Claire Sawers of The Times finds food court dining gets an upgrade at Bonnie & Wild in Edinburgh
Meals eaten in malls are usually more of a last resort than destination dining. But it turns out there are many reasons to be intrigued, downright excited even, by the prospect of a trip to Bonnie & Wild, the food hall on the fourth floor of the new St James Quarter in Edinburgh.
Drinks are the only thing that arrive by table service, so we order wine using a QR code before making a beeline for Creel Caught, a Scottish seafood stall. It's the first bricks and mortar premises for the former MasterChef winner Gary Maclean.
We dip forks into a classic prawn cocktail where light, liquid layers of crunchy little gem and cucumber are weighed down by a satisfyingly thick dollop of Marie rose sauce and fat, slippery prawns. My three langoustines are fluffy and sweet, sliced neatly down the middle and coated in a gorgeous umami butter sauce with kombu seaweed. A lemony salad of fennel with Arran mustard seeds cuts cleanly through any buttery heaviness and adds a refreshing crunch.
Light, liquid layers of crunchy little gem and cucumber are weighed down by a satisfyingly thick dollop of Marie rose sauce and fat, slippery prawns If I have a gripe, it's that there's no bowl for the shellfish scraps, and no lemony water or wipe for the inevitably clarty fingers that follow. Bread never materialises, and our finished plates sit in font of us for a good half hour after we've finished and moved onto sweeter things.
For dessert we try Joelato's luxury gelato, an artisan range made by Joe Sykes and his wife, Lucie, that has been popping up at Scottish weddings and food fairs since 2019. The salted pistachio is the standout, with a thick, luxurious consistency, and an indulgent, deep brown-coloured chocolate comes a close second.
The London Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa finds just two examples of praise at the "amateurish" Ave Mario in Covent Garden, London
As the follow-up to Gloria and Circolo Popolare, Ave Mario may unquestionably be the biggest, most anticipated launch of London's post-pandemic era – but it is also its first enormous disappointment.
Frutti di mare, rubbery little strips of crumbed cuttlefish, felt a touch Nonna's Gone to Iceland. A needlessly massive, misshapen continent of veal Milanese had, as my mate Gareth had it, the tough, imagined consistency of "a deep-fried doormat". And the steadily hyped giant ravioli alla carbonara – a mostly serviceable, bulbous saucer of pasta filled with béchamel, gushing egg yolk and crisped flecks of guanciale – could have done without the wincing richness of a literal pintful of melted butter.
Were there any shining, salvageable positives amid the wreckage? Well, the caviar- daubed baby mozzarella pizza comes anointed with a light, profoundly flavourful puff of leopard-spotted crust. And, of course, there is the "tigramisu": a highly seductive, lavishly thick rendition of the Italian classic that is scooped out of an animal-print dish at the table with enjoyable "say when" theatre. But I honestly don't know if this will feel like enough redemption for those diners that find, after they have got that bathroom selfie, that it is all a little hollow and sloppy.
There are plenty of legitimately great restaurants where the food, though decent, isn't really the point (Gloria and Circolo are perhaps two of them). But some of the amateurishness here – the sort of cooking that you have to actively ignore to have anything approaching a good time – can't really be hand-waved. There is nothing wrong with a hospitality experience that seeks to offer a big, dumb dopamine hit. Inveterate silliness, especially now, is to be prized. But serving wastefully huge, half-hearted plates of food to plague-wearied Londoners desperate for a good time? Well, that only sounds like fun if you're the one getting away with it.
Price: meal for two plus drinks, around £120
The Observers Jay Rayner discovers thoughtful, homegrown food at the Bradley Hare in Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire
If you wanted a single plate of food to symbolise the current state of the gussied-up country pub, you could do far worse than study my main course at what is now the Bradley Hare in the village of Maiden Bradley, a few miles outside Warminster in Wiltshire. It is steak and chips. Except, of course, it isn't steak and chips; or at least not just steak and chips. The meat is impeccable, in keeping with the noisy commitment here to quality ingredients. They don't just have a butcher. They also have a game dealer. They say they are against waste and very much for community involvement, so they have a barter arrangement with the local allotment society, allowing them to commission certain vegetables and "botanicals" for the bar.
The food follows the model of that steak, for the most part. It is thoughtful and thought about. Cod's roe is creamed and whipped, but allowed still to be its salty, pungent self. It comes with crunchy, pristine radishes, which are gagging to be pulled through it, and slabs of a warm, lightly oily, flaky flatbread, a little like a paratha, only with daintier manners.
