David Sexton of the London Evening Standard finds the dishes at Tom Aikens' Muse in London's Belgravia an ‘absolute treat'
Said to have been "inspired by nostalgia and the pivotal moments and key people from Tom's personal life and career", each course is given a fanciful title ("Conquering the ‘Beech Tree") supplemented by an evocative little text ("as a boy, Aikens liked to climb a tall copper beech in the garden and now similarly challenges himself as a chef"). Only at the end are ingredients minimally listed ("langoustine, pork fat, burnt apple").
Each one proved truly a memorable experience, intricately accomplished and beautifully presented, the intensity of the tastes easily living up to the poetic billing.
"Just down the road" was ricotta cheese, made from milk sourced near Aikens' family home in Norfolk, served with burnt leek purée, leek crisps, winter truffle and blobs of honey jelly (Aikens, a virtuoso of unctuosity, is keen on jellies, arrived at after protracted preparation, as well as on ashes). "Sea Lavender", named after his father's boat in Devon, was a take on mackerel. The fish was accompanied by daikon both pickled and poached, in a broth made from the bones, with kombu, on top of a sesame purée, with flavours of mirin, soy and lemongrass in there too – so many tastes in a small space.
That Beech Tree? A brilliantly fresh grilled langoustine speared on a beech twig, topped with stickily reduced pig's trotter jus, to be wrapped on the plate in a wafer of lardo di colonnata, refreshed by apple, sliced, diced and puréed, and in the form of a consommé, made from both sharp Granny Smith and sweet Pink Lady... Yes, surf 'n' turf, if you like, plus the customary fine dining blandishment of an ingredient prepped three or more ways – but just perfectly composed and balanced.
The meal, incidentally, unlike many such tasting menus, left us feeling entirely, well, exhilarated even. Muse is an absolute treat.
So strange and fascinating to know that what one is tasting here, so vividly and with such pleasure, is the nostalgia of another. But then the only true paradises are the paradises one has lost.
Price: £95 for the six-course lunchtime menu. Rating: 5/5
The Observer's Jay Rayner says the Shibden Mill Inn near Halifax, West Yorkshire, offers "brave" menu choices that are more than just pub food
The food operation at Shibden Mill Inn, tucked into a wooded, stream-babbled cleft just outside Halifax, is indeed brave.
With the starters it's all about the detail. Two golden slices of toasted brioche, cut thick enough so that the surface gives way to the sponge-cake softness of the light crumb, which puffs sweet, baked air. Another starter brings fat pebbles of cod cheek on a stew of Toulouse sausage and butter beans, loitering on a herb-flecked emulsion. Grated across the top is the deep, creamy yellow of cured egg yolk.
The mains read intriguingly. There is a fillet of coley with "potatoes poached in bacon fat, roasted cauliflower, brown shrimps, beurre noisette sauce". The offer of bacon fat appeals to someone with my pronounced tendencies, but it's a weird call, not least because it makes what would otherwise be a pescatarian dish suitable only for meat eaters. Also, the potatoes don't taste of bacon, which feels like a promise broken.
There is a precise oblong of an iced apple parfait with scattered pieces of sweet frangipane, candied almonds and blackberry sorbet. Care has been taken over the placement of each dainty item. Someone has studied this plate, just so we can destroy it with our spoons. Less care needs to be taken with a gingery block of parkin in a treacle toffee sauce the colour of Dracula's hair. It sits proud in the centre of the plate.
It's all very cheery and happy to help, without getting in your face. The Shibden Mill Inn could be just another food pub. Instead they've had the courage to become a lot more than that.
Prices: starters, £6-£12; mains, £14-£23; desserts, £7-£9. Wines from £19 a bottle
Grace Dent of The Guardian finds the food and service at Lina Stores in London's King's Cross ‘forgettable'
The second offshoot of the much-loved Soho deli is an oh-so-cool diner that's let down by forgetful service and forgettable food.
I walk in without a reservation and am given a place at the bar close to an open kitchen door and overlooking the person laying out the antipasti. It offers many clues as to why nothing is delicious.
Triangle cuts of fried polenta and roast mushroom sit waiting to be assembled. The polenta is overcooked by any sane standards, yet seems destined to be lukewarm by the time it reaches any table. Aubergine polpette are small patties of unlovable mulch that have been shoved into hot oil for at least a minute too long, until they taste of little except the frying pan.
The pasta is disappointing, just as it was on my first visit. How can 30-egg yolk tagliolini with vacche brune Parmigiano, butter and black truffle be anything other than heaven? When it's overcooked and the sauce stingy, that's how. Orecchiette with lamb sausage, cime di rapa and chilli could have been any cooked mince with an Oxo stock cube chucked into the mix.
