Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin finds a heroic example of alfresco adaptation at OutSide at the Vineyard

11 May 2021
Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin finds a heroic example of alfresco adaptation at OutSide at the Vineyard

Marina O'Loughlin of The Sunday Times finds a heroic example of alfresco adaptation at OutSide at the Vineyard in Stockcross, Berkshire

[The Vineyard's] usual culinary offering is hyper-fine dining; dishes arranged in such tiny-blobs-and-tweezery ways it makes the likes of Great British Menu look dangerously slapdash. But in our huge tent they're going for breezy and informal, sharing plates and tapas-style dishes. The menu is appealing, hitting enough contemporary notes – barbecue spring cabbage with salsa verde, burrata with blood orange – and with plenty to mollify a small-c conservative clientele: pork and tomato Cumberland-style sausages, grilled prawns with lemon mayonnaise.

What's described as "slow-cooked lamb with cucumber and yogurt" turns out to be just that, the cucumber lightly pickled, a small corn tortilla underneath, not much else by way of spicing or garnish. It's Mexican via Berkshire: Berks-Mex.

Strawberry and almond tart is so impeccable – thinnest, crispest crust, frangipane of the plushest delicacy, a judicious dod of vanilla mascarpone – it seems to have escaped from a different kitchen. And the wine is, unsurprisingly, luscious: I love a J Lohr Wildflower Valdiguié from Monterey that's like inhaling fresh, pepper-scented cherries.

There's plenty to admire: Pino, the diminutive chap who serves us is heaven. The sensation of being properly warm in a restaurant for the first time in weeks. The bliss of feeling like the youngest in the room. Fire-blackened new potatoes, wrinkly and nutty with a scattering of salty feta and pungent fresh oregano. The fact that a glass of the Champagne bar fizz or cocktail is included in the set price (with supplements) menu.

Most important, its diners are loving it – I mean, really loving it. They plan to keep it open throughout summer, and why not? If a dining room full of happy, affluent older people could be said to be raving, this is where it's at. All things considered, when it comes to keeping customers on board and adapting from a core offering under the most challenging conditions, this is a heroic example of how it's done.

Price: £30 per person for three dishes, £40 for five; one drink included


The Telegraph's William Sitwell finds Saint Jacques to be a taste of France in London's Mayfair

St Jacques is a traditional French brasserie that recently moved location down the hill to this part of swish Mayfair.

With good heaters and awnings, the place is presided over by the magnificent restaurateur Richard Weiss, who is like Gérard Depardieu before he went off. So while he is cleaner, younger, trimmer and has considerably more wine knowledge, having once been a sommelier, he retains that Gallic bonhomie that makes you believe that having a good lunch is a serious, valiant and worthy endeavour.

He retains that Gallic bonhomie that makes you believe that having a good lunch is a serious, valiant and worthy endeavour

The menu, written in French (with English translation), is a concise list of elegant French classics.

I started with bone marrow and watercress salad, which came topped with greenery and raw onions, charred toast and huge flakes of salt. It was magnificent; melting and sweet and pink in the middle and I loved the generosity of salt. My guest Alessandro was enjoying his Comté soufflé and then waged war with an unkempt mound of steak tartare. It's nice to see a plate of the stuff not presented in a perfectly roundelled circle.

I then revelled in a dish of veal kidneys. Almost dangerously pink in the middle (Weiss said it was right and my life was joyously in his hands), they were swimming in a creamy Meaux mustard sauce, sat on spinach with two rustic bits of carrot dwelling on the plate almost reluctantly; reflecting that traditional French attitude to veg.

We finished with a precise chocolate fondant. I would return for the kidneys alone, but everything about this place makes it a heavenly island paradise.

Price: lunch for two, excluding drinks and service, £74

The Guardian's Grace Dent thanks her stars she bagged a reservation at Fenn in London's Fulham

I'm glad I persevered with fighting for a booking for Fenn, which I made three weeks beforehand, because as far as "eating out" went, it turned out to be one of the classiest examples.

FFC (Fenn fried chicken) is a feisty, peppery, high-end spin on KFC-style popcorn chicken nuggets, while the beef tartare is a generous, almost crimson portion dusted in fermented chilli powder and with a rich, smoky oil. Even the freshly baked, pillowy potato sourdough, which comes in slices that are thick enough to rest your head on, is a labour of love.

A pyramid of chewy dumplings, more like dough balls, sits prettily on a plate of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese. Hand-dived scallops bathe in roasted chicken butter. They make their own Tabasco-style sauce to serve with Cornish rock oysters, at £3 each; it is sunrise in a saucer, with just the right amount of salt and fire.

