The Caterer

Reviews: Heritage, Norma and more

11 November 2019 by
Reviews: Heritage, Norma and more

Matt Gillan's Heritage in Slaugham, West Sussex is "destination-worthy, without any doubt", says Marina O'Loughlin in the Sunday Times

Even things I read as being potential misfires — coriander ice cream on delicate marinated raw scallops — are harmonious and perfectly judged, the shouty herb muted by its freezing, toasted pumpkin seeds and mandolined salsify adding crunch. In one astonishing course, pork skin — wrapped around a mushroomy farce and served with bacon jam and roasted plum — has been treated so it almost feels like suet pudding pastry, teeth sinking into its sticky depths.

Some are deliciously head-scratching: the pungent glaze on monkfish with almost charred white cabbage and kohlrabi is Chinese-style XO sauce, tasting house-made. There's a puddle of seductive, perfumed oil cradled in the silken celeriac purée that comes with venison loin. (Seasonality is a big deal here, without a big deal being made of it.) Its chicory caramel: ravishing. As are the tiny bursts of richness from cocoa nibs in the slick of sauce. Even the cheese course brings surprises, a slender, flaky apple turnover in among shards of homemade crackers; Cantal or Cherwell goat's cheese slathered on top has eyes rolling back in heads with pleasure.

The cooking, while pretty much flawless in execution, is a teeny bit dated, all microherbs, microplaned radishes and textural touches delivered via the dreaded maltodextrin, turning up in two dishes: snowed over that pork — which really should have been left to its own butch devices; and a dessert of chocolate sorbet with damsons. Like a beautiful woman stuck in the style of her glory years, it feels a bit 2014, when Gillan still held his Michelin star.

Price: £65 per person for the seven-course tasting menu; total for two (with drinks; without service charge) £193

Norma 4Q5A0536
Norma 4Q5A0536

Norma in London's Fitzrovia is "the kind of effortless crowd-pleaser that takes serious work", says The Observer's Jay Rayner

Golden triangles of a kind of bread formed from chickpea purée also come with their own sauce, a strident and aromatic salsa verde. We have halved violet artichokes, trimmed back to the important bits and seared until their edges are caramelised, with a walnut whip-shaped dollop of a pine nut purée. From the raw bar come slices of sea bream with a pinkish glow, dressed with peppery olive oil and both pomegranate seeds and the salty orange promise of bottarga.

I could happily have carried on building dinner like this, from the cheery snacks that start at £4 for the chickpea bread, through the fresh promise of the raw bar to the antipasti that tops out at £14. Norma is no one's version of cheap. Nevertheless, it's a menu that allows you to get at the good stuff without selling your least favoured child to pay the bill. The wine list has reasonable choice below £35, practically a bargain in this part of town, and all the pasta dishes are £9, though you can upsize if you want one as a main course.

The fresh tagliolini is a classic dish with pine nuts, the sweet burst of raisins and broken up fragments of sardine, is cut so thinly it's closer to an Asian egg noodle. The strands are coated thickly in a pleasingly starchy sauce and demand to be slurped. I order only one of the large plates, a chunky roasted chop of rose veal, with lemon, anchovy and black cabbage, peaking up from a deep puddle of rust-coloured masala sauce. It's a hefty £30 and the cut justifies the price, but you need not venture into that part of the menu.

Snacks £3.50-£8, small plates £8-£15, large plates £19-£30, desserts £3.50-£9, wines from £27

The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles discovers good value, home-cooked Malaysian food at Normah's in London's Queensway Market

Her classic curry laksa may lack the advertised fish ball and tofu, but the home-made paste is majestic, the soup creamy with coconut and mildly spicy, with whole prawns and a rich, redolent depth. The lovely muddy murk of the broth is dotted with tiny droplets of chilli oil. Shards of crisp onion are scattered on top, while egg noodles are pleasingly slippery and bouncy. It's exactly what you want from a laksa. Soothing, filling, generous and knowingly spiced.

Roti canai are wonderfully light and flaky, and come with a small bowl of beef rendang. Again, the flavours are subtle rather than strident, with whispers of lemongrass, galangal, coconut, ginger and kaffir lime. The meat is soft but still has a little chew. A dish entirely comfortable in its own skin, and one that doesn't feel the need to shout. Quietly, confidently, just right.

By this point I'm flagging. But manage to make headway into a decent chicken mee mamak, with more of those egg noodles in a sweetish, eggy sauce. It has a hint of the wok's breath, and the crunch of crushed peanut, but I do crave a little more seasoning. The dish is a little too polite. Still, a minor quibble. Normah's is everything you hope it would be. Good value, home-cooked Malaysian food, prepared by one of the nicest women you could imagine. And served up by her equally lovely nephew.

