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Reviews: Allegra, the Botanical Rooms and more

28 October 2019 by
Reviews: Allegra, the Botanical Rooms and more

Patrick Powell’s cooking at Allegra at the Stratford hotel in London has “an uncommon creative energy, focus and technical meticulousness”, writes Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard

The first things we ate elicited nerdy appreciation and low, indecent groans. Nestled in a grey-accented, faintly Nordic room, an old pal and I descended, with building enthusiasm, on fantastic bread and a humming, dollopable green sauce. Pistachio choux and liver parfait similarly banged: a puffed, savoury profiterole with crumbled nut, thin strands of pickled kumquat and a blast of rich, sweet chicken liver. A three-quid mouthful but a pretty unassailable one.

Smoked sakura cherry tomato tart – bursting toms in a brittle, buttery case with their sweetness and bonfire musk balanced on a thrilling knife-edge – was another pastry-based mic drop. Then came a consommé-style French onion soup (with a playful accompanying cheese custard and walnut pickle-blobbed biscuit) that was clean, elegant and nowhere near as satisfying as the Gruyère-clattered, brown allium lagoon I had imagined when I ordered it.

That feeling of slightly obstructive cleverness permeated the next couple of arrivals, too; a lacquered square of suckling pig with mint root jelly (most notable for the sensational, earthy grunt of anchovy-spiked stewed kale) and blocks of lamb (glinting a perfect rose and served with, among other tricked-out splats, a coarse, tangy romesco sprinkled with strange, sticky olive ‘caramel’).

Rating: Ambience: 3/5; food: 4/5. Price: £182 for two, with drinks

“Heavenly” desserts are an aberration rather than norm, according to The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin, visiting the Botanical Rooms at the Newt in Somerset

Sticking my fork rudely into the others’ dishes, they’re mostly unremarkable: a game terrine that’s competent and inoffensive, not particularly gamey but helped by its pickled vegetables and crab-apple jelly; a pleasant mess of shallots singed from embers and scattered with local ricotta, hazelnuts and croutons made from sourdough using apple waste from their cider-making process. Local produce from local people, yeah?

And my pork: good grief. Leaving aside the wisdom of titling it “Landrace Duroc cross sow” and announcing the date of its slaughter (31 July, FYI), it’s a car crash. “Chef serves it medium rare,” we’re told; it’s not, and is so impenetrably tough I have to hack at it rather than cut, its various sidekicks – cavolo nero (er, nope: small huddle of Savoy cabbage), crispy onions (no evidence; I think they ended up on the duck), black apple sauce – splattered willy-nilly, an out-take from the Saw franchise. A side of “crispy potatoes, anchovies, capers” fulfils none of these promises.

Bizarrely, desserts are heavenly. A canelé with that haunting waxy-custardy consistency of the best — yes, baked with actual beeswax; and affogato that arrives with freshly baked madeleines every bit as good as Fergus Henderson’s platonic ideals. But this wizardry comes across as aberration rather than norm.

Price: £126.50 for two, including 12.5% service charge

The Betterment
The Betterment

The Guardian's Grace Dent enjoyed the old-school glamour at Jason Atherton’s the Betterment in London’s Mayfair

Our meal is much more hearty than the menu suggests, because on paper it is a cacophony of snow pea, langoustine crudo and horseradish velouté. In actuality, chalk steam trout and potato cake with curry sauce is a tarted-up fishcake in a puddle of light, coronation-style liquor: delicate, fishy and finickity in design, but still dinner. John dory with a sauce of coco de Paimpol beans and bordelaise sauce is really very little to get het up about.

Short-rib with Montgomery cheddar does exactly what it promises: it is an assertive, umami-heavy, emotional battering of bone marrow-encrusted, meaty, cheesy decadence; if you have that with the fried onion and some of The Betterment’s “chips”, which are fried in beef dripping and come with a ketchup laced with truffle, you may find yourself in need of a sedan chair.

