Reviews: Jay Rayner finds the perfect scotch egg at Only Food and Courses and Giles Coren goes to the beach at the Berkeley

18 May 2021 by
Reviews: Jay Rayner finds the perfect scotch egg at Only Food and Courses and Giles Coren goes to the beach at the Berkeley

The Observer's Jay Rayner has a puntastic time in a shipping container at Pop Brixton's Only Food and Courses

This week's restaurant is called Only Food and Courses. That's boss-level punnery right there, but just about excusable, I think. The restaurant is located inside Pop Brixton, the loose-limbed food-and-drink market built out of converted shipping containers that is only a couple of miles from Peckham, the setting for John Sullivan's sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Geddit? Sure you do.

The business part of a bloody Mary arrives in the form of a boozy, fiery granita, the ice shards looking like something chipped from Superman's fortress of solitude. It comes with long-roasted tomatoes, chickpea chips and a dill oil that has, through a bit of old-school Blumenthal-esque modernism, been processed into a powder.

The prawn cocktail's Marie Rose sauce has been put through a nitrous gun so it sits in aerated pillows around the prawns. It's dotted with tiny spherifications of balsamic vinegar, another old-school technique developed by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli back in the 90s, when playing with your food like this was all the rage. There are ribbons of pickled cucumber and some charred lettuce. It is indeed a prawn cocktail, just not your prawn cocktail. Let's finish this round with slices of extremely good treacle-cured salmon, laid with puffed wheat, fronds of green herbs and a Jenga block of crème fraîche formed into a jelly.

There's a perfectly made scotch egg, in which the pork has been replaced by white crab meat. The yolk is running and there is a sizeable spoonful of glistening caviar to make sure it's dressed properly for the occasion. Duck eclairs are fairly described: slices of crisp-shelled choux pastry bun are split and filled with shredded, salty duck confit and glazed with a jus, then decorated with edible flowers.

Only Food and Courses is a careful exercise in misdirection. But it's a sweet and benign one. Plus, it results in duck eclairs and lobster doughnuts. How could anyone seriously complain about that?

Price: starters, £10; mains, £14; desserts, £10. Wines, from £24

Dining alfresco in one of the Berkeley Beach Huts is no barrier to the most luxurious of lunches, discovers The Times' Giles Coren

Berkeley Beach Huts
Berkeley Beach Huts

With a bottle of their cheapest white Beaune (an economy right up there with Savile Row's least expensive suit and Ferrari's most keenly priced hatchback), we had two huge baked scallops, carved into steaks and served in the shell with ladlefuls of foaming butter, chopped capers and armfuls of parsley. And then a wooden box of "snapper wings" (who knew they could fly?) which I suppose were called that because they were battered and deep-fried in the KFC manner.

Some neat little vegetable fritters (more of a veg fritto misto) following and a showstopping Tunworth and asparagus toastie, the hot, white, Camembert-ish cheese from Hampshire unctuously embellishing the grassy emerald spears between their salty, wheaten boards. And some grilled langoustines with garlic butter, somewhat overdone, as they almost always are at beach cafés, so no complaints there.

For our mains, sorry, our LARGE plates, we had a delicious piece of grilled sea trout with an orange and fennel salad, and the veggie option – some sort of artichokey thing – because I've seen Seaspiracy and I do know I must give up eating fish now, but I can't do it all in one go, so I'm going to have to start by just eating less.

Also: good fries, chilli and garlic green beans and a quite serviceable cheese plate very kindly rattled up from room service, to go with our late-ordered 2010 Cissac, because none was offered on the beach hut menu. Because, come on, who eats cheese on the beach?

Price: Very, very expensive, even without all the excellent wine

William Sitwell celebrates the seasonal arrival of asparagus at 45 Jermyn Street in London in The Daily Telegraph

45 Jermyn St
45 Jermyn St

This is the restaurant of Fortnum & Mason. There's a doorman at the front and the style of greeting reminds me of the chicer hotels or clubs; a cheerful, familiar yet restrained formality.

The menu is a statement of upmarket intent and seasonal know-how. Of the seven sections, one is for caviar, another asparagus – what a wonderful idea when so noble and perfect an ingredient as new-season British asparagus gets a whole section on a menu.

I had it simply with hollandaise which was just perfect. A nice bite, that green freshness and a fluffy sauce that would have Escoffier tipping his rather tall hat. My pal had asparagus with cockles, a duck egg and sea veg.

