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Reviews: Seabird, Sketch and more

21 October 2019 by
Reviews: Seabird, Sketch and more

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is fulfilled and gratified by Seabird restaurant at the new Hoxton hotel in London’s Southwark

[The pan con tomate] is a markedly good specimen, and also octopus roll, a grilled tentacle clasped in a baton of soft glazed bread laced like a sneaker with spicy aioli and accompanied by Padrón peppers. Cameras out, everyone. Inventive vegetable assemblies include wedges of charred gem lettuce bothered with crisped jamón, girolles and corn purée, and from the side orders fava beans covered with herbs, egg and breadcrumbs and well assembled and dressed green salad — not just random leaves shaken from a bag. Heritage carrots with goat’s curd, walnuts and honey would have been better had their texture not veered between burnt and raw.

Carabineros prawn, that cardinal-red deep-sea creature — just the one dressed with Arbequina olive oil on a large white plate, shared between two for £18 — leaves us both wanting more. Sea bream crudo at the same price mislays its virginity in an overload of garnishes including tapenade and pepper tartare.

Two from plancha that unreservedly gratify are Iberico pork presa served with celeriac purée, apple and mushrooms within an exhilarating natural gravy, and a Basque stew served for two composed of clams, mussels, red snapper and prawns and their emanations in the form of sauce. Clams ordered separately at dinner are distressingly gritty. Bola de berlim for dessert, three Portuguese doughnuts filled with salted caramel, crème Catalan and chocolate with hazelnut, ably fulfil their role.

Rating: 3/5

Sketch Library Mayfair
Sketch Library Mayfair

The Telegraph’s Ben McCormack discovers “the best-tasting thing” he has eaten all year at the newly three-Michelin-starred Lecture & Library Room at Sketch in London’s Mayfair

Confit pheasant on toast with white Alba truffle is the finest expression of seasonal eating I have ever encountered, a plate of food that transmitted all of the bosky fragrances and mellow warmth of this time of year while looking like a carpet of fallen autumn leaves.

But you don’t just get one plate of food at the Lecture Room. Each dish is advertised on the menu with its main ingredient – ‘lobster’, ‘sea bass’, ‘veal’, ‘deer’ – but what arrives is a multi-plate interpretation of a single theme, turning each course of the à la carte into a self-contained tasting menu.

Cornfed chicken stuffed with almond and lemon paste almost matches the pheasant for sheer deliciousness, but its side plate is even better, a crispy sweet and sour chicken thigh that kicks like a mule and cuts through all that elegance like a bovver boot under a ballgown.

Dover sole is re-invented by layering the fillets with crab and spooning them with creamy beurre Nantais like an extra-luscious meunière.

The Betterment
The Betterment

The Telegraph’s Hilary Armstrong is impressed by the poulet de bresse at Jason Atherton’s the Betterment restaurant in London’s Mayfair

The Betterment’s whole roast chicken with trompette mushrooms and sauce Albuféra resurrects a French classic: volaille demi-deuil or ‘chicken in half mourning’, made famous by Eugénie Brazier in Lyon at La Mère Brazier in 1921 and so named after the slivers of black truffle tucked under the bird’s translucent skin.

The Poulet de Bresse version at La Mère Brazier comes in around €180; Atherton’s chook is pretty impressive for a quarter of the price (£45). It looks good too, the Creedy Carver bird ‘sauced’ at the table, with pale gold sauce Albuféra over the leg meat and glistening roasting juices over the mushroom-stuffed breast to create a fetching yin yang on the plate.

I’m impressed: it’s a good Creedy Carver chook from Devon, ‘sauced’ at the table, with pale gold sauce Albuféra over the leg meat and glistening roasting juices over the mushroom-stuffed breast to create a fetching yin yang on the plate.

Grace Dent writes in The Guardian that she would return to Pilgrim at Liverpool’s Duke Street Market again and again “out of sheer curiosity”

We began with good, fresh house bread with smoked butter and a plate of silver-skinned, delicious boquerones, marinated in sweet vinegar. A plate of fresh, green, defiantly al dente runner beans arrived on a puddle of the deepest, oiliest, most garlicky sofrito strewn with small, piquant, smoked cherry tomatoes. Green beans on red sauce shouldn’t taste that good. Sure, I’d have cooked the beans longer. Same, too for chargrilled leeks. I can only guess that the chef came from a family like mine, where Christmas sprouts were put on to simmer some time in late November, and has spent a culinary journey rebelling. We demolished the leeks nevertheless as they arrived, slathered in light-blue-veined cow’s cheese, scattered with delicately candied walnut.

