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Reviews: Tom Parker Bowles is full of praise for Isla at the Standard; while 'The highs are very high indeed' at Wun's in London's Soho

09 September 2019 by

The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles is full of praise for executive chef Adam Rawson at Isla at the Standard in London's King's Cross

Crab, huge generous lumps of it, has been picked fresh that morning, with the ethereal sweetness only found in a beast fresh from its boiling grave. Beautifully seasoned, with saline crunch coming from samphire. Again, this is a dish that lets the sheer quality of the raw ingredients shine through. Ceviche is another cracker, although it's misnamed. Less ceviche, more ‘cured fish in delicate tomato broth'. We love the crunch of the pink peppercorns and the mass of herbs. Again, everything is immaculately seasoned. And cleverly put together too.

Fuzi, a Croatian pasta, is fresh made, hand-rolled with ceps and egg yolk and fresh summer truffle. Ain't nothing ‘healthy and super-light' about this. Thank God. Just like the girolles with lashings of lactic butter and Swiss cheese. Oh yeah. Turbot with sea aster and wild fennel is a touch overcooked. Just a touch, but it lacks precision. Iberico pork is fatty and charred and fabulous.

The room, while comfortable, tries a touch too hard. But Rawson is the real thing, a chef who mixes fine technique with a well-honed palate and a sharp culinary mind. Plus glimpses of a very serious talent indeed. He'll go far. Watch this space.

Price: about £35 per head. Rating: 4/5

"The highs are very high indeed" at Wun's in London's Soho, writes Jay Rayner in the Observer

It is tempting to shove just five words at you and leave it at that: sugar skin Iberico char siu. Mouth them, like some florid incantation: Sugar. Skin. Iberico. Char. Siu. It is not just char siu, that boisterous Cantonese way with roasted pork, involving the aromatics of five spice punched up with fermented bean curd and honey. It is char siu fashioned from Iberico pork, prized for its thick gilding of glistening, ivory fat. No, it's more than that. It is Iberico char siu with a crisp, sugared skin. Some of you, the pork-eating ones obviously, may feel you need this in your life. I need this in my life.

Their "finger licking" barbecue beef spare ribs are broad flat slices, sawn through the bone (in a way familiar from Korean barbecue). They are heavily sauced, all dark sweet soy stickiness, with huge bone-nibblage potential.

The star dish, and the most expensive at £18.80, is "My gran's secret recipe sour plum braised duck", which is a serious come-on but justified. It's a big steaming bowl of soft meat and crumbling potatoes in a savoury gravy that you'll want to dab behind your ears. We have rice, piled with pieces of fried lardo and shallots and served in a claypot so hot the rice is starting to crisp at the bottom. Scraping down there with a spoon becomes a mission. I am determined to complete it.

Price: snacks and small plates £2.80-£9.80, larger dishes £11.80-£18.80, desserts £4.80-£5.80, wines from £22.80

Nutshell 1
Nutshell 1

There's "a lot to love" at Nutshell a modern Iranian restaurant in London's Covent Garden, according to Grace Dent in the Guardian

The menu is small; really, it's merely a list. We started with freshly baked, delicious "bazaar bread", which was a high point: a long, slender, salted loaf, to scoop through the very good Caspian olive tapenade and the soothing yoghurt-based mast-o khiar, prettily bejewelled with pomegranate and pistachio. An inky dish of beluga lentils with barberries flew under the radar. The smoky aubergine meze with feta is unmissable.

We drank very good Bodega Cecchin Malbec at £7.50 a glass. I enjoyed the meze more than the main attractions: lamb chops, served pink as possible in a puddle of sour cherry jus, was quite muted flavourwise. A grilled half of baby cauliflower on a nutty puddle wasn't anything really to shout about. It was all nevertheless prettily plated, and service throughout sweet and bright.

The puddings, however, were a joy, especially the very elegant take on Persian zulbia: deep-fried swirls of batter, a sort of doughnutty, churros-like, carbohydrate-heavy safe space. These zulbia are neater and slightly drier than commonplace ones, but come with a bowl of incredible, fig-infused cream. It's this heartstoppingly good, thigh-expandingly evil fig cream, plus the fresh bazaar bread, the olive tapenade and aubergine meze that would take me back to Nutshell.

Price: about £40 a head, plus drinks and service. Rating: food 7/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service 9/10

Eggslut "seems to be founded on a fundamental miscalculation around proportion and human willingness to eat lots of the same thing", says the Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa

We were soon heading up to the pick-up area to retrieve something called (oh, God) The Slut. It was a glass jar layered with a chive-topped, carefully coddled egg and silken mash potato that, smeared on accompanying shards of toasted baguette, formed a beige trio of crunching savoury contrasts. Properly strange, properly good.

Then we moved on to the glossy-bunned brioche ‘sandwiches'. Austin's Gaucho was creditable: a fried egg, folds of thick, wagyu tri-tip steak and the useful herbed heat of chimichurri.

But my Fairfax – scrambled eggs speckled with more chives and melted Cheddar cheese, paired with caramelised onions and sriracha mayo – arrived as a literal study in over-egging. After basically two bites (helped along by brioche sweetness and ambient chilli) it dripped most of its slurried, warm cargo on to the paper bag in which it came. I wondered why no one suggested that eating what feels like about eight scrambled eggs between a textureless bap might be, I don't know, a bit gross?

Meat-eaters can, I should say, pay a supplement for bacon. But you'd hope that a nine quid roll wouldn't need such basic augmentation.

In the event, I feel the same about most of Eggslut's food as I do about its wearisome, rib-nudging name. It is playful, it is brash and it is, ultimately, more than a little off-putting.

Rating: ambience: 3/5; food: 2/5. Price: £49.50 for two


There's something for everyone at Magnolia at Sudbury House hotel in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, writes the" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Oxford Mail's Rebecca Hudson

For the main course I chose the braised pork osso bucco, with baby leeks and mustard mash (£17), while Adam opted for the chump of Wootton Bassett lamb, with tarragon, romesco and courgette (£19). He couldn't resist the lamb fat roasted new potatoes or red cabbage slaw either (both £4).

Both meals were the perfect size, enough to feel full up and satisfied with the good food, but not excessive.

In all, the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable. The meal was of a very high standard, and the atmosphere was relaxing.

The Magnolia also boasts its own pizza oven, cooking thin and crispy pizzas at high temperatures using Italian caputo flour (the only real choice for authentic pizza, or so I'm told), ranging from £11.


The Times' Giles Coren says he's never been offered a better table than that at Ballintaggart Farm in Perthshire

To start, there was a bright bulb of barbecued fennel, charred on one side, sweet and still crunchy, on a passata of Ayrshire tomatoes with roasted tomatoes, pine nuts and sorrel, or shards of dense, home-smoked wood pigeon with luminous pickled Blairgowrie strawberries, hazelnuts, marigold petals and garden leaves on a severely matt black plate – beautiful.

Then for everyone a huge dish of sliced barbecued bavette running from the well-ish done to the very rare, striped with a salsa verde foraged from the garden and the wider country beyond. With the excellent meat there were rosemary roasted potatoes from nearby Market Hill Farm, a sprightly bundle of chard and cavolo nero with lemon and dukkah, and a refreshing salad of raw courgette and fennel with scrapings of Inverloch goat's cheese and a bit of chilli.

Puddings were a dazzling strawberry and lovage crème brûlée with wild mint shortbread and a gooseberry tart with meadowsweet ice cream, each course brought into us by one of the chefs, as is the modern way.

Price: Three-course Sunday lunch, £25/head


Fay Maschler says the croissant bread and butter pudding at Clifford's in London's Holborn is like a kind of drug in the Evening Standard

A crispy egg served on a puree of cod's roe is maybe a cheffy in-joke — crispy egg cooked by Daniel Clifford, chef-patron of two-Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge, has starred on the telly. The crunchy coating and molten centre works its magic on pungent fish roe softly let down by mashed potato. We who take violet artichokes, red onion and hazelnuts — an assembly that lacks any lusciousness — and the classic French dish of lamb breast St Menehould that, however fiddly to construct (it is), should not have been fried for so long, are jealous; both regret not going for crab cocktail.

Duck Montmorency (duck with cherries) is mine because it was darling Reg's favourite dish. He might have liked the sauce to be more sweetly syrupy. I prefer the fruit astringent as it presents here. Roast and confit chicken with new potatoes is a clever conceit.

"Some people like sole all white like perfect dentures," says my chum Kate Spicer, "But I like it browned." That is how it is served with a pile of samphire at one end. Duck fat potato cake is a proud accompaniment. Croissant bread and butter pudding is outrageously rich, almost like a kind of drug. Affogato reminds us of what constitutes a sensible and furthermore efficient dessert.

Rating: 3/5

Marina O'Loughlin falls in love with Cafe Barletta at Margate's Dreamland in The Times – but it's only open until the end of the month before it closes for the winter

Over a couple of visits, I give the short, clever menu a deepish dive: there's a real feel for vegetable-led dishes — roast cauliflower, obviously, perhaps with aubergine and romesco, or a vast slab of hispi cabbage, chargrilled into smokiness, with fat, floury butter beans, crème fraîche and a zingy, almost-salsa verde. Those carrots are fine things, crinkled and caramelised from fierce heat, languid over their bed of ricotta and neon-green herb oil — tasting of parsley, maybe sorrel, crunch added via a gravel of toasted hazelnuts.

Flavours are fully in-yer-face, and the kitchen is creative with texture: coarsely chopped steak tartare pungent with mustard and capers hides a perfect egg yolk under a flurry of brittle chicken skin. A ragu of heroically meaty beef and pork comes with microplaned Parmesan and lashings of breadcrumbs crisped with bone marrow on homemade tagliatelle. Rich? It just bought Greenland.

Layered potato terrine, topped with braised chicken and comte, is gloriously sticky with duck fat. The most sedate dish brings beautiful, rosy local lamb, but that too gets riotously down with smoked aubergine, pine nuts and tahini yogurt. Fortunately, a custard dessert, thick-set as a bouncer, soothes and tames the beleaguered palate with its brown butter meringue. Does it all work? Yes, it emphatically does.

Price: For four, without service charge £112.50


Mama London 1-0714 FA
Mama London 1-0714 FA

Mike Atkins from the Times finds good food, comfortable rooms and great rates at the first British outpost in Hackney of Mama Shelter, the funky but affordable hotel brand from Accor.

This isn't a place for starched tablecloths or top-hatted doormen; instead the vibe is young and fresh, with bold patterns and splashes of vibrant colour set against a chic black and white baseline. The sprawling restaurant-bar area is a particular delight, with its illustrated ceiling and open kitchen.

The rooms, of which there are 194, are simple but hip. They're not the biggest, but are comfortable enough, and while some guests may hanker after extras such as robes or a coffee-maker, it would be wise to focus instead on the massive smart TVs, comfy beds and friendly prices.

The restaurant has lots of sharing plates and twists on local favourites mixed in with Mama staples such as steak tartare (£17). I loved the cumin-roasted cauliflower with almonds, sour cherries and pomegranate (£14) and would happily spend the rest of my life swimming in the gravy that goes with the whole roast chicken (£29). The cocktails are good too, notably the London Cuppa (£10): local gin, Earl Grey tea, sherry and lavender.

Rating: 8/10. Price: doubles from £99 without breakfast

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