Next was lamb roasted with harissa which I really chose because I saw the word chimichurri. I move towards the offer of chimichurri the way swimmers paddle ashore when a shark is spotted. And it was fab, nestling under beautifully pink lamb, with crisp, charred fat and a great, thinly layered rectangle of potato seasoned with seaweed. But, note to chef, get the guy on asparagus to do the broccoli – it deserves a similar bite.

We finished with mint tea and truffles. We left the one flecked with raspberry, which was a hint. If asparagus can have its own section, why can't petit fours, then I can just pick the dark-choc ones and we'll all leave even happier!

Price: lunch for two excluding drinks and service, £87.50

Canadian delicacy poutine has arrived in Edinburgh, sampled by The Scotsman's Gaby Soutar at Down the Hatch

Down the Hatch
Down the Hatch

There aren't really any healthy options, so banish your post-lockdown worries about your hefty legs resembling tightly cling-filmed jambons.

We tried the Tokyo Drift, (£8 or £11.50 with a portion of poutine – yes please). It was a sesame bun that contained a beefy "smashed patty", with a wad of smoked flaky brisket balanced on top, teriyaki sauce, roasted garlic mushrooms and a squirt of Kewpie mayonnaise. It was salty, musky and feral, like a lumberjack after a day of chopping. Our side order of chips were sloshed with beefy gravy, and dollops of pale salty curds. I think this may be my first time trying authentic poutine, and I'm sold.

The second option was even filthier. Apparently, the beef dip (£12.50 with fries, £9 without) is "found on most bar menus in Canada". This loony dook of a lardy treat consisted of a soft sub roll, packed with thin sheets of shaved roast beef and a pillowy layer of orange melted cheese.

There's no use resisting change, it happens whether you like it or not. This new place is a positive addition to this part of town. It's well worth the sizable thighs and certain to make you smize.

Score: 8/10

Small plates are in vogue at Native at Browns in London, discovers Marina O'Loughlin

Native at Browns
Native at Browns

This is the dinkiest, most delightful thing I've rammed into my face in a long time, a very obvious homage to the cult McDonald's Filet-o-Fish. But instead of spongy fish piled into spongy bread, it's a tiny, glossy brioche bun spread with seaweed tartare sauce and stuffed with a "terrine" of fried, breaded cod cheeks, light and delicately gelatinous, with crab rarebit of thrilling pungency standing in for the plastic cheese slice. It's genius, simply.

Our waiter has advised that we'd better have two of these and he's right. You try sharing something the size of a ping-pong ball. Especially when it's so divine you just don't want to.

Everything about this new restaurant from the Native duo (Imogen Davis FOH, Ivan Tisdall-Downes overseeing the kitchen) is precious in every sense of the word.

There's a dish of burrata sitting in a savoury beige pool of miso bagna cauda – an inspired collision of cultures, Japanese and Italian, contrasting the lactic coolness of the cheese with the deep umami of the miso.

Then comes "smacked" cucumber – it's not, it's cutely melon-balled – in a fermented crab and chilli liquor with a scatter of cobnuts. The "smacked" might be referencing the popular Sichuan side dish, but its sauce reminds me more of the dementedly pungent crab I tried at a ceremonial restaurant in Seoul. Native's is a lot nicer than it sounds.

Price: meal for two, including 12.5% service charge, £160

A pub serving a refined menu that can still pull a decent pint is the stuff of dreams for Grace Dent at the Alma in Crystal Palace

The Alma
The Alma

The Alma has moved with the times, but in its bones, it is still a reliable local watering hole, which is ever so rare these days. Large windows, lots of light draught ales, including the East London Brewing Company's Foundation bitter and Five Points' pale ale, both on cask in the garden, and Brick Brewery's Peckham Session IPA and East End lager (pilsner) on keg.

Chef David Yorkston, meanwhile, has crafted a menu many times better than pub food even needs to be, with excellent baked sea bass, jersey royals and samphire on the menu. And a warm chocolate brownie with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice-cream. I've now eaten four times in the garden and this is literally the pub of my dreams.

One local told me that, once upon a time, back in the 90s, the Alma had the comfiest carpets in south London to pass out on. Nowadays, it's certainly a little more refined – there's a florist in the courtyard and red quinoa on the menu, for crying out loud. The menu is surprising, ambitious and beautifully executed. I love the wonderful fried cauliflower with crispy chilli oil, spring onion and peanuts that I often dream about at night, and the plump chicken wings with homemade naga chilli mayo.

If this is how pubs are coming out of the pandemic, then there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

Price: about £25 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service

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