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Reviews: José Pizarro's Swan Inn, the Feathered Nest and more

25 March 2019 by
Reviews: José Pizarro's Swan Inn, the Feathered Nest and more

Although "a little on the spendy side", The Telegraph's Keith Miller loves José Pizarro's the Swan in Esher, Surrey

Love it we did: the flickering anchovies, perfectly poised between sweet, acid and salt; the crumbly chorizo with cubes of quince; a delicate white bean stew with broccoli; a moreish pan con tomate, the hand-minced fruit taking on a slightly creamy taste as it sank gratefully into the soft bread; the padrón peppers, pungent and firm and the colour of a vintage racing car; the pork, of immensely good quality, beautifully cooked on (we supposed) a Josper grill, which came with piquillo peppers and tiny roast potatoes that tasted of the soil.

We also loved the three sherries we tasted, not to mention a brambly-smoky red wine, made from shiraz and tintilla de Rota under Pizarro's name near Cádiz, and sold by the carafe as well as the glass and bottle; and the torrija (PX-cream-slathered French toast, strewn with caramelised almonds) and fantastic Spanish cheese board, served with a few slivers of poached pear as well as more membrillo, with which we rounded off the evening.

I would have to say it was a little on the spendy side for what it was. But I can report that the people in the room, all of them several generations away from any sort of life of manual labour I'd say, seemed happy with their food, and their friends, and themselves, and overjoyed that "José" was now among them. So that's all right.

Price: Dinner for two: £140. Score: 4.5/5


Octopus, chorizo, saffron aïoli
Octopus, chorizo, saffron aïoli

The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote, Oxfordshire leaves The Guardian's Grace Dent a little cold

Chef Kuba] Winkowski does fancy fine dining over several courses: small plates of sturgeon and caviar littered with fresh nasturtium leaf, Mangalitza pig with Silesian dumpling or duck tortellini with winter truffle. Tiny, pre-dinner snacks of finely hewn smoked haddock tart and a basket of fresh, sticky cheese rolls appear, then an excellent, and minuscule, taster of pumpkin soup. Produce is exemplary, flavours paramount.

The Feathered Nest has an eighth of the staff it needs, so it's perhaps unsurprising that our request for no pork, repeated three times, saw one dish arrive with lardo, then the next wrapped in pancetta, and without apology.
We drink two glasses of Château St Michelle and range through the menu, eating the likes of a wonderful, slender slab of salmon on an inky reduction of black garlic.

But by course five, sat in a beautifully hammered-on conservatory, a sense of cabin fever that I often experience during fancy dinners takes hold.

Price: set menus: lunch £45 for three courses (£55 Sun), dinner £70 for four courses, £80 for five, £90 for six. All plus drinks and service. Score: food: 7/10; atmosphere: 5/10; service: 5/10


Runner beans, peach, goats' cheese, smoked almonds
Runner beans, peach, goats' cheese, smoked almonds

"There isn't a single dish we eat at his latest outpost that doesn't have us grinning with astonished delight": The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin on Yotam Ottolenghi's Rovi in London's Fitzrovia

The first thing that arrives I'd happily earmark for my last meal: a sort of maniac reinvention of a Chinese takeaway classic, sesame prawn toasts; the "toast" reimagined as fluffy little homemade crumpets, the seafood promoted to a succulent, chunks-studded mousse of lobstery luxury. This, dunked into a dipping sauce that's an evolved take on Vietnamese nuoc cham or Thai nam jim is one of the most exciting things I've greedily inhaled in a long while. Each mouthful reveals something new; if our meal had involved nothing but five courses of this, I'd have probably left perfectly happy.

Celeriac shawarma, something that's become a bit of a signature dish since they opened last year, deserves every letter of its accolades: the root slow, sloooow-roasted until smoky and almost toffeed, then rammed into pillowy homemade pitta with drifts of crisped onions and a nicely thuggish blast of green coriander, spinach and parsley relish (bkeila), a puddle of sparky fermented tomato on the side.

Price: £110 for two, including 12.5% service


pizza-express-za-launch
pizza-express-za-launch

Ed Cumming writes in The Independent that the new Pizza Express Za concept is "taking the piz"

You order and pay at the till and then stand along the counter to wait for your tray. Pizza slices are available, along with wraps, salads, drinks and, in the morning, breakfast. Everything can be taken away. The bumpf says the slices mark a return to Boizot's original vision, but I expect he would be horrified by what he saw. The original genius of PizzaExpress was that it felt more sophisticated than the bill suggested. You could take a date there and not feel like a cheapskate. You would only take a date to Za if you were a coward who wanted to send a message. Between three of us we ordered one of each of the six slices on offer, slightly less than a single whole pizza; two portions of dough balls; a sad little chicken salad; and two cans of slightly bubbly white wine and the bill was nearly £60. Afterwards we were still hungry.

