AA Gill has the most depressing and uncongenial meal, in an anaemic, echoey building at the Ten Room at Café Royal ](http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/food/Eating_Out/article1207689.ece)
Score: No stars
ObserverCold, empty and mercenary, the once great Café Royal deserves so much more than the vacuous Ten Room, says Jay Rayner It was a simple question, and the waiter flunked it. What type of tuna, I asked, do you use in your tartar? I wanted to know if it was endangered bluefin. "It's from Scotland," he said, with an authoritative nod of the head. My companions and I looked at each other. Scotland? Why? Was it on holiday there? Had it nipped over from the Pacific to get a job in the oil industry? Later the waiter would return to admit his mistake and tell us it was yellowtail from roughly 8,000 miles to the west of Glasgow. By then it was too late. I already hated the Ten Room at the once-grand Café Royal. In truth I had really started hating it when, just after we sat down, the same waiter offered to recommend something from the menu. He then listed half the dishes, including three of the most expensive starters. So, I asked him, what's wrong with the rest of it? He came out with a special rictus grin, muttered: "Nothing" and retreated. If you're going to upsell shamelessly, please do it with style.
Price: Meal for two, including drinks and service £160
[The Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, serves rugged, rustic food, but that doesn't mean it's not sophisticated, says Marina O'Loughlin ](http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/09/pea-porridge-bury-st-edmunds-review)
Maybe it's the warmth, a big goosedown duvet of it, from the front-of-house, led by co-owner (with husband and chef Justin) Jurga Sharp. How deliciously uncool. And the generosity: freebies of pea (of course) and ham croquette, a gentle introduction into a menu that's positively splay-legged in its butchness. We're in farming country, and you can imagine large-booted men dropping off marrowbones or pig's cheeks or hare just in time for service. There are "nibbles" (sorry) of "crispy pigs' ears", cartilaginous and gelatinous meat of supreme porkiness in a hearty crumb with a blob of pungent aÁ¯oli: how's that for a statement of intent? Justin writes a killer menu: all macho Brit - game, offal or unusual cuts; champ - with a touch of recherché Med - barba di frate or lardo di Colonnata, or dishes such as sauté of snails with bacon and bone marrow. It's not all swagger, either - there's real delicacy in a dish of sweet mackerel fillet with bitter, raw puntarelle, sly little bombs of caper and slivers of orange.
Score: Food 7/10;â¨Atmosphere 8/10;â¨Value for money 8/10
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service, about £80
Independent on SundayLisa Markwell says at West End institution Joe Allen, London WC2, the food appears to a side order We've missed the rather-good-sounding pre-theatre set menu and instead stick to what Joe Allen (an outpost of a New York institution, lest we forget) does best: cheeseburger, fries, mac and cheese, Caesar salad and a crabcake slider with shoestring fries and old-bay mayonnaise - a presumably recent addition that makes a small nod to the current fad for sliders. None of it is stellar. The fries have the uniform shape and size that suggests a visit from the 3663 catering juggernaut and the mac and cheese is singularly lacking in cheese flavour. I happen to like Caesar salad drenched in dressing, but this soupy combination almost defeats me. And that burger. I'm sure in the old days you were asked how you want it, but whether it's the result of Westminster's famous new meat-cooking edict, or because the kitchen no longer "does" preferences, but it comes out with the merest blush at its centre, not quite what Mr M had hoped would be a Proustian experience (years before we met, he used to come for a solo Sunday evening blowout after working at the market).
Price: £75 for two, including wine
London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler enjoys her meal at the Malt House, London SW6, the new pub from Claude and Cedric Bosi, where former Hibiscus chef Marcus McGuinness dons the whites His menu in the soothingly gentrified 18th-century building - now stranded in a piece of blighted urban planning that defeats all known means of navigation - strives for something approaching Gangnam style but just can't resist pirouettes. A first course of rabbit liver parfait - much nicer than it might sound - with caper and raisin purée and crispy malt loaf even harked back to GBM (which sadly did not see McGuinness go through to the final). Triangular sails of toasted bread, so thin you could peer through them, were anchored in a scoop of smoothness, itself nestling on frisée. Glossy blobs of purée of carefully diminishing circumferences curved round one side of the plate. Carpaccio of Elwy Valley Lamb with goat's curd and dates was carpaccio in the sense of very thin slices, here of cooked rolled lamb (maybe breast) streaked with fat arranged in a circular fashion on the plate, dotted with dabs of cheese, a jammy trickle of date and an unheralded daisy chain of bean sprouts. A more heart-warming, homely assembly was of mussel and ginger broth with winter vegetables. It was delicious, timely and a new role for the saline, squidgy contribution of mussels.
Price: A three-course meal for two with wine, about £105
The Shiori, London W2, the latest establishment from the people behind Sushi of Shiori delivers a Japanese kaiseki experience that's hard to fault, says Joe Warwick An appetiser of raw, chopped sea bream dressed in a rich sauce made from monkfish liver (ankimo) - the fishy, Japanese answer to foie gras - gets us under way, quickly followed by a selection of sashimi: salmon, prawn and kingfish. There's no waiting around for the next course, which is precisely what you want from this sort of experience but - and this is the heart of the aforementioned debate - not always what you get. Our first hot dish is a snow crab nabe, a fantastically delicate consommé-like soup, the pieces of crab perfectly textured bursts of sweetness rubbing shoulders with tofu, yubu (tofu skin) glass noodles and enoki mushrooms. A precisely grilled piece of red mullet - not too crispy, not too oily - grabs our attention next.Then it's the nigiri sushi course, which is split into three faultless mini courses - fish, shellfish and eel - each appearing with fresh wasabi and a brush for applying soy sauce ('To the fish topping only,' as Hitomi, who gracefully runs the front of house, explains).Yuzu sorbet and Japanese tea bring a close to proceedings. At £50 each, plus sake and service, for this perfectly paced, skilfully balanced meal, this represents exceptional value.
Price: A meal for two with drinks and service costs about £175
By Kerstin Kuhn
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