The mains I ordered were forgotten, so after waiting 30 minutes and then being asked if I wanted the bill, I tasted something far better than Lina's pasta: freedom. I grabbed it readily. I shall carry on going to the one in Soho. Sometimes, smaller really is better.
Price: About £28 a head for three courses. Rating: food: 3/10; atmosphere: 3/10; service: 1/10
Tom Parker Bowles of The Mail on Sunday finds good cheer in the big-hearted portions served at Pastaio in Westfield London
The arrival of Pastaio, the third branch of Stevie Parle's much-loved fresh pasta restaurant, is something to celebrate.
It's the little touches that impress. The fat slice of blood orange in Freddy's orangeade (San Pellegrino, of course), and the sheer quality of the ricotta salata, all low ovine bleat, in a bracingly crisp raw red cabbage and Brussels sprout salad. The dressing is bold and sharp, the hazelnuts freshly roasted.
Then pasta, freshly made and alluringly silken. Carbonara, as good as I've eaten anywhere, studded with slivers of crisp guanciale, the emulsified sauce clinging lasciviously to half tubes of al dente tonnarelli. This joyously simple union of eggs, pig and Pecorino has an authentically Roman peppery blast, and a robust salinity too. I'll be back for more.
Three different plates of pasta is one plate too many. I just about manage to finish it all, but then I'm a greedy sod. With a quick-release belt buckle and an ever-expanding gut.
You certainly won't leave here hungry. Or unhappy. Because Pastaio is as big-hearted as it is generous, many miles removed from the centralised, cynical corporate likes of Zizzi and Ask. In a time of mid-market carnage, Pastaio shines.
If I were Parle, I'd roll it out like 30-egg yolk tagliolini. Cheap at the price, expertly executed, and brimming with genuine good cheer. Pastaio burns bright.
Price: About £20 per head. Rating: 4/5
The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin isn't impressed with the meat substitute at Neat Burger in London's Mayfair
This latest burger joint is fronted by vegan racer Lewis Hamilton (though how he reconciles "Better for Earth" with fuel-chomping racing cars is beyond me) and backed by the usual shadowy array of enigmatic money men.
The place is Insta-cute, super-kawaii: palm motifs and millennial pink, motivational statements etched onto mirrors.
Staff are bright-eyed and helpful. Me: "What's in the burger?" Staff member: "Pea protein and soy protein and our special ingredient." Pal: "Is the special ingredient meat?" Because the basic burgers do taste much like those from the mammoth burger chains, especially the backnote of "flame grill". The texture is all wrong for something intended to ape meat, of course, crumbly and dry. But wolf it down and you'd never notice.
I've spoken before about the unnerving, "uncanny valley" quality of these flesh impersonators. I would rather have something like charred broccoli drizzled with citrus, chilli and tahini than ram something so alien into my face in the name of not eating meat.
I've heard the arguments that burger joints are the gateway drug for meat eaters and if they can convert the youth to veganism it's win-win. I see little evidence of this conversion. The winners here are the investors. And as for the people piling into these nouveau burger joints without questioning what they're eating? The word that springs to mind is, ironically, sheep.
Price: £33 for two, without service
Richard Mellor describes the Lion & Pheasant, a 23-bedroom townhouse hotel, as "the most stylish base" in Shrewsbury, in The Times
Close to the water in a building that has housed a hotel since 1707, the Lion & Pheasant is a local favourite: friends clink glasses in the rustic bar, with its exposed red-brick walls and iron beams, while couples dine in the calmer split-level restaurant above.
Pale hues predominate: alabaster walls and drapes above silver-grey sideboards. The only interruptions are original cast-iron fireplaces and retro-style radios. The bathrooms have luxury toiletries, although I struggled to get my shower to a comfortable temperature. Front-facing rooms also suffer from road noise, while the "Snug" and "Cosy" doubles really are quite small. The Loft Suite, with its free-standing tub, is the most romantic. Design lovers should book No 1, a sprawling "Superior" room with a four-poster.
Dinner was the best I'd eaten in a long time. My starter was a trio of nori-wrapped salmon, beetroot jam and wasabi ice-cream – the savoury-sweet tastes were sublime. The main was good too – tender lamb beside a gamey faggot, greens and moreish pommes Anna. The breakfast buffet was on the small side, but I forgave it when I spotted the rare sight of full-size croissants.
Price: B&B doubles from £130. Rating: 8.5/10