4 NovemberThe menu at Beard to Tail, London EC2, reads like a fairy tale of meaty treats. But the reality turns out to be a horror story, says Jay Rayner
Reading is probably the only thing you'll enjoy doing at this joint. After eating there I wanted to nick the menu and give it to someone with enough talent to realise its potential. It is one long masterclass in disappointment. It's a wretched indictment of a gruesome kind of Shoreditch hipsterism which turns perving over dirty burgers into a spectator sport. It's all "pimp this" and "drool over that". It's the ballad of saturated animal fats, which is a song I like to sing; sadly, this lot cannot carry the tune. They've made such a bloody effort to be on trend and have forgotten the one thing that matters: cooking properly. We arrive for our 9pm table to be told they can't do the crispy pigs' ears or crackling and that they've run out of trotters stuffed with bacon, sage and onion. All the extremities are off. So we order a half-rack of ribs, which come with a thin, bitter dipping sauce. In a town which has finally got a handle on real barbecue these are a dismal offering: a big whack of sweet and salt and not much else. If they went near a smoker rather than the oven, it's not obvious. The bone marrow dish is much worse. The marrow/herb mixture is so dry and powdery you don't know whether to eat it or snort it; the mix is stuffed inside lengths of sawn bones which are clearly reused time and again.
Price: Meal for two, including drinks and service £110The Sunday Times
AA Gill says Colbert, London SW1, the latest French café from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King on Sloane Square, serves a difficult menu to eat three courses of but it will effortlessly become a local favourite
We had variations of croque madame: his with Gruyère, ham and a fried egg, mine with comté, Bayonne ham and a fried egg on brioche bread. He said his was the best cheese on toast in the world, which just shows how much he knows, because mine was the best cheese on toast in the entire world. And then a font of chocolate mousse, both brown and white, and an excellent pistachio ice-cream. We were there on a Monday at three in the afternoon and it was jam-packed with people waiting at the bar and on the outside tables to be seated in the restaurant. The staff, most of whom I know from other dining rooms, said they'd been frantic since the moment it had opened its doors. This is as much to do with the reputation of its owners as its location. This well-heeled bit of London has very few good places to eat. Colbert will definitely and effortlessly become a favourite of the local ladies who lunch. It is that slightly contradictory thing - an honest pastiche, a wish fulfilment of something that didn't grow up here, but should have done. And such is the collective strength and expertise of the Colbert staff, it is probably better than most of its adoptive cousins in provincial France today.
Score: Food: 4/5; Atmosphere: 4/5
3 NovemberMarina O'Loughlin doesn't doubt kitchen's ability and commitment, but finds the Table Café, London SE1, doesn't live up to the Twitter hype
All the mod-Italian signifiers are present and correct: one or two beautiful ingredients loafing on an otherwise unadorned plate; licks of good oil; studied rusticity; name-droppable headscratchers such as puntarelle, misticanza, frigitelli. But from here on in they don't quite pull it off. Gnocchi with gorgonzola and hazelnuts reads like a contender for my desert island dish, but the dumplings are marooned in a lagoon of over-creamed, under-cheesed sauce in a very un-Italian way - odd, because Ghignoni clearly is the real thing. And the hazelnuts are chewy and untoasted, a bland, mimsy, textural note. Home-made gnocchi, though, so top marks for that. With confit duck on dinky castelluccio lentils, both nutty pulses and bird are underseasoned and not salvaged by a last-ditch sprinkling of salmoriglio. Skin, rather than being papery-crisp, is flabby - tiny tweaks would have turned this from filler to killer. A fat octopus tentacle has been violently grilled, its poor, pale flesh Wicker Man-ed to near-oblivion, and its bed of peppers, again, lacking salt. And why are we served a totally collapsed panna cotta? Sure, it tastes good, but this delicate pudding is all about the creamy, mammary tremble, not a slump of sweet goo.
