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Reviews: Gezellig and Isla in London, Haar in St Andrews and more

16 September 2019 by
Reviews: Gezellig and Isla in London, Haar in St Andrews and more

"Top cooking, good wine list, friendly service," is how Giles Coren sums up Gezellig in London's Holborn London in The Times

There was warm, crunchy sourdough rolled in a billion toasted seeds, a free little cheese puff with a blob of essence of Branston on the top and a nice little bitterbal ("the only Dutch thing you'll eat all night", said [co-owner] Wieteke) that reminded me of all the times I've been to Amsterdam and wondered what a bitterbal was.

Then came bold, bright dishes focused in many cases on excellent vegetables, like my pot roast turnip, sweet and earthy, underneath chopped duck hearts with a swirl of liver on a tiny toast; beefy beefheart tomatoes with pickled artichokes and shavings of Belper knolle, a Swiss cheese, not a Dutch one; and a big, neat Ramsay-like raviolo of brandade with a dark, meaty octopus ragù. Then a new season grouse, roasted, the breast sliced and served bloody, the legs confit in a crispy roll, with celeriac and black cabbage and shimmering salted blackberries.

[Returning for lunch] I went vegetarian (as I do now three days a week) and after the excellent bread, took the glistening ruby chunks of salt-baked beetroot from the £22 2-course set lunch, with their little cubes of mature Cheddar and luminous pickled cucumber, yummy roasted pine nuts, top-class olive oil and port dressing (a sort of student salad, really, but with fancy pants on) and then a truly epic main in which little roasted cauliflower steaks were drenched in seaweed butter and topped with lacy slicings of sparassis mushroom, while others were crusted with breadcrumbs and sat on by twigs of deep-fried samphire, the whole thing subtle and sweet-savoury, mushroomy, rich and multifaceted. So top cooking, good wine list, friendly service, ceiling a bit too high, music a bit dodgy, great place for larger groups.

Rating: cooking: 7/10; service: 7/10; location: 10/10; score: 8/1-. Price: £60 per head

Isla at the Standard
Isla at the Standard

Nearly all of the dishes at the Standard hotel's Isla restaurant in London's King's Cross are very good, according to The Telegraph's William Sitwell

We started with a plate of crudité pickles and pea hummus. Its presentation was almost clumsy. Large chunks of radish and carrot, the latter's tops looking like they'd been chewed rather than cut. But it tasted as beautifully natural as it looked, as if the chef had barely interfered in its journey from earth to plate. If this is what pea hummus can taste like – fresh, springlike, a little crunchy in texture – then when I take the reins of power, I shall decree that all peas be made into hummus under the instruction of the Isla chef. As a child pea-hater, this was a helpful moment of therapy.

We then piled through a selection of main course plates. The ceviche with lettuce and herbs came as two DIY dishes. You spooned the ceviche into the little gem and thence into your gob. I often find that ceviche tastes more of its cure than the fish; too much salt, too much citrus. But this collection of fish with herbs and little berries was silky smooth, with not a hint of acrid gagging.

There was also a triumphant dish of marinated tomatoes. They were wonderfully gunky and syrupy with an added little crunch of breadcrumbs. The sliced half of broccoli – firm and crunchy – had slightly charred florets and was caked in yogurt and mustard seeds. President HW Bush banned broccoli from his table – be it in the White House or on Air Force One. ‘I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli,' he once declared. He would have understood my pea issue. If he'd dined at Isla he'd have made eating broccoli compulsory.

Rating: 4/5. Price: £75 for lunch for two, without drinks and service

Haar 2
Haar 2

The three-course lunch menu at Haar in St Andrews is a "steal", says Murray Chalmers in The Courier

We went for the three-course lunch menu (£23.95) which is such a steal we all left feeling like kleptomaniacs. Everything we had (including, unusually for Tayside, some excellent vegetarian options) was ace and it's good to see that there is no compromise on ingredients and preparation with the set menu, which offers three choices of starters and main and two desserts.

