John Lanchester hates the noise but loves the food at Bread Street Kitchen, London EC4, the latest restaurant from Gordon Ramsay Holdings
Maybe they think a City crowd likes noise. (Which is true, and a reason many East End bars ban people in suits.) I hear it's different at lunch, and perhaps the management will have thought better of it by the time you read this: but my main impression was of overwhelming, oppressive loudness. That was a real pity, because the cooking was somewhere between very good and excellent, with the impeccable technique and attention to detail that characterise Ramsay's food. Some of it was hearty: pig's head croquettes, for instance, were crumbed and crisped on the outside, wonderfully rich and meaty in the middle, and came with a mayonnaise spiked with green chilli. Other starters were much lighter but just as good. Scallops were grilled and came with sweet-cured bacon, crispy leaves and a light dressing of their own juices. King crab was a sort of upgraded prawn cocktail, with lettuce and batons of apple that were both sweet and acidic - an effective and original combination. I wanted to try the burger. It was off; it would have been nice to be told that before I ordered it. Instead, I had the grouse, which was £28, as opposed to £11.50 for the burger, but it was expertly cooked and seasoned, and not served with that showing-off, overassertive rareness some people employ with grouse.
Price: Meal for two, about £100.
Jay Rayner visits Made in Belfast and finds there's lots to like until the food arrives
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £90
Tracey MacLeod discovers the perfect restaurant in Massimo's except that the food doesn't quite live up to the room
I returned to Massimo for a proper, dressed-up dinner a few nights later with a real sense of anticipation, not to say jeopardy - having discovered the perfect restaurant, would the food be any good? Italian seafood is Massimo's speciality - and heretical though it may be to say it, I can never get too excited about eating fish. But once again, I was struck by the beauty of the room (the creation of uber-designer David Collins, I now know) and the mood-enhancing glow of the amber-hued lighting - less than helpful, it turned out, when it came to reading the tiny grey print of the menu. A single breadcrumbed mussel and a shot-glass of foamed pumpkin soup arrived almost as soon as we sat down, followed, at a slightly erratic pace, by some pretty decent modern Italian dishes. Spaghetti, with a blowsy, oily sauce of porcini and diced calamari, delivered a big slap of Mediterranean flavours, as did grilled octopus, smoky and tender, served with a subtle aioli. Both mains featured shimmeringly fresh fish and pitch-perfect confidence with saucing; John Dory came anchored by a bisque-ish pumpkin and crab sauce, while sea bass was partnered with the crispest of battered prawns and a lemon sauce to underscore the Asian influence.
Rating: Food 3/5; Ambience 5/5; Service 3/5
Price: Three courses Á la carte £60 a head before wine and service
The Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell finds an inviting interior, imaginative but comforting food and delightful staff at the Balcon, the new restaurant at the Sofitel St James, London W1
The chef, Vincent Menager, arrived a couple of years ago, a long-time Sofitel hand. Now he's been given sole control. And introduced some soul. His menu blends classic French and British produce and techniques to appeal to West Enders without scaring off the trad hotel clientele. Charcuterie is from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire and Mas le Rouget in Cantal, France; Herefordshire snails come with Mas air-dried ham while wild Devon mussels marinière arrive on Welsh rarebit. There are rotisserie dishes and slow-cooked rib-stickers, grilled meats and fish and some tarts and tartines for lighter meals, as well as the aforementioned charcuterie plates - 16 of them. The salad section is small but well-formed, although quite what steak tartare is doing there is anyone's guess. We're directed by friendly, textbook-French staff towards the items in bold on the large-format menu; these are chef's signature dishes. No argument from me - the pike custard with King's Lynn brown shrimps, crustacean velouté and sourdough toast (£10.50) is both pretty and delicious, an unctuous, delicately flavoured confection with punchy shrimps scattered on top and a jug of rich sauce.
Price: Around £120 for two including wine
The Daily Telegraph
Matthew Norman says Manchurian Legends is a hot candidate for the Chinatown crown
The prices are so reasonable that you can afford to go a bit mad with the ordering, and we did precisely that, ploughing on with four main courses. "Juicy duck with pickled vegetables" in a watery broth was about as close as Dongbei seems likely to go in the quest for comfort food. "Quite calming," a palpably relieved friend put it, "after all that spice." The same couldn't be said for "hot fresh green chillies with pork", though the chillies were more like gentle pimientos de padrÁ³n than ferocious Bird's Eyes. Sticking with the porcine, we were mad about the "sweet and sour pork". For anyone who knows this only as cubes of rubbery pig meat, clumped into heavy batter balls and doused in a cloyingly treacly, globulous red sauce, this was nothing like that. Slivers of loin came in a thin batter, fried to an immaculately crisp finish, with a glorious sauce that mingled the faintly vinegary and the gently sweet to perfection. Equally outstanding were chunks of soft shell crab in a slightly different, faintly curryish batter. Thanks to Mr Feng's light touch with the deep fryer, we managed to depart without uttering the ancient cry of "Stannah Stairlift to table 19".