It's not that there isn't an opportunity here. Pizza by the slice is one of the great joys of New York or Rome. On the whole the UK does it badly. To withstand reheating and heavy, greasy toppings, the crusts must be thicker, made with higher-protein flours. The slices at Za are, in effect, larger Romana-base PizzaExpress pizzas that have been cooked, cut and then left out ready for reheating on one of those little metal conveyor belts. Even in the normal restaurants, this style of pizza has a tendency to cool and congeal. The thin crust and toppings mean the heat dissipates quickly. Being left out and reheated only exacerbates the problem. We opened our boxes onto miserable triangles of what-might-have-been.


The wine at the Baptist Grill in London's L'oscar hotel in Holborn is "worth ploughing through women and children to get to", says William Sitwell in The Telegraph

I spotted a rare treat on the wine list: a red wine from Ventoux (a lesser-known area of the Rhône valley) called ChÁ¢teau Unang, a classic blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. It seems flavoured by the oak forest and cherry trees, with a splash of the blackcurrant that grow near the vines, and at amazing value (£11 a glass). If you see a bottle it's worth ploughing through women and children to get to.

A perfect match for the meat, it also suited the puds we shared: a reimagined rhubarb and custard whose cream was light and dreamy and hid small chunks of not-too-sweet rhubarb. There was a less good chocolate mousse, a rather dry number on chocolate 'soil', which just made things drier. It came with a maroon-coloured blackberry sorbet, the room interpreted as food perhaps.

Price: £108 for dinner for two, without service or alcohol. Score: 4/5


angelina food group-shot
angelina food group-shot

Angelina in London's Dalston feels like "a beautifully intentioned, low-key experiment", writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

There are candy-pink Sicilian prawns dressed only in a little olive oil and lemon, lined up on the plate like commas. They are sweet and lightly sticky. Another plate brings thin slices of marinated sea bream, the translucence of mother of pearl. A third has a heap of tuna tartare. Call these dishes crudo and they're Italian. Call them sashimi and they're Japanese. Your call.

Next, a risotto studded with dense, oily pieces of unagi - barbecued eel - the rice flavoured with soy butter. If I was being really picky, I would niggle over the risotto's wobble; over whether it had been cooked out quite long enough. Then again, the pleasure of this dish trumps the technical stuff every time. It reminded me of the end stage of a bowl of unagi chirashi, in which the eel is laid over a heaped bowl of warm sushi rice. The oils from the fish mingle with the grains, and dribbles of soy lubricate the whole intense, comforting business. It may not quite be a bowl of risotto, but it is a plate of loveliness.

Price: five-course set menu £38; daily plate £9; wines from £24


The Times' Giles Coren gives Quinlan's Seafood Bar in Killarney, County Derry 10/10 for everything

Within five minutes, I had my chowder. The piping hot, golden brown soup was very fresh-tasting, not fishy, a little smoky, aromatic from all the dill chopped in it, with chunks of salmon and smoked haddock, other white fish trimmings, a sea of textures, small choppings of carrot and other vegetables, enough potato broken down into the broth to give it thickness without being gluey. A glorious chowder. My little heart went pitter-patter with excitement for the dishes yet to come.

The squid must indeed have been tiny for their rings were small enough to be worn as jewellery by a child, very soft and fresh and only lightly floured and fried and as good as can be, with chips, proper old-fashioned chippy chips, thick and stubby like a fisherman's fingers, from hefty Maris Pipers, with just enough crisp at the edges. An earthy howl of Irish floury potato, made perfection itself by a splash of Sarson's. With a nice little chopped salad.

Price: Whiting and chips €13.95 (£11.99)/ Score: cooking: 10; service: 10; location: 10.


Minus two bum notes, everything at Top Cuvée in London's Highbury is "properly, blissfully good", according to the Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa

Sweet potato, blue cheese and sage croquettes had pungent, yielding centres with a touch of Mexican queso to them. Cornish cockles brought a fistful of gaping shells bearing tender, steamed meat and a marbled mix of sour 'ajo blanco' and crimson 'nduja oil just made for bread dunking. House terrine was studded with lots of pistachio and turbocharged by the electric, briny tang of pickled gherkins. Similarly, a fantastically sloppy burrata and roasted hook of pumpkin lay beneath a coarse dukkah pushed to the very limit of its salty, spiced smokiness. Baked beetroot -gorgeously warm and backed by frizzled capers, radicchio, a beautiful, sharp uppercut of a vinaigrette and the hi-def greenery of cime di rapa - cemented the theme of Miller's dynamic way with voguish vegetables.

Simple desserts can be a sign of a kitchen that finds puddings faffy or tiresome. But here - in the form of a glossy wedge of torte-like chocolate cake and a skilled, nicely eggy crème caramel - that, happily, did not prove to be true. Throughout, I stuck to a gratis, off-menu house lemonade but my brothers sniffed and sipped at interesting reds. And then, as the place emptied out, Meah delivered what felt like an almost criminally low bill, along with a sticker bearing Top Cuvée's larky, bubble-font logo. It was a final, grin-widening garnish on a dinner that transmuted cool Parisian caves Á manger references into something that felt warm and generous and inclusive.

