What's on the menu – Tasting menu at HKK delights critic Giles Coren

04 February 2013
What's on the menu – Tasting menu at HKK delights critic Giles Coren

The Times
Giles Coren says at HKK, London EC2, the latest restaurant from the Hakkasan Group, each dish in turn became the greatest Chinese mouthful of his life

Now, I hate tasting menus. I hate the slowness and the pretension and the pomposity. And it is always the lobster that does me in. I am always already full, bored, sad and tired when the inevitable lobster comes. But not here. The dishes were so small, so precise, and came so wonderfully quickly as to abolish the notion of dreary sequence and keep every course apparently hovering simultaneously before us. There followed immediately a cylinder of osmanthus jelly sitting up by a deep-fried puck of water chestnut cake, with a glass of naturally sweet Da Hong Pao tea, which calmed us down and soothed our mouths, ready for a piping hot nugget of monkfish on a champagne sauce, then a cube of lustrous homemade pumpkin tofu, two small oblongs of slow-cooked, jasmine tea-smoked wagyu short rib and then a razor clam shell full of its chopped former inhabitant sautéed with chilli, which I turned out over an insanely sticky ball of tea-coloured glutinous rice. Then a dainty lychee tapioca with a crème-caramely thing, shot through with notes of passion fruit; a pineapple fritter with salted lime jelly; and a pause for thought. This place is amazing. Fourteen of the best courses I've had anywhere.
Score: 7.67

Marina O'Loughlin struggles with the heat at Naamyaa Café, London EC1, but has no doubt the Alan Yau-owned restaurant will be a roaring success

Score: Food 6/10; Atmosphere 8/10; Value for money 7/10
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service, about £60.

The Observer
Jay Rayner says the Gurnard's Head near Zennor in Cornwall lacks a sense of place
Choosing not to be one of those places that feverishly represents its locale may not be a negative per se, as long as the food makes an argument for itself. The cooking at the Gurnard's Head doesn't - not quite. It's not actively bad in any way. There are some strange ideas here and there, but for the most part the technical stuff is all in place. A small fillet of red mullet for £7.25 is crisp-skinned but comes sprinkled with bits of clementine, beetroot and those soufflé potatoes. They are thumbnail-sized and less garnish than just loitering as if waiting for a more appropriate dish to come along. Granted, they are fiendishly difficult to make. Soufflé potatoes were the sort of thing you once found at the old Connaught Hotel under Michel Bourdin when he had a brigade of 70 and could put a team of six on those and those alone. But they do need scale to make them worth the effort. Kimchi - normally fermented pickled cabbage - is here made from pears and is mildly diverting, though no better as an accompaniment to confit pork belly than, say, actual kimchi. The dish is un-sauced and curiously dry. It's a recurring theme. There's not enough shellfish sauce to lend interest to a startlingly dull piece of steamed skate, taken off the cartilage so it rolls up to look like a banana. When the thrills in a skate dish lie with a caramelised potato and celeriac terrine, you know something's up.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service: £90

Independent on Sunday
Amol Rajan says that with its simple, solid dishes The Great British, London W1, is something like an apogee of the Great British food revival
The starters are magnificent. You can have seared lamb's liver and lamb faggots with bacon and celeriac; white-onion soup with spiced curried fritter; potted salt beef with pickles and sourdough toast; and, best of all, exquisite kedgeree with smoked haddock and a quail's egg of unimprovable flavour and moisture. I move on to a Loch Duart salmon with pearl barley and oxtail. Boy, oh boy, I wish I could raise Orwell from his eternal slumber, sit him beside me and ask if he still believes fish in Britain is seldom well cooked. This is a magisterial bit of flaky pink flesh, and the almost-sweet, deeply spiced pearl barley is just magic. Vegetarians can get a Sussex cheese sausage with bubble and squeak; carnivores can have either Maize Farm Longhorn beef or Yorkshire saddleback pork loin, both with all the trimmings. Naturally I feel sceptical on reading of apple crumble with "proper" custard on the menu, but it is a sensational and sweet sauce. The chocolate pudding with the now ubiquitous salted caramel and hazelnuts is very good, too.
Score: 8/10
Price: About £65 for lunch for two without alcohol

