Daffodil Mulligan near London’s Old Street is “a haven of civilised calm among the rattle and clatter of building sites”, writes Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday
The oysters are great. As you’d expect. Carlingford rocks, big and ballsy, with their cool, briny swagger. And English natives, from West Mersea, rather more sweet and subtle. Like the Colman’s with the crubeen, there’s very much a feel of Anglo-Irish entente here.
Cherry clams are vast, fist-sized crustaceans from Dorset, served with the merest squeeze of lime. Once you wrest the meat from the shell, they have soft chew and surprising delicacy, bruisers with a sensitive side. Vongole comes in what tastes like the essence of chicken gravy. Then that traditional Irish classic, deep-fried chilli chicken with chorizo mayonnaise. Fresh from the Cliffs of Moher. It’s as grand as it sounds, and you get the feeling that Corrigan and his head chef Simon Merrick feel rather liberated in this kitchen, set free from the seafood classism of Bentley’s, and the more refined reaches of Corrigan’s Mayfair.
Beef tartare is served in an oyster shell with an umami heavy oyster cream. It’s a bold dish, as it should be, but never brash, the highly seasoned, finely chopped flesh swooning in a lusciously lactic embrace. Tartare deluxe, but stealth wealth rather than ostentatiously rich. Perhaps best of all is a whole chicken – the legs chopped off and cooked separately – enclosed in a salt pastry crust and baked. Dear God, I don’t think I’ve eaten a better bird, perfectly steamed so the flavour is trapped inside, with a mushroom duxelle slathered under the skin. Each mouthful is a tender, fecund, umami explosion. Huge chunks of cep are an extravagant but lovely afterthought.
Price: About £45 per head. Rating: 4/5
The menu at Terence Conran’s Wilder in Shoreditch, London features “groupings of ingredients with no clue as to how they will be prepared”, according to the Evening Standard's Fay Maschler
Pig’s head, beremeal, walnut; a luscious take on brawn clumped on a bread made from barley grown since Viking times on the Orkney archipelago. Bread cracker, carrot, oil; a snappy, shiny, bubbly flatbread served with carrot purée where the vegetable’s innate sweetness overrules. Curd, girolles, pear, linseeds; a somewhat random assembly notable for catching the pear in that small window of opportunity for perfect ripeness. Mackerel, cultured cream, pumpkin, sea aster; a collection where it would have been helpful to know in advance about the cooking of the fish — barely any.
The small portion of cod, trotter, cured yolk is judged by its recipient as having been made by someone in an advanced stage of hipster ennui. My dish of the day of roasted pheasant — game is much cherished — comes with a notably good finely chopped red cabbage stew. Dessert of apple, soured cream, lemon thyme, oats is a tightrope walk of sour/sweet, smooth/crunchy, pure/smoky — a delight.
At another meal, sharing cheese in place of dessert, I am startled by the grudging amount of Tunworth. On both occasions there is a little unannounced freebie of a nettle leaf encased in frilly tempura topped with a teaspoon of smoked cod’s roe purée that summarises the culinary proposition perhaps most ably of all.
Barring a disappointing Wellington, it’s all hits at Sussex restaurant in London’s Soho, writes Giles Coren in The Times
With glasses of Nutbourne fizz we had impeccable tempura garden herbs, wonderfully crispy-chewy and aromatic, with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. The relative absence of water in the herb stalks, compared with chunkier vegetables, means there’s no terrifying exhalation of steam to scald the tongue and sog the batter. Truly compelling. As were the savoury, squishy little mushroom marmite éclairs.
It was all good: a nest of crispy artichoke and potato softened by beetroot tahini, crumbled feta, pickled pearl onions and a wasabi-looking confection called “dill oil dust”; juicy partridge saltimbocca in pancetta with red kale and mustard cream; monkfish carpaccio prettily belaboured with aubergine, lemon, chilli, toasted pine nuts and red amaranth; and little three-quid-a-pop tortellini filled with braised squirrel and dressed with a lovage and bone marrow pesto and a not-at-all-yukky Tunworth foam (wet puffy cheese derivatives can boak me out sometimes).
