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Reviews: Jay Rayner is "fed delightfully" at Stem; Michael Deacon demands a bathtub of the chips at Cora Pearl

20 August 2018 by
Reviews: Jay Rayner is "fed delightfully" at Stem; Michael Deacon demands a bathtub of the chips at Cora Pearl

The Observer's Jay Rayner is "fed delightfully" at Stem in London's Mayfair

Shelled Cornish mussels, a deep rust orange, come on a rich meaty reduction with slices of raw cauliflower and soft buttery cabbage. Mussels and gravy should definitely be a thing. I'm declaring it a thing. A frothy white onion soup is intense and velvety, and full of more caramel tones than a toffee shop. In the middle are tidy petals of chargrilled onion for crunch. Next to it is a piece of toasted sourdough, piped with whorls of soft, warm Winchester cheese, all lactic funk and power, and topped with finely chopped spring onions. It's cheese on toast as imagined by the Borgias after they got bored of the orgies and narcotics and wanted some other, more understated way to express their decadence. A sip of soup. A crunch of cheesy toast. And a slow, gentle nod.

Price: £100 for a meal for two, including drinks and service

corapearl fish-with-croutons
corapearl fish-with-croutons

Michael Deacon, writing in The Telegraph, demands a bathtub of the chips served at Cora Pearl in London's Covent Garden

I started with the brown shrimp RanhÁ¶fer: dreamily creamy and ticklishly seasoned. My friend had the Bloody Mary mackerel: a single fish, chopped into a row of five segments, and spiked with a Tabasco tang. If you're choosing between the two, though, take the shrimp.

The dish I really want to get on to, though, is a mere side. The chips. I'm not the first reviewer to goggle at Cora Pearl's chips and I can guarantee I won't be the last, because they really are stupendous.

My friend took one bite and said immediately, in all seriousness, that it was the best chip she'd ever tasted. Each one was about the size of a brick, sizzling with salt, and oozingly juicy. Then again, was the juice coming from the chips? Or was it just the slobber drooling down my chin? At any rate, they were outstanding.

In fact I'm not sure why they only come in a little bowl as a side. You should be able to order them as a main. A whole plate of them. A whole basin. A whole bathtub. Obviously the best chips are the ones you eat out of paper in the passenger seat by the sea during a downpour, the whole car stinking with vinegar and batter. You can't beat those. But Cora Pearl's are very possibly the best you can eat in a restaurant.

Price: about £75 for three courses for two without alcohol. Score: 4/5


Grace Dent enthuses about Bancone in London's Covent Garden, which she describes as "casually orgasmic" but also "deeply affordable" in The Guardian

One of my favourite dishes was a simply hewn plate of fresh fazzoletti, or "silk handkerchiefs", lying in heavenly walnut butter. Imagine paper-thin, sublimely al dente sheets draped prettily in a sticky, nutty, gritty mess of butter. This casually orgasmic type of dish does not need a 40-storey panoramic view or a Champagne butler to help sell it.

At Bancone, you can eat like a Russian art dealer or a Knightsbridge lunching mummy for a fraction of the price. Its charred pile of Hispi cabbage in Planeta olive oil with a vampire-obliterating dose of garlic and a vibrant thwack of chilli is truly great, and costs £4.50. The slivers of duck breast on sweet pickled artichokes were perhaps less exciting. On another occasion - and I am going back - I'm going for the mini jersey royals with peas, baby onions and Parmesan snow.

It's just a long pale room that serves pasta. Bancone's gimmick is that you get a really lovely dinner and you don't weep when the bill appears. It's a trend that I hope will run and run.

Price: about £25 a head plus drinks and service. Score: food 8/10; atmosphere 8/10; service 8/10


Giles Coren writes that the Pep Guardiola-backed Tast Cuina Catalana in Manchester "will get better across the board as it warms up" in The Times

It was all, somehow, very old-school Iberian, in the brownness and smoothness of the food. The endless process. Nothing was piping hot off the grill or plancha, or raw or remotely seasonal or local. Nothing at all, apart from those asparagus tips, was green.

