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Reviews: Haar is “just what St Andrews needed”; while the Coconut Tree in Cheltenham is on point

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Reviews: Haar is “just what St Andrews needed”; while the Coconut Tree in Cheltenham is on point

Dean Banks’ Haar is “just what St Andrews needed”, writes Catherine Devaney in The Courier

The larger plates were a masterclass in the perfection of a beautifully cooked piece of protein and an incredible sauce. The sea trout, delicate flakes just yielding to the fork under a moreish crispy skin, rested in a bowl of sauce that seemed to be based on the classic foundation of fish stock, butter and cream with a twist of citrus. Delightfully fresh, with lovely nuggets of broad bean and broccoli lifting it into spring. At first glance there were leaves dressing the side of the bowl but on closer inspection they were imprints made with pea purée. A pretty trick for the eye, adding a dash of delicacy.

I’d learned my lesson from the crab and made sure to finish with the fish before turning my attention to the rump of Scottish beef. The pavé was caramelised to perfection and layered in eight mouth-watering pink slices, deeply flavoursome and incredibly tender. It was served on a deep bowlful of Café de Paris sauce: a feast of flavours involving ginger, orange, a hint of mustard, base notes of curry and others that I couldn’t put my finger on but couldn’t get enough of. The only accompaniment necessary was the little pile of salty fried potato, as fine as vermicelli, but we manfully struggled through the lemony seaweed potatoes we had ordered on the side.

These were very generous portions – as you would hope, at £28 for the rump – and the stars of the show were the sauces. There are no smears or dots of this or that here but proper bowlfuls to get stuck into. This is dangerously close to drink-from-the-bowl territory, although somehow I don’t think Dean would mind.

Price: Snacks from £4; large dishes from £18; desserts from £8.50. Score: food: 10/10; menu: 9/10; value: 10/10; service: 10/10; atmosphere: 10/10


The Coconut Tree in Cheltenham manages to be totally laid-back and completely on point at the same time, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

There’s a strong fish offering. The words “hot battered spicy cuttlefish” tell you all you need to know, but I’ll tell you more because it’s my job: the deep-fried crunchy strands of cephalopod, the colour of a sunset, are made to sing by the sugary tangles of heavily caramelised onion and spices which shatter under the teeth like butterscotch. I end up running my finger around the bottom of the bowl to get the last bits. I do this a lot, to be fair. I just don’t always admit to it.

The menu declares that there are just eight portions a day of the clay-pot fish, which sounds like a come on. It’s a very effective one, because we order it and are pleased to have done so. The stew bobs with slabs of tuna which have not yet disintegrated in a thick, hot and sour liquor with an unashamedly peppery kick. There are also devilled prawns, their brilliant crimson carapace glazed with a sweet-sour sauce in an even deeper red, which gives the whole dish a vaguely neon glow. The only meat dish we have is the black pork, made with belly in a fighty sauce the colour of night, after lights out. I ask our waitress what’s in that sauce. She tells me it has 18 spices. Which are? No, that’s all we’re getting. Certainly, there’s black pepper in there. An awful lot of black pepper. (For clarity, the menu announces that specific allergy issues will be answered.) I mop with flaky triangular pieces of roti, and I mop again until the enamel glaze is at risk.

Price: dishes £2.50-£8; wines from £17


Emilia2

The Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler discovers one of London’s best lunches at Emilia in Mayfair, given the right conditions

We start our lunch with antipasti of brilliantly brittle courgette fritti with wild garlic aïoli and mortadella di Bologna, but first come assuredly amusing little caramelised onion tarts and chunks of noble Parmesan. Evidence of the kitchen’s pastry skills in the mouth-melting tarts is further provided by exceptionally fine focaccia. To Max’s delight it is served with butter and not just the olive oil you might predict. The bread has a taut, crisp, salty crust and docile crumb. We discover that we are both suckers for the silky siren call of Italian-origin mortadella. It is a sausage I would stockpile.

As any Italian nonna would tell you – and if you haven’t got one you’d better find one or you get no credibility as a cook – adding Parmesan rind to a simmering brodo (broth) gives it richness and sheen. Smoked eel as the filling in the tortellini that float in it is a masterstroke. “I’d like to swim alongside that pasta,” says Max.

He is less transported by dark leaves of mint that, unannounced, bold as brass but also murky as compost, turn up in the assembly of slightly undercooked monkfish, with violet artichokes, broad beans, pesto and anchovy (one fillet draped on top). Meanwhile I am loving skeins of soft tagliatelle knitted into a foamy sauce made with rabbit, lemon and fronds of fennel. That same herb features as ice cream in the dessert of wild strawberry granita. “Deep red, rich, acidic but sweet and so fragrant,” writes Max later in his focaccia and butter letter. We chose by the glass Vie di Romans Chardonnay Friuli 2017 at £14, full and rich enough to last through and encompass the dessert.

Score: 4/5


Those who visit the Rose in Deal, Kent, will find very little to write home about, according to The Guardian’s Grace Dent

We chose three of the five starters, beginning with good, home-blitzed taramasalata served with slightly past-their-best radishes. A plate of steamed asparagus appeared, topped with a ladle of gritty, brown and not particularly pleasant walnut-and-anchovy butter. “Hot smoked salmon with pickles and crème fraîche” turned out to be a piece of baked, but now almost cold salmon that was hot neither in flavour nor temperature. And the smoked prawns advertised on the specials board had run out by the time we sat down at 8pm, despite there being only a handful of other diners.