Among the larger plates at £20-£30, which could be classed as main courses (or split), the Yorkshire beef – rump and cheek with potato cake – is very good, particularly its vivid emerald puddle of pureed sprouting broccoli with such depth of exuberant flavour that Charles and I kept going back to it.

Fenn offers the kind of casual yet caring service that verges on Michelin standard, but could equally be the café on the corner.

Price: from about £45 a head à la carte; set menu £45 a head

∗∗Giles Coren of The Times indulges slightly too much at the Garden at the Corinthia hotel, London**

We sat under warm heaters, with a fireplace roaring to one side, looking at parasols and fake (but convincing) bougainvillea with occasional glimpses of the greyish sky above, ordered glasses of ordinary white Burgundy and availed ourselves of such "small plates" as fresh anchovies with olive oil, young mint and little cubes of orange; coils of sweet young squid, briefly charred with tomato and fennel and pink rings of lightly pickled shallot, and a neat, dry, greaseless vegetable fritto misto.

The "starters" section dipped a little in excitement: yellow tail tartare was precisely cut and prettily arranged but the baked romano peppers with ricotta and freekeh were a bit too much like eating a split beanbag and, for me, the raw red prawns were too big. I'll nibble the tiny ones and admit they are sweeter raw than cooked – even suck the salty brains from the head as a condiment – but these were big buggers (strafed with too much rosemary) and gave me the uneasy sense of gnawing on a peeled baby's elbow.

Luckily, it all came back aces with the "pizzette" menu and a blistering little pizza bianco of truffle, artichoke and anchovy. But then the lobster, fresh crab and caviar one was far too much of a good thing, and it knew it, and so did we. We were stuffed to the eyes by then and barely able to breathe, so we had just the lobster linguine between two and then cycled home, fell off twice, and I lost my wallet.

Price: £50 a head, plus drinks

The Observer's Jay Rayner visits Taiwanese-inspired Mr Ji in London's Soho

A small plate called "prawns in toast" brings a sturdy rectangle of the sort of deep-fried white bread that is usually used for classic prawn toast. Here, however, the rectangle has been hollowed out and then filled with prawns and sweetcorn in a luscious béchamel sauce.

There is what feels like an especially well-mannered take on kimchi, for those used to the punch and shin-kick of the strident Korean variety. This version comes in shades of sunset yellow and has the mellow aromatics of sesame. There's a sprightly salad of shredded papaya, carrot and daikon with a citrus chilli dressing, a noodle salad and chips smothered in chilli oil and Szechuan spices.

The rest of the menu is dedicated to chicken. I'm very taken by panko-crusted fried chicken hearts with a dollop of sweet curry sauce, tucked into individual canoe-shaped lettuce leaves.

A breast is opened out, flattened, battered, deep-fried and seasoned with chilli flakes. We love a chicken-based take on that old stager crispy chilli beef, utilising double-cooked thigh. Then there's a whole soy-braised breast, with shiny, amber skin, served at room temperature.

The menu at Mr Ji manages a smart trick: it's short without leaving you feeling robbed of choice. It's fun, reasonably priced and well-executed. The whole place is great now. In a couple of weeks when it has innovations like walls and central heating, it will be fabulous.

Price: small plates, £3.95-£7; all big plates, £10. Cocktails, £8-£10


For Wales Online, Lucy John checks out outdoor pop-up Nook by the River, situated on the banks of the River Taff near Cardiff

We opted for the herb and chilli burrata with capers and rosemary oil (£8), the tenderstem broccoli with cashew ricotta, toasted cashews and lemon oil (£8.50), the enoki mushroom with curry sauce and toasted sesame seeds (£7.50), the torched mackerel with horseradish cream, heritage tomatoes, rocket and smoked salt (£11) and the barbecued chicken thighs (£11).

The mushroom dish was my favourite: the batter was very light and wasn't greasy. It would be a bit of an understatement to describe this curry sauce as one you'd get from the chippy, but it did have the same satisfying mix of sweetness and mild spices that you'd want from any good curry sauce.

The most surprising dish of the evening was the vegan broccoli dish. I had seen a few people rave over this and couldn't get my head around how anyone could get so excited over a plate of broccoli, but since trying it I have withdrawn all judgement. The broccoli was crunchy and seasoned in a way that gave it a real savoury flavour and paired well with the creamy cashew ricotta and cashew nuts on top.

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