The Daily Telegraph, 23 January
Jasper Gerard can't understand how The Pheasant in Keyston, Cambridgeshire, managed to reach the finals in Gordon Ramsay's search for the best local restaurant on The F Word
On television, judges were given the kind of greeting normally reserved for the Queen in one of the better behaved Caribbean islands, but us? Let's just say I've been welcomed more warmly in Bulgaria. We are eventually shown to a table by a tight-bottomed waiter who is too grand to write down our order and announces he will send a waitress. Who admits she doesn't know about the food. At the bar, where we have been left loitering, a sign lists a vast array of meat cuts. So why are hardly any on the menu? There is fish from Scotland and Cornwall but not much local meat. Many dishes (such as fish and chips) could come under "pub grub", if you scrubbed out the prices. My game terrine is fine, with a hint of thyme and green peppercorns. It comes with remoulade made from carrot rather than celery, with mayo, herbs and capers, though the pleasing, punchy taste here is mustard. So top marks for the posh coleslaw, but what is this charcoaled ember? Oh, it's meant to be toast. Baffling. (Lunch for two, £109.21, including service. Rating:4/10)
The Guardian, 23 January
Matthew Norman is pleasantly surprised to enjoy fabulous Persian food at Faanoos, London SW14, despite its chilly and incongruous interior
Another disc of piping hot, sesame seed-encrusted taftoon duly arrived, and with it four equally delicious starters - delectably smoky mirza ghazemi (garlicky mushed aubergine), impeccably fresh hummus, a gloriously zingy, herby salad shirazi (diced cucumber, tomato, red onion and mint in a Â¬emony olive oil dressing) and the most gorgeously unctuous, savoury stuffed vine leaves I've tasted. "It just gets weirder and weirder," my friend said. "I've walked past this place a thousand times, promising never to cross the threshold if I live to the age of Methuselah, and this is the nicest food I've had in ages." My chelo kebab sultami, a skewer of (marginally overcooked) lamb fillet and Â¬another of blissfully fat-laden lamb mince served with a grilled Â¬tomato and a vast, fluffy mound of saffron rice, was fine. But my friend's joojeh kebab was magnificent, the chunks of chicken glazed with a limey, saffrony marinade and cooked to a seductively sticky finish, served with rice topped with sweet and sour wild berries (or "currants" as the menu oddly styled them). Price for a large meal, with soft drinks, £15-18 a head).
Faanoos- review in full >>
The Observer, 24 January
Jay Rayner is convinced that his meal at the Criterion, London W1, will be one of the worst he will endure in 2010
As we studied the menu and winced again, this time at the prices - nudging a tenner for starters, £20 and above for mains - a man appeared from a door in one wall wearing elbow-length black rubber gloves and carrying a bucket, as though he were off to help a cow with a particularly troublesome breech birth. He strode across the room and out the other side. We turned back to the menu, which polite people would call eclectic and I would call a mess: a bit of Italy, a bit of France, a quick diversion to South Africa then back up to Scotland. If only all we had to do was read about it. A Cornish crab risotto brought a tiny heap of bright orange and undercooked rice glued together with an overload of cheese. Against this the flavour of a tiny heap of white crabmeat disappeared. A bouillabaisse was nothing of the sort: a thin, vinegary broth, a few prawns, pieces of something unidentifiable - and no questions asked when the bowl was sent back still full of the liquor. No matter. We had a distraction. The chap with the rubber gloves was making another sortie. I was minded to ask him how far the poor old heifer was dilated. (Meal for two, including wine and service, £120).
The Criterion - review in full >> The Sunday Times, 24 January
Martin Ivens says newly arrived chef Simon Wills at The Pearson's Arms, Whitstable, Kent, has made a good start, but could do even better
The star attraction is the chef Simon Wills, who created a superb modern British restaurant at the Carpenters Arms in the Elizabethan village of Eastling. To start, I had the jerusalem artichoke soup and truffle oil. It was exquisitely balanced, and I would have relished eating it in a main-course portion. My wife opted for some simple home-smoked fish and creamed fresh horseradish. She liked it and I wangled a large share, too. To wash it down, I chose a light Mercurey, at the expensive range of the wine list, but a fair price at £32. For the main course, I opted for a signature Wills dish, a British cassoulet (the roast saddle of hare with celeriac and potato gratin had already run out). It had always been worth driving the few miles to Eastling just to engage this formidable dish in close quarters, as good as any I have encountered in Gascony. The chef is not afraid of his robust ingredients, and for the Pearson's version he used goose, old spot and home-smoked sausages made more piquant with mustard dressed leaves. It began well, but I found it inferior to its Eastling relative, as the goose fat rendered it overly rich and heavy. Wills promises to lighten it up in the new year. (£160 for five. Rating: 3/5).
The Pearson's Arms - review in full >>
By Janet Harmer
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