The St James tart that Pilgrim served at the end – despite being, dare I say it, “deconstructed” – was one of the greatest things I’ve tasted this year. A slice of sticky, caramelised-edged sponge with a stew of burnt apple and fennel was served with soothing, sweet, milky ice-cream. Not the prettiest of puddings. Not the showiest. A cacophony of beige.

Rating: food: 8/10; atmosphere: 9/10; service: 9/10. Price: About £30-£40 a head, plus drinks and service

Officiana 00 14 05 1922033 copy
Officiana 00 14 05 1922033 copy

If Officina 00 in London’s Shoreditch is the result, wheel on the inauthenticity any time, writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times

The idea here seems to be: take the classics as the base note, then go riffing away wildly; so, fritto misto becomes lightly fried dice of pollock — almost Chinese-style salt-and-pepper fried — served with the glossiest squid ink mayo. A royal treatment of this plebeian fish, it’s simply brilliant. They do a smart turn with a flavoured mayonnaise: the basil and chilli that comes with some greaseless polpette made from aubergine, too. Their creativity isn’t random, scattergun — it’s thoughtful. Tiny, fluffy gnocchi rock this autumn’s colour palette thanks to mashed pumpkin; sage and sizzled butter is a traditional accompaniment, but the chunks of pungent smoked ricotta give the whole thing a kind of Bonfire Night enchantment.

And for real arcana, here are “occhi” — eyes — a kind of round ravioli that look like a child’s drawing of flying saucers. I’ve never come across these in Italy, the only place I’ve seen them is New York’s smash-hit pasta master, Misi. Perhaps these are a homage? Here, the fat humps of dough are stuffed with pork alla Genovese, slow-cooked with wine and masses of sweet onion into a delirious slump, then dressed with buttery meat juices, a kind of parsley pesto and provolone cheese. If this is the result, wheel on the inauthenticity any time.

Some of the dishes seem a teeny bit steep: £13 for a handful of (excellent) clams in wine, garlic and a punchy amount of chilli, piled on top of cubes of their own-made sourdough for slurping-up purposes; a daft, single raviolo cacio e pepe, nice enough in the way that anything fried and stuffed with cheese will be, but it’s literally one minuscule dumpling. For £2, I’d imagined something a little more Gregg’s-sized. But I’m sure the local community, current and incoming, including CNN, Warner Bros and the many app developers in this Silicon gyratory, won’t even blink.

Price: For two, including 12.5% service charge £73

Pizza Express
Pizza Express

The world would be a sadder place without Pizza Express, but the Banbury outlet is a shadow of its former self, says the Mail on Sunday’s Tom Parker Bowles

Back in Banbury, and it’s our waiter’s first night. He couldn’t be more charming. About the lack of Coca-Colas (‘We’ve run out but don’t worry, the lorry has just arrived, but the bottles may be warm…’ That last Coke never did arrive); the fondant chocolate pudding thingy which the kids love (all gone); and the mix-up between the ’Nduja prawns that we ordered (pretty good, actually, the crustacea plump and pert, the pork suitably fiery) and the garlic prawns that arrived instead. For which we were still charged on the bill. And the epic wait for the pizzas (fast food, this ain’t). Oh, and the slow-roasted tomatoes, which turned out to be bog-standard, fridge-cold sundried ones. And the… Well, you get the gist. The place is running on empty, a gaunt shadow of its former self. Too many promotions and discounts show desperation. Too many choices cause confusion. But as Sara says, at Pizza Express, as with Hansel and Gretel, you never, ever venture off the marked path.

Having made the mistake of ordering ‘Classic’ crust last time (dull, lumpen, stodgy) with Roquito peppers (apparently the hottest but horribly, cloyingly sweet too), I go American Hot Romana. We all do. Same dough, stretched thinner, I reckon, with an extra charge of £1.95 whacked on top. Mine is fine, the children’s’ too. But Sara’s has spent 30 seconds too long in the oven, meaning that the base is burnt, the cheese dry and the middle indecently bubbled.