The only disappointment was the mallard Wellington (sounds a bit like a chinless uncle out of Jilly Cooper). There’s a rotating daily special Wellington always on offer on the blackboard, which is a glorious idea and, by God, they know how to construct one: the shape was gorgeous, the colour and shine so alluring, the pattern on the pastry almost heartbreaking, a thing from the most fervid dreams of the young (and she was young) Isabella Beeton. But the drab, grey, liverish, unyielding flesh of the duck only served to point out why this dish was designed for a fillet of beef, so tender and juicy and generous to the time-panicked chef.
Price: £150 for two. Rating: cooking: 7; service: 8; location: 9; score: 8
The Guardian’s Grace Dent is won over by the Owl in Leeds
The Owl is an inconspicuous slice skimmed discreetly from one side of Fish and Game Row. It’s painted black. The door and signage isn’t immediately apparent; I walked past twice. Inside, it is dimly lit, in a cosy way, with an open kitchen, a scattering of tables and a bar one can sit at and enjoy Lindisfarne, Irish or Kumamoto oysters, or perhaps king scallop and parsnip soup with fresh crusty bread. Or braised game sausage rolls with mash, followed by a bowl of cherry crumble with vanilla custard.
They open at 8.30am and do omelette Arnold Bennett and a four-cheese sourdough stack with Gentleman’s Relish pickle. They play a soothing blend of ska and reggae and the service is faultless. I manoeuvred myself into The Owl with no booking, at lunchtime, by sheer fluke, because it is mobbed at weekends – and rightfully so, because it’s uniquely marvellous. Cool, yes, but not too cool. And fancy, definitely, but still proper food. Just casually delicious. Mussels cooked delicately in white wine come with warm bread. Steamed dumplings are fat, thick, soft-skinned, slightly sweet clumps of joy filled with well-seasoned boar and venison or an earthy stew of mixed wild mushrooms, and served on a bed of buttered root mash and deep-scented gravy. Lemon drizzle pudding turns out to be two thick slices of shortbread sandwiched with wonderfully abrasive lemon ice-cream, tastebud-tasering Sicilian lemon curd and some thankfully balm-like white chocolate.
It was lunchtime, I was alone in Yorkshire and in that merrily unfortunate position of wanting to carry on ranging along the menu, but being thoroughly incapacitated by rich, remorseless gluts of fat, sugar and two glasses of champagne. In fact, I was so full, I could no longer truly feel my feet. Never mind, owl be back.
Price: About £30 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service. Rating: food: 9/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 9/10
The relaunched Kinneuchar Inn in Kilconquhar, Leven, has an unerring focus on getting the ingredients and cooking just right, so says the Herald’s Joanna Blythman
This isle of Jura scallop – athletic, sweet, a specimen that has patently not been plumped up on water and phosphates – immaculately fried, two amber-ringed crusty sides, succulent inside perched on minuscule cauliflower florets doused in lemony, parsley juices flavoured with the smoky piquancy of N’duja – cements the impression that this is much more than proficient cooking…
There's magic in these words, "pappardelle with Cora Linn cheese", the prospect of homemade pasta, hare (a rarity), and this handmade sheep’s milk cheese made by the Errington Company, which can easily compete with Italy’s top Pecorino. Another generous plateful with its well-made, correctly timed pasta, coated in the rich, faintly mineral, strands of sticky meat, the flavours rounded off nicely with the gently mature Cora Linn. It could do with being in a hotter bowl, that’s my only quibble.
Descriptions name-check ingredients. "White beans, roast squash, sage and goat’s curd" might all too easily reflect the wishful thinking of someone tasked with dreaming up a credible vegetarian main course. But I am awed by the reality. The smell, hot butter infused with sizzled sage, makes you want to dive in. There are various aspects to it. These creamy little beans, interesting wilted greens below, which could be beetroot or purple kale stems, molten onions as soft and sweet as you’d need to make French Soubise, not the standard butternut, but a chestnut-like variety, earthy rather than cloying within its roasted skin, and minty salsa verde that drips down over the creamy cheese. This dish is much more than the sum of its parts.
