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Reviews: Norma, Julie's and more

14 October 2019 by
Reviews: Norma, Julie's and more

The food at Norma - the new restaurant from the Stafford London hotel - in London's Fitzrovia is "anchored in a sense of place but not overly weighed down by authentocratic pieties", according to The Telegraph's Keith Miller

Crispy snacks were frivolous and fun: flaky panelle (chickpea pancakes) and little fritters made from wiggles of spaghettini, served with a gooey Parmesan sauce. Violet artichokes with a pine nut purée were crisp but still meaty at the heart; veal with eel was an alliterative take on vitello tonnato.

Our only out-and-out misfire, a crudo of monkfish, was exquisite to look at, studded with peas, sprinkled with an Ottolenghish spice mix and jewelled with flowers, but savagely over-salted. (No wonder the beastie in the raw bar had looked so glum.)

The mains promised greatness but were quite expensive, and we were a Table for Three this time, so we contented ourselves with three pasta dishes: tagliolini with sardines, a Sicilian classic; strozzapreti ("priest-stranglers" – shortish and Twizzler-like) with pork and anchovy in a mellow, orange-scented ragù; and ravioli with sheep's cheese and pistachio pesto. (They do pasta alla Norma, too.)

All were priced at about the same level as Pastaio or a couple of quid north of Padella, but presented with a little less hearty simplicity, and a little more urbanity and flair, than you'd find at such places.

Price: Dinner for two: £140. Rating: 4/5

Julie'sOx Cheek
Julie'sOx Cheek

The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler discovers "fabulous food" at Julie's in London's Holland Park, including one of the best desserts she's had "in a very long time"

Buttermilk fried quail with white miso emulsion is Mother Clucker for aesthetes — delectable. Hereford beef tartare with spiced shallots, French beans, nasturtium and onion mayonnaise is also impeccably constructed.

Advanced comprehension of ideal dance partners informs main courses like salt marsh lamb with pressed cabbage, garlic potatoes, crisp lamb breast, preserved lemon and roasted Cornish cod, cuttlefish, bacon, chicken and mushroom dressing, but the standout assembly is lemon curd, lemon sorbet, coconut and fennel crumble, in its simple sensuality one of the best desserts I've encountered in a very long time.

Ox cheek with its daube-like stickiness, smoked cauliflower puree and little deep-fried cauliflowerets "like chicken nuggets for vegans" also gets the thumbs-up.

Rating: 4/5

The Guardian's Grace Dent says the new My Neighbours The Dumplings in London's Victoria Park is even better than the original

A thrilling basket of Cantonese crystal shrimp dumplings, or har gow, are the best I've had in London. They are firm, satisfying bullets of joy, with stretchy, nigh-translucent skins, masking a buoyant whack of pink prawn, sesame and oyster sauce. We are supposed to be pacing ourselves, but quickly order another basket from the chipper staff.

We steer ourselves away from dumplings to the other small plates: a bowl of delightful pickled wood-ear mushrooms with goji berries and matchsticks of apple is fabulous and a great foil for a soothing, unusual cold plate of marinated silken tofu littered with preserved vegetables and pine nuts in a puddle of tamari.

Yakitori skewers of line-caught mackerel, grilled with lime and sake, are a delight. Possibly my least favourite dish is the fanciest and most expensive: a tartare of hamachi yellowtail on avocado mush looks charming on the menu photo, but makes little impact on my tastebuds.

Rating: Food: 8/10; atmosphere: 8/10; service: 8/10. Price: About £20 a head plus drinks and service

The Betterment
The Betterment

The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin says the kitchen at the Betterment is "in love with process and technique"

There's no need for the trolley delivering starters, other than as a piece of half-hearted camp. Performance is more entertaining than the item, a trout-studded blini affair topped with more trout, frisée salad theatrically dressed tableside and plonked untidily on top, the whole thing soaked in "curry velouté" (curry in the French sense of the word).

Two king crab legs (£8 per appendage) come with lime, yuzu gel and sea herbs, chopped into chunks and served back in their shells on a vast bowl of ice. So much effort is put into tarting them up, they're denuded of their natural sweetness.

I don't like the short-rib main course at all: it's bullyingly one-note, fat collops of meat worryingly yielding, like a Fray Bentos pie filling. Savoury notes pile up on each other, acrobats at the circus…

We order a rash of curious side dishes, including layers of identical discs of various root vegetables over strips of pheasant breast, over-thymed and rich with "pheasant butter"; an even richer (and supremely hedonistic) dish of crushed potatoes with spring onions, caramelised onions and white onion foam…

It all arrives tepid, the result of trolley faffing, distance from kitchen — and not inconsiderable car-park chill. There's an onion flower, a US steakhouse stalwart and current star of many comped Instagram dinners here. It could have been delicious if its coating of onion powder hadn't seized into a gluey skin over corpse-cool "petals" by the time it reached us.

