The Guardian, 18 December
John Lanchester finds brilliant cooking at Purnell's in Birmingham but says he will remember the restaurant for all the wrong reasons
The thing that went wrong was nothing to do with the cooking. It was a time issue. When I booked, they had no table before 9pm. I made plans accordingly but was running late. I called to warn them but got voicemail; they called back at 9.10pm and left a message to say they stopped serving at 9.15pm; I called back and got voicemail again; we arrived at 9.18pm. Our greeting: "I'll just go and see if the kitchen is still serving." In the event, it was. As a way of making your customers feel unwanted, this was hard to beat. Was it Darfur? No. Did it seem officious and inhospitable? Yes. Was the rest of the service like that? No. Is it the first thing I remember when I think of Purnell's? Well, unfortunately, yes. That's a pity, because Purnell is a brilliant cook. The touch of playfulness apparent in that monkfish dish shows up elsewhere in his food, too, sometimes in dishes that sound like back-to-the-drawing-board notions, such as vanilla potatoes. These were served as a side dish with a plainly cooked red mullet, and were a fascinating complement to the punchy fish - one of those wrong-but-right combinations that only a very inventive, very talented chef can bring off.
Price: Dinner, £37 for two courses, £45 for three
Purnell's full review >>
The Observer, 19 December
Jay Rayner says Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova's cooking at North Road, London, is about as close as you'll get to Rene Redzepi's at Noma without buying a plane ticket to Copenhagen
Hruskova's cooking is about as close as you'll get to Redzepi's without buying a plane ticket, though to be honest it's still some way off the precision and acute sense of balance. It's good without having Redzepi's brilliance. Being in London he cannot raid the Nordic larder, for that would be against doctrine. Heaven forfend. Instead, the ingredients are distinctly British: think elderberries and salsify, celery and Dorset shrimp. But what he does do, pace Noma, is reject those French or Mediterranean foodstuffs which would make his dishes something other. So no olive oil or olives. No tomatoes or bulb garlic. No chocolate in the desserts. He is more likely to season with vinegars than salts, to rely on smoking and pickling and leave ingredients raw where possible. The result is subtle and, for being unusual, intriguing. Smoked scallops, only just cooked through, come with a julienne of apple and a leaf of bright apple jelly; glazed sweetbreads are paired with lightly pickled onions and hidden under a sheet of crinkly milk skin - the thin solid you get when you boil up milk.
Price Meal for two, including wine and service: £110North Road full review >>
The Daily Telegraph, 18 December
Matthew Norman says Gordon Ramsay has returned on top form with the relaunched Savoy Grill in London Cornish crab mayonnaise with apple salad and wild celery (I prefer it tame myself, but that's just me) was "fabulously fresh, with a good tomatoey sauce that gives it a real Russian tea room flavour". My lobster bisque, with a generous layer of lobster chunks at the bottom, was creamy, intense and startlingly good. The clock was marching on for middle-aged folk who prefer to retire at a respectable hour and we were becoming fretful. It was nudging 7pm, in fact, when the main courses arrived, and quite a relief that all three were worth staying up for. My two cutlets of roe deer venison were beautifully cooked to the requested ruby red finish, tender and packed with flavour. My wife raved about the "beautiful simplicity" of her braised halibut, with curly kale and anchovies. Our friend gushed about his braised hare, an opinionated and liverish dish that can overwhelm the taste buds, kept under control here by skilful seasoning and a calming portion of buttery spätzle (a German pasta-ish, or pastoid, dish). Crunchy hand-cut chips were superb; cauliflower cheese, winter greens and thyme-roasted root vegetables all excellent.
Price: Three courses, wine and coffee: £60-£80 per head
Rating: 9/10Savoy Grill full review >>
The Sunday Telegraph, 19 December
Sushi, sashimi and strange little fruits aside, Zoe Williams isn't exactly overawed by the food at Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana in London The scallops had taken on that stringy texture you get when you overcook them, but C said he didn't mind them like that. The only demonstrable error was that the dish was still very hot, so when they poured the soy-based sauce over it the whole thing immediately smelt and tasted like burnt soy sauce, which is disgusting. I've chucked out stir-fries when I've mistakenly scorched the soy, and I was just cooking for myself. It's totally unforgivable when you're feeding strangers at their considerable expense in the magical mystery land of Jenga. We shared some seasonal vegetable tempura (£12), which featured figs (I don't know whether to moan on the grounds of ‘seasonal' or ‘vegetable'. Perhaps ‘not very nice in batter' was my main complaint), sweet potato (amazing), aubergine (I've known this to work in tempura, but here it had absorbed far too much fat, as had the batter, so it was like sucking a sponge of oil) and mushrooms (delicious). I'm starting to file this experience under ‘funny old business'; it's one thing for some courses to be nicer than others, but this ran a wild gamut from delicious to grim within one dish.
Price: Three courses: £37.50
Rating: 6/10Sake No Hana full review >>
The Independent on Sunday, 19 December
Lisa Markwell says while it's on the site of a flower market, there's nothing fleeting about the beauty of the food at newcomer Brawn in east London
Ahem, mains: Mr P's red mullet and chanterelles is a symphony of flavour and texture that soothes, while caillette de Daniel Thierry with carrots and potatoes is a faggot that's pungent and earthy - not entirely my dish of the day, but Mr M loves the meaty melange. I eat something just as carnivorous but in a different league, in my opinion: braised venison with soft polenta and chestnuts is pretty, powerful and like being wrapped in a warm cashmere blanket. My other guest, Miss T, having dived into everyone else's food with gusto, is delighted to have a restful bowl of abruzzo bean soup with a glug of that exemplary Valentini oil on top. With an afternoon of present-buying and tree-trimming ahead, we need the sugar rush that pudding delivers, so we share lemon tart, chocolate mousse and floating islands. The mousse manages to be both devilishy rich and feather-light; the meringuey, fruity, creamy pud unctuous and moreish. I have a wedge of Saint-Nectaire cheese which is utterly à point. If this sounds gushing, it's meant to. Food of this quality at this price is rare indeed. I hope there's enough buzz to draw diners all through the week (hell, if I didn't live and work on the opposite side of London I'd be there every other day). Brawn is the result of brains and beauty (and I don't mean the pig's).
Price: About £60 for two, including wine
Rating: 9/10Brawn full review >>