Price: About £10-£15 per head. Rating: 4/5

The meat-free menu at Naïfs in London's Peckham is "artful and ambitious", writes Keith Miller in The Telegraph

Steering a course between veggiedom and all-out veganism allows a wider mixture of textures and (to be honest) flavours than any but the most inventive vegan cooks could achieve. It helped that where they'd used dairy ingredients (labneh, three different British cheeses), their quality shone through.

With a couple of dishes, though, I hankered after something a shade less middle-of-the-road, be it a touch of that old-school, mouth-filling, wholegrain veggie feeling or a massive postmillennial wellyfull of dirty-vegan robustness.

Little kibbeh-like aubergine fritters needed a more toothsome texture to let their flavour shine; while the celeriac was a beautifully cooked slab of celeriac, prettily dressed and pungently seasoned, but still, when all was said and done, a slab of celeriac – somehow resistant to the alchemical transformation that today's chefs are able, on a good day, to bring to a slab of cauliflower, say.

In the case of Naïfs I can absolutely imagine going there every few weeks if I lived nearby. It's urbane and likeable, and distinctly different from other plant-based restaurants I've been to, in London and elsewhere. It's also genuinely family-run in a way you don't associate with such a (vaguely) fashionable enterprise – the character of the place is attractively intertwined with those of the people who run it.

Price: dinner for two £90. Rating: 3.5/5


The Times' Giles Coren is blown away by Decimo at the Standard hotel in London's King's Cross

They brought out a big dish of Cornish crab meat dotted with an amber jalapeño jelly and bloblets of lime mayonnaise that was as attractive as anything and just exquisite to eat, fresh and sweet with a sparkling chilli heat miasma around it. Breathtaking.

Then some tacos: pork, baja and cauliflower, that arrived open, as lovely as a Bond Street jewellery display, to be folded and flipped in the mouth, which then collapsed into a deliciously complex collision of flavours, so bright you could taste the colours, like eating a food butterfly.

And then another stunningly attractive dish, a carabinero (big shrimp), sliced laterally, wafer-thin, and layered up under a very brisk tiger's milk that was, to be completely honest, a little sharp for me, but looked so damned handsome I didn't care. I'm pretty sure it was dotted with spicy fermented shrimp ("blachan"), but our very well-informed waitress insisted it wasn't.

And then a torchon (they didn't call it that; I just haven't written "torchon" in years and it seemed apposite) of monkfish glazed with mexteca, which is rendered pork fat, very spicy, the flesh sweet and meaty. And then a scallop each, on the shell, not cheap, £8 a bang, but exemplary: the diameter of a Bendicks mint but twice as thick, little char lines on them, buttery and dense, sliced into three fillets to extend the pleasure.

Price: "Madly variable"; £330 for four, including six cocktails and four beers. Rating: cooking: 9; space: 9; vibes: 9; score: 9

option 11-961
option 11-961

Kolamba in London's Soho is offering "big, bold lessons" in Sri Lankan food, writes The Guardian's Grace Dent

A judiciously seasoned, sunset-yellow monkfish curry was followed by a bowl of parippu – red split lentils cooked in coconut and turmeric – that has made me rethink my entire lentil dal game. Why do my lentils never taste as rich and nuanced, yet soothing? How have I tried 876 dal recipes off the internet and still produce lacklustre stodge that pleases no one? Is this God's way of making me book a fact-finding expedition to Colombo?

We also ate our way through prawns fried in crushed black pepper and green chilli, and Kolamba's hoppers, which are delicate, spongy and yielding in all the correct places. The diced tomato sambol with lime juice, green chilli and red onion is so very good, it would go with literally anything.

Each time our server tried to make room on the table, we fought to keep hold of precious slicks of date and lime chutney, and ordered extra portions of the rather tough but useful pol roti coconut flatbread, which the menu describes as "rustic" and which does the job of reaching the puddles of runny egg yolk, coconut smears and cardamom-scented sauces that no fork or spoon can reach.

Price: about £35 a head, plus drinks and service. Rating: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 8/10

The Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa doesn't miss the meat at vegetarian restaurant Bubala in London's Spitalfields

Laffa bread was a bubbled, immaculately seasoned sort-of naan — so freshly made it lightly singed the fingers, and perfect for greedy scoops of smooth, harissa-dribbled pumpkin tirshy and a snowscape of labneh with mellow, toffeed confit garlic. Soy-glazed mushroom skewers and fried rounds of aubergine beneath a ramped-up zhoug (that coriander green, spiced Yemeni rocket fuel) offered enthralling meatiness. The potato latkes that have been swamping Instagram were delicate and golden and just about worthy of the hype.