Here amid the Narnia wonders of Longleat Forest an old pub has been taken over, brushed up, sanded down, painted, varnished and turned into an extremely civilised retreat from a world that, frankly right now, deserves to be shunned occasionally.
Price: starters, £6.50-£10; mains, £13.50-£23; desserts, £7.50; wines, from £20
Grace Dent of The Guardian thinks the Cheese Barge in London's Paddington is "silly, but fun"
At a time when owners are playing it very safe, hospitality concepts such as the Cheese Barge in Paddington make me very giddy. It's a barge where the entire menu – starters, mains and pudding – revolves around cheese.
The phrase "showcasing British produce" is flung around willy-nilly on menus these days, but in the Cheese Barge's case, it is genuinely employing and experimenting with some of the UK's loveliest things, making pommes aligot with crumbly Kirkham's Lancashire and grilled cheese sandwiches with Brue Valley mozzarella made in Glastonbury.
It's a peculiar sensation, I'll admit, trying to order from a menu where absolutely everything sounds delicious, yet it's all from the same sub-category of delicious, so there's a chance it may tip you over into queasy. Do you begin confidently with a bowl of Westcombe fried curried curds and chilli honey? Answer: yes. These things are filthily good: crisp, plump, cheesy bullets with a sweet, chip-shop-curry kick.
If there was any disappointment, it was the "sharing" main of a rather small coil of pork, fennel and red wine sausage with the aforementioned aligot, which at £25 may raise a few eyebrows at being told to share it.
It's been a long and upsetting time for restaurants. A barge filled to the brim with fromage is silly, but fun, and I like it.
Price: about £30 a head, plus drinks and service
Marina O'Loughlin of The Sunday Times finds plant-based food ranging from try-hard to sublime at Hypha in Chester
Hypha isn't just vegan but committed to ultra-seasonality and locality with ambitions towards zero waste. So there are no lemons; no peppers in the "romseco" that lies beneath the layer of "mushroom soil" in a filo plant pot of perkiest vegetables.
Despite the odd duff note – a red cabbage terrine that looks like a piece of modern art but, underseasoned and gelatinous, is sadly prettier than it is delicious; balsamic "caviar" that has collapsed into an exhausted puddle – I'm taken with this little place and the heart and soul they put into everything they do.
There's one particular course that is, without hyperbole, sublime. A cut-through of fat oyster mushroom stalk masquerading, with its burnished top, as a sizzled scallop; on the side is an ethereally delicate tartlet brimming with pop-fresh peas and a swoop of sea vegetable purée as green as the deep ocean.
There are outbreaks of trying too hard: that vegetable-planted filo pot is a little last decade, despite its dusting of powder made from no-waste carrot tops. Desserts and petit fours (chocolate mycelium bonbon, miso-caramel shortbread, recycled carrot and oats) are where the limitations of a maniacal attachment to plants and seasonality are most evident.
Price: meal for two, with one hard wine flight and one soft flight, £195
The Yorkshire Evening Post's reviewer believes Meat Is Dead in Leeds is "brimming with potentialf"
Serving an entirely plant-based menu, from morning coffees and breakfast through to Sunday roasts and alcoholic tipples, the restaurant promises great-tasting, clean and fresh food over some of the more trend-led vegan alternatives.
The service was friendly and, as promised, the wide-ranging menus make it the perfect place to catch up with friends, whether that's for after-work drinks or a feast for a special occasion.
The super spicy green curry lived up to its name – it had our tastebuds tingling with the heat, but it was still aromatic and packed full of veggies. We found the vegetable gyoza a little underwhelming, but it was saved somewhat by the punchy soy sauce dip.
Our favourite dish by far was the griddled aubergine: it was beautifully smoky and well-seasoned and topped with fresh salsa and pesto. Sadly the batter that coated our oyster mushrooms was soaked in oil and needed a good roll in seasoning. We couldn't taste the cumin, but the mushrooms did have a nice ‘meaty' texture once we pulled the batter away.
Priced between £4 and £7, the small plates are reasonable for the large portions we received and our total bill came to just over £44. This place is brimming with potential and with more of us making the switch to a meatless diet, I think it will be a popular choice for Leeds diners for some time to come.
Score: food: 6/10; value: 7/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 6/10