Rating: 3/5. Price: About £16 per head

Bubba Q
Bubba Q

The Edinburgh Evening News’ Kayt Turner discovers “succulent and tender” barbecue fare at Bubba Q

Our main, main course was the Pit Boss Platter (£36). This is not billed as a sharing plate, but comes with beef brisket, BBQ pulled pork, a half slab of baby ribs, pulled beef, chicken wings and – by way of a garnish, I imagine – spicy pork sausages. There’s also an accompanying small bucket of coleslaw and a huge handful of fries.

The brisket and pulled pork didn’t look as if they had been shredded so much as that they had just fallen that way on the plate. The ribs – thank goodness for that kitchen roll – almost fell off the bone as you picked them up. The sauce, unlike so many bbq sauces I’ve tasted in the past, was sweet but far from sickly. What grew overwhelmingly on the palate however was the liquid smoke. It was certainly used sparingly in each dish, but cumulatively became the overwhelming theme. A little more variation in marinades would have been nice.

Rating: 8/10

burrata, salted tomatoes, fennel blossom
burrata, salted tomatoes, fennel blossom

Some of the food at Flor in London’s Borough Market is very good, but it doesn’t hang together as a meal, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

Scarlet prawns come in two parts. The slippery, sticky meat is served raw, dressed with the fragrant citrus and spice kick of orange yuzu kosho. The big fat heads are grilled and served separately for maximum suckage. And then there is the blistered sourdough flatbread laid with garlic and the soft elasticity of Spenwood sheep’s cheese, piled in turn with big fat clams. A clam pizza is a cracking idea, which I would happily meet again.

But other things are bizarre or clumsy or, whisper it, just not very nice. Broad salted anchovies laid on toast with a gossamer overcoat of translucent lardo sounds like all the good salty fatty things in one place. But the cured back fat is cut so thickly it’s less a silky shimmer than a duvet. (As ever, you’ll find my picture of this over on Instagram). A heap of salad with a thick brown satay-like dressing of hazelnuts and preserved lemons is simply odd. And then there’s the dish listed as “summer vegetables, sesame”. It turns out to be that old 70s stager crudités. I’ve seen that movie and I know how it so often ends: with a furrowed brow of disappointment.

For it to work the vegetables need fire and bite. These are artfully chosen. They are crisp and also exceedingly bland. The bowl of tahini dressing to drag them through is all the silky, deep, lusty tones we expect of tahini. It’s also completely unsuited to the job. This needs acidity, something to make the vegetables more than themselves, but it’s absent. And suddenly the £9 price tag for a plate of veg and a lacklustre dressing feels like the price you pay for eating out in London right now.

Price: Small plates £9-£13, bigger plates £18-£29, desserts £5-£8. Wines from £24

Vardo food
Vardo food

The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett has a pleasing brunch at Vardo in London’s Chelsea, the new concept from the founders of Caravan

[The food] is a roadside caravanserai – “dining with no boundaries”, says the website – plonked cleverly in the middle of one of the capital’s most urbane thoroughfares, and there is almost ­literally something for everyone. Our huevos Mexicanos with their moreish warm flatbread, nicely countered by a taste of Turkey on toast.

This kind of democratic, internationalist way-we-eat-now culinary eclecticism is increasingly attempted by the many, pulled off by the few. I am rarely happier than when I’m eating something that reminds me of a memorably hung-over New Year’s Day brunch I once had in Puerto Escondido; while in respect of my date’s spiced lamb on toast, eating Turkey is currently a lot smarter than visiting it.

We chased our excellent brunches: a more “bruncht”-style dark chocolate and rye custard tart and blackberry cream for him, the Amalfi lemon curd tart with the house crème fraîche for me. Both were perfectly light, not too sweet and highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5. Price: Brunch for two: £60

The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa reviews Seven Dials Market in London and discovers the food is “mostly good and, occasionally, terrific”

Whitebait from Ink arrived as a pile of fryer-puffed, golden mini Zeppelins coated in pungent, spiced seaweed salt. El Pollote’s guava-glazed fried chicken was an even sharper knockout: flavoursome, dramatically cragged poultry beneath an unruly Pollock painting of sauce and sprinkled dried chilli, ably abetted by bronzed, forcefully crisp yuca (or cassava) fries.

Chiang Mai sausage ‘bao wow’ from Yum Bun — essentially an intricately spiced, tamarind-laced northern Thai hot dog — brought a similarly effective helter-skelter of sweetness and heat. And, to me, it seemed to cohere a little better than the same trader’s snack of Sichuan aubergine and bubbled wonton crisps with a cold spill of slightly cloying, whipped tofu. This being 2019, there was fresh pasta as well: twizzles of strozzapreti in four-cheese ‘fonduta’ sauce, and hefty fan belts of pappardelle with liver-thickened wild rabbit ragu. Made by a Franco Manca spin off (also called Strozzapreti), they both packed nuance, punch and maximum comfort.

Rating: food: 3/5; ambience: 3/5

HOTELS

The Newt in Somerset
The Newt in Somerset

Will Hyde of the Evening Standard describes the Newt in Bruton, Somerset, is “a game-changer” with a perfect mix of country-house design aesthetic, food, spa and gardens

There are 23 rooms, some in the sturdy main house, others in former stable blocks. My husband and I were in number three, which has a separate bathroom along a corridor with shower and capacious bath for two.

The spa is in a converted cow barn and has a treatment room, relaxation area and indoor-outdoor pool, with a bath-temperature outdoor section I can see being a big hit on grotty days when you want to be cosy. There’s a gym stuffed with the latest Italian Technogym equipment and a huge glass window to stare out of while you make yourself beautiful.

The food is impressive and the staff, many of whom are local, seemed to know their stuff. In fact, they are worth highlighting. In so many British hotels employees don’t seem empowered by management and everything is either “no” or “I’ll have to check.” Not here: what I got was: “Not a problem” and “Yes.”

Price: doubles from £255 B&B

Rosewood London Executive Room
Rosewood London Executive Room

Hattie Garlick of the Sunday Telegraph says that the Rosewood London knows how to win over children – but it comes at a price

In the run-up, we devoted hours to imagining what could make £2,900 a night in the family suite “decent value”. Give it a go, it’s a fun game to play with friends and family.

Rosewood met many of the kids’ wildest dreams. They were treated like royalty (possibly because many of the other children staying genuinely were) and wherever we went, the staff knew their names and stopped to chat. Their bedroom was bigger than our sitting room at home, with a queen-sized bed for each of them and pillows – wait for it – monogrammed with their initials.

Jelly sweets sat under a glass cloche. Chocolates bore the hotel’s signature British bulldog. A water-spouting penguin from Hamleys waited beside their own marble bath.

The coddled critics’ two criticisms? One: no swimming pool (though the subterranean spa does children’s treatments, and I snagged the truly exceptional Maison Caulières massage and Face Place facial for myself).

Two: the butler attached to our suite. They imagined Jeeves, standing to attention, ready to pour bubble baths and bottomless Coca-Colas. In truth, the service is more prosaically summoned from in-room phones (or via WhatsApp) like a personalised concierge service. Given their already indefensible over-spoiling, this was probably for the best.

Rating: 9/10. Price: a family of four can stay at Rosewood from £670 a night; a family suite costs from £2,900

Dormy House
Dormy House

Anna Murphy of The Times finds it hard to fault Dormy House in Broadway, Worcestershire, so impressed is she by the “great food, lovely rooms, charming service [and] spectacular spa”

This is peak Cotswolds chic, half an hour up the road from Daylesford Organic (olive oil for £35, anyone?), and a short drive from pretty — and, these days, pretty overrun — villages such as Broadway. This year there’s a new restaurant, MO, which takes just 12 guests for its interactive eight-course tasting menu. The hotel is chic, but also blessedly relaxed, with one of the best spas in the country.

[Some bedrooms are] decorated in neutral tones, others more colourful and quirky. Some, in the farmhouse, are olde-worlde, all nooks and crannies, others new-build and about straight lines and spaciousness. What unites them is good taste. And — joy — home-baked biscuits on tap.

If you are after historical charm, it has to be the Attic suite in the main farmhouse, with its exposed oak beams and ruby-red colour scheme. If it’s spaciousness, there’s the Loft: think contemporary airiness and glass. Not forgetting Rose Cottage, an independent, single-storey abode that has its own outdoor hot tub.

In my view this is one of the best hotel breakfasts around: from the homemade strawberry compote and jams, to the full English of dreams and, er, the “breakfast flapjack”. The evening options are on point too. Option one is the upscale tasting menu at tiny MO. (The scrambled duck egg spliced with morel and wild garlic, presented in its shell, merits a postcard home; eight courses cost £110pp.) Then there’s the just as fabulous, yet more relaxed Back Garden, and the posh-pub-grub Potting Shed.

Rating: 9.5/10. Price: B&B doubles from £269

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