The Times 4 February Giles Coren finds very decent cooking, lovely hospitality, efficient service and wonderful value at the Olive Branch in Clipsham, Rutland
The menu is a bit 2003, underlining that old rule about going back in time a year for every 10 miles you drive out of the capital. I don't know that a Rutland pub in 2012 is the place for tiger prawn tempura or salmon fillet with sweet potato and basmati rice, and I don't think there is anything to be gained any more, anywhere, ever, by putting popping candy in your food. But the chilli jam they had made for the tempura prawns was brilliant. Stunning. Worth taking away in a bottle, which we did. And the salmon curry parody (complete with roti) was also fantastically well done. I guess if you're a very good chef and a long way from the nearest curry house, then you think, "What the hell?" We also had little soups of artichoke and of cauliflower with novelty croutons, some devilled whitebait that wasn't bad but was a little bit hefty of crumb, a little bit oily, and their home-cured bresaola. For my main I had a honey-roast duck leg that was nicely done and served with a side of beans and chorizo that was called a "cassoulet" and was very nice but wasn't a cassoulet. You don't get much more 2003 than a pretend cassoulet.
Price: Three-course set dinner with loads of choice for £24.5 Olive Branch review in full, available only to Times Online subscribers >>
The Sunday Times
AA Gill visits Chinatown hoping to find a decent Chinese eatery. But after eating at Manchurian Legends, he leaves spectacularly disappointed
From there, it all went downhill. Not just downhill, but down the drain. A fish-head curry wasn't as nice as it sounds, but, then again, it wasn't as bad as the vinegar and chilli fish, which was alarmingly cold and the sort of thing that penguin chicks might be offered if there was nothing else in mummy's gullet. My pork with black fungus was brown and hot, but also repellent. Pig intestines were brown and hot with the added bonus of swine colon. I can't remember the last time I ate so little in a restaurant. I'm not squeamish. I don't mind chilli heat. I just have never been hungry enough to eat these repetitive plates of collapsing taupe mulch. They came without redeeming features, not a single clear or evocative flavour. The textures all rose from the autopsy bin, and the staff moved the barely touched dishes without apparent surprise or comment. I called a halt. Paid the bill. And went to the Wolseley for croque monsieur. I haven't actually been defeated by a restaurant for ages. It was spectacularly, triumphantly awful.
Rating: 1/5 Manchurian Legends review in full, available only to Times Online subscribers >>
The Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell says Soho institution Quo Vadis, London W1, where Jeremy Lee has just taken over the reins, is a foodie favourite for a reason
Today's "bright & crisp" could apply to the mood and the service as much as the outdoor climate. Our waiter works around the love-in to deliver us an exemplary vodka Martini and fresh-lime soda (two good tests of a barman), excellent bread baked in-house and some baked salsify with Parmesan (£3.50, scrumptious) while we decide what else to have. It's a short menu, boxed into sections: bites, today's pie, the oysters, the grill, and the starters and mains proper. There's also a terrific-looking set theatre menu, which is a steal at £20 for three courses - and it's available all day. My salt duck with pickled prunes and watercress (£6.50), followed by sea bass with artichokes and gremolata (£19.50) have only one less-than-perfect component - some slightly tough, bitter artichoke slices - but really, both dishes are fantastic. The duck, cut into strips, is soft and subtle; the prunes, tangy and sticky. The tranche of sea bass is crisp, salty and juicy and there's a frenzy of green over the plate.