Price: For two, including 12.5% service charge £244

The Times' Giles Coren is blown away by Wun's Tea Room in London's Soho

Things went comprehensively stratospheric with the wok-fried soy cheung fun with egg and mince (£9.80). Not cheung fun as you and I know it, in the sense of long slurpy bright-white rice dumplings with whole shrimps (or other fillings) inside, which my children call "prawns in blanket", but thick, dense, ropey noodles, chopped into inch lengths and fried in dark soy with garlic and chilli and ground pork and served, very surprisingly to me, under a proper English fried egg, crispy-edged and semi-soft, to be torn down into the noodles and garlic and pork and … Oh man, it was fine.

And then, launched into space by the cheung fun, they properly blew up the sun and stars and made God in the firmament look down and roar, "Just what the HELL is going on????" with a big, painted oval plate of "sugar skin ibérico char siu" (£14.80): the shoulder of that finest of fine Spanish pigs, seasoned with honey and five spice and red fermented bean curd and soy and hoisin sauce and slow-roasted so that it's crimson like a traffic light, a little bit blackened on the edges, sliced into fat strips, the meat smoky and tangy, the yellow fat so sweet and sticky and buttery smooth, plus that toffee apple-style sugar carapace … Deliriously good. Nothing could possibly go better with piping hot green tea in a corner spot with a view of the rainy street.

Rating: cooking: 9; vibes: 8; value: 7; score: 8

The Telegraph's William Sitwell discovers "strange but successful inventiveness" at the Sea, the Sea in London's Chelsea – but the bill is a "cruel awakening"

I whetted my appetite with half a dozen decent and creamy oysters, and then out came the first of several dishes to share. It was a sandwich of mussels and girolle mushrooms held between thin and flat square crisps made with miso and topped with grated nuts.

If it sounds gross, it wasn't. The mushrooms and mussels vied for attention with their similar textures, and it was a fabulous concoction of crunch and creaminess, salt and umami. There was a similarly constructed sandwich: a lobster rice sandu. The lobster sat between hard sheets of nori seaweed with sticky rice attached to it. It was another triumph of intriguing textural surprise.

We ate a beautiful (and large) dollop of dressed crab with dry waffles made, also, with seaweed. And a startling dish of confit red mullet came as little rectangular cuts of fish, with crunchy skin, the flesh tasting more like cure than confit, with two little piles of contrasting caviar and capers.

Rating: 4/5. Price: Dinner for two: £130 excluding drinks and service

The Flint House
The Flint House

Every town could do with a place like Brighton's Flint House, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

Rock oysters are dressed with an apple and cider-vinegar granita, which makes them brisker than they might already be. We watch a hunk of hispi cabbage being seared on the plancha, until the edges are browned and toffee-like. It comes with a thick, mustardy ravigote sauce below and an autumnal leaf fall of crisped golden onions above. Courgettes are browned and pelted with handfuls of pine nuts and a dollop of confit garlic. A slab of treacly bread is toasted and laid with Ortiz anchovies, the brand name a reassurance. There are rings of lightly pickled onion to send it on its way.

As with Ortiz, so with Hannan, the Northern Irish meat producer, who ages his beef in a room lined with the shimmering pink of Himalayan salt. I'm still to work out exactly what the salt does, but I know the beef is exceptionally good. Like some terrible brand fetishist, I relax when I see his name on a menu. A serious cut of that beef is the most expensive dish here at £42 (for sharing). There's also his ox cheek, cured to a rosy red and given a ride through a sugar pit, to produce something on more than nodding terms with the very best maple-syrup-sweetened bacon. There's a toasty onion purée beneath. It needs the heavy grating of nose-slapping horseradish to tip it away from cloying. And then there are rings of hugely flavoured lamb's belly, from an animal with proper time on the hoof, crisped and perched on a pile of the freshest of peas and dressed with more anchovy.

Price: All dishes £4-£14 (apart from shared steak at £42), desserts £8, wines from £23

Jimi Famurewa says Sons + Daughters in London's King's Cross "spills over with lively imagination and a detectable, dogged urge to satisfy", writing in the Evening Standard

The ‘Merguez S+Dwich' was a daunting, forearm-length baguette, loaded with lamb sausages, a lavish fistful of fries and fluoro loops of pink pickled onion. But beyond the brutish exterior there was nuance and careful engineering; the airy, yielding crunch of fantastic bread giving way to the muffling squish of fried potato, zinging gremolata and a bewitching, rolling tide of robustly spiced meat. Phenomenal.

