Jimi Famurewa of the London Evening Standard finds the Standard hotel’s swagger doesn’t quite make it to the plate at Isla
Here is the Standard London; a modish, intensely confident 266-bedroom hotel and restaurant complex that also happens to be the group’s first opening outside the US.
There is a cherry-red, Kubrickian exterior lift up to a rooftop bar and restaurant. There are suite terraces with typically saucy outdoor bathtubs. And there is, in Isla, a flagship restaurant where the food is thoughtfully conceived, commendably well-travelled and, in truth, a little lacking in a certain distinctive pizazz.
Not that executive chef Adam Rawson’s menu, which is big on foraged and seasonal items, doesn’t carry some inspired twists.
We sipped crisp New Zealand Riesling and began with a gutsy duck rillette, intensified by a golden topsoil of breadcrumbed chicken skin. A vivid, sweet, pea hummus took the edge off the fact that a plate of crudité pickles was two-thirds turnip.
The mains brought pan-fried turbot (served with a clump of sea aster and a green, herbed lake of wild fennel sauce), hugely gratifying cep mushroom fuzi (finger-rolled Croatian pasta, topped with truffle and thickly glossed with a lavishly eggy sauce) and the sudden, jolting high of Ibérico pork (deep-charred, tender and slicked in a mellow chimichurri). Sides happened as well; roasted new potatoes aboard a compelling, kind of smoked garlic miso ectoplasm, and a whole head of broccoli slopped in mustard seeds, yogurt and almonds, which resembled something like veg ladled with sweet, store-bought honey mustard mayo.
For pudding, a very good shared glass of sea buckthorn sorbet possessed, as Simon noted, the citrus hit of a grown-up Calippo. A deconstructed fig tatin – lightly cooked figs with crumbling discs of pastry and an ice-cream radiating the spiced caramel sweetness of speculoos biscuits – dissolved into a decent enough mush but seemed fiddly in such a hiply rendered room. And maybe that is it. To sit in Isla is to look around at the sexy, space-age decor and wish that more of the Standard’s swaggering aesthetic attitude were evident on the plate.
Price: £141 for three. Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 3/5
The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin has ‘a blast’ at Liverpool’s Pilgrim, where the chefs are ‘too busy having fun to bother with details’
You can tell when chefs don’t get out much, a criticism that can’t be levelled at this lot – they seem to have been on a whistle-stop tour of every cool restaurant in the country. Publicity buzzwords have been coming thick and fast: “open-fire kitchen”, “taptails” (cocktails on tap), vermouths and sherries, “ethical” soft drinks, “flexitarian”. Same with the menu: bavette tartare, wood-fired heritage carrots, “chuleta” beef rib, mackerel escabeche, potato “terrina” with caviar lentils and charcoal aïoli, a riff on those layered, fried numbers made famous by the Quality Chop House.
There are some great ideas: taut little Jersey royals blackened from their coal roasting and squiggled with a sauce of Cabrales, that Asturian blue cheese of such evil nippiness it could strip the roof of your mouth and you’d be happy to let it. Or a play on croquetas that ditches the béchamel and just rams the crumbed carapace with quantities of fatty suckling pig, served with an electrifying guindilla pepper salsa.
You can tell when chefs have been absorbing the zeitgeist while being too busy having fun to bother with details. There are weird solecisms, such as serving butterhead, that divinely languid lettuce, in a wedge, so its oversharp dressing doesn’t coat the leaves.
Spain’s beloved hake puts in an appearance, a stout chunk of fine fish lacking a crisp skin, its mojo picante a little on the abrasive side from an overdose of pimentón. But just the tiniest tweaks and this would be stellar. Wood-roasted quail – lovely in its creamy sidra (Spanish cider) sauce – comes with its sinewy little legs served separately in crumbed lollipops; these haven’t been confit or cooked for long enough, so they shrug off their bready coats and are about as pleasurable as gnawing your own knuckles.
There’s the happiest ending to our journey: the St James tart, a small rectangle of super-rich, insanely moist almondy sponge, boozy cherries and a couple of wispy fronds of fennel adding a pleasing touch of aniseed.
Pilgrim is a blast.
Price: £116 for two including service charge
Tony Turnbull from The Times finds some “very good” cooking at Pomona’s in London’s Notting Hill but fails to be won over by Cali-Scandi influences
Ruth Hansom, Young National Chef of the Year 2017, arrived in May after five years at the Ritz, via Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire. It’s not a pedigree that screams casual, West Coast sharing plates, and so it proved to be.
