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Review of the reviews… what the critics say about Steven Saunders and others

30 August 2006

The Times, 26 August

Giles Coren enjoys a sail and a modern curry at the Spice Merchant in Henley-on-Thames

Vegetable dishes are imaginative (white sweet potato grilled with chutney and yoghurt, tandoori broccoli, squash with halloumi, ginger potato, fig-stuffed spinach cakes) and there are lots of salads for the ladies. It's big and shiny and modern and right on the river, with lots of space, and the locals are clearly lapping up its exotic/urban/new-wave Indian thang. Best of all, they do little pre-prandial river trips on their own boat, up to 12 of you, for 60 quid an hour. And you can have drinks and nibbles on board.

If you live within a few miles, fancy giving this modern Indian malarkey a go, and don't fancy the trip to London, then the Spice Merchant is your man. (Rating, 6/10; set menus from £14 to £50 per person)

The Independent, 26 August

John Walsh likes the food at Via Condotti in London's Mayfair - but not the lack of diners

For the primo piatto I chose the long tubular candele pasta with baby octopus. It was simply cooked, with cherry tomatoes and herbs, and surprisingly earthy, the octopodal bulbs densely flavoured. A risotto of nettles and tiger prawns resembled a small green lake on which three shellfish clung together. It was, according to Sarah, "strangely delicious". It's in this section of the menu that the chef shows off a bit: his tagliolini is made with a purŽe of borlotti beans for extra texture, and his ravioli and tortelli are lovingly filled with scamorza cheese, goats' cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

A thumbs-up for the food, therefore, and the high-gloss design of everything. A thumbs-down for the mildly oppressive atmosphere (not quite helped by the appearance of the chef demanding to know what we made of it all). I'd like to go back sometime when the place doesn't so much resemble The Dead Zone. (Rating, 3/5 for food, 2/5 for ambience; meal for two £110 including wine)

The Guardian, 26 August

Pascal Wyse fills up on meat, meat and more meat at the Butcher & Grill, in Parkgate, London

Butcher & Grill. That's a no-nonsense name. None of your abstract Mazes, Seacows or Bombay Bicycle Clubs. The meathead hopes this means flesh, served simply, with confidence in its provenance. Or as my mum would say: "Take its horns off, wipe its arse and stick it on a plate. I like my beef so a good vet could save it."

Mains are predominantly, er, meat (two vegetarian options), but the starters are evenly divided, with further evidence of careful sourcing. The slight problem with the duck rillettes - no, massive problem - was that it wasn't rillettes. There was no fat. How can you have a rillettes that falls off your toast when you turn it upside down? Rather than a moist, shredded paste, it was like a cat-plate of duck morsels. (Rating, 6.5/10; meal for two, including wine, £120)

The Scotsman, 26 August

George Kerevan visits a perfect set for a Woody Allen film at the Wee Restaurant in Queensferry, West Lothian

Chris Wood's Wee Restaurant is a clever concoction. The
cooking is consistently interesting without frightening off the non-metropolitan part of the clientele. The decor is upmarket, European and modern without being intimidating. The prices are sensible enough to tempt the family market but still make Wood a profit. The menus are changed weekly, which should encourage repeat visits. All in all, it's just the sort of restaurant in which Woody Allen should set his first Scottish movie. (Meal for two, excluding drinks, £40.50)

The Observer, 27 August

Jay Rayner finds badly prepared ingredients and an overall lack of style at Steven Saunders in Newmarket, Suffolk

The room, like most of the dishes, is a master class in how not to do it. The walls are sea-green; there are black-and-white photographs of ingredients with little bits picked out in colour and huge white sheaths of linen over the chairs, like they're all wearing condoms. It has been designed with confidence but no sense of style.

The menu is one of those modern tapas sharing jobs, but very little worked. The asparagus in a tempura of vegetables were models of their kind, but the batter was as heavy and dense as a winter duvet. (Meal for two, with wine and service, £20)

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