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Reviews: Fay Maschler “can’t rave about” Orasay; while Pompette is “worth saving up for”, writes Jay Rayner

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Reviews: Fay Maschler “can’t rave about” Orasay; while Pompette is “worth saving up for”, writes Jay Rayner

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler “can’t rave about” Orasay in London’s Notting Hill

Grilled cod with leeks and dulse slides and divides into curvaceous pearlescent scoops and outclasses roast brill served with cockles and purslane. A preference for ordering fish is not just an homage to the concept but also deference to £26 for a Tamworth pork chop with white beans and £65 for a shorthorn rib (850g – presumably destined for two).

Pasta seems not a strong suit of the kitchen. Crab and pork agnolotti are stiff and chewy; pappardelle lacks the lackadaisical grace it should have. Its dry ragù is made more interesting with toasted breadcrumbs. A dome of dark chocolate sponge covered with coffee sauce is the most alluring of the desserts we try. Rice pudding with rhubarb hasn’t left institutional associations behind. Seven wines are on tap, as is the tequila-based cocktail Orasay Paloma tricked out nicely with mint and a slice of dehydrated pink grapefruit. “It didn’t get me as drunk as I’d have liked,” remarks one of its recipients.

From wines under the £40 hurdle I really enjoy the Cretan Assyrtiko Lyrarakis 2017 at £33, almost as gravelly as Mariella’s voice. Leaping that hurdle at lunch, the recommendation from lovely manager Hannah Svanberg of Mosel Riesling Alte Reben Carl Loewen, 2015, is also a delight.

Score: 3/5


pompette

Pompette in Oxford is “worth saving up for”, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

We order a whole globe artichoke, with the thistle removed as it should be, accompanied by a substantial bowl of vinaigrette made with dollops of nose-tickling mustard. A deep, plunging bowl of fish soup, the colour of copper pans polished to a shine, is the distillation of the bits of fish and seafood we leave behind. You do not need to ask whether there is Gruyère and croutons and garlicky rouille on the side, because here they are. Pile one atop the other then catch them on your spoon before they sink into the depths.

A snowy piece of hake arrives atop a pile of Umbrian lentils, half a roasted lemon to one side. The edges of the fish are the same colour as the soup; the skin is crisp. Thick-cut lamb chops, which have been given a proper seeing to by the grill, are smeared with more salted anchovy, melting in the heat. There is purple sprouting broccoli because we must all have our greens. The lamb leaks its juices into the mess of anchovy and vice versa. This is cooking which makes its mark not through invention and fireworks, but by pressing into service knowledge of the classics and extremely good taste. Each dish arrives. You check it over, realise that everything is as it should be and return to your conversation.

Price: snacks, starters, charcuterie and cheeses £4.50-£14. Mains £16-£36. Desserts £6.50-£8.50. Wines from £19


The Times’ Giles Coren describes Endo at the Rotunda in London’s White City as “probably the most perfect meal”

We had an omakase menu with 16 dishes listed on a sheet of fat, lush-textured A4, and three or four others thrown in at random, all made in front of us and served hand to hand. There was not a duff note. Not the briefest moment when quality fell away from perfection.

We began with a “clam chowder soup with Japanese olive oil” made with Breton clams, a dashi stock, a splash of milk, mild and warm, with one nuggety clam waiting for us in the depths.

He grinningly calls certain mouthfuls his “signature” (they are too tiny to be called “dishes”) and one of these was a slice of toasted homemade bread (in the Japanese supermarket squishy style) with shredded spider crab and steamed sea urchin (which takes the tang off it a little), plus wonderful golden oscietra from China (high-rollers can ramp up the caviar variety at their own expense if they want to). The mouthful was warm, fresh, melted slowly, yielded sweetness and fat, was beyond imagining. I closed my eyes, like a total knob. I couldn’t not. It took me places. I wanted to be alone with it. Naked.