Rating: food: 10/10; service: 10/10; atmosphere: 8/10; value for money: 9/10
Wild by Tart in London’s Victoria has some niggles to deal with before it can fully thrive, writes William Sitwell in The Telegraph
A dish of clam, nduja and cider tagliatelle, which was well spiced; perfect pasta with some bite. But so that the place can fully thrive, here are some niggles they need to deal with.
A bowl of autumn-vegetable tempura was a travesty of the concept; thick, flabby and covered in grease. No autumn veg was discernible and it was like eating deep-fried carpet underlay.
An inelegantly large piece of halloumi was nice and squeaky to eat, but the chopped chilli had no bite, there was too much honey and the coriander was tired and curled and had one foot in the grave. No head chef should let a dish like that leave the pass.
And the unfulfilled promise of a sticky lamb rack with a spicy dipping sauce was as depressing as a broken manifesto commitment. The lamb was tenderised and pre-cooked sous vide but then it didn’t spend quite enough time on the grill, so the fat wasn’t properly rendered.
As for the dip, the fish-sauce base – supposedly there to help make a ‘spicy sauce’ – had not been suitably tempered, so when the dipped chops reached the mouth, all you got was that stinky, foul smell of two-year-old salted and fermented fish. Whoops.
We did also have some well-cooked octopus, but the preserved lemon had lost its flavour and the chilli on the plate was all colour and no spice.
The Times' Marina O’Loughlin visits the Fortnum & Mason’s outlet at 45 Jermyn St in London
I order tacos stuffed with raw mackerel out of mischief — it sounds like a classic pratfall dish. Instead, it’s perfect: crisp shells, fine, clean fish, a creamy dressing pulling the whole thing together, a scattering of inky pearls of caviar the icing on the savoury cake. The pal’s Portland crab — white meat, a few crisp leaves of frisée, soft-yolked quail’s eggs — is a hymn to beautiful produce and the pleasures of not trying too hard.
There’s a “curry” that would bemuse anyone other than the retired colonel demographic, tomato-soupy with the sweetness of coconut cream, crisp shards of toasted coconut on top. It reminds me of the sort of curry served by Glasgow department stores when Christmas shopping as a child with my mother. But its monkfish is glorious, grilled to a bouncy bronze, mussels plump and sweet, coriander fresh, vivid, bright.
At the start of the meal, we order something while “looking at the menu” (ahem), from a short section celebrating the equally short white alba truffle season — a toasted cheese sandwich. Here it is, the object of all my subsequent fantasies: fine sourdough masquerading as sliced square white, outsides almost caramelised with butter, insides oozing ripe, whiffy raclette cheese. Rather than the common scam involving doses of a reeking oil substitute, here the whole truffle is brought to the table and generously microplaned directly onto the sandwich, a heady taupe snowdrift of sheerest luxury. This suffused me with such a Ready Brek glow of pleasure that they could have served me Wetherspoon’s food from then on and I’d still have left happy.
Price: For two, including 12.5% service charge £199
The Leaping Hare in Suffolk features “British produce, given a proper seeing to with lots of classic French bourgeois technique and an emphasis on big, crowd-pleasing flavours”, according to The Observer’s Jay Rayner
A partridge breast is seared and roasted, but there is still a crimson blush within. There’s more partridge broken into the rich stew of white beans and lardons upon which it sits. A scoop of golden fried breadcrumbs, flecked with the green of herbs, are spread across the top to give it a texture. It’s a lot of starter for £7.95. That understanding of the need for crunch is obvious in a second starter of spiced and roasted monkfish, with golden onion rings, looking like something you could wear as a dainty bangle, speared by crisp batons of green apple. It comes on what is described simply as “curry sauce”. It is the deep yellow of the best butter. It is sweet. It is only very lightly spiced. It’s the perfect sauce for a coronation chicken, and lubricates the fish perfectly. It makes me laugh out loud. It’s like meeting an old friend unexpectedly, after a long time separated.
