Upwardly mobile 20 September 2019 The founders of coffee and brunch chain Caravan are on the move, taking their business model to new Chelsea restaurant Vardo
In this week's issue... Upwardly mobile The founders of coffee and brunch chain Caravan are on the move, taking their business model to new Chelsea restaurant Vardo
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Reviews: Flor in London; Thyme in Gloucestershire and more

19 August 2019 by
Reviews: Flor in London; Thyme in Gloucestershire and more

Flor, James Lowe and John Ogier’s Borough Market spin-off of Lyle’s in London, may well be the least surprising restaurant success of the year, writes Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard

Very late on during lunch at Flor, an Anjou pigeon was set before us: talons still attached, skin roasted, breast and leg pieces splayed into a crucifix shape like the work of a particularly baroque avian serial killer. ‘It’s a bit Jurassic Park,’ said my mate Joe, suspiciously eyeing one of the heat-crisped claws. Mark, my other friend, firmly announced he wasn’t even going to try it. But then, as Joe and I dived in and started muttering indecently about the luscious intensity of the dark meat – the sour pop of scattered tayberries playing against the salt – he relented and had a bite. And another. And another. Until eventually the pair of them were nibbling every scrap off the bone and practically planning a renegade hunting trip in Trafalgar Square.

Burrata cosied up with torn hunks of bread, sharp, pink onions, datterini tomatoes and a liberal drenching of olive oil that brought it all to life. Hake brandade was gooey, oiled potato and assertively salted fish, neatly tempered by an acidic tangle of lightly pickled peppers. And then lamb ribs, beneath a carpet of pistachio-stirred salsa verde, had both ravishing, golden char and soft, fat-seeping succulence.

But then we finished, as you should, with the brown butter cakes: little, dimpled miracles of flooding, fudgy sweetness that tasted like the hollowed-out heart of the greatest sticky toffee pudding imaginable. Astonishing. And an encapsulation of how Flor’s lightly challenging, immensely skilled approach is underpinned by simple, human warmth.

Price: £149.10 for three. Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 5/5

Baraset Barn in Stratford-upon-Avon is a “very decent country gaff” but needs a more focused menu, says The Telegraph’s William Sitwell

[The menu] reads like there’s been a committee meeting in which everyone – the Corfu boys, their wives, children, friends and strangers passing in the street – has offered up an idea and, rather than have a row, they’ve agreed to shove it on there.

Our Baltic board featured what was promised as salt-and-pepper squid but was actually pale squid rings with little chunks of mango, prawns on skewers, and little fishcakes (advertised as Thai-spiced but with no actual evidence of it). These average goodies were rescued, however, by a wonderful sauce of soy and miso.

I then had the Goan curry with sweet potato and chickpeas. It came in an authentic-feeling large clay pot and was tasty, but could have been wetter, and although I would have preferred the thick, green sambal sauce to have been hot and spicy, it was nevertheless a lovely mix of coriander and coconut.

The Baraset Barn is a very decent country gaff that beams with positivity. Someone just needs to tell the Corfu boys to go and chill in their villa and trust the chef to slim down the menu and give it some focus.

Price: Dinner for two: £52 without service or alcohol. Score: 3.5/5

The Guardian’s Grace Dent describes Parrillan in London’s King’s Cross as a convivial, sexy, European experience – but soon tires of grilling her own lunch

Parrillan relies on proper summers, balmy nights and a lack of sideways sleet. Powerful heaters are perched beside every table, to err on the safe side. It is apparently modelled on the Ibizan restaurant Ca’n Pilot, and serves impeccable meats and shellfish – 50-day-aged rump steak, diver-caught scallops, milk-fed lamb’s kidney – all raw, and all at premium prices, then asks you to grill them yourself on your own personal mini grill in the centre of each table. They come with four house sauces: mojo verde, mojo rojo, salsa Ibizenca and, my favourite, a rich, red, almond-based romesco.

Faces pop up at the side of the cordoned-off area of the outside restaurant terrace like curious meerkats, wowing as plates of Cantabrian anchovies – those very good ones, like unforgettable, caramel-coloured wonders – and pan con tomate (thankfully already prepared) are shipped to our table, alongside plates of presa Ibérica de bellota and escalivada (roast aubergines, tomatoes and peppers drenched in excellent olive oil).

We eat, ploughing through money like Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas anchored off the shore of Antibes: £12 for those anchovies, £14 for shu-toro marinaded tuna, a single scallop at nine quid.

Within 10 minutes, I grow weary of the responsibility of grilling my own lunch, but the men at my table are delighted by the task.

Parrillan is a wholly convivial experience. It is sexy and European in a way we’ve decided we’ll have no more of over here soon.

Price: from about £40 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 6/10 (1/10 if you overcook it); atmosphere: 7/10; service: 6/10

“The kitchen struggles to match the splendour of the décor,” writes Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday of Moncks of Dover St in London’s Mayfair The food starts well. Blistered padrón peppers and sweet, succulently piggy Scotch quail’s eggs, which arrive, like baby Jesus, on a soft bed of hay.

