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The Caterer

What's on the menu – John Salt is occasionally thrilling, occasionally alarming, says Marina O'Loughlin

10 December 2012 by
What's on the menu – John Salt is occasionally thrilling, occasionally alarming, says Marina O'Loughlin

Guardian
Marina O'Loughlin says John Salt, where former Roganic head chef Ben Spalding is doing a six-month residency, needs to do a bit of growing up

Score: Food 7/10 
Atmosphere 6/10 
Value for money 8/10
Price: Set menus: four-course, £28, eight £56, 12 £85, plus drinks and service.

Observer
Jay Rayner says dinner at the London Carriage Works in Liverpool is a very old-fashioned version of modern

There is the glossy makeover of the warehouse space. So it's wood floors, bare-brick walls and a "design feature" of huge floor-to-ceiling shards of frosted glass - but not very many of them. It's as if they were trying to build Superman's Fortress of Solitude but ran out of dosh. Naturally, some of the food comes on offcuts of those glass shards. Quite a lot comes on ridged black tiles, which are a pain for the waiters and no fun to eat off. I think it's called the "wow factor". Then there are the descriptions of the food that goes on those slates. Gosh, but they're exhausting. Thank heavens I was sitting down. Every ingredient ever thought of seems to be listed. So a summer Provence vegetable pithivier (or a veggie pasty, as they'd call it at Gregg's) reads: "Aubergine, courgettes, red and yellow capsicums and tomatoes, spinach, pecorino, shallots and Aura potatoes with whole-grain mustard cream sauce". Thanks for telling me the colour of the peppers. It's the kind of place where they tell you the soup is "freshly made".
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service: £120


Independent
The relaunched Quality Chop House, London EC1, is best suited for people who really care about what they eat and drink, according to Tracey MacLeod
](http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/reviews/quality-chop-house-92-farringdon-road-london-ec1-8389851.html)And the food was really excellent. Ox tongue, braised and fried into crisp little fritters, with a dab of salsa verde; Welsh rarebit so fine it made us forgive them for serving us cheese on toast when we were paying for a babysitter. Then fish - delicate, Cornish hot-smoked mackerel with the lightest celeriac remoulade. The centrepiece, Denham estate lamb, came on a vintage platter, in two cuts - sweet, pink folds of leg, and strips of salty, fatty belly. A heady braise of red cabbage galvanised the whole dish and almost eclipsed the meat. In an authentically 19th-century touch, green veg were entirely absent from the meal, although vegetarians are offered separate options. There was some serious sniffing and swirling going on around us; the chefs at the next table were clearly appreciating the wine as much as the food. The pricing structure adds a flat £5 to the off-sales price, meaning the more expensive the wine, the better the value. We splurged £40 on a 2009 Chateau Santayme from the ‘collector's list', which worked well right through to the pudding, a perfect chocolate tart, dark and dense, with praline hazelnuts and clotted cream.
Score: Food 4/5; Ambience 4/5; Service 5/5
Price: Dinner: four-course set menu £35 a head

The Daily Telegraph
Matthew Norman finds the food bland and the wine eye-wateringly expensive at Downtown Mayfair, London W1
The best thing about Ruth's tuna tartar, a large circle of fresh but spectacularly tasteless raw fish, was the delicate dressing (French rather than Italian, as if the ersatzness needed a boost) on the accompanying green salad. Paul was more bemused by than actively angry with his artichoke and avocado salad. "It's peculiar, but they've shredded the artichoke and used the avocado as a purée," he observed of a mound guarded at each flank by a tall shaving of Parmesan. "I was expecting something spectacular, but this is terribly bland." I went for spaghetti pomodoro, the simplest of dishes and an excellent test of any Italian kitchen. The pasta was slightly al dente and fine, but there was little evidence of basil, and the tomatoes were so flavourless that the chef had made the usual, inevitably doomed rescue mission by oversalting to perdition.
Score: 1.5/5
Price: Three courses with (least outrageously priced) wine and coffee: about £125 per head

Scotland on Sunday
Richard Bath has a meal that by and large delivers at Thai restaurant Chaophraya in Edinburgh
The arrival of the main course was like something from The King and I, with dish after dish appearing one after the other. There were only five, but it felt like double that number; but then I do like a little bit of theatre with dinner, especially when the surroundings feel like a film set. Although the lamb in our massaman curry was extremely tender, the dish was undeniably bland, which wasn't a complaint that we could level at the fried sea bass fillet with chilli sauce, which was well-cooked but contained numerous little chilli landmines for the unsuspecting. All of which made for a monstrously large amount of food, although it never felt overwhelming. Just in case, pudding was incredibly light, consisting of two skewers of pineapple, mango and strawberry, plus a dipping bowl of molten chocolate. This was, we both agreed, a very decent way to end our first visit to a new restaurant that promised much and, by and large, delivered.
Score: 7/10
Price: Starters £6.95-£10.95 Main courses £8.55-£18.95 Set menu £25-£40.50

London Evening Standard
Naamyaa Café, London EC1, is another Thai triumph for restaurateur Alan Yau, says Fay Maschler
At one dinner, followed by lunch later in the week, items were tried from every menu section except burgers and the back page of laksas and tom yam soups to share served in Mongolian hotpots. The presence of Western dishes - salad NiÁ§oise and Caesar salad also elbow their way in - is apparently explained by the fact that such a hotchpotch is what you would find in a tourist-friendly modern café in Bangkok. There you might actually want to gravitate towards hawker stalls. Here I wanted spicy, crunchy, floppy, hot, sour, peppery, jammy - and it was supplied. The care obviously taken over a "snack" of wok-tossed cashews meant that shallots and garlic were browned without being charred, nuts just burnished and curry leaves crisp as cellophane. It went well with another option: chunks of cucumber fanned out around a coriander, basil and chilli dip. Salmon sashimi with Thai pesto, classified as a small plate, pushed the boundaries of fusion in quite a cheeky way but the thinly sliced fish possessed some personality - unlike that stuff that reclines listlessly on supermarket shelves.
Score: 4/5
Price: A full meal for two with wine, about £62 excluding service

Time Out
Guy Dimond gives Naamyaa Café, London EC1, the latest venture from Alan Yau, five stars
Thai food enthusiasts will be thrilled by this menu, just as novices might be intimidated. The Naamyaa set meals mean you order beef, chicken, prawn or veg, and the kitchen does the rest. Kanom jin - soft, thin rice noodles served at room temperature - are topped with a curry-like sauce of your choice. The side salads might include pickled morning glory, beansprouts, chinese leaves,starfruit and sweet basil to vary the textures and flavours to your own taste.
Yam pak is a savoury fruit salad, and this variation uses sweet tamarind dressing and sesame seeds to great effect, with green mango, radicchio and even dried chillies. The green papaya salad - som tam - is one of the best versions in London, but beware the heat, as there's a Russian-roulette quality to the chillies used. Not all the dishes are Thai. The array of small plates covers Japanese, Malaysian and Chinese dishes. Jasmine tea-smoked baby back pork ribs is a Cantonese dish inspired by the version at Hakkasan, one of Yau's previous projects. It's one of the highlights of the menu.
Score: 5/5
Price: Dinner for two, around £60 with drinks and service

By Kerstin KÁ¼hn

E-mail your comments to Kerstin KÁ¼hn here.

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