What's on the menu – Michael Nadra is not afraid of a big flavour, says Marina O'Loughlin
13 OctoberMarina O'Loughlin says Michael Nadra, who has just opened his second eponymous restaurant in Primrose Hill, London NW1, is not afraid of a big flavour
We're seated in an atmospheric cobbled tunnel, formerly access for barge horses and very, very brown. It's so atmospheric that it's hard to see a thing; not a huge loss, because most of the food appears to be very, very brown, too. That foie dish, say: if I'd spotted it elsewhere, I'd think, "Aha! It's the old retro tongue-in-cheek". But, no: it's as earnest as our servers. It's also flawlessly realised, the kind of thing - melting, lacquered liver, sour-sweetness of cherries, crunch of potato - that makes you wonder why certain combos went out of fashion. And makes me sound like a MasterChef judge. Nadra is not afraid of a big flavour: glazes and reductions come with mighty whacks of bone-stock meatiness and there are meadows of herbs. After being assaulted by the amount of garlic in a dish of lamb rump with tiny violet artichokes, a polite-looking ratatouille and rosemary gnocchi, I smell like a puttanesca for days. He's better when he reins it in a bit: pasta parcels of duck meat in a brown (yes) consommé that at first tastes underseasoned until the depth of sheer duckiness slaps you in the chops.
Score: Food 7/10; Atmosphere 7/10; Value for money 7/10Price: Three-course à la carte meal with drinks and service, about £60 a head
13 OctoberGiles Coren loves the recession-busting burger at Tommi's Burger Joint, London W1
I rather preferred the humbler "burger" in the end. It was more minced, rougher, gamier, a little dirtier. And an absolute steal at £5.50 (they also offer the "deal of the century" - a cheeseburger, fries and drink for £9.40). The chips were out of this world, too, especially with the béarnaise. It's all organic and well cool. Incongruous location, though. I could see such a place going great guns in Soho, with all that trendy young passing trade, but it's so dainty here, especially at night, with Marylebone's wonderful "Mayfair in the Thirties" feel (achieved by the cunning and vision of the De Walden estate) that I thought it might be a bit of a misfit. But it was rammed, so what do I know? Mostly smart chaps on the way home from work when we arrived around 9pm, but I guess the profile alters according to the day and time. I love it.
Price: Cheeseburger, fries and drink for £9.40
The Sunday Times
14 OctoberAA Gill enjoys his meal at the Gardener's Cottage, a very un-Edinburgh restaurant in the Scottish capital
Then home-smoked herring pâté. Smoking your own herring is equally pointless, but rolling it into a pâté was excellent, even if the bread collapsed into crumbs. Cauliflower soup with apple would not have been my choice, if I'd had a choice. Fortunately I didn't, as it was rather good. The pièce de résistance - a very Edinburgh expression, that - was the five-year-old mutton with winkles and a mild onion purée. This was exceptional. Every time I have mutton, I'm clubbed with two thoughts: first, that I don't have anything like enough mutton in my life, and then, which asbestos-mouthed idiot first decided that lamb would be an improvement? Then cheese with nuts and honey. Scotland now makes masses of cheese, almost all of it from the home-made list, imitations of French and Italian types. I think the waiter said this one came from Islington, which turned out to be East Linton, but, as you were, it was more Arsenal than Hearts. Pudding was a chocolate and beetroot cake - fine in a surprising way, but it showed off neither the chocolate nor the beetroot to their best advantage. Coffee was a no-choice cafetiere, which came with an egg timer to tell you when to plunge - a very Edinburgh touch, that. Geological time wouldn't have improved the insipid peat bath water that it made.