Rating: Food: 7/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 7/10. Price: about £70 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service

The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles is won over by the Cantonese comfort food at Wun’s Tea Room in London's Soho

We fill in our order form (nothing steamed here) and eat salty, chilli-dusted peanuts with crisp slivers of dried fish that crunch and burn and leave the mouth a-tingle. Then ‘HK Wind Shelter’, whole whitebait, lightly battered and hidden among a crunchy mess of golden deep-fried garlic, dried chillies and tiny rings of fresh spring onion (below). The flavours are suitably robust, no-nonsense, bar-snack Cantonese.

There are delicate triangles of creamy tofu in a crisp shell, dipped into sharp vinegar, and a crisp, fresh peanut, red onion, fried noodle salad. Which offers brisk relief from the bubbling wok. Satay beef noodles (not dissimilar to Super Noodles) wallow in a rich, coconut-heavy gravy, and are topped with a frilly edged fried egg, while sticky, chewy claypot rice, the pot searing hot, comes studded with slippery mushrooms and soft chunks of pumpkin. Pure Cantonese comfort.

Then there’s the Ibérico char siu, of which much has already been written. It is to the usual roast pork what jade is to green glass. Coated in sugar, this is both sweet and savoury, chewy and tender, and lavishly, lasciviously fatty. You can’t stop eating the stuff, and too much is simply not enough. I go back again a few days later, just for one more plate. Washed down with a pot of clean, grassy Sichuan green tea.

Rating: 4/5. Price: About £25 per head

Julie'sOx Cheek
Julie'sOx Cheek

The food at Julie's in London's Holland Park is “immaculately presented and cooked with considerable finesse”, says William Sitwell in The Telegraph

The menu is what I would describe as posh country-house hotel. Food is immaculately presented and cooked with considerable finesse. But while I know the locals round this part of London are seriously minted, it’s not exactly your lively local for, say, Sunday lunch with family and friends.

With main courses averaging £30 a head, I fear this won’t be the heaving establishment of old. And the chef does that thing of glazing your food in a pan with butter, so that my extraordinarily good piece of salt-marsh lamb with garlic potatoes and a piece of crisp, breaded lamb breast left my mouth coated with butter – which does make one sip more of their fabulous wine, but I can only ever eat such food as a rare treat unless I want my arteries clogging up.

My starter was a beautiful plate of risotto topped with crispy kale and a dollop of crab: faultless perfection. A rice pudding – creamy and flecked with Rice Krispies – was the better of the two puds, the muscovado sponge not as rich as I’d hoped for.

Julie’s, now 50, has become properly posh and stylish. With a fantastic wine list and a convivial atmosphere, it’s more special occasion than neighbourhood gaff, but as they now have a phone I’d be churlish not to firmly recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

Legna
Legna

A few errors at Aktar Islam’s Legna in Birmingham are overshadowed by dreamy food and engaging staff, writes Andy Richardson in the Express and Star

Aktar has a thing about octopus – and few cook it better. He has a spectacular octopus starter next door, at Opheem, and the Meditteranean version at Legna was a winner. Arancini with wild mushroom and truffle were earthy and intoxicating while arancini with 'nduja were thrillingly spicy.

A fritto misto was heavenly, with batter that crunched and small pieces of fish that were delicately cooked so that they were just translucent.

A mushroom risotto was slightly overcooked; the rice was soft rather than al dente. The flavours were good, however, and it had been seasoned well. Complex and sophisticated, it had been made with no little skill. A Bolognese dish was also exquisite, showcasing the skills of Aktar and his team, though beautiful ribbons of silky pasta had been a little undercooked – the opposite of the risotto.

Jodi Hinds - BeefFillet 12 copy Northall
Jodi Hinds - BeefFillet 12 copy Northall

The Times’ Giles Coren has a “marvellous” time at the Corinthia’s Northall restaurant in London’s Westminster

Handcut strozzapreti with sauce supreme and summer truffle (£16) – all but forced on me by the most senior of the waiters – was altogether dirtier. The pasta was firm and chewy and wheaty, the sauce a sticky butter with flashes of rural hen coop and the mound of tangly truffle, its smell redolent of neglected swimming kit in an old gym bag until properly stirred in, quite wonderfully shroomy – a rustic, chunky contrast to the shimmering urbanity around us.