A main course of hugely overdone smoked haddock arrived with a handful of salty samphire and similarly assertive pangrattato breadcrumbs; the accompanying “soft egg” was at least soft, although I realise I am giving credit here for someone in the kitchen being able to boil an egg. Our other main course of crisp lamb shoulder was fine in a “Sunday roast leftovers” way, but it came on a pulpy bed of skordalia (Greek garlic and potato mash) that was so bland, I argued blindly that it was polenta until we re-examined the menu.

Price: about £30 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 5/10; atmosphere: 6/10: service: 7/10


Soutine
Soutine

The Times’ Giles Coren describes Zia Lucia and Soutine in London as “both brilliant and honest and true and wholehearted in everything they do”

The bread that puffs at the edges [of the pizza at Zia Lucia] is the colour of desert sand and pocked with dark brown blisters. After a minute or two it can be touched without pain and it tears like candyfloss. The chew is nutty and deep. I am not surprised it’s so famous. I know they do a gluten-free version and a wholemeal one and a vegetable charcoal dough with “digestive gas-absorbing capacities” but this traditional one, with its puffy flour-flesh of hot exquisitude, will have to be prised from my cold dead hands.

In the pizza itself, the tomato sauce is rich and tangy, not too sweet, the cheese is milky and ripe and strings like gum to my pull, the squirts of fiery sausage are deep crimson and peppery sweet. Fat leaves of basil lend mellowness. It is an incredible pizza. And it’s less than a tenner. And it’s too big for me to finish.

Which is just as well, because if I finish it, I will not have room for the filet de beouf au poivre at Soutine (wonderful meat, perfectly rare, a little overenthusiastically peppered if you’re asking) or some of the crispiest pommes frites I have ever had, or the slivers of Esther’s sweet, fresh fillet of salmon with haricots verts and a tart little hollandaise sauce…

At £5.75 [the tarte fine aux pommes] is big enough to feed two, it is round and golden and the pastry is light and crispy and the paper-thin apple slices dominoed round it are soft and tangy and blacked on the edges in places, with a boule of vanilla ice cream on top and some slashes of caramel sauce and it is… irreproachable.

Scores: Zia Lucia: 8/10; Soutine: 8/10


gloria1

The Sunday Times Marina O’Loughlin can’t help but love Gloria in London’s Shoreditch

You’d expect the food to be an afterthought, but it really isn’t. While the cooking isn’t bad at all, it’s the quality of produce that’s genuinely surprising – and the stark generosity: an insane amount of seductively fleshy, lingerie-rosy San Daniele ham for draping over pneumatic focaccia with about a pint of extra-virgin olive oil. Or stracciatella, described not entirely hyperbolically as “godsent”, a wibbly sea of the creamy, gently smoked mild cheese of the gods, served in a sort of chalice like an offering to Venus.

Everything is so much larger than life – fine lasagne, 10 layers of the stuff, possibly in need of a shovel rather than a fork; lemon pie with a towering fin of chiffony Italian meringue – you can’t complain they aren’t banging for buck with all their might. And it’s only critical super-pickiness that stops me falling head first into the lot of it, rum-drenched baba the size of a wrestler’s fist, Filippo’s Big Balls and all.

Price: £133 for two, including £12.5% service 


HOTELS

The Pig, Bridge Place, Canterbury, Kent, hotel, boutique hotel, gardens, restaurant, bar
The Pig, Bridge Place, Canterbury, Kent, hotel, boutique hotel, gardens, restaurant, bar

Jane Knight of The Times describes the newly launched Pig in Bridge, near Canterbury, Kent, as “practically perfect”

A fascinating past accompanies the latest in the Pig group’s litter: Bridge Place started life as a 17th-century mansion, then in the Sixties became a rock club, where Led Zeppelin and the Kinks played. The deliciously quirky style reflects that history. Original oak fireplaces, wood panelling and small stairways leading to heavenly snugs rub shoulders with a bar done out in deepest burgundy – even the ornate ceiling – while posters in the loos advertise the rock performances of old. It’s shabby chic with a twist. At the heart of the 29-room hotel, in pretty countryside ten minutes from Canterbury, is the greenhouse restaurant, with its open kitchen serving Pigalicious food.

What’s the food like? Good Piggie fodder, including the usual crackling snacks (£3.95), delicious aged sirloin (£28) from Ireland – one of the few ingredients that comes from outside the Pig’s usual 25-mile food-sourcing radius – with veg from the kitchen garden and Kent wine. We loved the chorizo wood-fired flatbreads served in the Garden Oven.

Price: Room-only doubles from £110 midweek or £145 at weekends. Score: 9/10


pig bridge placeBar Lounge2

…while The Daily Mail’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ dispels all fears that the litter of Pig hotels might be becoming a touch predictable

Every last detail has been exercised with such precision that it’s impossible not to conclude that the Pig chain has completely reinvented the country house hotel experience. It helps, of course, that at its heart is a ravishing 17th-century Grade-II* manor house – Bridge Place – with a long history of hedonistic pleasures, not least in the Sixties when it became a rock ’n’ roll hangout, playing host to Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Moody Blues, Manfred Mann, The Yardbirds.

The staff are disarmingly natural. No platitudes. And most of them seem to be bright young things. One of them shows us to our Hop Pickers Hut, built entirely of wood apart from a tin roof. There’s a wood burner – and you’re encouraged to use it.

Everything is so simple: a butler’s sink for a basin, nothing on the walls, roll-top bath in the corner, shower tucked behind the bed, Bakelite telephone and light switches. You feel you’re camping in a forest, but in considerable style.

Price: Doubles from £145 (rooms only). Score: 5/5

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