Price: £122. Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 4/5


"Get there as quickly as you can", writes Joris Minne in the Belfast Telegraph, reviewing Angler's Rest in Limavady, County Londonderry

The menu is distinctly pub but only at first glance. There's ham and eggs, bangers and mash, beef pie and fish and chips.

Take a closer look and the ham and eggs is actually a slow-cooked hock from nearby Corndale Farm. It has been glazed with Irish black butter, the intriguing dark spread made from apples, and it comes with Corndale's own chorizo, used to make a rich hash with potatoes and two fried eggs on top.

It is astonishingly well made - the meat glides away from the bone like two ballroom dancers separating in mid-dance. The flavour of the pork is as deep and salty as you have ever had it and the rich egg yolks add a wintry support to this big dish.

Among the mains are vintage cheddar and onion pie, braised Angus ragÁ¹ and even homemade meatballs. There is much more but, in effect, the price largely makes up for the drive there because, honestly, you will not get this quality for miles.

Total: £20.95


Stravaigin in Glasgow doesn't put a foot wrong, according to The Herald's Joanna Blythman

Hake, a special on today's menu, is a pleasure to behold, a steak cut from the centre of a well-proportioned specimen impeccably grilled under its cape of green herbs. Wild garlic scent wafts up from the plate. It twines around roasted slices of purple potato, which have that rewarding, elusive flavour and floury texture that's now such a rarity because these characteristics have been bred out of modern "multipurpose" commercial potato varieties. Squash purée adds a brightening dash of orange to the opalescence of the fish, setting off the emerald garlic leaves, and the muted imperial purple of the potatoes.

The fishcake is also made with hake, and once again, we taste Stravaigin's very evident proficiency with the use of spice. Its innards have the hue of brown crab meat, I guess from a fresh-made curry paste, which lends sharp backbone, perhaps from tomato, with the earthy undertow of turmeric. The necessary oiliness of its breadcrumb jacket is offset by juicy ribs of crunchy, refreshing pak choi that have had a fleeting visit to a searingly hot wok. A runny-yolked poached egg, and satiny, coriander-speckled Hollandaise layer, add wanton enrichment to the already satisfying fish.

Score: food: 10/10; atmosphere: 9/10; value for money: 9/10; service: 9/10


Hotels

soho-house-white-city-house
soho-house-white-city-house

The New York Times' - Bonnie Tsui checks into Soho House's White City House in west London, which is "all about the posh digs, the posh people to look at and the retro style"

A decidedly "Mad Men"-esque vibe permeates the 45 rooms, which range in size from "tiny" (161 sq ft) to "big" (377 sq ft). Though we arrived at the hotel two hours before check-in time, our room was ready for us. We booked a non-refundable "medium" room (tip: this knocks 20% off the going rate). The rooms are on the second and third floors, and the aerial, window-lined approach around the curving hallway to the hotel rooms is pleasing. The room itself was appointed with custom-made furniture, including a striking accordion-wood built-in closet. I spent time working at the vanity desk, the mirror lined with warm Edison-style bulbs, and it was the first time I've ever felt like a movie star while typing. Soundproofing, however, isn't great - we could hear housekeepers vacuuming and doors slamming up and down the hall.

The ninth-floor House Canteen, the club restaurant, is open to hotel guests and plus-ones, and on a space-available basis. The vibe on a Monday night at 5.30pm was WeWork happy hour populated by an international cast of actors who are just a little too good-looking. (Remember that the Soho House's founding ethos was as a members' work space for creative and media types.) Before 6pm, everyone is staring into laptops and other personal devices. After 7pm, laptops are prohibited, so they order cocktails and stare at each other instead. The 10th-floor rooftop bar has a lovely pool outside.

Starting room rate: £100


may-fair-hotel
may-fair-hotel

The Evening Standard's Chloe Street discovers one of the most comfortable beds she's ever experienced at the May Fair Hotel in London

The hotel has 404 bedrooms, including 13 signature suites, all of which adhere to a distinct theme. The suites all have iPads and come with their own butlers. The rest of the rooms are generously sized (particularly given the hotel's super central location) and decorated in a variety of bold themes.

The living area of the Garnet Suite, one of the property's Junior Suites, was decorated in a cacophony of red velvet, zebra print and gold. The entirely separate bedroom was, mercifully, more sedate and the vast bed one of the most comfortable I've experienced in my life.

The vast, marble-clad bathrooms have powerful showers and large, good-quality toiletries bolted to the wall.

All rooms come equipped with USB chargers, good quality hairdryers, Nespresso machines and a kettle.

Price: double rooms from £275 in low season; and from £295 in high. Junior Suites from £555. Breakfast around £32

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