What's on the menu – Critic gives Balthazar, London the thumbs up
London Evening Standard
http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/restaurants/balthazar--review-8502554.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Keith McNally has assembled a crack team to recreate his extraordinary New York restaurant Balthazar in Covent Garden, London WC2, says Fay Maschler
Highlights of the hors d'oeuvres tried were escargots, where in the garlicky, buttery juices a piece of bread gently bathed; salt cod brandade with brittle croutons; lobster and black truffle risotto which was New York Italian in format and the truffle a slightly fugitive flavour but luscious for all that; Balthazar salad, an assembly described by my friend Kate as "a nod to neurotic female eaters"; prawn cocktail with the creatures sprawled on ice served with two combative dipping sauces. In the main course a standout was linguini fruits de mer with garlic confit, lemon and pointedly sharp piment d'espelette. Grilled whole gilt-head bream was a piece of magic, served head on but completely de-boned, removing at a stroke the argument some people have with fish. Grilled lamb T-bone (where we might say Barnsley chop) came with a nice mix of flageolets and merguez sausage. Le Bar à Huîtres and Les Grillades deliver items such as plateaux for £60/95 or côte de boeuf for two at £58, high stakes spent in an uncomplicated fashion. Want some quibbles? Frites are not yet pulling their weight, Brussels sprouts were overcooked and a lemon tart lacked essential asperity.
Price: A three-course meal for two with wine, about £125
Giles Coren says the menu at Quo Vadis, London W1, is the most lovely thing of its kind you will see
Jay Rayner says with Purslane Chelthenham has something every town needs: a superb neighbourhood restaurant
It really is a small, neighbourhood place, with space for no more than a couple of dozen people. It's a comfortable room, but no one will ever include pictures of it in an interiors magazine. There is a very large set of cutlery on the wall. The lighting is moody without making you fear you are suffering from macular degeneration. There are two friendly waiters who carry stuff, smile, say nice welcoming things and then sod off again. That's about it. It is simple. But gosh, is it good, in that understated way that makes you push away a plate licked back to the glaze, with a sense of loss that it's all gone. There are five choices at each course, with starters at £8, mains at £16 and desserts at £6. There are no shameless supplements. The food leans towards fish, but not exclusively. There is a terrine of rabbit and langoustine, served at room temperature beneath a wobbly layer of sweet-salty cider jelly, alongside a pile of celeriac. There's oodles of technique here, not least in how they get something this loose on to the plate in a sharp oblong without it falling apart.
Price: Meal for two, including wine and service: £90
The Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell says when it's right, chef Tong's flavour-balance at HKK, London EC2, is oh-so-good. But beware the prices Round one, and a "four treasure Iberico ham wrap" is a couture mouthful, bright veggies wrapped in a crimson strip - but Mr M's Suan-tian-ku-la tomato is the hands-down winner: two halves of a dried tomato contain finely diced vegetables and "vegetarian chicken" with a punchy citrus dressing. The crisp, sweet fruit melts in the mouth. Round two: a dim-sum trilogy, three jewel-like buns. To be eaten clockwise, please. A winningly gelatinous har gau contains very good prawns; a rusty-red Szechuan dumpling has a terrific balance of minced chicken and prawn; finally, a crisp pastry shell with silky turnip inside. Good stuff. More instruction as the cherry-wood-roasted Peking duck arrives. A chef stands under the bobbing peaches/bums and cuts a perfect rectangle of crisp skin, a wedge of tender meat with skin, and breast meat to be wrapped in a pancake. There's a smear of plum sauce, a sprinkling of sugar and micro salad (with a slightly musty taste). Skin, then meat, then pancake, please.
Price: Lunch £120 for two, including soft drinks
Emma Sturgess says STK at the ME by Melia hotel, London WC2, is exhausting
It's a biggish, glossy hotel restaurant - 240 covers - and it's run militarily. Dining is done in two-hour slots (we're told this as we're seated, not before), there's no dallying at the big, shiny, busy bar and service is insistent. We can't have 'lil' BRGs' while we look at the menu; food must be ordered all at once. Those sliders, when they come, are in cold buns, with a Big Mac-style sauce that masks the meat. Prawn rice krispies are a house special, featuring torn-up prawn crackers on to which a shellfish bisque is poured. It's got decent flavour but it's not hot and the crackers soon go soggy. Steak, of course, is the business of any steakhouse. STK doesn't feel like a steakhouse, so in one sense it has succeeded. The meat is predominantly USDA prime, the highest grade of American steak. Breed, feed and ageing, the stuff that inflames steak nuts, is not up for discussion and you'll have to ask for Australian Wagyu or British Hereford. With an air of supreme self-sacrifice, we try the lady-friendly tiddler, a 150g feather steak. Combined with sides of floury macaroni cheese and oversalted Parmesan truffle fries, it's not as inadequate as we'd expected but it is overcooked.
Price: A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £190