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Reviews: The Hoxton Southwark, the Newt in Somerset and Lagom in London

24 September 2019 by
Reviews: The Hoxton Southwark, the Newt in Somerset and Lagom in London

The Times’ Jane Knight is impressed by the good value and hip vibe at the new Hoxton Hotel Southwark in London, but finds the breakfast bags to be a let-down

[The bedrooms are] seriously chic. The factory feel, with brick walls, concrete ceilings and Crittall-style windows, is complemented by maroon headboards that contrast beautifully with olive panelling. Roberts radios, old-fashioned light switches, chargers in the plugs and steamers for clothes complete the picture. Rooms range from Shoebox, at 15 sq m (£139), to the light-filled, double-aspect Biggy, at 35 sq m (£319), all with spacious showers.

The lobby and bar area run into the hip brasserie-style restaurant, which has an open kitchen, so be prepared for noise. There are plenty of sharing dishes to match the mood. We started with a charcuterie board (£16) before moving on to a perfectly executed burger and a crab linguine that hit the spot (£19). The three desserts in Greedy Coffee Pudding (£9) went down a treat. A seafood rooftop restaurant with great views opened on Monday, specialising in oysters. The breakfast bags are a bit disappointing, though — an energy bar, a piece of fruit and a juice.

A good-value, lively hotel. The breakfast bags are a bit disappointing, though — an energy bar, a piece of fruit and a juice.

Price: double cost from £139 a night, with a breakfast bag. Rating: 8.5/10

The Newt in Somerset
The Newt in Somerset

Fiona Duncan of The Sunday Telegraph is impressed by the ambitions of the Newt in Somerset, and its intention to offer good value alongside five-star luxury

Former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa Karen Roos is responsible for the hotel’s interiors. There is plenty to admire, especially the simplicity: no curtains at the lovely sash windows, nor pointless cushions on the blissful beds; the rough-hewn walls of the natural, unadorned spa; the unfussy, almost Scandinavian style of the 23 bedrooms and bathrooms; the juxtaposition of modern and old. But there are odd choices too among the contemporary furniture, lighting and art. Slouchy sofas in the drawing room would be good, and the entrance hall feels strange, with its Marmite statement faux classical painting and vast double-sided sofa.

[Rooms] are divided between those in the main house, where the three Garden Rooms are the loveliest and the Loft Rooms the cosiest, and those in the Clock House and Stable Yard. All are different, all carefully decorated by Karen Roos. British guests, bearing in mind that the house is so quintessentially English and countrified, may prefer a more ‘indulgent shabby chic’ approach aka the Pig hotels, but they are nevertheless very comfortable. The bath products are in specially designed metal containers and feel rather more appropriate for a spaceship than a Georgian country house.

There are two restaurants: the elevated, glass-walled Garden Café overlooking the walled Parabola and surrounding gardens and countryside, and the Botanical Rooms in the hotel, with its fabulous, homely open kitchen. Both are superb, featuring, indeed majoring on, produce from the Newt’s kitchen gardens and greenhouses. In the Garden Café we enjoyed excellent home-grown vegetables accompanied by barbecued pork and beef, charcuterie and cheeses served with delicious sourdough apple bread, homemade pickles and honey. Steamed new potatoes from the garden were cooked to perfection and the estate’s apple juices and ice creams could not be resisted.

Price: Doubles from £255 per night, including breakfast, complimentary mini larder, garden tour, cyder tour and use of the spa. Rating: 9/10

“Bold live-fire cooking that throbs uncompromisingly with flavour”, is how The Observer’s Jay Rayner describes Lagom at Hackney Church Brew Co in London

A slab of bone-in pork belly is slow-cooked then rubbed with fermented chilli and the sweet sugary hit of liquid jaggery from the kithul palm, before being allowed to wallow in the gentle heat and smoke of the grill. The result is soft, with an encouraging outer crunch. It is a plate of caramelisation and melting fat. It’s an awful lot of top pig action for £10.

So far, so barbecue. It’s the non-meat dishes that are more striking. Golden beetroot is roasted over the coals until soft, then sliced up into something approximating a carpaccio. Those slices are dressed with a fine acidic emulsion punched up with molasses, along with crushed hazelnuts and torn mint leaves. I’ve eaten an awful lot of beetroot over the past few years. I’ve eaten so much of the red variety I’ve had nights when my pee turned pink. This was the best plate of the stuff I have eaten in years.

A big serving of closed-cap mushrooms for a fiver are long smoked to an almost meaty intensity and dressed with dollops of boisterous salsa verde; courgettes are grilled and served with chilli, mint and lemon. There is a white coleslaw full of crunch and salt and vinegar, and “crispy” potatoes the colour of polished gold, with undulations and crevices and curled bits. They aren’t just crisp, they are crispy. Each plate is a simple idea, expressed vividly and with care so that the key ingredient gets to shout its name.

Small plates £1.50-£8, large plates £9-£29 (for whole chicken), wines from £25, beers around £5 a pint

Flank Print House
Flank Print House

The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa says Flank at the Print House in London's Stratford “hasn’t quite come together yet”

Your choices arrive all at once on a comically huge metal tray; a decision that tracks as an authentic nod to Deep South barbecue culture but does also mean that you are forced to decide which dish you are most happy to eat slightly cold. Smoked cheese ‘nugs’ brought three croquettes (strangely low on both bonfire musk and sharpness) on an eerily flavourless, chive-swirled garlic ‘pizza dip’ that was optimistically described to us as ‘like the one at Domino’s’. Smokiness in the barbecued cabbage, on the other hand, was overpowering to the point of inedibility: a forceful exhaust-belch that tasted synthetic (we were told, chirpily, that it absolutely was not) and lurked unseen on each scorched, slightly clammy leaf.

There was further waywardness: limp, timidly fired naan with a pot of passable burnt end beef; fairly cloying barbecue glazed pig head and trotter patties in stiff mini sub rolls. Then, blessedly, some glimmers of hope. The mini double cheeseburger, coarse-ground with yellow goo dribbling between rare-cooked crags, was effective. A block of fine-crisped potato gratin came drenched in a fragrant, gutsy pan stock and blobbed (a little messily) in a scoop of bone marrow butter. And the deep-fried apple slice with caramel ice cream — a riff on the famed McDonald’s mouth-stripper — may have lacked the requisite thin, bubbled pastry but it offered a rushing flood of buttered, cinnamon-spiked sweetness.

There is probably a good, fairly priced barbecue joint hiding here. But like the development sites heralded by cranes that still crowd the sky in this part of town, it hasn’t quite come together yet.

Rating: ambience: 3/5; food: 2/5. Price: £50.50

Gunpowder
Gunpowder

Gunpowder in London’s Spitalfields “still bangs”, according to The Independent’s Ed Cumming

It says good things about the food when diners are still prepared to be uncomfortable three years after opening, when the hype has long since evaporated.

Much of Gunpowder’s short menu is intact from when it opened. We started with rasam ke bomb, a shot of hot soup, spiced with chilli and mustard and tamarind, with yellow balls of crispy potato sitting on top of the liquid. Then a rich aloo chaat, the potatoes slathered in dark brown tamarind and yoghurt, like two pots of spilled paint.

Order the “spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut” in a place like this and you might expect a parsimonious crispy marble. Not here, where a plump golden tennis ball is put down in front of us, its shell coated in splinters of crunchy noodle, like some hairy fruit that has been plunged into the fryer.

Inside, the meat was rich and gamey and plentiful. While the room is still cramped and noisy, and the service erring on the hurried, everything else felt generous. Ribs came as a Jenga stack of tender meat and bone. The moist flesh of a spiced baby chicken, tandoor-roasted, pulled easily off its spindly frame.

For all this, unarguably not fancy but also not not-fancy, the bill came to £30 a head. I’ll be back, again, except this time I mean it. Gunpowder still… bangs?

Price: £30 a head

LOYAL TAVERN SEPTEMBER 2019 @lateef.photography-27
LOYAL TAVERN SEPTEMBER 2019 @lateef.photography-27

Kathryn Flett reviews Loyal Tavern in London’s Bermondsey in The Telegraph. “Not life-changing”, she says, but the buttermilk-poached cod is something she could eat “daily”

I loved the pair of finely spiced lamb skewers in a minty-almondy aioli, succulent and robustly flavoured. Meanwhile, the charred mackerel with apple and pine nuts arrived on a big, pink salt block, the idea being that this redeployed racehorse’s salt-lick infuses the fish the longer it sits: however, if you don’t let it sit (we didn’t) it is basically just a silly plate. Meanwhile, the wussy-sounding blackened cauliflower with sesame yogurt and green sauce punched above its weight courtesy of chilli so triggering that my taste-buds demanded a Safe Space in which to repair themselves. I loved it.

On the other hand, my partner – always vocal on the subject of portion control in relation to cost – felt cheated by his choice of main: the gurnard, crab bisque, carrot and orange with seaweed, which was indeed on the smallish side for 18 quid. “I’ll have to grab something to eat on the way home,” he grumbled. However, I adored my buttermilk-poached cod, ’nduja and white bean stew – a perfect early-autumn plate. Suffused with the Italian sausage’s late summer-holiday vibe, this dish flavour-bombed as much as it comforted; it’s the kind of thing I want to eat daily until the clocks go back and the salt beef cravings kick in.

Unfortunately, my dessert was hot pineapple and a brown malted banana ice cream combo that, covered in crumbly cacao, looked as though it had been made from bruises and dirt, and tasted like an argument at a five-year-old’s birthday party.

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

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler revisits the seminal St John Bread & Wine in London’s Spitalfields

Slices of pink cold roast mutton with green sauce go well alongside. White cabbage (kohlrabi substituted at a different dinner) chervil and capers reads rather Presbyterian but is beguiling, thanks to precision slicing and smart dressing.