Typical of this was canelÁ³ la Barceloneta, a soft pasta tube of extruded guinea fowl meat, with more béchamel and a brown shiny demi-glace. You'd never have guessed it was guinea fowl. Not in a million. So much having been done to it, as it had been to everything.

Like the presa Ibérica, that glorious neck nugget of the famous ham pig that is so delicious and fashionable when charred over coal so that it's blackened on the outside and red and juicy within. Here, they had sous-vided it, so that it was uniformly soft and brown, and offered it with mashed potato and another brown, shiny demi-glace. Not very summery. But excellent if you like soft, brown food to which a lot has been done.

Price: about £70 a head. Score: cooking 6/10; space 8/10; service 9/10; score: 7.67/10


The Evening Standard's Frankie McCoy finds no love in the food at Tish in London's Belsize Park

The meatballs I tried had the pallor of an Ikea bumper pack left thawing in a car park. They were cold. Vegetarian bourekas are lentil-filled pasties that would provide comfort if the last train home had been cancelled.

And then there is Granny Anny's bean soup… It is the worst thing I've eaten in a restaurant. Red kidney beans have been boiled, blended and served immediately. It has the consistency of cement.

Cholent is more than beef in sauce: it is a dish warmed through with thousands of years of Jewish history. Tish's is not. It is a small portion of a grey meat boiled to the texture of doormat, in a wet cough of broth. There is zero love in it, or in anything else we eat at Tish.

Score: 2/5

Joanna Blythman's reviews the Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh in the Sunday Herald

After some nice fresh sourdough with a serious pat of butter and a tapenade that's exhilaratingly super-charged with anchovy, we discover the sweet, soft, porky, artisanal delights of East Coast Cured's handmade salami, which is slow-cured and matured in its workshop in Leith. It's excellent. I'm less taken with the dish as a whole, with spears of griddled asparagus, harissa mayonnaise, a pile of rocket, and mini-mozzarella balls that have been breaded and deep-fried. Why fry mozzarella? You only turn something that should be light and milky into something heavy and chewy.

From the economical menu du jour, smoked pork shoulder with confit onion and Puy lentils represents terrific value for money: two substantial slices of succulent meat that has been griddled. This is a carnivore's delight - not enough in the way of greens for me - but it's the sort of thing that would pull in the lunchtime trade in rural France. But why add lardons to the lentils? This is hammy overkill.

Price: £16-£38 for lunch; £28-£38 for dinner. Food score: 7.5/10

The Sunday Times's Marina O'Loughlin revisits Pique-Nique in London's Bermondsey

Seiche carbonara - seafood as pasta, an idea I first came across from LA's favourite Frenchman, Ludo Lefebvre - sounds as though it comes not from the brain of a celebrity chef, but from the carb-deprived, feverish desperation of a keto-diet practitioner. In general, I am violently opposed to replacing the pasta in pasta dishes - put your courgetti in the compost, where they belong. But this is magnificently successful: the ribbons of cuttlefish tenderised and, to the eye, indistinguishable from tagliatelle. To the tooth, there's more elastic resistance; on the tongue, a tiny suggestion of the sea. The sauce is ripe with oodles of parmesan and salty with crisp little shards of pancetta; in the centre, a liquid egg yolk quivers before I fork its golden contents through the sauce to further enrich. I love this.

There's a pÁ¢té en croÁ»te that would look the part in the hallowed Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse: crisp pastry, succulent meat (chicken and pork) and a layer of joyously bouncy, rich and lemon-scented meat jelly. Fat, juicy tomatoes, quartered and given a sharp spritz of sherry vinegar. Le crumble: crisp, just-caramelised sugary topping on a bed of velvety, sweet apricots, as summery and comforting as the sun-warmed fluffy towel after the sea swim. The soufflé is still there, still a pillowy, gravity-defying and pneumatic marvel into which a quenelle of blueberry ice-cream is plunged, collapsing into a sweet blueberry syrup with, I swear, a sigh of pleasure. Maybe it could have been sharper; maybe I should get over myself.

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