Score: Food 4/5; Atmosphere 4/5
Price: £25 per head
14 OctoberJay Rayner says the newly Michelin-starred Medlar in Chelsea, London SW10, is good and offers value for money
Nobody here will try to explain the concept of the menu. They won't interrupt your best filthy anecdote just before the punchline by asking, with a rictus grin, how everything is. They'll just look after you. The design doesn't try too hard, either. There are grey walls, olive-green banquettes and a sense that, if there is a best table, it is only ever going to be in the eye of the person who happens to be sitting at it. The food, though, is not simple. That doesn't mean it's mannered. They don't serve stuff on lumps of slate or plop things into the bowls of Chinese ceramic spoons. Instead, there is a thoughtful complexity; the man leading the kitchen, Joe Mercer Nairne, who used to be at Chez Bruce, can cook. Take a starter described as a duck-egg tart. There is a disc of pressed and glazed puff pastry, spread with a turnip purée that has been worked to a luscious smoothness. On top is a perfect fried duck egg, like something from a children's book. There are crisp lardons around the outside, a sauce that is the meaty reduction of both animal and a cracking bottle of red and, as an honour guard, duck hearts flash-fried so they are still the colour of the sauce at the eye.
Price: Lunch for two, including wine and service £90
Daily TelegraphMatthew Norman finds the retro decor to his taste, but not the mediocre cooking at Mishkin's, Covent Garden, London WC2
With its black and white chequerboard flooring, recovered timber walls, crumbly brickwork and strip lighting, Mishkin's cutely melds the flavour of the post-war East End caff (fizzy drink cans displayed on a shelf) with a traditional American diner ("rest rooms" is the styling for the loos). The booths with red banquettes looked particularly inviting from our nook beneath a skylight, at a weeny table so close to its neighbour that one involuntary twitch of the knee could have you up before the nearby Bow Street beaks on a harassment charge. Fishcakes came with a version of "chrain" (a horseradish and beetroot sauce) far too prissified to lend any kick to comfort food, and were "a bit light on taste, but fine". My "Brick Lane salt beef with Colman's" was not fine. To our delightful waitress's inquiry "Do you want it with or without fat?", the answer had been "Do you think I acquired a body like this by rejecting fat?" The beef came not only depressingly lean, however, but dried out, startlingly anodyne, and encased in rye bread that disintegrated at the faintest touch.
Price: Three courses with a cocktail/wine and coffee: about £30 per head
10 OctoberCamp And Furnace, Liverpool, is the right kind of new life for an old place: clever, well designed and future-proof, says Emma Sturgess
There's a bit of international folderol, including chicken wings with Middle Eastern spicing and cumin aïoli, but the majority of dishes feel either English or American. A salt beef sandwich on toasted Peckham Rye bread (rightly given a gong by the Real Bread Campaign last week) lacks fat and juice but makes up for it in sauerkraut and melty Emmental. We also have a "poacher" platter; the partitioned metal tray it comes on is a cold, unfriendly vehicle for the little circlets of silky salt-cured venison fillet, flavoured with fennel seeds, and the gravadlax that is billed as beetroot and vodka-cured but remains defiantly un-beetrooty. The abundance of accompaniments - ribbons of sweet cucumber, a crisp gherkin, mustard crème fraîche and green leaves in a dressing so sharp it almost counts as pickle liquor - is the kind of sour-sweet luxury you'd hold your lunch tray out for. As other customers come in for a drink (the kitchen closes at 8pm from Monday to Saturday and earlier on Sundays), we finish with proper, hardcore coffee and damp slices of lemon and blueberry cake, thick with glacé icing, from the bar. They're fabulous but a bit bashed, so we're not charged.
Price: A meal for two with drinks costs about £40
London Evening Standard
10 OctoberFay Maschler says high prices and prissy staff mean Nathan Outlaw's Seafood Grill at the Capital Hotel, London SW1, is not quite the informal restaurant it has set out to be
The style and content of the menu are fairly straightforward, with some larky curlicues. Cornish crab on toast, which I imagine would be heavenly eaten sitting in sunshine overlooking the Camel estuary, even piqued with curry, apple and fennel, has modest impact in a hushed, carpeted box of a room. Pickled herrings are flaccid and lacking sparkle, their red-pepper marmalade turning out to be just sautéd chopped peeled red peppers with nary a scorch mark to make you hope they might not have been fished from a jar. Poached duck egg and an assortment of mushrooms on toasted thyme bread is much liked. Over-salting and a decision - or default position - to serve everything tepid is common to our chosen main courses. The roasted cod fillet seems to have been brined, which can add backbone but here the outcome is just saltiness and opacity. If presented hot, as promised, the salty mix of shellfish served on seaweed would have come across as something more than a gathering at low tide.
Price: A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about £160
By Kerstin Kühn
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