But having just returned from Greece, where decent fried calamari can be found in even the most retsina-stained of tavernas, the specimens here are dull and overcooked, the batter glum rather than gleefully crisp, with a few underwhelming strands of under-pickled onions. Not bad, just drab. Like the chips that remind us of McCain’s. And the lobster roll, which chops the lobster too fine. For nearly £30 I want great chunks, not a crustacean take on Heinz sandwich spread. The bun is soft but the filling is meagre to the point of meanness. Not a patch on the beauty at Darby’s, which is exactly half the price. And ten times as good.

Baked quinoa falafel (what’s wrong with chickpeas?) is dustily dry, like eating balls of compressed sawdust. They lurk, slightly embarrassed, among an underdressed jungle of ‘seasonal leaves’. If these had the nerve to turn up at the great Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush Market, they’d be shown the door… A side of cherry tomatoes may well be from Sicily but they sure haven’t seen a lot of sun. I’ve had better from Tesco.

At least the steak tartare, a decent-sized cylinder of finely chopped beef, comes with a raw egg yolk. It’s perfectly acceptable, if a trifle under-seasoned. Mac and cheese, ordered sans truffle as a side, is surprisingly good. But despite the beauty of the room and the slick assurance of the service, Moncks leaves me cold.

Price: About £45 per head. Score: 2/5

The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin urges people to visit OKN1 in London’s Hoxton, where, she says, “you’d have no idea you were in the hands of students”

The food, the cooking – it’s good. Honestly. Not in a knock-your-socks-off way or dazzle-Instagram way, but fine and decent and absolutely worth all of our time. Popcorn chicken with charred sweetcorn relish may be a bit on the pub-grub spectrum, but it’s beautifully done, the chicken crisp and tender from a buttermilk bath, the relish sparky and satisfying. More sophisticated is grilled Wykham Park asparagus, with a clever and beautifully executed lovage aïoli that speaks of a strong hand at the tiller.

Hoxton and OKN1 [is] a “collaborative kitchen” and training restaurant attached to New City College, designed to allow trainee chefs to gain real work experience alongside professionals, while still in a learning environment.

There’s no theme or particular ethos, menu-wise. But that’s fine too. It means that, again, the relatively simple likes of Suffolk bacon chop with fried egg and a tangy devilled sauce — a dish that’s more about ingredients and timing than technique — is easily nailed. But so is the more complex and sophisticated hake fillet with “Cornish dirties” (potatoes), chorizo and roasted peppers. This is better than many a fish dish I’ve eaten in upscale professional restaurants.

Price: £78 for two (there is no service charge)

The Bourne & Hollingsworth Garden Room at the Assembly hotel in London’s Charing Cross makes the Observer’s Jay Rayner cross

For £10.50 you get four tough and underseasoned prawns and three flabby and undercooked mushrooms. Weirdly, the béarnaise seems to have wandered in from another kitchen; one where someone cares. It’s thick and frothy and rich with fresh tarragon.

There is only one way to deal with this trauma. Order the crispy kale salad. The new trauma will deaden the old. The crispy bits appear to have been deep-fried a long time before we made the mistake of coming. They are cold and leak vegetable oil into your mouth as you bite in. There are also soggy leaves of undressed, steamed kale; thuds of green matter, waiting to be composted. Occasionally you uncover a piece of roasted carrot that is mildly pleasant. There are nuts which, like my hopes and dreams, are crushed. It costs £10.

Just putting pomegranate seeds on to a roasted cauliflower salad does not make you Yotam Ottolenghi, especially if the vegetable is barely coloured. It looks like once-boiled cauliflower that’s been resting in the back of a fridge, perhaps in a recycled ice-cream tub, looking for a purpose. It’s the sort of dish you knock up for your offspring’s new vegan partner because you don’t like them very much. It costs £14. Add a meagre portion of cotton wool chicken and you’ll be paying £19 for the word dismal. The best dish of the night is a leg of duck confit, with an overcooked celeriac and potato gratin and a tooth-achingly sweet cherry sauce. It’s food fit for a banquet. By which I mean the banqueting suite of a regional ring-road hotel where they’re handing out awards for innovation in quantity surveying.

Prices: starters, £9-£12, mains, £14-£32.50, desserts, £8-£12, wines, from £27

The Times’ Giles Coren reviews Mr Pook’s Kitchen in Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway, where he discover swell-drilled, experienced staff, top-end ingredients and big ideas

There’s a dazzling little amuse-bouche of sliced pickled radish and daikon and a charcuterie platter of top-quality local stuff such as smoked goose breast and venison chorizo and great pickles and chutneys. Four cute little hand-dived scallops on withered pak choi and blobs of pineapple gel with scents of lemongrass, coconut and chilli (I’m guessing – I only glanced at them on Ibrahim’s plate); prettily presented mackerel, seared crisp, juicy, with tomatoes and a samphire salsa; and a stonking breaded and deep-fried duck egg squatting on a rich square of confit pulled boar, crisp-edged, hefty, supremely piggy, and a little stew of white beans and red peppers with chorizo and croutons – as epic a starter as you’ll see.