Score: Cooking: 10/10; service: 10/10; space: 10/10; total: 10/10.
Price: Full evening omakase from around £150 to around £250 depending on caviar/truffle type choices, excluding drinks. Lunchtime will eventually offer a shorter £60 menu and à la carte


root

The Independent’s Ed Cumming admires the attention to detail at Root in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf

The chicory leaves that cradled ewes’ curd with finely chopped mint, cucumber and little sourdough croutons. Hispi cabbage – is there any non-Hispi cabbage left? – charred in all the right places and presented under a carapace of translucent radish slices. Little cylinders of gnocchi under slices of pickled apple. Cured bream with pickled chilli and cucumber. A no-nonsense list of desserts. I thought it would be too fancy for sticky toffee pudding, but no, it came and delivered, with a scoop of ice-cream sliding off a wonky roof.

There were a couple of dodgy moments. A fleshy pearlescent scallop, chopped raw and served in its shell, one of the specials, was overpowered by its chutney. Was it a chutney? Chutney-like substance, anyway. A pickled egg yolk shone vaguely beneath a snot-green sea of barley, garlic and mushrooms.
Still, one person’s snot barley is another’s manna, and there was no denying the attention to detail in the flavours, curing, pickling, chopping and general presentation. If the same cannot be said of the room, whose main decoration is a curious Estrella Damm spray-painting of some vegetables, then perhaps that’s the price of having to think inside the shipping box.


kyms-23

Kym’s in the City of London is “an almighty curate’s egg”, according to Tim Hayward of the Financial Times

I order “Three Treasure – Crispy Pork Belly/Soy Chicken/Ibérico Pork Char Sui” and “Uyghur Fries/Thai Shallot/Mango Powder” (Christ, this is really starting to grate!) because the waiter assumes I’m going to. I’m entirely aware that I have the demeanour of a plus-size, proletarian thug but when the waiter is one step ahead of you in writing down the most obvious, boringly meaty item and chips, well, as patronising presuppositions go, it’s right up there next to “ and a sweet white wine for the lady?”

Steamed sea bass, on the other hand (with Garlic/Spring Onion/Double Deluxe Soy, since you ask), is absolutely transcendent. Bizarrely, this is exactly the kind of thing I would cook at home but I could never, not with 10,000 hours of diligent practice, have steamed it so well or sauna-ed it in the aromats just so. I couldn’t have lifted it from the bone and reassembled it so skilfully as to reveal no evidence of surgery, and balanced the broth to such an acme of fragrance, sweetness and umami. I wanted to stand in this room of preoccupied suits and yell “Attention, men! A chef has worked on this. You have got to try this bloody fish.”

It’s difficult to know where to go with this. One of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a while and several borderline cynical ones, in a luxurious environment, at a challenging price. I’d do anything to eat the sea bass again – well, anything except go back. Regrettably, Kym’s is an almighty curate’s egg and I’m afraid you’re going to have to do with that opinion what you will.

Price: small plates £3-£11.50. Mains £12.50-£29


vivi

Vivi in London’s West End is “gargantuan, gorgeous and a little sterile”, says The Guardian’s Grace Dent

We ordered a decent bloody Mary and a truffled mushroom vol-au-vent that was a beast of a thing, fist-sized and brimming with a delicious mess of button, cep and oyster mushrooms. It would have been heavenly had the pastry been warm and meltingly fresh, but it felt pre-cooked and was ever so slightly dry. Just-made is the entire point of the daftly decadent vol-au-vent, and when you’re paying £19.50 for one, you shouldn’t be able to get better pastry at the Delice de France at Euston station.

Still, it looked glorious, even if its roast salsify garnish was underdone and a little gnarly. A side of cauliflower cheese was, however, genuinely exquisite.
We ordered the Severn & Wye salmon with Burford Browns simply to ascertain whether Vivi can make breakfast. It can, but there were no surprises or extra flourishes here. Nor were there any with the house burger, which for £14 features beef of no-named breed flanked by anonymous grilled cheese on a sweet brioche bun. At first they claimed to be unable to serve it anything but well done, although they eventually sweetly acquiesced. Fries were an extra £4.50. We went mad and ordered mushy peas, too, for the perverse thrill of seeing what just short of five quid’s worth of mushy peas looked like. Note: green, exactly like pulverised marrowfat, not that exciting.

