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Reviews: Bank House, Davies and Brook, and more

13 January 2020 by
Reviews: Bank House, Davies and Brook, and more

The Guardian's Grace Dent says Stuart Gillies' Bank House in London's Chislehurst is "an incredibly decent" neighbourhood wine bar and restaurant that is "unpretentious, welcoming and warm-spirited"

The skin-on, triple-cooked chips are doused in chicken-skin salt. The tiger prawns come with a harissa that will knock your socks off. It serves Royal Tokaji Late Harvest by the glass. You can't ask for more than that from a local joint. Plates of smoked anchovies arrive swimming in good olive oil, while fiery 'nduja comes smeared on toasted sourdough. Baked crab gratin with crostini sits on the brief yet meaningful menu beside pork belly sliders with a well-judged pickled slaw. The house cocktail that evening was a brulee flip with cognac and hazelnut liqueur, which was fiendishly drinkable. Why don't more local places do this?

There is a middle ground between "house burger" and "excruciating tasting menu", and Bank House has nailed it. Buttermilk chicken appears in a crisp, tempura batter and smothered in barbecue sauce, blue cheese and spring onion. Said out loud, that sounds like a physical assault, but no, it was marvellous: just the right amount of sweetness, sharpness, crunch and smoothness. So much so that we consider ordering it again for pudding.

Fillet of plaice sits in a buttery sauce flecked with beetroot and minutely diced Parmesan. Again, in the wrong hands this could be vile, but by this point I trusted chef Bobby Brown implicitly. The beetroot was sweet, the Parmesan soft and salty, the plaice perfectly judged and a nice refuge from both extremes. I sense that Brown has many haywire ideas in the kitchen that the staff have learned just to go with.

Price: About £30-35 a head; weekday set lunch £15, all plus drinks and service. Rating: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 8/10

Davies Brook duck
Davies Brook duck

The amuse bouche are outstanding and the meat perfect for Fay Maschler's meal at Claridge's Davies and Brook restaurant in London's Mayfair, she writes in the Evening Standard

I relish equally iced scallop and apple served with hot scallop broth alongside, and the small bowl of soupy rice strafed with ginger and topped with chewy mushrooms (shitake?)... With these "amuses" arrive irresistible bread rolls with the texture of croissant plus a disc of butter topped with a gel made from the reduced stocks. When my pal asks for more bread, it arrives with Vacherin jelly crowning the accompanying butter. This is a kitchen with no shortage of chefs.

With respect to his cold starter of bass ceviche — "not muted despite being very controlled in its avocado body armour" — and main course of honey and lavender glazed dry-aged duck (a signature dish), Max observes that his meal is like an intellectual exercise in restraint of which Coco Chanel would approve. She advised putting together an outfit, studying the effect, then removing one item. Storing an unwrapped duck in the fridge for a fortnight is a food fashion tip I might well adopt; the meat was perfect. Blood used as a binder in its aptly named Sauce Civet is another lesson, this one in histories ancient and modern.

Flying in from the US and offering black cod shows insouciance. That sweet/savoury/silky hit Nobu Matsuhisa popularised is here but Napa cabbage rendered crisp as nori, and soft, shredded kohlrabi as garnish, distinguishes it and maybe even gives it a Swiss accent (Humm is originally from Zurich).

A velvety chocolate bar with a scoop of coconut ice cream justifies every Bounty recently avoided in the Celebrations tin and unadorned segments of clementine in the circus of citrus were just rather touching.

Price: Four courses at £98 per person. Rating: 5/5

Loyal Tavern cauliflower
Loyal Tavern cauliflower

The Times' Giles Coren discovers great little plates at Tom Cenci's Loyal Tavern in London's Bermondsey

The great little plates being sent out from the open kitchen at the back by Tom Cenci (formerly of Duck & Waffle) and his team, which for me, on my own, involved crispy chicken skin crackling (three big shards for £3.50) with a hot sauce and blue cheese dressing, like hot wings without all the meaty stuff; a salad of roast beetroot and orange with dates, tamarind and toasted seeds (£5) that was nicely wintery and kind of medieval (the sort of thing Good King Wenceslas probably ate in Veganuary); a lovely skewer of spiced lamb (£3) with mint and an almond aïoli that gave the rich meat an almost marzipanny flavour; a little flatbread filled with 'nduja (I see my spellcheck no longer queries "Gruyère" and " 'nduja" – when did that happen?), dressed with sour cream and chives (£4); a kid goat and belly pork meatball, in a little black bowl on a bed of pureed spinach, with pickled cranberries to punctuate the fat (£6.50) and a smart little scoop of mince pie ice cream drizzled with date molasses (£4.50).

Barely 30 quid for a rolling menu of perfect little winter mouthfuls, made truly memorable by a waitress genuinely happy to be there.