Sweet, pink fillets of lamb and beef are served respectively with their slow-braised rib cap and shoulder and are very good indeed. Halibut is pan-fried golden with asparagus and a spring onion, white wine and cream sauce and a couple of purple heritage spuds, nutty in the mouth and nuttier still to look at.

Then wonderful local cheeses, including the ewe’s milk Cairnsmore from a few yards up the road, and some seriously fine puddings. Ibrahim had the rum baba, not because he had ever heard of it – he hadn’t – but because “baba” is what he and Ayaat call their dad. And it was spectacularly good, simultaneously light and massy, as it should be, with rum apple syrup, a slice of baked, salted pineapple and a lime and coconut sorbet; also a dense, cherry-filled dark chocolate delice and a steepling Eton mess the size of Kitty’s head, into which it soon disappeared.

Score: cooking: 8/10; service: 8/10; atmosphere: 7/10; total: 7.67/10. Price: around £37 per head

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler reviews Lume in London’s Primrose Hill – “unstructured, unpretentious, joyful”

Pasta is not to be missed and I don’t. Best of the ones I try is pappardelle with slow-cooked rabbit ragoût. It is sinuous, luscious, served in just the right amount and cooked to the perfect point. The chef’s liking for the bitey end of al dente detracts somewhat from linguine with red Sicilian prawn, basil and Amalfi lemon zest, and definitely impinges on the reward from penne, plum tomato and basil, one of the simplest but also most perfect pasta assemblies.

A main course of roasted guinea fowl breast with creamy potato, spinach and black summer truffle is much appreciated, especially, as its recipient notes, “they aren’t stingy with the potatoes”. Another time in a cooler-weather mood and in the company of a keen carnivore I will share bistecca alla Fiorentina sold at £65 per kilo even if does emanate from Tuscany. Score: 4/5

HOTELS

The Times’ Jane Knight is impressed by the “beautifully manicured estate” that makes up the “village within a village” hotel Thyme in Southrop, Gloucestershire, but finds that the food fails to live up to its reputation

They call it a village within a village, and certainly this collection of honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings interspersed with perfect English country gardens fits that bill. There’s a cookery school, a pub, a working farm and a lovely garden spa with an outdoor pool. It’s quirky and beautifully done out, with former lambing sheds turned into the cool Baa bar (featuring life-size sheep seats) and a new restaurant in the large Ox Barn. Five garden rooms have been added to the existing 26 at the hotel, which is very environmentally friendly.

[The bedrooms are] beautiful, all distinct and scattered throughout different buildings with country-chic interiors and nice touches – there was a complimentary decanter of homemade vermouth in ours. One niggle is the lack of air conditioning; we were there on one of the hottest days of summer and the heat was unbearable.

The feminine English Rose has a bathroom built for a princess (from £900 a night midweek, £1,250 at weekends). In Comfrey, one of the new garden rooms, all of which have their own outdoor space, there is a round bath and a walk-through shower (from £600-£700).

Considering the farm-to-fork mentality, we were disappointed that [the food] wasn’t tastier; my crab salad lacked zing and the steak was tough and tasteless. There is, however, good homemade sourdough, fresh kefir at breakfast and “green juice” made from whatever is fresh in the garden. Sunday lunch in the pub was decent.

A beautifully manicured estate, but it didn’t live up to its foodie reputation.

Price: B&B doubles from £325 midweek and £400 at weekends. Score: 8/10

Julie Douglas of the Scotsman find the ocean liner-inspired Sea Containers London on London’s South Bank to be “fun, funky and very sociable”

It’s a large hotel, busy with corporate guests as well as tourists and leisure bookings. Despite its size and the building’s brutalist architecture, it’s a one-off whose contemporary elegance lends it a boutique feel – well worth the extra cost. We’d hoped to see the Thames from our room, but we hadn’t expected to feel we were actually floating on it. Emerging on to our fifth-floor balcony overhanging the South Bank’s riverside walkway was akin to stepping on to the deck of a ship.

All 359 rooms and suites are inspired by ocean liner cabins, many enjoying river and city views. From standard to deluxe, the accommodation features rainfall showers, pristine marble bathrooms and one-off artworks, incorporating metallic and brass fixtures for added seafaring effect.

On the ground floor, acclaimed barman Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) is the driving force behind glamorous cocktail bar Lyaness, which does away with the traditional cocktail menu, encouraging guests to choose their own ingredients. An aperitif here sets the mood for dinner in the rather glitzy Sea Containers Restaurant, notable for its large open kitchen and friendly, upbeat staff.

From a selection of small and large plates designed to share, we chose roasted squid, crab on sourdough with jalapeno and coriander, and whole sea bass in lemon and herbs. The bill for three, including sides, desserts and a cheeky Sicilian white wine (recommended by our cheeky Sicilian waiter) came in at just under £150.

Price: Room rates start at £195 per night, plus VAT and excluding breakfast

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