The Times15 SeptemberAfter a Twitter spat with new Guardian critic Marina O'Loughlin, Giles Coren meets her for lunch at Lardo, London E8, which they both love
They make their own charcuterie here, and it is wonderful. The speck was smoky and wild, the fennel pollen salami a subtler, sweeter, more floral version of your normal fennel sausage, and wonderfully tender, too, falling apart like old roses rotting in autumn. The lardo from which they take their name is actually less impressive: thicker and chewier than the examples I've had in Italy, and without that narrative of the pig's diet and daily habits that sings out in perfectly cured fat. I think they know that themselves, which is why they serve it only draped over pizza. Speaking of which: best pizzas in London, wood-fired in a jewelled igloo you can see from the street. The black anise pepperoni job is in fact probably the best single object for sale in Europe under a tenner: the base as flat and dry as a Guardian leader, the sugo beautifully balanced for acidity and sweetness, the sausage sticky and ripe, the hint of anise there all the time like a naughty dream that flavours your entire day.
Price: £50 would do for two
15 SeptemberThe food at Garfulnkel's is not fast, it's not cheap and it's not tasty - so why do so many people still willingly pay to eat this stuff, asks Marina O'Loughlin
This is the point where I eat my words and swallow my shallow preconceptions, isn't it? Except, sadly, it isn't: the food is on a short graph with "meh" at one end and "argh" at the other. There's prawn cocktail in which I play hunt-the-prawn (there are nine: miserable, flavourless little commas) in a compost heap of browning iceberg and shouty Marie Rose sauce. Calamari come in a stout breadcrumb straitjacket and taste of pork scratchings. Chicken, woolly and tough, is topped with leathery cheese and a BBQ sauce that could weatherproof fences as effectively as creosote and smells not dissimilar. A puck of gristly, mahogany-coloured meat is topped with halitotic onion rings, its scattering of chips peaky, frozen jobs; this burger costs a brave £11.75. And what's that lurking against the wall? Why, it's the famous salad bar, clearly resistant to rebranding, unlimited visits to which can be had for £8.45. After one trip - I score cold pasta tubes cooked so they're miraculously neither al dente nor floppy; bendy, vinegary coleslaw; "bacon bits"; viciously pickled beetroot; and bocconcini of mozzarella with the texture of slugs - they'd have to pay me to go back.
Price: Dinner for two with wine, water and tip, about £70
16 SeptemberJay Rayner can't get too excited about the food at Rita's Bar & Dining, London NW16
Pricing is keen, with most items at about £6. Then again, this is a no-frills operation, so let's not get too excited. Best of the lot, served a little knowingly in a brown paper bag, is a Southern-fried chicken roll, the fillet stuffed in a sweet glazed bun. This will probably be the best fried chicken you've ever had, the meat dredged and floured multiple times before its bath in the fat, to give it an outrageous crumb that would make the colonel weep. There's also a finely judged kick of cayenne pepper. Rita's sticky, punchy, shouty soy-and-ginger chicken wings, with crisp cubes of watermelon, were very good indeed. The shredded mounds of long-braised pig cheek spun through with orange, on teeny-weeny tacos, were examples of big French cooking technique pressed into service of something grungier. Other things weren't so thrilling. The dressing on the little gems and roasted tomato salad was, unlike the leaves, limp. Both the mac and cheese and the green chilli relish on top were under-seasoned.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service, £60
The Independent on Sunday
16 SeptemberAmol Rajan says for Caravan King's Cross, London N1, to be worthy of the glorious piazza it occupies, either the prices need to be smaller or the plates need to be bigger
Let's do the positives first. A few of the plates are wonderful. The jalapeño cornbread with chipotle butter (£3.50), baked cauliflower with smoked San Simon cheese, breadcrumbs and sage (£5.50), and chorizo-and-butternut-squash croquettes with saffron aïoli (£6) are in this category. The ox tongue with mustard, honey and beetroot (£7) isn't far off, either. You'll have noticed that, like everywhere else you seem to read about in London, Caravan has gone down the tapas route. If you're a plate-half-full kind of person, and I generally am, you might say this is a good thing, as it means you get to try many different flavours and textures in one sitting. But the flip side - and this is where the negatives begin - is that if you're paying up to £8 for a small plate of, say, grilled quail with chickpea purée, sumac and charred lemon, it really needs to last longer than a mere two chews. This is a recurring theme. Most of the other plates are not bad at all, and much better than OK, but they're so small that you have to spend a lot of money to fill an empty belly.
Price: About £160 for four, including two bottles of wine
12 SeptemberJoe Warwick says Ben Spalding's pop-up Stripped Back, London E8, serves clever, creative, fun and delicious food at the price of a posh burger and chips in the West End
Ben Spalding, former head chef at Roganic in Marylebone, has been running Stripped Back in a primary school playground near Broadway Market every Saturday since late July. It serves a weekly changing tasting menu to an intimate, eight-seat, U-shaped arrangement of tables flanked by several more straightforward food stalls. We began with a palate cleanser made with the herb meadowsweet and vodka, the frosty fizz decanted into a glass from a chilled siphon, before starting on the excellent yoghurt, muesli and malt bread. A simple tomato and goats' curd salad, which gained some crunch from small pieces of toasted bread, followed. Then, slices of lightly cured salmon fillet, which appeared under a disposable water cooler cup filled with a fruity smoke made from Swedish black mulberry tea - a cheeky DIY version of a piece of theatre from an haute dining room. Dessert was a slice of chocolate terrine studded with a salted peanut crunch, a further sweet spoonful of peanut butter and jam fudge coming as a parting gift. They don't serve wine but a glass of punchy Henney's cider worked well with everything.
Price: Four courses cost £17.50