Score: Food: 6/10; Atmosphere: 6/10; Value for money: 7/10
Price: Three-course meal with drinks and service, around £40 a head.
3 NovemberJohn Walsh says that with its meat-tastic menu and the tidal wave of whiskey, Beard to Tail, London EC2, is a male carnivore's club
The main courses sounded like a bunch of cartoon tough guys: Braised Pork Cheeks, Bearded Wild Boar Faggots, Smoked Shoreditch Sausage, Pulled Featherblade. All the restaurant's meat comes from a single outlet, the Ashbridge family farm in North Yorkshire, and very fine it is too. Angie's 28-day-aged rump steak was charred and textured to perfection, the horseradish cream nicely judged. A side order of bubble-and-squeak was soon demolished. Bone marrow and watercress, however, was dry and unappetising. My sweet-cured saddleback pork chop was lovingly cooked, nicely flavoured with sage and cockles (cockles?) and scattered with slices of apple; having already had apple slices with my starter, I'd have preferred a purée, but you don't argue with the management in such a hard-nut environment. For pudding we shared The Sundae Bible, an overwhelming, lactic monstrosity involving gingernut cheesecake, milk ice-cream and Southern Comfort syrup. It was strangely off-putting, like being suckled by a 20-stone wet-nurse in a Louisiana swamp.
Score: Food: 3/5; Ambiance: 2/5; Service: 4/5
Price: Around £80 for two, with wine
The Independent on Sunday
4 NovemberAmol Rajan says the Puffing Billy in Exeter is a fine pub but it's overpriced
There's also a fabulous main of pan-fried turbot with River Exe mussels - you almost begin to feel sorry for the River Exe, it's doing so much unpaid labour here - and saffron tagliatelle (£14.95), pan-roasted monkfish with lobster and that saffron arancini, together with sweet potato purée - which is a phenomenal whack at £20.95 and disappointingly sliced in the kitchen - and roast partridge with boudin blanc, black pudding, potato fondant and brambleberry sauce. This last offering is £19.95, a fraction too dry but full of rich, soothing and autumnal flavours, and to the best of my knowledge not from the River Exe. They charge £2.50 for some unexceptional bread and bring boiled vegetables or a mixed-leaf salad with bonus sun-dried tomato with all the mains, and the desserts range from £4.95 for white-chocolate cheesecake or cranberry-and-walnut tart to £5.95 for a dark-chocolate-and-pistachio brownie or, from the specials board, the best sweet plate I've had this year. I'd recommend energetic travellers from across the land came by road, rail or River Exe to sup the smoking-cold chocolate terrine with caramelised bananas and peanut butter ice-cream. The terrine has a velvet texture and is very strong, the banana is sumptuous, and the melting nutty accompaniment binds it all together triumphantly.
Price: About £150 for four, including two bottles of wine
The London Evening Standard
1 NovemberDavid Sexton says if you keep it simple you could have a great time at the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, London W1, for a moderate price
We thought "bouillabaisse-style soup" (£18), boasting that it contained gurnard, bass, bream, razor clam, cockles and clams, sounded great. But though it had little samples of all these things, it was thin and weakly flavoured, the wrong side of delicate - and the samphire garnishing it was undercooked. Any bistro in St Malo would do this better or be embarrassed. King scallops from Devon, cauliflower, bacon and capers (£18.50) was a bit of a re-run of the starters - five or so nice discs of scallop amid florets of romanesco cauli and an extremely creamy bechamel. On the side, skinny fries with rosemary salt (£3) were excellent, the herbal note welcome. The bobby beans (£4), though, had been comprehensively assaulted with chilli and garlic. The urge to heighten the impact of every ingredient is understandable in a new kitchen trying to make an impression but it's not always what you want on the plate, if you're a common nosher, as opposed to a food-blogger, which this restaurant has been attracting in droves.
Price: About £100 for two
By Kerstin Kühn
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