Price Huge meal with lashings of beer: £25-£35
Tony Turnbull steers clear of piggy treats at the Pig Country House Hotel and Restaurant Hampshire
A starter of dressed crab came with a celeriac remoulade prickled with fennel flowers which delivered a finely judged aniseed snap; sweetly smoked salmon (in a converted garden shed outside the kitchen door) was sharpened with pickled silver chard, and a fried duck egg with nasturtium salad was as vibrant as a Kandinsky canvas, and probably twice as rich. My pigeon salad was as pink and bouncy as a newborn baby. Only Oliver was determined to sneak in a bit of pig - that's brothers for you - with a vegetable and bacon broth. It was "fine", which is 13-year-old speak for "smoky, earthy and full of heft". Main courses were a more mixed bag. Roast leg of lamb came with great pillowy Yorkshire pudding but the gravy proved too sweet for adult tastes. My 38-day-aged ribeye was a good piece of meat, perfectly cooked, but the deep-fried matchstick onions were only seconds shy of cremation. Venison has to be cooked with great care to stop its lean meat becoming dry and chewy, and this, alas, had similarly suffered from too heavy a hand at the stove. But the Pig Pie - I never got a taste, so can't tell you what was in it, but I was assured it wasn't pork - and roast cod with brown caper butter both went down well, and nothing was so wrong it dented the general feeling of good will.
Price: about £40 a head without drinks
The Sunday Times
AA Gill has a spectacularly bad meal at Manchurian Legends, one of the latest additions to London's Chinatown
Duck tongues came as a generous crock of quack in brown sauce. They were clitorally cloacal, with cartilaginous strips up their middles, so you had to salaciously nibble the meat off them. They were edible and unusual, and possibly a talking point, though not for the duck. But, honestly, I'm not going to be ordering them again in a hurry. 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.
The London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler reviews One Blenheim Terrace, London NW8, where chef Ed Shaerf's "vision of nostalgia, modernity and decadence" re-interprets favourite British dishes
It was during the main course of duck Á l'orange that the underlying fallacy of this "vision" became clear. If anyone has nostalgic fondness for a dish, however much a cliché it might be, an altered or traduced version is going to have to struggle to impress. Or, as W B Yeats put it rather better, "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams". Duck with braised lentils - although the menu mentioned spelt - sporting a few chunks of fresh orange segment is not going to satisfy atavistic cravings. At least the meat wasn't just a dreary magret - there was in addition confit leg - but the only element that harked forwards or back in a positive sort of way was citrus-glazed braised endive. What you might call the giddy limit of these culinary high jinks was fish and chips with no chips. I thought its recipient was going to burst into tears. The beautifully roasted cod was served with whorls of batter scattered on top, mushy peas fashioned into croquettes and a warm tartare sauce. The menu description also mentioned malt vinegar air but that seemed to have wafted away. Everyone loves fruit crumble so why turn apple and blackberry crumble into sugared doughnuts? More fun was the pre-dessert of toast ice cream with liquid caramel and a fragment of brandy snap, which with no preconceptions or expectations - it was unannounced - managed to beguile.
Price: £13/16 for two/three courses
Marina O'Loughlin has quite a nice dinner at astronomical prices at Northall at the Corinthia Hotel, London SW1
There doesn't seem to be a staff ‘house style' - the ferocious greeter accuses us of not confirming our reservation with the full beetling brow, while our waiter teeters over into the mildly inappropriate end of the frisky spectrum. It's unsettling. As is the fact that I seem to have lost several inches of height into the buttery-leather banquettes. I feel as though the chum is interviewing me and I'm not acquitting myself terribly well. Our gaspworthy bill is arrived at with the help of a single bottle of wine, a Picpoul de Pinet at £26, one of the cheapest, plus one extra glass. Main courses hover around £25, with vegetables extra at £3.50 - but wait, they're from Watts Farm, Kent, so that must be OK. I can't, in all fairness, recommend somewhere that costs so much for a quite nice dinner - if you want to drop that kind of loot, you can get awesome elsewhere in London. If I'd been lurking in the hotel for entirely less salubrious purposes, I doubt if I could wind up feeling quite as comprehensively screwed.
Price: Dinner for two with wine, water and service costs about £160
Guy Dimond can recommend everything on the menu at the new Hawksmoor Guildhall, London EC2, the third outlet by the successful steak restaurant group
We can recommend everything. The steaks are among the best you'll find anywhere, but be warned, the portion sizes are huge; even the steaks ‘for two to share' can actually feed three. Our ‘D-Rump' - the innermost muscles of the rump, aged for 55 days in this case - was cooked medium, just enough to make the fat melt, with the meat tender and beautifully flavoured. The triple-cooked chips are blanched, then fried twice in vegetable oil to give an appealing crunch to the surface, but maintain a yielding texture within. The side dishes and starters are just as good. The grilled bone marrow is huge, the lengthways-cut revealing disturbingly visceral pink marrow inside - but it melts in the mouth. Potted beef, served in a tiny clip-top jar, comes with an excellent own-made piccalilli. Even that most maligned of vegetables, brussels sprouts, is firm and not overcooked, served with chestnuts, which are the perfect seasonal flavour complement.
Price: Meal for two with wine and service around £130