7 SeptemberMarina O'Loughlin says Donostia, London W1, will never match a night out in San Sebastián, but it's a damn good try
San Sebastián is the heaven that I want to die and go to. It's the foodie equivalent of sex tourism - a place to indulge unjudged. The city has a few Michelin-starred big hitters, but the hardcore sensationalist is here for the txikiteo, or bar crawl. The locals have a snifter and a pintxo in each; foreigners eat themselves into seven kinds of oblivion. Because they can. The difference between this and a carnival of all-you-can-eat buffets is that everything you try - every beef cheek, every sliver of Ibérico, every plancha'd wild mushroom - will be ambrosial. Of course, it's not just Donostia's parentage that isn't Donostian, but the fact that you're here for actual dinner. In San Sebastián, you'd have tortilla in Nestor, an anchovy or two in Txepetxa and wild mushrooms in Gambara. So we attempt to recreate a txikiteo in the one restaurant, by eating everything on the menu apart from deep-fried prawns with mango that sound a bit Berni Inn, and by drinking tourist quantities of wines, from young txacoli, poured from a height into wide tumblers to give it extra "life", to godello, described accurately as having notes of peach, anise and ripe apple (owners Nemanja Borjanovic and Melody Adams are wine importers). There's Basque cider, too. It appears from the bill that we have quite a few corkers, but details are a little, um, hazy.
Price: A meal with drinks and service, costs about £50 a head
9 SeptemberJay Rayner finds the wholesome food served in the convivial setting of the Gardener's Cottage, Edinburgh, just the place to silence your inner cynic
The food is simple, and very carefully calibrated to bring a modicum of French technique to a clean, British sensibility. The ingredients are allowed their voice. On Sunday there is a little (though not a vast amount of) choice. Most of the time at lunch and dinner it is a set menu for about £25, which they post each day on twitter (@gardenersctg). Themes emerge, in line with the seasons. At the moment there's a lot of roe deer with roast potatoes, and outbreaks of hazelnut and walnut in salads or with tagliatelle. Pearl barley plays the part of risotto rice, and they love their beans, broad or green or otherwise. All of which makes our Sunday lunch seem pretty typical. With their still warm (slightly under-salted) sourdough bread, there was a buttery kipper pâté with a punch of salt and smoke to knock back the fat. There was a salad of green herbs decorated with violet blooms and dressed with the salt the bread hadn't had, plus a simple plate of crunchy green beans with the ripe, sea-shore kick of chopped winkles. Something advertised as a "shimonita" quiche - this is a type of Japanese spring onion; I had to look it up - was, we were told, made with leeks from the garden because the shimonitas hadn't turned up. In other words, a cheese and onion quiche but, for all the posing, a very respectable one with good, crumbly pastry. Lunch in the Gardener's Cottage is one of those experiences that stops the world for a while, and we can always do with one of those.
Price: A meal for two, including wine and service, costs £80
8 SeptemberGiles Coren finds the menu at Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in the City of London, is original and fun, but fails to be impressed by the signature dish of the same name
There is the sense of rough chic and reclaimed materials, a crazy central bar where you mingle with the barmen and look over their shoulders and jostle them and steal lemons, and then a sharey-sharey world-tapas menu modelled on Polpo/Brawn/Ten Greek Street/Duck Soup In fact, just about everywhere that's opened in Soho/Hackney in the past two years. Some of it is original and fun, such as the fresh raw shards of scallop draped on chunks of apple with lime and truffle, served on a huge, pink, posh salt rectangle (the single gayest plate substitute I've seen this year, and I've seen a few) and the crispy barbecue pigs' ears in a brown paper bag and the Herdwick mutton slider with harissa, and the roast chunks of octopus with chopped chorizo and capers. But the seasoning is all a bit out of whack, so that the ears and octopus are as salty as road grit but the burger is barely salted at all, and thus tastes weirdly sweet and fruity alongside. There was an okay burrata, but not the best, nothing green on the menu at all apart from a salad to offset all the salty protein titbits, and they forgot to bring our crab on toast. They did not forget, alas, to bring us our "duck & waffle" - a dish one feels compelled to order on a first visit until one realises that they have named the whole place after the duffest thing they serve. Possibly the duffest thing anyone serves.
