Score: Food 9/10â¨Atmosphere 5/10â¨ Value for money 7/10
Price: Set lunch £28.50, £38.50, £50; set dinner £65, £105
Jay Rayner says Italian restaurant Cucina Asselina at the ME hotel, London WC2, deliver on its own modest promise
The menu nods in all the right directions. There are antipasti which go from "Habitat rustic" - roasted tomato soup - to old-school red sauce Italian with veal meatballs. There are cheese and meat selections and flatbreads. A rugged plank of pizza base comes with sautéed wild mushrooms, spring onions and enough elastic fontina cheese to make the chief medical officer all huffy. Pastas, all flavoured, are especially good. They have bite and a comforting, starchy, slipperiness, which makes the sauce cling to them, like baby koalas to their mothers. There are ribbons of fettuccine speckled with fresh herbs and piled with lobster and long-cooked cherry tomatoes; tubular garganelli made with ground chestnuts come with wintery lumps of coarse sausage meat and more wild mushrooms. This being a nod to New York there is beef shortrib, for in New York there always is. It is long braised. There is a pillow of polenta and a puddle of a dark-red wine sauce. It's a down and dirty roast dinner masquerading as some mink-coated, Louboutin-heeled sophisticate.
Price: Meal for two, including drinks and service: £120
John Walsh's lunch at Naamyaa Café, London EC1, the new Thai restaurant from Alan Yau, is as weirdly surreal as a dream From the Small Plates selection (which includes satay with peanut sauce, mussels with chilli jam, chicken wings - basic stuff) we tried fried calamari, salmon sashimi and jasmine tea-smoked baby back pork ribs. The calamari were wonderfully fresh and tangy, deep-fried in ‘curry spice' (unspecified) with Thai garlic and coriander. The salmon looked sad under its green shroud but tasted fine - the fish wondrously soft and cold, the Thai pesto whacking the back of my throat with a zesty kick. The ribs, though, were the stand-out: big, meaty, smoky and sweet (they'd been sautéed in Chinese five-spice, braised for four hours, smoked with jasmine tea then grilled and brushed with palm sugar); they fell off the bone in heavenly chunks. Thereafter, things went downhill. From the rice dishes, I chose stir-fried ginger, spring onion and seabass. It was terrible. Three small wedges of over-roasted fish were served with over-boiled pak choi. On a mountain of white rice sat a fried egg that had clearly been fried at hell's-cauldron heat and was frizzy at the edges. Runny egg-yolk and rice do not go together; they certainly don't work with roast fish.
Score: Food 2/5; Ambience 2/5; Service 3/5
Price: Around £80 for two, with drinks
The Independent on Sunday
The Three Horseshoes in Madingley, Cambridge, is a wonderful restaurant with delicious food, affordable prices and a lovely setting, says Amol Rajan
Oysters that are £1.50 each, cheaper than a bottle of water in WH Smith, are very good. There is a smoked eel with green tea, sesame purée, edamame beans, coriander cress and wasabi cotta (£9), which is exquisite save for the smear of wasabi, which tastes more of cream than Japanese horseradish. The slow-cooked egg with salt and vinegar crisps, sauce soubise, salmon eggs, chives and onion powder (£6) is very classily done. That's as nothing, though, compared with the hand-rolled agnolotti (ravioli, basically) stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta, new season's olive oil, Parmesan and fried sage - £8 for a small plate and £12 for a large one. I've gone for the small one and regret it on first bite: this is as close to perfection in a plate as I've had for a long time. The sage is elegantly presented, the pasta couldn't be cooked better, and the chard and ricotta make a deliriously happy union inside it.
Price: About £100 for two, including wine
Andy Lynes says Balthazar, London WC2, is set to make a big splash on the London dining scene Demand for tables has been high. The day reservation lines opened, I was offered 5.30pm or 9.30pm a month in advance but there was no problem bagging a walk-in during the second week of opening, albeit at 6pm on a Monday night. The decor of nicotine-yellow walls, antique mirrors and dark wood panelling may be familiar but it's elevated above the ordinary by gleaming brass rails, comfortable red leather banquettes, intricate mosaic flooring and oversized flower displays. Clever lighting gives the room a golden glow that put me in mind of The Ivy. Both restaurants share the rare quality of making you feel as if you've stepped into another, more agreeable and convivial, world. The last time I ate chef Robert Reid's food, he was serving delicate fish terrines at Marco Pierre White's three-Michelin-starred Oak Room in Piccadilly. Now, he is overseeing a menu that includes onion soup, moules frites and hamburgers made with 70 per cent uber-posh wagyu beef. But that's no disgrace - in the skill stakes, serving a long menu to a big crowd and doing it with panache beats tweezering micro herbs onto scraps of meat for 30 people a night.A perfectly cooked risotto that's studded with chunks of lobster and dots of aromatic black truffle is given a savoury boost by a rich cauliflower cream. It's so good I clean the bowl with some of the superb brown sourdough from the adjoining Balthazar bakery.
Price: A meal for two, including wine, water and service costs about £120
The London Evening Standard
David Sexton feels experimented upon more than fed after dining at the Clove Club, London EC1
The three opening snacks were four little slices of unremarkable smoked duck ham; two curious mock-spring rolls made of blanched, thin-sliced kohlrabi, containing a paste of roasted sunflower seeds (tasting oddly peanutty), perked up with some mint; and some fresh, well-scrubbed radishes, served with the leaves on, which we were rightly encouraged to eat too, sprinkled with toasted and crushed sesame seeds, alongside a dipping pool of rosy-pink mayonnaise, flavoured with the fermented Korean condiment gochujang, made from chilli, rice and soybean, giving a mild heat. All quite busy, all quite novel, without being food one would hasten to order again.
"Warm fennel, walnut & seaweed" was large slices of very mild, indeed almost flavourless, softened fennel, served warm, draped with some salty, slippery dulse, accompanied by a big dollop of cold crème fraÁ®che and some chopped walnuts - a dish more about contrasting textures and temperatures than tastes, like others that followed. We didn't quite finish this lot: with this kind of cooking, once you have got the effect intended, there seems no particular point in eating more.
Price: About £140 for two, including wine
Richard Bath has a forgettable meal at Mussel and Steak Bar in Edinburgh The haggis in my haggis Wellington was a little overdone, but had just the right texture and a nice hint of spiciness. However, it came with a tomato relish which tasted suspiciously like the mass-produced dipping sauce into which my kids stick their nachos, while the strips of parsnip crisp were so soggy it was impossible to escape the conclusion that this dish had been sitting around for a good while, almost certainly baking under a chef's heat lamp. For her main course, Bea chose the speciality of the house, the surf 'n' turf, which consisted of an 8oz ribeye steak served with half a kilo of mussels, crevettes and squid in a disappointingly bland white wine, shallot and garlic sauce. Given that the restaurant will be judged by many on the quality of its steaks, I was a little surprised at the paucity of information about their provenance, which was limited to the fact that they were from grass-fed Scottish herds and hung for a minimum of 38 days. Nevertheless, the steak was competently cooked and nicely marbled: not the best I've had in Edinburgh but very decent. The mussels were commendably plump, though the crevettes were on the small side, and the squid was just the right side of rubbery. It was, all in all, reasonable value for the price tag of £25.
Price: Starters £3.95-£8.95, Main courses £12.95-£24.95, Puddings £3.50, Cheese £6.95