Andy Lynes says British food is still seen as something of a joke because places such as The Great British, London W1, keep supplying the profoundly unfunny punchline
Tender would be the last word I'd use about pork belly that's crowned with an enormous portion of black pudding and accompanied by mash that tastes like something out of a 1970s school dinner hall. And a flavourless chunk of lamb, topped with overdone lamb's liver, has the texture of wet cardboard. The almond flavour is oddly furtive in a soggy-bottomed Bakewell tart filled with watery cherries. It comes with an underpowered clotted cream ice cream that tastes decidedly semi-skimmed. If all this wasn't punishment enough, we are forced to choose from the exclusively English wine list. British sparkling can go up against the best in the world but the still wines leave a lot to be desired. We don't order a second glass of Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve. On the plus side, the meal starts with good bread and delicious taramasalata, we can't stop eating the triple-cooked chips and the oxtail soup is decent enough. The owners - one of whom is Tony Zoccola of East Dulwich Deli - claim they want to promote indigenous produce and cooking but the best way they could do that is by closing their doors.
Score: 1/5
Price: Meal for two with wine, water and service, costs about £105

London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler says former Pitt Cue Co chef's cooking at the John Salt, London N1, flies in Islington

The first course was shards of patiently steeped ham hock topped by an egg wreathed in fine crumbs that broke to set free a yolk devolving into a satiny sauce. The crab, which he chose to unpick whole for £17 rather than half for £11, was, like all the seafood, bought and brought direct from Newlyn Fish Market. I am not entirely sure, but I would say it met its maker inside a Big Green Egg barbecue, a piece of equipment favoured by Rankin. The accompanying bisque sauce was no stranger to an anis-based spirit such as Pernod. I also loved the idea of 'nduja (spicy) sausage with mussels but there were only four of us and we couldn't try everything. The acidity of buttermilk met the acerbic quality of blood orange in a creamy medium with a wholly satisfactory (and pretty) result. Pickles and ferment offset fat and so kimchee invades hollandaise to accompany grilled skirt steak and introduces a note of dietary caution into the unputdownable side dish of frites with pulled pork and cheese. Korean influence is also manifest in a first course of chopped raw beef with Nashi pear and sesame or, as Koreans put it, yukhoe.
Score: 4/5
Price: Dinner for two with wine, about £84

Scotland on Sunday
Richard Bath says the kitchen at Ostlers Close, Fife, is missing rather than hitting
My starter of fillet of monkfish with seared hand-dived Mull scallop and 
Pittenweem langoustines with a bouillabaisse risotto cost a remarkable £11.95, and was consequently always going to be minutely observed to gauge value for money. Beautifully presented, it certainly looked the part, and there was the same intensity of flavour that marked out the amuse bouche. However, the flaws were also inescapable, from the overdone single scallop to risotto rice that was so al dente it retained an unpleasantly gritty texture. My main course of roast saddle of Balhelvie lamb with lamb shoulder confit and roast root vegetables didn't provide much respite either. Again, it looked a treat, but I'd had lamb the previous day in a small and inexpensive French restaurant and, invidious though comparisons can be, the contrast in the flavour and succulence was unavoidable. Jamie was far more pleased with his selection of seafood with winter greens, boulangere potatoes and saffron sauce, and with some justification. The selection of scallop, langoustine, gurnard etc was perfectly cooked and the saffron sauce was neatly judged; strong enough to register, yet not powerful enough to overwhelm the subtle flavours of the seafood.
Score: 5/10
Price: Starter £7.75-£11.95; main course £20.50-£23.95; pudding £7.95

By Kerstin Kuhn

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