Roast pigeon with chard and mustard has powerful sanguinary gravy and a dish of the day of rabbit fillets an irresistible tangle of cooked and raw vegetables as accompaniment. Both leaf salad and cooked greens are uncommonly well composed, and because it is in season and because most people love it, corn on the cob plainly boiled is offered.

Welsh rarebit, as inviting to get into as a neatly, freshly-made bed on a chilly evening, is lobbed into the vegetable section on the menu but I recommend it as a savoury. Everything is a strong suit here, but desserts are particularly, you might say surprisingly, alluring. After damson ice cream with the texture of chewy velvet and a scoop of dark blackberry sorbet served with a wayward glass of Polish vodka, cheese on toast is the ideal landing pad.

Rating: 4/5

Despite a few hiccups, The Telegraph’s William Sitwell left happy from the White Horse in King's Sutton, Northamptonshire

As for the food, let’s skip straight to the good stuff. Pudding was ace. The chef managed to put a gently oozing chocolate fondant into a pastry case made of chocolate – which added crunch to the enveloping and soft cake – and then bits of pistachio on top made the whole thing sing.

Before that, I had a perfectly pink piece of fillet steak – along with crunchy, fat chips and a perfect example of how to cook savoy cabbage… just enough texture and a modest dollop of butter. And as I had unwittingly turned up on the establishment’s steak night, along came a free carafe of red wine.

The egg in the ‘cod cheek scotch egg’ should have been just a little runny and the chorizo not just a round slice like you get in a supermarket packet. The heap of caramelised onions – effectively onion marmalade – smothered over the marrow bone with my steak wrecked the delicacy of the soft and sweet marrow, and the wild-mushroom omelette had a layer of grilled cheese that slid off the top and obscured the rather good egg beneath.

Rating: 3/5. Price: Dinner for two: £105 excluding drinks and service

Heritage Comte Rösti and Maple Glazed Dingley Dell Larsons Rösti
Heritage Comte Rösti and Maple Glazed Dingley Dell Larsons Rösti

The Mail on Sunday’s Tom Parker Bowles is impressed by the raclette and rösti at Heritage in London’s Soho – but declares there “isn’t a place for blue cheese in Swiss fondue”

As the sun blazes down outside, we thank the Lord for the air-conditioner’s chill, and get stuck into immaculate rösti, crisp and just the right side of greasy, topped with a slice of tomette de brebis cheese, and a waft of summer truffles and over-chewy, slightly unnecessary shards of maple-glazed pork belly.

As the talk turns to the bistros and brasseries of northern France, the raclette arrives, lovingly scraped on to a pile of boiled potatoes, pickles and good charcuterie. One serving is a touch parsimonious, seeing that I can usually devour about six. On a good day, after a hard few hours on the slopes. Rather than a fairly leisurely stroll from Leicester Square Tube. Still, they do offer more if needed. And I do really, really like raclette. Despite its tendency to squat in the belly like a fat, lactic tramp.

But we’ve got fondue to come. Still more cheese. Which arrives, bubbling, in a dinky copper pot, with the usual bits of bread. Plus sausage, grilled pork belly and slices of pink fillet steak. Meat, cheese. Cheese, meat. Dear God. By now, we’re starting to struggle, but we plough manfully on. The fondue, though, rather than being the classic mixture of Swiss mountain cheese (gruyère, comté, raclette etc), has Fourme d’Ambert, a French blue cheese. Urgh. There simply isn’t a place for blue cheese in Swiss fondue. It makes an already rich dish cloying and overpowering, and the wrong side of too much. Next time, I’m keeping it simple.

Rating: 3/5. Price: about £45 per head

Will Devlin is serving up “skilful cooking that retains joy, pace and mischief throughout” at the Small Holding in Kilndown, Kent, writes Grace Dent in The Guardian

“Sweetcorn, egg, mushroom” is followed swiftly by “courgette, chilli, coriander”, and with cheery service, too. A soft, sous-vide yolk appears dotted with crisp kernels and small, earthy bites of fungus. Then, in prompt succession, courgette comes conjured up into a sort-of turbo-bhaji. This is a magical mouthful, my highpoint of lunch. “Those courgettes are from over there,” our server says perkily, pointing out past the car park.

Our menu (which I expect will have altered by the time you read this) featured a fabulous play on old-school Cumberland pie and peas – mutton with small, heavenly, bright green peas straight from the pod. “This tastes exactly like the pie and peas we used to eat in Cumbria after dance classes when I was about seven,” I wittered on to Charles. “Cooked by my gran, who always made her pie in a plate. Her kitchen always smelled of gas. Do you know what I mean?” Which, of course, he didn’t. Because that’s what the best sort of fine dining does: it shines light into corners of your brain that you’ve not used for decades. Flavours you thought were no longer possible, only to find out they are; you simply weren’t eating the correct item at its exact freshest or in the right combination.

Rating: food: 9/10; atmosphere: 9/10; service: 9/10. Price: set menus, £30 for 6 courses (lunch only), £60 for 11, plus drinks and service

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