Reviews: Grace Dent checks out Tallow and Marina O'Loughlin struggles at Walmer Castle

11 May 2022
Reviews: Grace Dent checks out Tallow and Marina O'Loughlin struggles at Walmer Castle

Grace Dent of The Guardian checks out Rob and Donna Taylor's new venture Tallow in Tunbridge Wells

Just as it was at the Compasses, Tallow's food is unquestionably good. Take one of the first offerings, a small, freshly baked wild garlic bread that was sticky, fragrant and vividly Kermit-coloured. There was no need for butter, because its innards were moist with some sort of buttery, salty, algae-like concoction. Such touches always show a restaurant that's going the extra yard.

Donna and her staff have a bright style that leaves you unequivocal about the fact that they really care about that plate of barbecued loin of pork with confit belly and celeriac and horseradish purée, or that they have personally eaten everything on the menu and would quite happily eat it all again right now, if time and work commitments allowed.

I can't blame them, because there is always time for carbohydrates in the form of Tallow's warm terrine of potato and Cashel blue: translucent layers of clearly deeply cherished spud mixed with pleasantly pungent blue-veined cheese from Tipperary.

Tallow's steak tartare is likewise ludicrously pretty, dotted with rich confit egg yolk and the briefest suggestion of pickled shallot. My favourite course may well have been the hake starter, featuring plump, perfectly timed fried white fish in a heavenly puddle of elegant curry sauce, with three of the fattest, meatiest, shelled mussels drinking in the fragrant broth. This is my sort of fine dining: the highest-quality ingredients and intricate plating, but with the coy undertones of walking back tipsily from the chip shop.

As at The Compasses, the desserts at Tallow linger. Yes, there was a very good, light homemade shortbread with whipped vanilla cream cheese and fresh, sweet gariguette strawberries, but the rather dull-sounding "chocolate and hazelnut brownie" was nothing of the sort: instead, this was a plinth of rich chocolate-and-hazelnut mousse in a glistening pool of salted caramel and miso sauce – so much sauce, and so glossy, in fact, I could have styled my hair in the reflection.

Price: à la carte, from about £50 a head; six-course tasting menu, £79

The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin struggles to find anything Scottish at Walmer Castle, London

This new outfit in a Notting Hill pub is trumpeted as being a "Scottish restaurant and whisky bar in collaboration with the Craigellachie Hotel".

Beetroot salad, ungainly chunks on an oily carrot hummus. Ho-hum. A decent steak, thick tranche of chewy sirloin, rare as requested; but served without sides, so we have to add catering-pack fries and a challenging slab of broccoli – a whole quarter, not quite grilled enough, nor featuring enough of its garlic-chilli-oregano dressing. Broccoli does not respond well to this presentation, all fibrous stalk; my mother would have called it "an ignorant lump".

Nothing is great. That steak is OK and I'm not actively horrified by a duo of sliders, one, "crispy lobster, crab and shrimp", arriving as a bouncy surimi-like fishcake; the other a grey dod of mince – sorry, "Craigellachie beef"; both with the sort of garnish – frill of lettuce and tomato, dip that tastes like mayo plus sriracha plus Heinz Tomato Soup – that seems to define the place's manifesto. Which, I'm guessing, is "That'll do, right?"

Worst of all is a "hot artichoke dip" that tastes of nothing at all – perhaps light halitosis – and has the texture of loft insulation. This is so supremely perfunctory it might as well have "can't be arsed" squirted over it in supermarket own-range ketchup. Worse still is its accompaniment, supposedly "Scottish rosemary tattie scones". Word of advice: do not promise a Glaswegian woman potato scones and then fail to provide them.

In these #bekind times –especially when it comes to the beleaguered restaurant business – I'm not cock-a-hoop at giving anywhere a shoeing. There's positive stuff: an interior that's been given a striking refurb. Staff are lovely, finding us a less chaotic place to sit and underselling from the wine list when our requested Bourgogne aligoté is unavailable.

I blame owners and management, whose attitude seems to be that we should be grateful for them scattering their stardust over this storied boozer.

The Observer's Jay Rayner has a lovely time at NoMad in London, but pays for it

Welcome to wonderland. Or perhaps, to be more precise, AdLand. For here at NoMad London, everything is art-directed to within an inch of its life.

I should say that, while I'm obviously going to point and laugh at various things along the way, I had a lovely time at NoMad. But bloody hell it's expensive. Starters top out at £30, mains include a roast chicken for two at £98 and there's nothing on the wine list below £38 a bottle. It is what it is.

Among the starters are deep-fried baby globe artichokes, in the Roman style, with a carefully acidulated mint and pistachio sauce that has been passed to a velvety smoothness. A rectangle of confit pork, with crackling like set butterscotch, and a roasted chop, is advertised as coming with strawberries, the sort of innovation people shake their heads at. Except it's masterful, the acidity and the sweetness playing catch up with each other.