We ordered one of each of the main courses and all were wonderful; Scottish grass-fed beef with Asian salad let the true flavour of the rare beef shine through but the sharpness of the salad made it sing a more complex note, whilst the cod with Goan curry was perfectly cooked and spiced/seasoned to absolute perfection. The miso aubergine with rice noodle salad was a joy, the depth of the classic pairing of miso and aubergine cut through with the zest and zing of the noodle salad, all enhanced with the inspired addition of fennel.

Rating: value: 9/10; menu: 10/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 7/10; food: 10/10; total: 43/50. Price: £23.95 for the three-course lunch menu

10 Heddon Street in London's Mayfair is a "heady blend of the new and trendy mixed with something that will never get old – a full stomach", writes Grace Dent in The Guardian

I'll get all the sunshine I need from 10 Heddon St's herb and fennel salad, which on paper sounds like something you'd order sheerly out of conscience. Wrong: it is heavenly – a fantastic, bold alignment of chilli, mint and sharp citrus; in fact, it feels churlish to shame it with the dowdy term "salad". The fresh focaccia is outstanding, too: pillowy, crisp and doused in the highest echelon of extra-virgin olive oil. Those crisp fir potatoes served with a thick pool of what is essentially hoity-toity taramasalata are one of the feel-good hits of 2019. We ordered two plates and fought over them impolitely.

There's a sense here that nothing leaves this kitchen that hasn't been puzzled over and preened to make it perfect. Yes, it's just pasta and sauce, and no one's reinventing the wheel, but then the tonnarelli cacio e pepe, which as a buzz dish was the toast of a thousand Instafeeds a few years ago, is back once again like the renegade master: saucier, pinker and heaving with fresh crab. The prettiest dish of all must be the plump, pretty parcels of sweetcorn ravioli delightfully teamed with girolles and peppery nasturtium leaves. Tagliatelle with seaweed butter is slippery, salty and glorious, with a pale green dusting the colour of a mermaid's bouffant.

Rating: food 9/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 8/10. Price: about £25 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler reviews Hot May Pot Pot in London's Knightsbridge

In the first course, prices veer from that ominous "on request" for items such as sashimi of lobster and Pacific geoduck (the world's largest clam) to a much more user-friendly £6.90 for various salads, so that is where we safely graze. Hot May cabbage is a towering perky pile of shredded white cabbage, crunchy and numbing in equal parts. Red oil lotus root shares those virtues with the added values of subtly fibrous texture and the various health benefits that could be claimed, stress reduction for example. Momma's potato salad resembles the assembly called salad Olivier much liked by Russians… it is relevant to reveal that Hot May's head chef is from the Czech Republic. It's his mum's recipe — and jolly good too.

From signature dishes we try the misleadingly named homemade meatball — made entirely from seafood. Spheres of minced crab, squid and prawn are prettily presented, each on a slice of cucumber and topped with a different herb, for lowering into the bubbling stocks. You will be helped with this. One of the dipping sauces at £3.50 to accompany is a must.

Pancakes filled with minced wagyu beef, cabbage and red onions are delicious, with a downy texture that provides interesting contrast or completion to plainly poached items like the razor-thin slices of best end of lamb or the A4 beef at £28 — as opposed to the rib-eye halal at £128. Seafood per piece for lobbing and bobbing in the broths start at £4 for tiger prawn.

Rating: 4/5

The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles describes the price of lobster at the Lobster Shack in Whitstable, Kent Mail as "precipitous"

The air is sharp with that English seaside iodine tang, the cobalt sky clear, save for a few wisps of cloud. And on we move into the Lobster Shack, which overlooks a choppy North Sea.

There are live lobsters in a tank at the entrance, big buggers, on sale at £104 each. Yikes.

We order a dozen natives at the counter, flat and elegant, and a dozen rocks (about £17.50 a dozen), rather fatter. And half a lobster too. The oysters couldn't be more local, farmed a few metres off the beach, and the restaurant is owned by The Whitstable Oyster Company. It farms some of the best oysters on Earth. And there's something rather lovely about eating them at source.