Three of us had the roasted native lobster (well, why not?), which had been properly fiddled: the thoracic flesh separated and roasted with warm spices, the claw bared and cooked separately, a pool of red pepper sauce in the middle of a theatrical glass plate, some twigs of samphire, some curls of young coconut and then, aside the delicacy of the main plate, the knuckle had been cracked and its firmer, stronger meat torn into a porcelain bowl of orzo with a foaming, creamy sauce.

Rating: Cooking: 7/10; service: 8/10; dining room: 10/10; score: 8.33/10

Sticky Mango
Sticky Mango

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler has a great meal at Sticky Mango in London’s South Bank

Crab dumplings — “just the right side of too hot”, says Ben — in their laksa sauce with quail egg and coriander oil strewn with elegant fresh herbs are as energetically fought over as inkily black pepper prawns surrounded by cubes of dehydrated pineapple. Crispy buns almost steal the thunder from a half Singapore chilli lobster red as a post box. We consider twice-cooked glazed duck but decide instead on duck fried rice, a tower of song topped by a fried duck egg, its white rendered crunchy by garlic and ginger crumb.

Barbecue sea bass in banana leaf outshines the meat dishes of oddly combative Balinese suckling pig and a short rib rendang requiring slower cooking. Just when we think we can’t manage any more, prawn and squid nasi goreng proves we can. Mango with black sticky rice is the obvious and ideal finale.

Rating: 4/5

All restaurants should be like Marmo in Bristol, according to The Observer’s Jay Rayner

Two of the mains are based around their own pasta. There is pumpkin ravioli with sage and walnuts. And then there is my choice, a tangled heap of hand-cut tagliolini, the yellow of the best butter, with the sort of bite which makes chopping off the strands with your teeth a thoroughly satisfying act. The ribbons come spun through with quartered globe artichokes and handfuls of sweet brown shrimps. It’s all brought together by the sort of butter emulsion that you don’t want to let get away. It’s a simple dish but very effective. I would be invading my own privacy if I revealed how much of that sauce landed on my shirt.

A Saddleback pork sausage is dense and chunky, with an edge of chitterling honk to it, as if a little offal found its way into the mincer on the way through. It’s the Margaret Rutherford of sausages, big-shouldered and broad of calf and most definitely no-nonsense. It needs the hillock of buttery polenta upon which it sits. There is some grilled red lettuce with a stroppy bitter edge, because we all must have our veg. This is robust cookery, determined to get the best out of the humble.

Price: £14 for a two-course lunch, £17 for three. Dinner: starters £7.50-£9, mains £13.50-£18, desserts £6, wines from £17.50

HOTELS

MCR-Classic Double-Main
MCR-Classic Double-Main

Joanne Carter of The Times enjoys the great food at the Dakota Manchester, but warns that the gloomy décor “may get to you after a while”

With its black walls and tinted windows, the exterior looks more villain’s lair than boutique bolt hole, but inside it’s all dark, sultry glamour, with low lighting, an open fire, a palette of bruised shades and art-deco-meets-industrial accents.

Smoky shades of charcoal and brown, moody lighting, soft throws and supremely comfortable beds – the kinds of room that make you want to order up room service and hibernate. Ours was a deluxe suite and came with a cosy corner sofa, a vast TV with Sky Movies, a walk-in wardrobe, and a huge bathroom with roll-top bath and walk-in shower (from £415 a night).

From the crispy duck salad (£9) to the monkfish curry (£22), dishes are well executed and seriously punchy. Steak is the house speciality; succulent sirloin cooked over charcoal with bone marrow jus (£29) was spot on. We loved the cosy ambience of the candle-lit booths screened from fellow diners by oriental-style dark wooden slats. The service was warm and attentive.

Rating: 8/10. Price: B&B doubles from £155 a night

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