Rating: cooking: 7; space: 8; waitress: 10; score: 8.33

Good ingredients are treated with knowing respect at Calcot & Spa's Gumstool Inn in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, writes Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday

There are fat chunks of charred chorizo, soft-textured but sharp-tasting balsamic onions, mild chillies stuffed with mild cheese and deep-fried whitebait. A starter of South-East Asian duck salad is inspired, simple, yet knowingly put together. Fistfuls of shredded quacker, all chew and crunch, mixed with cashews and slices of cool, crisp radish. There's a gentle chilli heat and a dressing that's sharp with lime. It reminds me of the crisp duck salad at Le Caprice, once one of London's great dishes.

A technically perfect twice-baked cheese soufflé is less thrilling, needing extra oomph and depth. Expertly done, but crying out for more Montgomery's or the kick of Keen's. Salmon tartare is as clean as it is fresh, softened with soy and fiery with ginger. While a goat's cheese parcel is… God only knows. Apparently lovely but I despise the stuff. Like licking a farmyard floor. I can devour raw tripe, and deep-fried bee pupae, wobbling cubes of set blood and the most lavatorial of stinky tofu. But faced with the cheese of a goat, I tremble like a just-set blancmange.

Anyway, mains are damned fine. Lackham Farm Chateaubriand (whose cows I can see from the upstairs windows of my mother's house near Lacock), aged and properly butchered. It's cooked the rarer side of pink and hewn into great bloody hunks, with a subtle bovine allure. It comes with a pile of silken mashed potato and a great bubbling iron dish of broccoli and cauliflower cheese. Stodge, of the very highest quality. Sometimes only good steak will do. My father's liver comes pink, with capers and shards of crisp pancetta. ‘Any good?' I ask. ‘Yup,' comes the reply, with typical economy. I try a mouthful. And ‘yup', it is.

Price: about £30 a head. Rating: 4/5

OCTOPUS
OCTOPUS

Samuel Goldsmith of Country Life magazine checks out Bar Douro in London's Waterloo

We took the waitress's advice and ordered a scattering of dishes and Portuguese wine to go with them. The first to arrive were the croquettes with smoked Portuguese sausage (croquets de alheira): smokey, full of flavour and served on a picturesque Portuguese tile. After a mouthful of one of these, you'll be minded to remember you're not in Portugal.

It's not often that a squash dish is a highlight of the evening, but in this case it was: squash, requeijão and pumpkin seed vinaigrette, in which the flavour and texture of the requeijão (a Portuguese creamed cheese) complements the sweetness of the roasted squash and the crunch of the pumpkin seeds. Not only was it delicious, but it's always a thrill to find something on a menu you've never heard — and I'm not embarrassed to say I had no idea what requeijão was.

That moment when you start to feel full and remember you've ordered more was precisely when the onglet steak with confit egg (prego no prato) turned up. Thankfully, there's always room for more because the onglet — cooked to perfection and served with matchstick fries — was almost like a mini steak and chips on a plate. The spinach that cushioned the raw egg yolk was spot on and had the best garlic flavour – not too strong, but enough that you knew it was most definitely there. Another meaty highlight was the grilled lamb rump with kale. Seasoned faultlessly, it melted in the mouth. The kale that sat alongside gives it a sense of being healthy when really, we all know, it doesn't matter.

Everything about Sugo in Glasgow has been thought through, according to Marina O'Loughlin in the Sunday Times

Squid ink spaghetti with baby squid ragu and pangrattato, we're told, is Sicilian. No, it's not really exactly as you'd find in Sicily, but it's bloody good, the pasta inky and resonant, the seafood fresh and squeaky, the lemon-spritzed crumbs a really neat touch, adding an exciting layer of brightness and texture. Wide pappardelle, suitably eggy and al dente, are dressed, not drowned, with slow-cooked beef ragu Tuscan-style: chunks of meat rather than minced and authentically under-tomatoed. The young pal declares it the best pasta he's eaten in a restaurant, ever.

Care has been taken to pair the correct pasta with the various sauces. So, Venetian-style bigoli — a fat, wriggly style of spaghetti often made with wholewheat flour — comes with minced duck that's spookily pallid and bland, more like carrot-laced turkey than duck. This and a misguided panzanella — or rather, not-panzanella, but chopped-up cherry tomatoes and cucumber with cubes of too-crunchy, overtoasted croutons — are the only disappointments. But given the pleasure that the rest of our meal delivers — punchy wild boar salami in small, thick slices; good bread and fine oil; proper, crema-thick and nippy little espressos — it's easy to forgive.

Price: For three, including 12.5% service charge £69

Karma Exeter
Karma Exeter

The Telegraph's William Sitwell says Karma in Exeter is a great place

And so we started with Manchurian king prawns, in which impeccably tart and juicy prawns came in a sauce of ginger, garlic and coriander. The Chinese influence was lost on me, but like every dish that followed it was bursting with fresh and zesty flavour.