I find [the natives] more delicate and discreet than their burly Pacific cousin. They hum rather than holler, whisper rather than shout. Freddy eats one. Then another. Then does the same with the rocks. ‘Well, what do you think'? I ask, awaiting pearls of wisdom to drop from his mouth. ‘Hmm. The flat ones are sweeter and less salty.' He pauses to slurp another rock. ‘But I prefer these ones.'

The half-lobster appears with some very average chips. It's beautifully cooked, so the flesh still has that blessed succulence. But £20 for two bites? There's steep. And then there's downright precipitous.

Rating: 4/5. Price: about £50 per head if eating lobster with your oysters

Lussmanns house-cured treacle gravadlax with heritage beetroot and horseradish
Lussmanns house-cured treacle gravadlax with heritage beetroot and horseradish

The Telegraph's Keith Miller discovers "handsome dining areas" and "solid cooking" at Lussmanns in Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Ordering was easier for me than it was for her: an avowed pesco-sceptic, she summoned a bespoke version of spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, flanked by an array of nibbles and sides that she grudgingly undertook to share with me "for professional reasons". On my side of the table it was "chalk stream smoked trout" with pickled radish, hake with romesco, chips and a few snatched mouthfuls of samphire.

All pretty good, though the rabbit croquetas and the romesco were both a little gluier than they might have been…

And yet, if our lunch was anything to go by, there's nothing wildly original or passionate on offer here, beyond a suavely generic modern-brasserie vibe, handsome dining areas, solid (if occasionally stolid) cooking, an admirable-enough commitment to community engagement and MSC-certified fish – and stellar khazis. Maybe that's all you need.

Rating: 3.5/5. Price: £90 for lunch for two

OKN1.jpeg
OKN1.jpeg

OKN1, New City College's Hackney campus restaurant in London, combines "blessed familiarity with faultless execution and at a price that makes sense", writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

For starters we have a perfect bit of classical training made flesh: a ham hock and chicken terrine, served at room temperature so the light glazing of jelly is starting to melt. Too often terrines end up overly compressed, by a kitchen fearful the damn thing will fall apart, when what they really need is a sharp knife to cut it. This is loosely textured, and robustly seasoned, and shiny with olive oil and cracked black pepper. It comes with thick slices of still-warm brioche and their own fig chutney, which is dark and glossy and heavy with full fruit. No, not ground-breaking, just a really good starter.

We follow that with two dishes nicked wholesale from the menu at Robin's Nest (look it up, kids): moules marinère and a chicken Kiev… The mussels are big meaty numbers in a thick broth that is the blessed union of smoked bacon, slow-cooked onions and cider, invited to hang out in each other's company for as long as it takes. The chicken Kiev is plump and crisp, and filled with a righteous basting of garlic butter. It perches on a thick lake of white bean purée punched up with Marmite butter, the closest they come to a culinary flourish.

Price: starters £6.50-£8, main courses £11-£15, desserts £3-£6, wines from £22

"I can't think of anything lovelier than simply putting yourself in the hands of this charming bunch and letting them bring dish after extraordinary dish," writes Marina O'Loughlin in The Sunday Times, reviewing the Clove Club in London's Shoreditch

[Chef Isaac] McHale's Scottish background makes itself felt with haggis buns, a delicate riff on Chinese cha siu bao, tender and glossy. But rather than pork, they're stuffed with the powerful funk of Scotland's beloved offal sausage. And with "pakora" — nominally Indian but adopted by Glasgow as "indescribables", here reinvented with snowy, slightly gelatinous plaice in a gram flour crust with swoops of intensely vegetal courgette purée, sheep's milk yogurt and a dusting of dried-flower garam masala. If it weren't heresy to my home town, I'd celebrate its improvement on the original.

The timing is perfect, the progression of dishes as carefully plotted as a novel: scallops, cooked — unusually — till almost fudgy and laced with perfumed Australian black truffle on a mini swamp of more truffle, butter and potato: an opulent seafood fondant. Some of the best lobster I've tasted: tail and claw grilled over hazelwood, their textural differences vividly highlighted, sharp, fruity heat coming from lemon and piment d'Espelette. Ravishing. And more, and more: a guinea fowl dish; some beef of almost multidimensional beefiness.

Price: £225 for two, including 12.5% service charge

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