23 SeptemberAA Gill says Bubbledogs, London W1, is a marketing idea, an expensive gimmick, flirtatious and fun up to the point where you get the bill
The varieties range from traditional sauerkraut or chilli and cheese, to the weird mango chutney, mint and coriander, and kimchi and red-bean paste. It was suggested that we had two each. There were side orders of tater tots - suppository-sized potato croquettes that were OK if taken orally - sweet-potato fries, which were inedible, and coleslaw, which tasted like the stuff they put into padded envelopes, soaked in mayonnaise. The dogs are good. Simplest was best: the corn dog, which they call a horny dog and comes on a stick, won by a head. Kelly particularly liked hers and asked me to take her picture eating it, which she managed to do without the merest hint of a double entendre. In the end, there's not a lot you can say about hot dogs - they is what they is. And champagne? It's a fizzy occasion, an excuse to laugh a little louder. Together, I suppose they're meant to be naughty and refined, high and low, street and limo. The princess and the pool boy. Take away the innuendo and it's a wine bar with sausages. The bill for four of us - and me not drinking - came to £120, which really isn't cheap.
Score: Food 2/5, Atmosphere 1/5
22 SeptemberGiles Coren finds the perfect place for any occasion in Pizza East, Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger in Kentish Town, London NW5, the latest outpost from Soho House Group
The pizzas, as it happens, are not my kind of pizza. I like a thin and crispy Roman job with a sharp sugo, blackened edges and a little bit of something salty on it (a fleck of ham, an anchovy or two), whereas these are pizzas in the LA tradition: light, puffy edible plates with meals on top of them, including brilliant veal meatballs or the terrific porchetta, which you can have on a plate instead of on a pizza if you prefer, though I tend to go more for slices of the whole roasted veal sirloin that is usually cooling on the counter. But what do I know? I've probably only eaten in here six times in the past fortnight. Chicken Shop, on the other hand, has welcomed me into its dark and moody underground maw on the stroke of 5pm pretty much every evening since it opened. What a cunning ruse of theirs it was, to open for business each day bang on my daughter's teatime. What you have down here is a Nando's-style menu, at Nando's prices, but with free-range chicken from a single Norfolk farm in a madly cool environment based on a fifties American diner/dive bar, with lovely, kind, sexy staff.
22 SeptemberIt may be contrived, expensive pretentious, but Marina O'Loughlin leaves AG Hendy & Co Home Store Kitchen in Hastings totally charmed
Apart from anything else, there's the beauty: a glass jar of perfectly ripe greengages sits beside sundae glasses of strawberries and meringue; an enamel tub brims with rosy lobsters. In the semi-gloom and dark-painted walls, it's as affecting as a Vermeer still life. There are only a handful of tables, a few of them in the kitchen itself. The food, which comes without any kind of starter/main course rhythm, is everything you want lunch by the sea to be. There's dressed crab, sweet and pungent, with the kind of wobbly, home-made mayonnaise you can cut with a knife. Simple things make you coo with pleasure thanks to the freshness of the ingredients: oily, chargrilled sourdough piled high with creamy goats' curd and emerald broad beans; a whole wild sea bass with a ticklish green sauce of capers, gherkins and fresh herbs. A slab of delicate courgette tart is subtle and soothingly bland; Hendy's recipe suggests raw, mandolined courgettes: "Let some ripple and loop back on themselves, so it looks like a rectangle of green-edged tumbled ribbon." Which kind of says it all.