We sigh over our side dish, a spectacularly well-made semicircle of potato rosti, the crisply rugged exterior giving way to the soft oniony innards. We frown over our desserts because the grace and technique deployed with every other dish suddenly disappears. Part of the problem is that while they read nicely, they are mostly assemblages of crumbed things and iced things. The other problem is, weirdly, a heavy hand with the salt. A blood orange sorbet with shards of meringue has a salty tang. It's just odd.

Price: snacks and starters, £9-£30; mains, £27-£49; desserts, £14; wines, from £38

Tom Parker Bowles of the Daily Mail is flying high at the Pelican in Notting Hill, London

The Pelican, perched on the end of Notting Hill's All Saints Road, is one of those pubs that never seemed to get it right. News, then, of its reopening a few months back hardly filled me with hope. Sure, there's the expensive facelift, all buttery leather banquettes, gleaming mirrors and a terse, St John-esque menu. Good luck, I thought. You'd have more chance of opening a 'Spoons in Clarence House than making this particular Pelican fly. But then friends began to sing its praises. And we were passing one night and thought, go on, what the hell.

A mirror, proclaiming the day's specials, has a ‘Stew/Mince' section. Which makes me happy. Especially as it's ‘mince on toast', in what seems to be a nod to the great Quality Chop House.

And what mince it is, richer than a Ladbroke Grove trustie, slopped on a slab of sourdough beneath a flurry of Parmesan cheese. There's more carnivorous delight with a splodge of ‘raw beef', mixed with the anchovy-addled charms of Gentleman's Relish. Oh, and some crinkle-cut crisps with which to scoop it up. Ham hock, deep fried in a macho wedge, is all soft, salty succulence, served with pickled red onion and a mess of splendid egg salad. Like a great British picnic, without the pitter-patter of rain on car roof and the drone of the A303.

It's all so very English, but in the best possible way. Long may this Pelican soar.

Price: about £30 a head

Jimi Famurewa of the Evening Standard feels the heat at Plaza Khao Gaeng in London

"So how are you with heat?" said our yellow-aproned server with a little smile, in the striplit glow of Plaza Khao Gaeng at Arcade Food Hall.

In this instance, [the question] was both necessary and revealing. And not just because almost all the dishes at this opening really are marked by the kind of searing, almost psychoactive heat that should be approached with extreme caution and light, breathable fabrics.

Miang Phuket was our official boarding pass to this new land of punch and freshness: strikingly verdant betel leaves, cupped around a dry-fried mix of cashew, coconut and heady wisps of lemongrass, glimmering with fresh chillies and lighting up the palate like a prolonged fireworks display.

Muu hong (braised pork belly), meanwhile, brought luscious meat splashing in a brooding sticky-sweet glaze, whether it is the hypnotic perfume of pad phed pla krapong (sea bass with chillies, makrut lime leaves and shreds of ginger) or even just the unreasonably good, puffed and crisp-skirted fried eggs.

We should talk about the heat again. It is hard to ignore its intensity, especially when considering the klua kling muu: an unassuming-looking but utterly ferocious heap of dry-fried pork mince that is best spooned with the trembling, careful hand of someone handling plutonium.

Glamour can wait. This is food to quicken the pulse, dampen the brow and leave you gasping for more.

Price: meal for two plus drinks, £90

Daily Mail's Will Hide finds a great country escape at the Hare & Hounds Inn, Cumbria

The inn, which dates from the 1600s, has recently reopened after being shut for several years. After a tasteful refurbishment, it's very much a rural inn with rooms (just four) and gets the essentials spot-on. When I arrived, there was a pub quiz in full swing to raise funds to install better broadband in the village. A fire was blazing in the main bar where locals drop in for a drink, although a full menu is available at lunch and dinner, either there or in the charming side rooms where prints on the wall range from hunting scenes to a Tracey Emin.

Hearty, locally sourced comfort food is the order of the day. I loved my steak and ale pie followed by sticky toffee pudding and ice cream for dinner.

Upstairs, a snug with a sofa is the perfect place to curl up with a good book if the weather isn't so kind, but this is the Lake District, so just come prepared with waterproofs.

Country comfortable sums up my room, with a plush bed and thick duvet, antique dresser and good heating. A kettle for tea and coffee is provided, with fresh milk delivered in a flask.

The en suite bathrooms come with a large shower and big claw-foot bath – ideal for a deep soak after a long day's walk.

The Hare & Hounds feels like a great spot to escape the bedlam in the world right now and wander lonely as a cloud o'er vales and hills, then return to a pint and a well-earned dinner.

Price: B&B, from £145

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