And there was similar cleverness beneath the thick-cut bonnet of the ‘Chicken S+Dwich': a toasted white bloomer, loaded with a knockout textural frenzy of flavoursome Swaledale bird, crackled chicken skin, gem lettuce and crumbling sheafs of soy-aged Parmesan. If I have a note, it is that the condiments — green sauce and miso mayo — were perhaps crowded out by the parade of other elements. But it is a small niggle. There were some capable side dishes as well: a ‘pickle plate' of baby fennel, carrots and more steeped in a strident, electric pink brine; crunchable plumes of gem lettuce with a dribble of avocado and cucumber dressing plus gorgeous, rough-cut Isle of Wight tomatoes that seemed to have been added erroneously.

Price: £35. Rating: food: 4/5; ambience: 4/5

"Believe the hype" when it comes to Quality Chop House in London's Farringdon, urges Tom Parker Bowles in the Mail on Sunday

The menu is unashamedly British, but not overwhelmingly so. There are hearty beef shin croquettes, with a parsley mayonnaise and a sigh of spice. And fried brill spine, a whip of bone laden with luscious nuggets of fish, topped with curls of sweet-sour pickled lemon. There's no place for knife and fork here. You rip off the golden skin with your teeth, and gnaw until it's picked clean.

Monkfish liver is swooningly rich. Without the chunks of tart apple, and the sweetly ferric tang of sea aster, it would be too much. But it works. Rather more simple, but no less mighty, is a slab of Mangalitza bacon with thick ribbons of luscious fat and a good toothsome chew, dragged through a sweet, smoky chilli-spiked ketchup.

Roast grouse comes on the bone, with game chips, an alabaster splodge of bread sauce, clear intense gravy and a fistful of watercress. The bird is young and sweet, the flesh pink but not bloody. It cannot be improved. But if that small bird hovers at the posher end of British eating, then mince on dripping toast is the polar opposite, no-nonsense proletarian fodder that soothes and seduces and fills the heart with meaty glee. Top quality, fresh, dry-aged ground beef, slowly cooked in a lake of stock, both chicken and beef, until it has the depth of Wastwater Lake, and the muscular heft of Botham in his pomp. All this is lavished upon a slice of toasted sourdough, which in turn is fried in dripping. It transforms an everyday dish into something quite extraordinary, each mouthful filled with silken, bovine allure. This is one of London's great dishes, in one of London's great restaurants. I haven't even started on those mighty confit potatoes. Everything here is done well. With the minimum of fuss. For a couple of blessed hours, the Quality Chop House allows one to escape the madness of the outside world. And revel in succour, good cheer, and mince on dripping toast.

Price: Three courses for £26. Grouse an £18 supplement

Kinneuchar Inn
Kinneuchar Inn

The Kinneuchar Inn in Leven gets a perfect 50 out of 50 from The Courier's Murray Chalmers

The sense of quiet perfection here is exemplary.

The bread was grilled flatbread with fava and mint (£4.50) and the deep-fried skate knobs with aioli (£4) were simply perfection.

We had silky cauliflower soup with Gubbeen cheese (£6), young shallots with herb vinaigrette and soft-boiled egg (£7.50), pigeon terrine (£8.50) and also grilled Shetland squid with tomatoes and coriander (£11). To start!

My friend, author, chef and renowned food writer Maxine Clark simply turned to me at one point and said: "there is nothing about this food I don't love". She was right. It was perfect.

As dish after dish appeared I felt a bit like people might feel emerging from a long period of austerity or abstinence – finally able to enjoy the simple pleasures of beautiful cooking with remarkable ingredients from the land, sea and sky.

Beef shin and kidney pie (£15), Texel lamb, turnips and anchovy (£18.50), warm beetroot and sorrel (£4) and East Neuk market garden salad (£4)…in our exuberance to celebrate everything we became the table who ate everything.

James Ferguson is a man who can take the key elements of great ingredients and do enough just to let them sing, both alone and in harmony.

He's a cook who gets to the heart of a dish and amplifies it so it becomes greater than the already brilliant sum of its parts. Nothing is extraneous and nothing is wasted. Really, he's amazing.

HOTELS

Padstow Harbour hotel
Padstow Harbour hotel

Ellie Ross of The Times is impressed by the renovations at the Padstow Harbour hotel which has seen the transformation from the former Metropole into "a cool, modern property with great food"

The restaurant features bright, printed furniture, elegant parquet flooring and modern artwork. Facilities include a heated outdoor pool, and the hotel has "harbour experiences" that include gin tasting, cycling and yoga.

[The bedrooms are] boldly coloured and tastefully styled, with royal blue armchairs, velvet cushions and zigzag patterns on headboards. High ceilings, neutral walls and white Venetian shutters make the rooms feel bright and spacious. Our ground-floor room (No 103, from £290) had triple-aspect windows, although two looked on to the car park. Double doors overlooked the estuary and garden, but passing guests could also see in.

The Harbour Kitchen has all-day dining with sea views and a fire. The tempura prawn (£9) was a highlight, topped with glistening samphire, while the steak was generously sized and well cooked (£24). A breakfast buffet includes hot options from full English to pancakes.

Rating: 8/10. Price: B&B doubles cost from £150

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