Venison, served rare enough for you to imagine you could test the blood type, comes with roasted shallots, savoy cabbage and their version of clapshot – mash mixed through with parsnip – and a rich game jus that’s so shiny you could see your face in it. There are onion rings, again, for that bit of texture. They are tiny this time, as if designed for your pinkie rather than your wrist. It’s also a menu that recognises the value of letting a dish give up its own secrets. Duck breast has been rendered so that there is only a thin layer of fat beneath the bronzed skin. Here are damsons from the estate, and whorls of a smooth, duck liver parfait and a few crushed hazelnuts. Here, too, is the advertised dauphinoise, served as a crisped rectangle. We are pleased to see it. But hang on, what’s this in the middle? The two slabs of potato are sandwiching long-cooked then shredded duck, as if it were some savoury bourbon biscuit. It feels like you’ve been lobbed a freebie. Yours for £19.95.
Price: Starters £6.95-£9.95, mains £14.95-£29.95, desserts £4.95-£6.95, three-course lunch £22, wines from £22
Sherelle Jacobs of The Telegraph recommends Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, West Sussex, as the perfect location to hunker down within an environment that radiates warm, wood-panelled hygge and enjoy some English wines
Think crackling fires, original beamed ceilings and carefully displayed antique china. The tasting menu in the restaurant showcases Sussex ingredients – from braised beef from Trenchmore farm with heritage carrots and hisbi cabbage, to local oysters with Sussex cheddar thermidor. The wine list is plentiful in vintages from across a range of Sussex estates, including Bolney, Rathfinny in Polegate and South Downs’ Ridgeview.
Ockenden’s excellent spa is ideal for sweating out the toxins the day after the English bubbly-filled evening. As well as a sauna and steam room, it boasts an isopod flotation tank, with saltwater to suspend the body for deep muscle relaxation, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool and a tropical rainshower installation fed by the hotel’s own natural spring.
Rating: 8/10. Price: Glass of Sussex package including dinner and vineyard tour from £360
Joanne O’Connor of The Times says that despite being “a bit heavy on the hipster vibe”, Whitworth Locke in Manchester is “fresh, fun and friendly”
Blurring the lines between aparthotel and cultural hub, this conversion of a Victorian cotton mill near Canal Street in Manchester is the third offering from Locke (also in London and Edinburgh). At its heart is the conservatory, an airy space that multitasks as a reception, bar and co-working space, with an art class in one corner and young people with laptops lounging on bean bags in another. Off this are a coffee shop and gym.
Rooms come with a smart TV and a sleek galley kitchen equipped with everything from cocktail shakers to a dishwasher. The look — salmon pink walls with avocado green accents is very of-the-moment, with Kinsey Apothecary toiletries in the small, basic bathrooms. This is a warehouse carve-up, so the 160 studios and apartments come in all shapes and sizes.
Restaurants are sooo last-century. Instead, Whitworth Locke hosts a series of “pop-up dining experiences”. During our stay the Mexican specialist El Camino was in residence serving tasty tacos and tequila shots to a lively soundtrack. Caffeine, cakes and hearty breakfasts, such as avocado on sourdough toast, are supplied by Manchester’s Foundation Coffee House chain.
Rating: 8/10. Price: Studios from £120 a night; guests get a £10 voucher to spend on breakfast
Jo Cochrane of The Guardian enjoys some homely touches at the Blakeney hotel in Holt, Norfolk
On the north Norfolk coast, overlooking the salt marshes and mud banks between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Cromer. The Blakeney is a stylish, 60-room grand hotel with an award-winning restaurant and a bounty of home comforts.
All rooms are individually designed and cosy. The restaurant’s daily changing menu reflects the freshness of the day’s catch, and the hotel’s attention to detail. There’s also a decent-size pool and mini gym, if you’re so inclined.
The Lookout on the first floor is a large room with a panoramic window looking out over the estuary, complete with a telescope and binoculars. It’s a wonderful setting in which to watch the wildlife while enjoying an afternoon tea.
Price: From £141 per person a night, based on a two-night stay in autumn/winter for dinner, bed and breakfast