Price: about £40 a head, plus drinks and service. Food: 4/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 7/10


50 years on, the food at Mr Chow in London’s Knightsbridge is “memorably awful”, writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times

Menu descriptions are in-jokes; witness a starter called the Box: six prosaic sheng jian-style dumplings, not steam-fried or pan-fried, but dunked into the deep fryer till they ejaculate scalding, greasy pork juice that scours the lining of your mouth. This is the best dish we try.

But it’s the prices that are the real joke: those dumplings are £21.50. An “hors d’oeuvre” of Shanghai cucumber – I’m assuming the traditional chunks dressed with soy, sesame and vinegar, but am not about to pay 16 quid to find out. We duly corpse and order crispy shredded beef, agog at what a version costing £40.50 might look like. Answer: a small, miserable bundle of twigs, overfried sugary beef and scorched carrot.

“Mr Chow noodles” are the worst dish. Possibly ever. I’m guessing these started life as dan dan but experienced serious trauma along the way. I genuinely have no idea what their minced-meat sauce is, or even if it is meat: it’s pallid and textureless, like ground-up lip, and lurks in a lagoon of something orange. Maybe Campbell’s tomato soup? Perhaps a homage to Chow’s chum Andy Warhol? There’s matchsticked cucumber on the side and a jug of chilli sauce I find myself falling on in search of flavour. The noodles themselves are flabby, limp: if they’ve been hand-pulled recently, it clearly knackered the poor sods.

Price: £231.65 for two, including 12.5% service charge 


henry-harris-the-harlot-opening

The Crown in Chiswick, London is “a big, shiny, super-efficient box-ticker that is also a slightly soulless cell”, says The Telegraph’s Kathryn Flett

The lunchtime set menu was a solid bargain – densely fragrant wild garlic soup with fabulously good toasted sourdough, a crumblingly braised shoulder of lamb with olive oil mash and fried artichokes and, if the meringue was too squidgy in my passion fruit and rhubarb pavlova, at £19 for three courses (£16 for two!) I was still more than merely happy.

The Crown is a big, shiny, super-efficient box-ticker that is also a slightly soulless cell… albeit one out of which further mitochondria shall surely successfully – nay, award-winningly – grow.

Score: 4/5. Price: £80 for lunch for two


2 Fore Street in Mousehole, Cornwall, offers “an approachable and merry dance of bistro classics”, according to William Sitwell of The Telegraph

There are soups, pâtés and parfaits, crispy squid, steaks, burgers, crab and goujons. I saw the words ‘Newlyn crab double-baked Parmesan soufflé’, which is liked being asked if you want some free money. It was a main course but they let me have it as a starter, which I have to say is the one of the better ideas I’ve had recently.

I was smug with my choice. It came in a round dish, an island of soufflé in a little sea of cheesy sauce, its ripples charred from the grill, or maybe a flame. The soufflé was a heavenly mix of fresh local crab enveloped in Parmesan. Every mouthful of which was pure joy – charming, not overly rich, textured layers. Original, like eating Mousehole itself.

My main course was moules marinière. And this is how I like them, not bastardised with cream, as some chefs are prone to do, like bribing a child to eat their veg by covering them in cheese. This was pure and simple: white wine, onions (not chopped too fine), garlic and then the mussels. On the side were skinny fries, and having eaten the soft and sweet flesh of the mussels, I finished off the sauce with homemade focaccia.

[The rice pudding] came with a caramelised top – that blowtorch again, perhaps. So this was crème brûlée meets rice pudding. Like a hostile merger, the rice dish steals the identity of the burnt cream, subsumes it and becomes a better version of both, but still calls itself rice pudding.

Price: £60 for lunch for two, excluding drinks and service. Score: 4/5


Rocca restaurant at the Macdonald Rusacks hotel in St Andrews is missing “any sense of passion or flair, which is disappointing given the price-tag and the location”, says Catherine Devaney of The Courier

The wild mushroom orzo… could have been a dish full of intense chestnutty mushroom flavour and rich Parmesan luxuriance. Instead it was a pale concoction of overcooked pasta bound together with a gloopy purée which I found unpleasant, finished with an unidentified foam which did nothing to improve the texture of the dish. The oyster mushrooms were underseasoned for my taste and the overpowering flavour was of the abundant chives.