Score: Food 8/10, Atmosphere: 8/10, Value for money 5/10
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service, about £50 a head
23 SeptemberThe menu at the Red Duster on the Isle of Wight, featuring Marmite potatoes and chicken liver with peanut butter, simply doesn't work, says Jay Rayner
Reasonably well-cooked fillets of sea bass came swaddled in a deadening blanket of unseasoned over-reduced cream. Alongside them were "laver bread croutes", which is what happens when you put that Welsh seaweed mush between two greased pieces of bread and into a Breville sandwich maker. Sweet and sharp chocolate-brushed duck - a version of which genuinely was on Timothy Spall's menu - brought chewy animal cooked to the grey of a winter seascape. It tasted of the sweet counter at WH Smith. The roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash didn't really help. At least there was the distraction of those potatoes sautéed in Marmite, in a puddle of fat so deep you could measure it with an engine dipstick. Oh god. Never again. The red velvet and cherry millefeuille, a take on Black Forest gâteau, stood out for being sensible and reasonably well executed. It was sweet; it was "bring me my insulin" sweet. But that's not necessarily a failing.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £95
The Independent on Sunday
23 SeptemberLisa Markwell says Chicken Shop, London NW5, the latest outpost from Soho House Group, may serve chicken fast but it's no ordinary fast-food joint
We've barely opened our napkins and glanced around before a series of enamelled dishes starts arriving. The first two are empty. Turns out these are for the scraps. A big dish follows with a whole chicken on it (£14.50). It's been jointed already, which helps, but the light is dim enough that I make a few unwise chomps down on to bone. It's delicious chicken, though, which is a blessed relief - restaurants have been built before around one ingredient which they've then failed to deliver in taste or quality. It's sticky and tender, skin slathered in salty, herby juices. There's hot sauce (again, no Nando's, this stuff creates beads of sweat on the brow at first bite) and smoky sauce. The excellent, although super-salty, crinkle fries (£3) come with ketchup and garlic mayonnaise. Four chunks of corn cob (£3) arrive, with a waiter brandishing another jug. This one has melted butter. Why, yes please. Coleslaw (£3) is proper; simultaneously crisp and sodden with creaminess. The salad (£4) has big chunks of ripe avocado. I'm struggling to find much fault with Chicken Shop except the frequent interruptions by staff. I don't mind most of the time, because it's to proffer sauces or more chips - yes, we went there - but it's all a bit eager beaver.
Price: About £45 for two, including drinks
22 SeptemberMatthew Norman finds much to praise at Steve Drake's Michelin-starred Drake's in Ripley, Surrey
What elevates Drake above the averagely outstanding chef, if that's not too oxymoronic, is how he combines flavours which on the menu look like they should be offering each other out side, but somehow bring out the best in one another. Chunks of juicy pan-fried quail were matched with the tartness of rhubarb, the savour of soy, the richness of foie gras and, verging on genius, charred corn to lend the ensemble a toffee-ish sweetness. My starter saw a rectangle of puréed pea, firmed up with gelatin into a lasagne-style sheet, covering a runny quail egg, broad beans, girolle mushroom, pencil-thin shards of salty Ibérico ham, blessedly unsquidgy lamb sweetbreads and grapefruit. While the notion of yoking a fillet of ethereal wild sea bass to the punchy might of oxtail may seem a touch outré, in Drake's hands (or rather his sous-chef's, the proprietor being in Japan on a fact-finding mission) it was another triumph. Both fish and meat were beautifully cooked, and served with ceps and florets of broccoli, with a lemony twang of sorrel knitting the bundle together.
Price: Three-course set lunch (two choices per course) £28, à la carte £50/£60 for two/three courses, nine-course tasting menu £80 per head
London Evening Standard
20 SeptemberNick Curtis says Lardo in Hackney, London E8, is a neighbourhood restaurant to shout about
Lardo is the Italian love-child of former Bistrotheque manager Eliza Flanagan, and offers home-cured meats for about £4, small sharing plates for about £6, and pizza for up to £9. We chose one of the latter and built a meal around it. Bright, cleanly astringent olives and fine-sliced, buttery chilli coppa kept us going through our bitter lemon cocktails (gin, lime, mint, sugar, bitters, £4.50, new favourite thing). Wonderfully fresh, melting flakes of smoked swordfish were nicely offset by salmoriglio, a dressing of lemon, olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. Fried arancini rice balls had a nice kick of heat from soft N'duja sausage in the centre but the mozzarella mixed with it wasn't quite melted. Another minute's cooking, perhaps. Broad beans with pecorino came with zingy mint and lemon and, I think, dandelion leaves, which added a nice bitter undertone. I'd say this was the best-executed dish we had if it weren't for the pizza. The flavour of fine slices of courgette fruit and flower leapt off a base that was thin, crisp and just charred at the edge as I like it, accompanied by mellifluous goats' curd and little sudden, salty detonations of anchovy.
Price: A meal for two with cocktails and wine, about £100