Price: £25 per head, before drinks
5 SeptemberAndy Lynes sees nothing original or cutting edge about Brasserie Zédel, London W1, but expects the Corbin & King restaurant to have staying power
Chef David Collard did sterling work at the Langham hotel and now the former Robuchon and Ramsay fine-dining cook has successfully nailed the brasserie style. Plump frogs' legs (yes they do taste like chicken) are served with a creamy watercress sauce and a deliciously rich veal jus, while a parfait de foie gras is equally well heeled and just as pleasing. The skin on a meltingly tender confit leg of duck is so crisp that I'm convinced it must have seen the inside of a deep-fat fryer, though I'm assured it hasn't. A punchy mustard sauce adds just the right note of balancing acidity, although the few slices of uninspiring fried garlic potatoes are nothing like the classic accompaniment of duck-fat fried pommes sarladaise that I'd expected. Sea bream with fennel and sauce vierge is impeccable but big chunks of undercooked aubergine in a side order of ratatouille are about as appetising as chewing on a loofah. There is much to love about Zédel but it's not perfect. The baguette is redolent of the supermarket and I wouldn't drink Um Bongo from the tiny, thick-rimmed wine glasses, let alone a £34 bottle of Alsace Riesling. There's nothing original or cutting edge about Brasserie Zédel but so what? It'll be around long after many of the current crop of on-trend hole-in-the-walls have shut up shop.
Price: A meal for two, including wine, water and service, costs about £70
The Independent on Sunday
9 SeptemberLisa Markwell visits the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury, London W1, and finds its "culinary superstar" reputation intact
I choose the plainest dishes; for that, surely, is how to judge somewhere with such a stellar reputation. A tomato salad, then a piece of grilled fish. Mr M chooses a posh take on cheese-on-toast with onion soup to start, then pigeon. For these lowly ingredients we will be paying £80 each, not including drinks. I swallow hard. And that's before I've put any food in my mouth. This is where I think about what my parents would say to such flamboyant expenditure; and about last week's grocery bill for four (yup, £160). Then the heritage tomato salad with goats' curd, dried olives and green tomato juice arrives. Each component is so delicious, so ripe and rich in flavour it makes me giddy. A grey-green pottery plate is the perfect backdrop for this riot of colour and flavour; two crisp cylinders contain the curd and are edged in granules of olive. Just, wow. For Mr M, a deceptive white plate with a light broth arrives with what's this? a chunk of tree bark with a piece of bread and cheese on it. Emperor's new snack? Hardly. The truffled toast and Saint-Nectaire cheese is sublime; the intense broth, when the spoon is plunged in, muddles with a buffalo-milk curd beneath. Now I see why everyone around us is doing little but gazing at their plates, uttering tiny murmurs of ecstasies.
Price: £80 a head, before drinks
The London Evening Standard
6 SeptemberAndrew Neather says that London's street food vogue has brought a bowl of Bangkok to Peckham with the Begging Bowl
Dishes are grouped in four price bands from £5.50 to £12.50, intended to be eaten and shared tapas-style. They arrive from the kitchen irregularly, when ready. There is a steady supply of jasmine or sticky rice. Unusually for a Thai eaterie, no noodle dishes are offered. Quality is high: this is a step up from many of London's Thai restaurants. Classics like fishcakes were well executed: less compact and springy than is often the case, and the better for their fluffier texture and sweet chilli sauce. Meanwhile, coconut and galangal soup with chicken and oyster mushrooms boasted big chunks of galangal, lots of kaffir lime leaves and Thai shallots. The heat in stir-fried squid with chives and ginger was mostly from white pepper, a typically Thai spicing. Elsewhere the menu is more adventurous. Chargrilled sirloin worked well with Thai basil and a jaew (thick dipping sauce) dominated by ginger and galangal. The menu's only green curry is of rabbit, pungent and hot yet complex, containing both Thai pea aubergines and the rarer apple aubergine. A duck curry was intensely aromatic, unusually rich and creamy. There's a range of 11 beers to wash it all down, plus a reasonable wine list dominated by aromatic whites and rosés. Two-thirds of bottles are available by the glass or 500ml carafe (though the default-sized glass, irritatingly, is an absurd 250ml). We stepped outside: Peckham was grey and cold. How good to be warmed by the chilli and buzz of the Begging Bowl.
Price: A meal for two with wine and tip costs about £70
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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