For the main course my Highland venison arrived on a black plate, three pieces of loin arranged on three sticks of salsify, a fondant potato, some dots of orange purée – I think carrot – and pomegranate seeds.

On the positive side, it looked elegant and the venison was nicely cooked with good colour on the outside and beautifully rare in the centre, but for me the dish just didn’t come together as a whole. The salsify (braised, according to the menu) was unexpectedly firm and lacked tenderness. I couldn’t taste the watercress purée, which was visually lost on the black plate, while the whole dish lacked sufficient sauce and I did not enjoy the seedy crunch of pomegranate.

Price: £12.50 for a starter and £25-£35 for a main course. Score: food: 6/10; menu: 6/10; value: 6/10; service: 7/10; atmosphere: 6/10; total: 31/50


The National’s Joanna Blythman is “utterly enchanted” by Condita in Edinburgh

It starts with an exquisite silky-sweet poached mussel, topped by a seaweed emulsion and black pearls of caviar, sitting in an edible shell made from potato and squid ink, a perfect first bite.

It gives us the measure of the cooking level here, technically highly accomplished yet anchored by a sympathetic, highly intuitive understanding of the flavour properties and potential of ingredients.

Now we’ve got to the celeriac, treated four ways. Salt-baked slices taste as good as salsify. A very finely cut raw remoulade caps that. The skin has been deep-fried to make crisps.

Then there’s the sauce, creamy and slightly caramelised, the ecru tones of the vegetable brightened by a few dashes of limpid green celery oil.

We’re so into this meal that we still have space for this extraordinarily tender fillet of salt-aged roe deer, which nestles in among mustardy scurvy grass, wild leek, cooling chicory, black pudding purée and crumble, a gravy that tastes like a liquid distillation of roasting pan juices, golden beetroot purée, and slightly acetic mustard seeds.

Price: £50 or £80 for five or eight courses, respectively


Hotels

black-lion-long-melford

Liz Boulter of The Guardian enjoys the old-fashioned charm of the Chestnut Group’s Black Lion in Long Melford, Suffolk… and its thoroughly up-to-date restaurant

The new Black Lion is not at all stuffy – the welcome is relaxed and friendly – but our room, one of 10 ranging from snug to luxury suite, is certainly old-fashioned, in a good way.

No boutique design flourishes here: no upcycled ornaments, funky artwork or distressed wood. The room, in restful shades of cream and pale taupe with moss green accents, is furnished with a mix of antiques and reproduction pieces and has a gorgeous window seat overlooking the green. The first-floor landing is hung with prints of Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode – a warning, perhaps, to weekending couples? – but simple architectural mezzotints adorn the bedroom walls.

The bathroom is similarly traditional, though the dinner-plate size shower head delivers an impressive drenching. A tea tray includes coffee machine, homemade shortbread, and fresh milk sitting in a bowl of ice (herbal teabags are the only omission).

Price: double rooms from £90


yha-bath

The YHA hostel in Bath welcomes both families and “large groups of lads on the lash” warns The Telegraph’s Hattick Garlick

The YHA’s Bath hostel has just opened a new annex. I know what you’re thinking, but bear with me. They have poured £2.5m into these 14 bedrooms and aimed them squarely at families. So all are en suite. Three have a double bed plus bunks (starting at £69). Six have a double with two sets of bunks (from £89) and five more have three sets of bunk beds, meaning a family of six can stay from £99 a night.

The new annex is just across a stretch of lawn and, while modern, has been tastefully decorated in a gentle shade of duck egg blue, making the blindingly green duvet covers and pillow cases all the more jarring. “It’s how I imagine an enlightened, Scandinavian prison,” said my husband as we dropped our bags in our room. “And I mean that in the most positive way possible.”

The hostel felt like a haven when we returned to see the city’s lights sparkling below and families chatting happily in the bar and kitchen. Then, at 2.30am, the rugby fans joined us. We woke to the sound of stomping and singing in the corridor, making up in stamina what they lacked in tunefulness. I was grateful for my green pillow, which I wrapped around my head like monstrous ear muffs.

Price: A family of four can stay from £89 per night; breakfast costs an extra £6.25 per adult and £3.30 per child

 

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