Price: About £100 for two, including wine Quo Vadis review in full >>
Jay Rayner has a hit-and-miss experience at Viajante, London E2, where deliciousness is too often forced to give way to cleverness
At its best Viajante - it means "the traveller" - is very good indeed. Thai Explosion II may be a stupid name for a canapé, but this rich mousse of confited chicken flavoured with lemon grass, sandwiched between squares of crisp chicken skin and a coconut tuile, was a "blimey" moment. Crunchy biscuits of toasted amaranth smoked over hay with a wood sorrel purée were dense and musky. There were very good breads with a killer quenelle of smoked butter crusted with walnuts. There was a slippery bit of squid with the most extraordinary jellified texture despite having been chargrilled. Of the more substantial dishes the most pleasing was some crisp-skinned but rare trout with bright orange roe and an acidulated julienne of crunchy vegetables. There was a perfectly cooked piece of lobster with leek and milk skin - Mendes likes fiddling with milk - and a curiously traditional dish of cod with parsley and potatoes which was soft and gentle and soothing. Other things were less successful. Telling us that parsnips have been treated like meat doesn't make them meat, even when you serve them with smears of truffle and onion and squishy beads of vinegary tapioca. It just makes for a brown starchy plateful that looks like it's ready for the dishwasher before you've got started. Planks of pigeon breast cooked sous-vide had that gelatinous texture which, whatever the reality, made it feel uncooked.
Price: Meal for two, with wine and service, gulp, £200 Viajante review in full >>
Marina O'Loughlin says the food at 34, London W1, is almost excellent but finds it is designed for the privileged
They're no stranger to fashionable ingredients, either: there's puntarella (a wild Italian relative of chicory) with salsify and artichoke in a refreshing, earthy salad; foraged sea aster with lobster; and so-Brooklyn short ribs. Perhaps we don't choose the more adventurous dishes but neither do our fellow diners: each table bristles with steak and chips and onion rings. This is not a clientele that likes its meat sous-vided or accompanied by foraged tree bark. I really don't want to always come across like a chippy Bisto Kid with nose forever pressed against the window of outrageous privilege but with these joints it's hard not to. This is the first restaurant I've been to since forever that's bothered to specify a dress code, even if it's to say passive-aggressively that "ties are not required", leaving you to wonder what is. 34 is like a club, its prices and shtick designed to repel the great unwashed. Apparently, on the night we visit, the establishment is also blessed by the patronage of Gary Barlow. Now there's a grandee of tomorrow if ever I saw one. Much like 34.
Price: A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £180 34 review in full >>
Guy Dimond says although Dabbous, London W1, is not an immediately lovable restaurant, the food is as cutting-edge as you'll find anywhere
Some of the meats are cooked using the slow, temperature-controlled sous-vide method; used with goose breast, the result is perfectly cooked meat, then pan-seared and served with quince that had been poached in wine and honey, giving it a mead-like quality. Just as you find with Japanese kaiseki, Spain's Nueva Cocina or New Nordic cooking, heavy sauces are avoided. This goose breast sits on a sliver of glazed croissant that has been soaked in kuzu, a Japanese starch; the unusual flavour of this base is an infusion of clover, milk and honey. "I keep detailed notes and a scrapbook of ideas on my computer to inspire me," he later told me on the phone. You certainly don't find dishes like this by googling for them. The desserts are no less original. A "barley sponge" was a rum baba, but the yeast cake was delicate and light, soaked in red tea; a chocolate and hazelnut oil ganache was paired with sheep's milk ice-cream made the old-fashioned way, not with a Pacojet.
Price: Meal for two with wine and service: around £130 Dabbous review in full >>
London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler scores Dabbous, London W1, a perfect five, claiming it is a restaurant that changes the game
Between three of us we ordered all five dishes of the first section. It is unusual, maybe unknown, for a salad to knock your socks off but the assembly of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals served in one of those annoying dishes that tip your fork on to the table would have done, had I been wearing socks. It hummed with a sort of friskiness, sweetness and light not associated with restaurant kitchens. Silky mashed potato, on to which roasting juices had been poured and black truffle shaved, was arguably the perfect start to a meal when appetite is keenest. It also showed that the chef really understands eating pleasure. Coddled free-range hen egg - or hegg, as Franzi put it - with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter was served in a shell nestling shyly in a bundle of hay. It tasted wonderful. The least gripping item was celeriac with Muscatel grapes, lovage and hazelnuts, but celeriac can be a bit of a bruiser. Star of the middle (£11-14) section was, in my view, braised halibut with coastal herbs. I see that I have scribbled on the menu "best thing I've eaten in a long time".
Price: A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about £90 Dabbous review in full >>