Some of the cooking was very good indeed. Dorset crab, watermelon, confit yolk (£16) was like a posh tian, the seared melon and blobs of egg dotted like a clockface around the plate lending pockets of freshness and richness to the sweet flesh. A perfectly judged fillet of roast halibut on discs of roast Jerusalem artichoke and topped with sliced pickled grapes and spiky almond slivers was brought to life with a delicious fennel broth loosened with a slick of chervil oil (£22). Chargrilled monkfish with grilled corn and a tangle of richly braised oxtail was equally good, even if the pieces of popcorn were a pointless attempt at Californication of a classic dish (£22).
These dishes wouldn’t have been out of place on the menu of the smartest hotel, and play to Hansom’s undeniable strengths. Less successful were the ones trying to match the Cali-Scandi-Instagrammy vibe.
A special of tomatoes, watermelon and feta was a miserly assembly job (£7), not even the sum of its parts; a side of mashed avocado displayed no flavour of the advertised lime and coriander, but did include the bruised dark bits that you’d discard at home.
Price: £50 a head. Score: 6/10
The Mail on Sunday‘s Tom Parker Bowles finds a menu ‘you want to marry and grow old with’ at Littlefrench in Bristol
Littlefrench is good. Very good indeed. It’s the sort of small, unpretentious bistro – with copper-topped tables and comfortable booths – that is now rarer in France than a jolly Parisian. Over here, though, they’re becoming more and more common. Oh, l’irony. French is the new Spanish. Or is it Nordic? Or is French just the new French? Who cares when the food is this good? Because Littlefrench not only has the sort of menu, bursting with Gallic greatest hits, that you want to marry and grow old with, but with chef-proprietor Freddy Bird at the helm, a kitchen with the talent to bring it alive.
Bar snacks first, and milk-fed lamb’s kidney, gently creamy rather than aggressively uric, with a cap of frazzled fat and a blushing pink inside. At its side a splodge of Dijon mustard.
There are pristine prawns, gently fried, firm rather than woolly, that still wear the scent of the sea. We suck every last scrap of sweet goo from the head. Then clams with garlic, simple and sensational.
Littlefrench is not only about doing as little as possible to exceptional ingredients. There are more classical dishes, beautifully done, like sweetbreads with fresh peas and crisp bacon, in a silken sauce rich with chicken stock and Riesling.
Rather more robust is a parsley soup, an intense, verdantly swampy green, heavy on the chlorophyll and chicken stock, with small, chewy brown nuggets of snail and girolle.
Price: About £35 a head. Score: 5/5
South Lodge’s new spa has transformed the traditional country-house into a cutting-edge hotel, writes Angelina Villa-Clarke in City AM
Aside from the infused sauna, two steam rooms (one salt and the other is herbal), indoor infinity pool and mud room, there are more than 50 treatments on offer across 14 treatment rooms. Choose therapies from Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza and the hotel’s own the Spa range.
The Omorovicza Botanical treatment – a pampering body scrub, massage and facial using botanicals of sage, chamomile, calendula and jojoba – is a highlight and is exclusive to the hotel. Men are not forgotten with the dedicated male grooming bar, overseen by local barbers Grizzly’s, and which offers a cheeky beer with your haircut or wet shave. The state-of-the-art gym is also impressive with Technogym equipment, an outdoor training terrace, and spin and yoga studios.
Chef Jonathan Spiers heads up the in-spa Botanica, which goes well beyond the typically unimaginative wellness menus of limp lettuce and yogurt desserts. Spiers’ menu is largely plant-based, local and seasonal plates, such as the vegetarian Wasted Burger, made from leftover ingredients from the morning’s juices (it tastes way better than it sounds).
Price: rooms from £265
The Observer‘s Jay Rayner falls in love with Nandine, a Kurdish café in London’s Camberwell
From the brunch menu comes a shakshuka of long-cooked tomatoes, onions and spices, with baked eggs, their yolks still runny and, on the side, pieces of crisp-crusted, springy bread baked at their other site.
The most expensive dish today, at a mighty £12, is the lula kebab, of boldly spiced minced lamb, but that money gets you a trayful. The two thick slabs of charred and seared minced meat are laid on more flatbread into which, generously, they leak their juices.
There is a dish of a yogurt dip with, in the middle, some bright yellow pickled cauliflower. Up from that is another dish with, at one end, a robustly dressed onion and tomato salad, and, at the other, pickled red cabbage full of vigorous crunch and bite. There is a dusting of sumac and what I take to be za’atar as well as chopped green herbs.
The same accessories turn up with pieces of “seven-spice” chicken shish, rendered a bright shade of yellow by their marinade. If I was any cop as a journalist, I’d have asked for a list of all seven. Instead, I was too involved in eating it. Too often grilled pieces of breast like this are dry enough to lodge in your throat; this is tender and crisp. It is a better end for the chicken.
Price: all dishes, £4-£12; wines, from £24