foodie dish? I had reservations about combining chorizo sausage with duck, but it worked out fine, the tiny cubes of Hispanic spice nuzzling against the steaming dark slithery morsels of Anatidae. The chickpeas, though, were a step too far. They brought only a tanning-salon orange hue to the dish, and, later, I'm afraid, a shocking attack of flatulence. Angie's chargrilled picanha steak (picanha's a Brazilian cut, somewhere between sirloin and rump, though the meat is "100 per cent British") was simply grilled with a herby butter on the side. More impressive were the creamy mashed potato dotted with gleaming traces of garlic, and the super-sweet Chantenay carrots.
Rating: Food * Ambience Service
Price: About £100 for two, with wine The Crooked Well review in full >>
Marina O'Loughlin says that Mishkin's, the latest restaurant from the Polpo/Spuntino label, London WC2, may not be kosher but it is better than the real deal
If ever there was a klaxon that Mishkin's doesn't take itself or its "Jewishness" too seriously, that hot dog is it. But the fact that it comes from cult streetfooder Big Apple Hotdogs - fat, meaty, smoky, juicy porkers created in London's East End - indicates that they do, however, take the food very seriously indeed. There are clever salads: a refreshing slaw made from red cabbage and forensically sliced cauliflower with caraway; or special of frisée, radicchio, Stilton and pear. There are riffs on brunch - duck hash migrated from Brooklyn, a gravy-doused, fried egg-topped, appetising mess of shredded duck meat and fried potatoes. Or daily specials: fish finger sandwiches; rice pudding with pear. On one visit we were lucky enough to meet a chip butty given a "French dip" with the meaty duck liquor from the hash. And how can you not love somewhere that, in 2012, offers egg and chips? Did I mention it's beautiful? The place comes on like an artfully distressed hybrid of East End pie and eel joint, American diner and, yes, NY deli.
Price: A meal for two with cocktails costs about £70 Mishkin's review in full >>
Zoe Williams enjoys the weird and sometimes wonderful world of Hedone, London W4
We had five courses for £60, and started with Cevennes onions with pear shavings and a beurre blanc so rich and pure I could honestly have drunk it on its own. For ever. The onions were poached, retained their bite, were inviting but not slippery, and mild but not bland. The pear was shaved so that you could have read a newspaper through it, and yet packed a strong, sweet, autumnal punch. A great dish, and not as fussy in presentation as the others (L said the cauliflower we had next was like a nosegay, and her myriad carrots - red, orange and black - were like a bonfire. She was quite right, of course. But sometimes I like food to resemble nothing so much as itself). On to the cauliflower atop a Dorset crab, with lemon cream - again, my favourite bit was the cream - and a thick egg-whitey foam that had been laced with cauliflower but also had the merest back-draft of brine. A lovely dish.
Price: Five courses, £60 Hedone review in full >>
AA Gill says that the relaunched Restaurant Tom Aikens, London SW3, is one deep breath away from being in the half-dozen best dining rooms in the country
Paddy's roast john dory with cauliflower smelled comfortingly of Irish farts, and was, again, rather overdressed for the occasion, though nicely made. By the time we got to pudding, the kitchen had evaporated into hysterical habdabs, and were throwing everything they could lay their hands on onto the plate. Puddings looked like the tooth fairy's car-boot sale. There were more things going on than the Viennese Christmas lights. It's a shame, because it had all started so very, very well. Tom Aikens, who was cooking, is still one of our most talented chefs, but classically he's someone whose skills trip up his brilliance. He needs to trust his ingredients more and rely on his craft less. The overcompensating of plates to look elaborately sophisticated is a sign of insecurity. This restaurant is one deep breath away from being in the half-dozen best dining rooms in the country, but he needs to ditch the show-off sardine. He needs to find his inner herring.
Rating: 4/5 Tom Aikens review in full, available only to Times Online subscribers >>
The London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler reviews the relaunched Restaurant Tom Aikens, London SW3, and has a hit and miss experience
For all the air of dress-down casualness with its nod to Danish furniture design and lighting - perhaps subconsciously to bring to mind New Nordic cuisine - this is the customary Michelin stargazing. Which is not to say that much of it is not beautifully executed and the inherent little extras are meticulously wrought. In the evening the "amuses" included a sheet of red pepper like a roll of Cellophane, a mousse of duck and black truffle, balls like Cheesy Wotsits that have been to university, and puffed-up deep-fried shards of pork and chicken skin. Four kinds of lovely home-made bread in a hessian sack were accompanied by three kinds of butter. Naturally (probably the wrong word) sous-vide is a favoured cooking method. I am here to tell you that cooking squid for 24 hours in a water bath results in it losing all its squidiness, as it did in the slightly tepid first course consommé of the set-price lunch. A main course of Romney lamb appropriately garnished with garlic (confit) and anchovy (battered) was rendered unpredictably chewy by the process. Dishes that were considerably more successful included first courses of lobster, almost confit, with pickled cucumber in different guises and wonderful yoghurt granité and roasted langoustine with herb mayonnaise and black olive crumbs. Crumbs and powders are favoured accessories.
Rating: 3/5 Tom Aikens review in full >>