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What's on the menu? John Lanchester wishes all tasting menus were as good as Will Holland's

18 June 2012 by
What's on the menu? John Lanchester wishes all tasting menus were as good as Will Holland's

The Guardian
16 June
John Lanchester says that if all tasting menus were as good as Will Holland's at La Bécasse in Ludlow, no one would yet be fed up with fine dining
Will Holland is the chef-patron at La Bécasse, and he is fully up to that ask: in fact, if the UK Michelin guide wasn't already famous for being rubbish, the loss of his star would be sufficient evidence on its own. The irony is that Holland cooks in a modern classical idiom that is one of the few things the guide actually understands. Here, huge amounts of technique are carried through on to the plate without a sense of anyone straining for effect. A crab starter, for instance, came with a curried mayonnaise that had a carefully calibrated bit of spiciness - just enough to bring out the freshness of the crab and accompanying papaya - and a crunchy ball of fried cod on top. No tricks there, just dead-on-accurate cooking. I don't normally eat foie gras, but Holland's version reminded me why people do, and the cherry that came with it in two ways - a preserve and a liquefied gel - was the ideal blend of sweet and sharp. Halibut was seared and served with a pistou that had been blended with mussels; I've had mussels with pesto before and really liked it, but this took that combination and used it as a seasoning for the other flavours. Basil pomme purée gave the dish another top note and some body, too.
Price: Set lunch from £26 for two courses, dinner from £54, plus wine and service

The Observer
17 June
Although he's barely out of short trousers, 18-year-old Luke Thomas is a rare talent in the kitchen at Sanctum on the Green near Marlow, says Jay Rayner
He really shines at starters. A salad of crispy duck with the kick of grapefruit was made to sing by the careful addition of soused red onions. Even better was an extraordinary dish of huge seared scallops, cooked to the right side of translucent inside, on a light Indian-spiced cream with the crunch of almond, the sweet burst of mango and breaded, deep-fried mussels. Underneath, just wilting in the heat of the sauce, were strands of coriander. That makes it sound overwrought, but it really wasn't. It was about the gentle interplay of flavour and texture, about pitch-perfect harmony and melody. When I start typing poncey things like that, you know it's serious. (At £8.50 it was also a bargain.) But perhaps the clearest evidence of smarts lay in the simplicity of a smooth-soft asparagus velouté, with ribbons of the star ingredient, and at its heart a lightly breaded deep-fried egg, which leaked its yolk into the soup as you cut into it. Oh my. It was of those dishes which makes you stare at the empty bowl forlornly when you've finished. Thomas understands the word "enough".
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £120

The Independent
16 June
John Walsh says with its unpretentious cooking, Ollie Couillaud's Lawn Bistro in Wimbledon Village, London SW19, is the place to eat during the tennis tournament
Couillaud's cooking is classic French, with grace notes from Spain: you can go from a jug of sangria to an Andalucian gazpacho to Castilla y Leon sheep's cheese in three Hispanic hops. Typical spring dishes, such as grilled salmon with asparagus, or cod fillet with baby leeks and clams, are interspersed with unusual combinations of texture. The gazpacho, for example, came with marinated scallops and beetroot "Chantilly" - a delicious sorbet that lifted a dish, while the tomatoes comprehensively overwhelmed the single, sliced scallop. Grilled tiger prawns with chorizo was a happy marriage of spice and texture, served with vegetables "à la Grecque" (peppers, aubergines, courgettes). My wood pigeon ravioli came in a chicken-and-pigeon-breast broth with duck hearts and spring vegetables, an odd but pungent combination: game with chicken stock and a wallop of tarragon. I'd never tasted duck hearts before: they were like small brown savoury sweets, and offered a strange, alien counterpoint to the heartiness of peas, broad beans and asparagus.
Rating: Food 4/5; Ambience 3/5; Service 3/5
Price: About £100 for two, with wine

The Times
16 June
Giles Coren has one of the meals of his life at Sonny's Kitchen, the latest venture from dream team Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard in Barnes, London SW13
To start, we had a warm and unctuous octopus salad, the tentacles pressed into a block and sliced thin under shavings of fennel and red onion, dotted with glistening beignets of sweet little mussels and infant coriander; kid ravioli with a good scent of goaty barnyard lifted by a sweet-sour vinaigrette, raisins and pecorino; spatchcocked quail with couscous, lively with tagine flavours, beaded with pistachios and pomegranate seeds Already we were globe-trotting, Mediterranean and North African flavours being spun like plates, and nothing falling to the ground. Already it was my best meal of the year so far (or was Dabbous this year? God, it feels like yonks ago). So then how weird to move on to ribs and pizza. But they were there, so we had them. Wouldn't you? Spare ribs marinated for months in all sorts of wonders and cooked so long and slow the meat climbed off the bones and right down your throat without you having to move. With stonking potato skins: small, copper-coloured and crispy like the smashed halves of golden eggs, and nothing like the gouged old spuds you know from your local Tex-Mex that come on like the big soggy half-scrotums of a sun-warmed walrus.
Score: 8
Price: £42/head sans grog

The Sunday Telegraph
17 June
Don't let the simple decor or reasonable prices mislead you - the cooking at the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire, is unexpectedly ambitious, says Zoe Williams
S had the Exmoor venison and hazelnut terrine (£6.50), in which I finally saw the point of green peppercorns (I had previously thought they were a supermarket scam to make you feel posh); they formed an earthy, peppery underlay to a gamey flavour that would almost have been too deep on its own. The nuts were great. The apricot chutney was a nice touch; in a way it was its homemade-ness that counted for most, yelling, ‘We care!' in an already careful dish. S radically went for a middle course, baffling the waitress. It was a South Petherton beetroot salad (£6.50) with goat's cheese and pumpkin seeds. I have never had such a moreish combination of nuts and cheese. Something to do with the roasted flavour and waxy chewiness of the seeds, against the sharpness and creaminess of the cheese, made it as instantly classic and harmonious as peanut brittle. As for the beetroot, the golden ones were wonderful, and the purple ones didn't taste of much. Luck of the root vegetable draw, I guess. She thought they should have never made it on to the plate, but, as we have seen from her views on throws, she is very hard to please.
Rating: 3/5
Price: Three courses: £27.98

The Metro
13 June
Marina O'Loughlin says dining at the Blue Elephant in its new location at Imperial Wharf, London SW6, is pretty much like being in Thailand. But in a way that nervous Western tourists see it
The new menu is more complex than it was in Fulham Broadway, with lots of pontificating about Thai Cooking of the Past, Thai Cuisine of Today and Thai Kitchen of Tomorrow. There's an extensive vegetarian menu but no mention of whether or not it avoids fish sauce. It's big on decorative nonsense: carved vegetable flowers; pandanus leaves on puddings; elaborate crockery and cutlery. One starter - mieng kham - arrives in what looks like a jewellery box full of tiny cups and spoons; you fold betel leaves round quantities of toasted coconut, palm sugar sauce, shallots, scud chillies, dried shrimp, ginger and slivers of lime. It's top fun: shame some of the aromatic leaves are browning at the edges. Staff, in silky, self-conscious outfits, are a curious mixture of typically Thai over-solicitousness and sweet ineptitude: their knowledge about wine appears to be zilch. And they're equally clueless about ingredients and techniques, as demonstrated when I ask how they turn catfish into what appears to be fish candyfloss for yum pla duk fu (catfish and green mango salad; and yes, I do know). They giggle charmingly - for this service they charge 12.5%.
Score: 3/5
Price: A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £130

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