‘This is basically refried beans,' said Joe of the ful medames stew, breaking up a bout of the fantasy holiday brainstorming that most friends in their 30s probably engage in (snowboarding in Andorra! A mad, sleepless couples weekend in Ibiza!) before booking precisely nothing. And, yes, there was something a touch more familiar and workmanlike about its thick brown appearance and faint cumin notes. But that was mitigated by a heady, terrific shared scoop of salted tangerine, date and tahini ice cream. And two cocktails (a usefully bitter, gin-spiked Sacred Lake plus the fiery, tequila-based TLV-MEX) that had both easy gulpability and a snap of distinctiveness.

Price: £85.80 for two. Rating: ambience: 4/5; food: 4/5


Cookie Jar Northumberland
Cookie Jar Northumberland

Thoughtful little touches and wonderful staff make the Cookie Jar in Alnwick, Northumberland stand out, writes Cat Thomson in The Scotsman

At the front door there are assorted pairs of Hunter wellies for guests to borrow, should it rain during your stay. It's that kind of place; thoughtful little touches and wonderful staff make this place stand out. There is even a secure gun room, kennels and a drying room for shooting parties, who can hire the entire place.

The Cookie Jar has four room types: cosy rooms, small but perfectly formed; luxury rooms, which are bigger and full of unique features; Mother Superior suites, which all have statement bathtubs – and then there's The Chapel. That's where we're spending a heavenly night and it's the ultimate romantic penthouse. "Out of this world" is not bad as first impressions go, and it's hard to decide what to be impressed by most. The room itself, divine airy vaulted ceiling, unique lighting orbs, or the gorgeous period stained glass windows? Did I mention the king-sized bed, walk-in drench showers or freestanding copper bath?

Hi-tech gizmos are seamlessly integrated, with wall-mounted TV screen, superfast wifi and an Amazon Dot. Everything is perfect and we'll certainly be worshipping at the altar of luxury tonight. Fluffy towels and robes and toiletries from Penhaligon's are the icing on the cake.

Price: One night in the Chapel starts at £335 for B&B for two people sharing. Other rooms start at £175 including breakfast

Pig at Bridge Place Hop Picker Hut Bed
Pig at Bridge Place Hop Picker Hut Bed

The Evening Standard's Lucy Hunter Johnston says the Pig at Bridge Place in Kent is "exquisite"

The Pig group are masters at converting old ramshackle properties into super-luxe hotels while losing none of the original charm. Here, it's quite simply exquisite. In the main house, where we stayed, a vast central staircase leads to seven bedrooms of varying sizes, with original wood panelling, ornate ceilings, deep jewel tones and vast, enticing beds.

However, it's the small, intimate sitting rooms hidden on various landings that are the real treat, home to roaring fires and mountains of newspapers. The hidden corners are where the fantasy that this might, in fact, be yours feels tantalisingly close. Outside, a new, sensitively built coach house offers another 12 rooms, while a two-story suite has been made from the old stables, and two family "lodges" are nearby. On a return visit I'd be tempted by the uber-romantic Hop Picker's huts, seven of which are by a river. Made with reclaimed timber, each stilted cabin has a wood-burning stove and a bath in the bedroom.

Like all Pig Hotels, the emphasis is on the food. Everything is sourced from a 25-mile radius, and much taken straight from the heaving garden outside, where an oven serves up pizzas and flatbreads. The area is a culinary paradise: Whitstable oysters, Romney Marsh lamb, and exceptional Kentish wine and cider feature heavily on the menu. There is also a chef's table — long trestles overlooking the bustling kitchen where small plates of smoked fish, croquetas and sorbets are served between courses.

Price: Rooms start from £109 per night

The Pheasant Hungerford
The Pheasant Hungerford

Richard Mellor of The Times gives the thumbs up to the newly reimagined the Pheasant near Hungerford, Berkshire

It's near the horse-racing town of Lambourn, but this rebooted coaching inn is no longer solely for the horse crowd. Stylish bedrooms, a convivial bar and, most of all, a much-boosted, buoyant food offering has widened its appeal and demographic. The setting also helps: close to Hungerford and a few minutes' drive from the M4, yet enveloped by fields, with views as far as the Ridgeway.

Flora Soames, the celebrated interior designer, oversaw the rejuvenation of the 11 rooms. Calm in colour, they have flowery headboards, yellow cushions, and books and blankets. Wardrobes are carved from weathered wood, and framed, solemn dog sketches line most walls. Proper coffee, cafetières and fresh milk clinch it; these are chambers in which you want to linger. That includes the "small" rooms, which actually aren't — other than the teeny

The unpretentious menu uses local, high-quality fare: my confit duck was bursting with flavour, as were the accompanying new potatoes. A smoky malbec helped, and ditto the just-right sticky toffee pudding. Everything was excellent, save the temperature — it was boiling.

Rating: 8.5/10. Price: B&B doubles from £105 a night

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