I wasn't privy to the methods at Karma, but every little ingredient – from green chilli to coriander leaf – seemed to proudly pop its head over the parapet, as if chopped fresh to order. And where in some curry houses the flavours of different sauces appear indistinct, here, even though they shared many of the same ingredients, they all leapt out with originality and difference.

A smokey aubergine dish – baingan bharta – was a heavenly sonnet to that purple vegetable, a chicken jalfrezi was the best I've eaten, and there was an epic daal that was soupy and brimming with soft garlic and ginger. And the colours of every dish gleamed out from black bowls and plates.

Price: Dinner for two: £55, excluding drinks and service. Rating: 4.5/5

The kitchen at Bistro Forty Six in Newcastle "seems incapable of pronouncing the words ‘small portions' let alone serving them", says the Observer's Jay Rayner, while being "both utterly mad and completely delightful"

There are pheasant bonbons: spiced and seasoned balls of minced loveliness, lightly breaded and deep fried, and served on a mess of burnt leeks with, on the top, finely shredded puffball. [Max] Gott has a way with pheasant. He manages to make it taste of something. Too many cooks don't. Unless it's been hung for so long there are maggots setting up home in its arse and picking out Ikea furniture for the living room, it's frankly rather bland. And if it is hung for that long, it tastes only of autopsy and death.

He pulls off the same trick in a special of a pheasant scotch egg, the minced bird spun through with wholegrain mustard. The yolk is at that perfect place between set and running. On the side is some of his mum's fruity chutney. Partridge breast comes sliced alongside chorizo, new potatoes and a Jerusalem artichoke purée, the whole dressed with crisped greens and a dribble of meaty jus, plus deep-fried shredded potato. They like a bit of detail at Bistro 46…

We have venison, deep rosy slices of the stuff, with impeccable mash, a few roasted veg, some greens and a deep, luscious cep sauce. Oh, and another pheasant bonbons, just because. It comes with a knife fashioned from a deer antler, which came in turn from an animal that made it on to the plate. Nothing goes to waste. We are also given a glass of cloudy cider made from apples scrumped from the streets of Jesmond, because all proper trees are theft. It's crisp and dry and delicious.

Starters £6.95-£8.95, mains £15.95-£24.95, desserts £5.95-£7.95, wines from £18.50

HOTELS

Stock Exchange Hotel John Gass Collection image Bevan Cockerill
Stock Exchange Hotel John Gass Collection image Bevan Cockerill

Mark O'Flaherty of the Sunday Telegraph loves almost everything about the new Stock Exchange hotel in Manchester, except for the out of place TV screens which dominate the Bull & Bear restaurant

Here is a beautifully designed new restaurant – full of leather banquettes and curved booths beneath a soaring Edwardian baroque domed ceiling – with televisions sets inescapable in any sight line. These aren't artfully inset monitors, as you may find in a gallery playing Bill Viola rarities on a loop, but huge, flat-screen Argos jobbies.

I will be interested to see if the flat-screens survive at the Bull & Bear. They are so insanely incongruous with the restaurant, and the hotel in which it sits. Manchester still lacks major luxury options, and the Stock Exchange hotel, involving a collaboration between super-chef Kerridge and the deep pockets of former footballer Gary Neville, is an attempt to raise the bar.

The décor is chic and modern and absolutely five star. There's nothing 'football' about it. In fact, there's a lot I loved – the dark green walls around the spiral staircase, and the light sconces on them that create shadow play reminiscent of the Virgin Mary's halo, are gorgeous interiors features. Apart from a slightly naff fake vault door that's been added to a private event space in the basement, the Stock Exchange hotel looks handsome from front door to ceiling, with lots of details to enjoy: from the green and gold glazed coffee cups to the brass knuckle dusters on the drawers of the cupboards. It looks and feels like full-on luxury.

Rooms from £160 per night, not including breakfast

Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel
Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel

Gabriella Bennett of The Times enjoys flawless service at the relaunched Kimpton Blythswood Square hotel in Glasgow

It's fresh from renovation under a new owner, IHG, and you can almost smell the wet paint at this glamorous Georgian hotel. More than £1 million has been spent on Bo and Birdy, its 146-cover restaurant with sea-green tiles, white marble tabletops and brass light fittings. The city centre location is handy for shoppers who want a rest over afternoon tea at the Salon, a cocktail bar with ionic columns, but it's the underground spa that is really pulling in the guests. A new sauna, sleek indoor pool and upgraded Jacuzzi complete the package.

All the 113 rooms have been rejuvenated, but the muted tones are still there, with touches of grey tweed, grand four-poster beds and brown marble bathrooms.

[The food is] not quite up to the standards of the spa, but decent. A beetroot tartare with blue Lanark cheese, Granny Smith apple and walnuts (£8) was piquant and crunchy. The half lobster thermidor (£25) was richer than Mark Zuckerberg, if lacking a little seasoning.

Rating: 8.5/10. Price: B&B doubles from £185

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