Jimi Famurewa of the London Evening Standard reviews the takeaway options at Deli by Darjeeling Express in London's Covent Garden and declares it "an attentively assembled care package"
It really is in the primest of prime locations: an almost hilariously grand, Grade II-listed former auction house that, in pre-pandemic times, was the flagship Carluccio's. After a peek at the under-construction, marble-accented main dining room (in a typically mischievous [Asma] Khan move, there was a sign actively encouraging us to do this), my wife and I joined a socially distanced queue leading into the airy takeaway annexe, staffed by chirpy masked servers, soundtracked by Bollywood tunes and heavily perfumed with the Breville-era scent of griddle-fried butter.
Bone-warming, stridently peppery house chai (gulped on the walk to find a picnic spot in Victoria Embankment Gardens) offered an early sign of this kitchen's nuanced, painterly way with heat. The layered burn of two of those toasties – one with an oozing, Simpsons-yellow sunburst of chilli-spiked cheese; the other crammed with piquant, soft-minced mutton keema, like a transcendent South Asian sloppy joe – only hammered this home.
There was a shared serving of the (sadly currently unavailable) sabzi as well; turmeric-tinged, lightly mushed potato with a delicate, compulsive undertow of complex spicing and an adorable little stack of hot paratha skins. We even pushed the boat out and got pudding – khoobani ka meetha (stewed, syrup-soaked apricots splashed in coconut cream) with accompanying saffron biscuits that were masterpieces of snap, crumble and faintly floral butteriness.
Together, they gave the sense – like all the dishes here – of an attentively assembled care package, lovingly delivered at the end of an emotionally exhausting year. This is Deli by Darjeeling Express (and, I'd wager, the more expansive menus in the main restaurant) in a nutshell. Khan has, again, drawn on her own story to produce something that has the warm, tactile intimacy of home. Yes, your meal will probably come with a non-negotiable side order of eager conversation. But this is food with a potency, soul and story that completely speaks for itself.
Price: Meal for two, £36.30
The King's Arms in Dorchester, a Grade II-listed, 18th-century inn, has undergone a £5m, five-year renovation, and The Times' Susan d'Arcy says it is "ready to take on a leading role again"
There's a real energy to downstairs thanks to an interplay between historical features and contemporary styling. Terracotta Victorian tiles have been meticulously restored in the lobby but the tiling in the restaurant is trendy industrial, contrasting beautifully with the room's exposed brick, and the Victoriana furniture is updated by fabrics in vibrant pop-art shades and Jean Paul Gaultier patterns.
The bar is a winner: with a countertop as long as a runway, backed by mirrored shelves and crowned with artfully trailed potted plants. It's bookended by working fireplaces for winter cosiness, and adding to the warmth are enthusiastic mixologists.
The restaurant is equally buzzy, with raised banquettes and a sprinkling of screen dividers to heighten the sense of privacy, an open kitchen for drama and bifold doors that open onto a pretty terrace. Food never strays far from tried and trusted bistro classics such as slow-roast pork, rotisserie chicken and triple-cooked chips, followed by cheesecake and brownies for pudding.
Upstairs the 20 bedrooms have plenty of personality thanks to striking wallpapers, covetable ceramics and contemporary paintings. Bathrooms are a tight squeeze, but they're smart so you won't be disappointed.
Price: B&B doubles from £95. Rating: food: 3/5; location: 3/5; rooms: 4/5
Jay Rayner of The Observer says Heddon Yokocho in London's Soho offers "cheerfully stacked, very pleasingly engineered" ramen
The chicken karaage is a riot of deep-fried crunch and shatter; of golden-curled, boldly seasoned skin. The star, however, is the takoyaki, those octopus croquettes, under a snowfall of bonito flakes with a big slap of MSG from the Japanese mayo and a fruity brown takoyaki sauce. Too often these are stodgy; here they are light and crisp. Then there are the pork gyoza in the silkiest of skins, which arrive in a fearsomely hot skillet so they continue to crisp.
The tantanmen ramen is the most distinct, with its sesame paste-thickened chicken and pork broth, the rubble of ground pork and the shouty chilli oil kick. The tonkotsu broth, the product of simmering pork bones for longer than most people could be bothered with, has the lip-smacking, gelatine-rich savouriness the name demands.
There is a smokiness to thick-cut chunks of fatty pork belly, and the noodles have the requisite bite. The only niggle is over the inconsistency of the eggs. Two have a soft yolk which starts to run as you cut in; two do not. Some will regard this as a fatal flaw. I merely see it as mildly surprising.
Price: small plates, £4.90-£8.25; ramen, £10.90-£14.50; desserts £3-£7.90; wines, from £23