Giles Coren loves two-Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan's new restaurant the French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester
Some of my many mouthfuls were terrific, some of them weren't. When you are striving for something special it has to be that way: occasional apparent disaster is guaranteed as much by each guest's personal palatal foibles as the chef's. Me, I don't much care for sous-vide fish (or SV anything else usually), so the sole fillets stuck together and served with smoked scallops were too mushy for me, and the fillets of rose veal studded with shards of pork fat failed on a catastrophic fall-off from what God intended when he made lean little newborn calves. But I tell you what, I would walk to Manchester barefoot in the rain for one more mouthful of the chopped raw ribeye of ox in coal oil. To impart the flavour of mesquite barbecue into uncooked food was not something I knew needed to be done until now. And then with little scooped pearls of kohlrabi for sweetness, and the occasional pop of a roasted pumpkin seed. There is nothing like it to be had in England, and I will take the flavour to my grave. Likewise, the "razor role reversal", where the clam shell held puffy scrambled egg and a perfectly decapitated eggshell held a dainty soup of clam flesh.
Likewise, an extraordinary salad of "early spring offerings" from Rogan's Cumbrian polytunnels.
Price: About £85 for one
The Sunday Times
AA Gill says the 15-course menu at HKK, the latest restaurant from Hakkasan Group, London EC2, offers bland, unfocused, imprecise and unnecessary food We started with some homeopathic traces wrapped in iberico ham, which tasted like a sweaty slither of iberico ham. Then there was 20-year Gu-yue-long-shan drunken chicken, which possibly died of cirrhosis and left its body to gastronomic research. In death it amounted to little more than it had in life. Then we watched a cherry- wood-roasted organic duck being tortured by the chef with a cleaver. He managed to get postage-stamp pieces of fat and skin off it; it tasted of fatty duck skin. This went on for another 13 courses of varying, bland, unfocused, imprecise, unnecessary food, most of which looked and tasted like canapés that had been made earlier. As this is a meal for everyone in the restaurant, they probably had. I noticed right at the start that our hunger abatement executive hadn't mentioned what they would be charging for the 15 courses we hadn't asked for, nor was it written anywhere.
Score: Food 1/5; Atmosphere 1/5
Price: £320 for three people, including 12.5% service
John Walsh says Jason Atherton's latest venture Little Social, London W1, has an irresistible dining room and a menu full of invention, polish and presentation
Score: Food 4/5; Ambience 5/5; Service 4/5
Price: Around £120 for two, with wine.
Marina O'Loughlin enjoys the pimped comfort food at Electric Diner, London W11 In the galley kitchen, with its heat-belching salamanders and flat-top griddles, the line chefs perform a balletic dance, tossing and flipping, assembling and drizzling, their good humour permeating the packed room. We've got a proper, grown-up waiter, knowledgeable, grizzled, with just the right amount of flirtatious twinkle. He piles on the dishes as they issue from the kitchen - you can only tell if they're starters/mains/whatever by the price point. It's a carnival of immoderation - even bibb lettuce salad comes laden with avocado and creamy, ranch-style dressing. There's an obscene-looking hotdog - brioche bun, smoky, dense sausage with just the right amount of snap, onion jam. Chopped liver is a Jewish deli classic, rich with chicken fat and arriving with a tub of butter in case your arteries aren't packing up fast enough. Everything comes with brioche, even one unforgettable dish: woolly mammoth-sized bones stuffed with wibbly marrow, the lot anointed with beef cheek marmalade, a ripe, sweet, meaty sludge. Lemon meringue pie is deliciously silly, vertiginously vast. It's the kind of thing you goggle at on Man v Food, but done beautifully, the crumb base crisp, the meringue fluffy and ethereal, the lemon filling not the bland pap you get in yer actual diners, but sharp and tart as a scold.
Score: Food 7/10; Atmosphere 8/10; Value for money 8/10
Price: Three courses from about £25 a head, plus drink and service.
Master & Servant on Hoxton Square, London N1, may be named after Depeche Mode but, sadly, you can have more than enough, says Joe Warwick
After a slow-to-arrive, but well-made, aperitif - a 'Nolitan' (ginseng spirit, dry sherry, grapefruit, lemon and tonic) - chopped salad appears fresh and perfectly dressed; surf clam chowder sweet and creamy but lacking in expected heft, while devilled duck hearts, unexpectedly battered, have a pleasant kick to them. Mains of ox cheek, celeriac and horseradish, and the 'house sausage', a densely meaty pork number as it turned out, served - not as erroneously advertised with grilled 'grillottes' (cherries) but 'grelots' (similar to spring onions) and broad beans - are both solid but unremarkable. Most disappointing is a Hereford Hanger steak served under an unnecessary slop of sweet onions with an unattractively lengthy shaft of bone marrow. Then there's a chocolate éclair - admittedly oversized - but as The Clove Club around the corner has one on their bar menu for half the price, far too toppy at £6.80. The service couldn't have been sweeter but it could have been a lot sharper, and that combined with the ambitious pricing and a draughty room - smokers constantly popping out for a gasper not helping - meant Master & Servant was never going to be all I ever wanted, all I ever needed. By the time the surprisingly hefty bill arrived, I had just had enough.
Price: Dinner for two with water, wine and service, around £120.
London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler finds lashings of good grub and hints of Enid Blyton at Claude's Bistro, London SW6 To start, the two of us ordered all three options with the understanding that the wood pigeon (seared) was really mine, the mackerel (Cornish, line-caught) on the whole belonged to Reg and we would put the leek (charred) and goat's curd in the middle. Two kinds of butter, one if I remember rightly flavoured with tomato, come with the bread. Putting together red grape, blood orange, beetroot and Bloody Mary sauce to accompany a fiercely grilled fillet of mackerel - its silvery skin criss-crossed with branding - points to a painterly eye as well as a sagacious palate. It was consumed incredibly quickly. Flavours surrounding the pigeon came from celeriac in purée form, cardamom, slivers of pickled red onion, lavender and, in the mahogany slick of reduced sauce, honey and port. Scaled up it could have been a proud main course but as an opening salvo in the meal it was just wonderfully titillating. Outer leaves of leeks making a natural curl of wrapping are sometimes used by meticulous chefs around accoutrements for stock but here a neatly tied, mildly scorched leek cylinder held kabocha squash, tomatoes, chopped greens and walnuts. Onion ash was scattered on the plate around a triangle of goat's curd. I now understand why it is that in some cultures kabocha is revered as an aphrodisiac.
Price: A meal for two with wine, about £80
A pretentious name and drab food make dining at Ametsa with Arzak instruction, London SW1, a disappointing experience, says Matthew Norman
So dismal a room need not be terminal. Previous occupant Nahm was a glorious restaurant because its chef, the Sydneysider David Thompson, was acknowledged even in Bangkok as one of the greatest Thai cooks on earth - though once he absented himself it lost its form. The Arzaks, and the other three superchefs on the "advisory panel" instructing the kitchen, gifted as they may be, will by and large remain within their own frontiers. This perhaps is the other part of the problem. A phalanx of smartly tailored Spanish waiting staff, polite without being warm, rattled out descriptions of highly complex dishes in English too accented to be easily followed. Their faintly self-reverential tone was undermined by the food. A trio of amuse-bouches set the stage for six technically flawless, exquisitely presented but bewilderingly dull dishes. "Scallops with betacarotene" (we wanted to go off-menu with riboflavin, but no dice there) matched three fleshy but bland crustacea to a gelified carrot juice and purée sculpture.
Price: Tasting menu: £105 (£140 with matching wines). Three courses Á la carte with wine and coffee: £100-£110 per head