What's on the menu – French bistro Chez Elles is 'simply the real thing', says critic
The GuardianMarina O'Loughlin says French bistro Chez Elles, London E1, is no homage or reinvention: short and to the point, it's simply the real thing
Score: Food 7/10; Atmosphere 9/10; Value for money 8/10
Price: About £30 a head plus drinks and service.
London Evening Standard
Fay Maschler says the food at the Shiori, London W2, latest establishment from the people behind Sushi of Shiori, is simply marvellous
Rape blossoms-ohitashi, in fact verdant stems and leaves with a topping of (I think) bonito flakes, was followed by diced raw sea bream with a pungent sauce made from monkfish livers. Because that dish had been part of the lunch list, Hitomi brought me something different - sweet shrimp with fermented rice. It was her husband's thoughtfulness, she said, and it was done with such grace, such absence of drama. Even more impressive was the substitution (for me) of snow crab and winter vegetable hotpot with a ball of crabmeat in a skin of ultimate tensile strength resting in a small amount of deeply savoury broth. It was like the sort of conjuring trick when a napkin is pulled away and a glass of water turns into a bunch of flowers. Chawan-mushi, a dish of egg custard, is invariably soothing but at The Shiori it was a mesmerising minefield of textures, including chewy dried scallop, with flavour from a sonorous stock and a satin finish. Sashimi almost miniaturised, each element thoughtfully garnished, was served on a glazed ceramic dish where part of the decoration looked like brushstrokes and a few spilt spots of soya sauce.
Price: Lunch set menus £28.50/£38.50/£50. Dinner £65/£105
Jay Rayner says the kitchen at the Drunken Duck in Ambleside, Cumbria, is solid in all the classical techniques, without feeling the need to do anything ludicrously showy
The menu is defined by one dish in particular: a whole roasted cherry-glazed duck, with red cabbage and duck-fat potatoes, for two to share. Whole birds - indeed all sharing dishes - are the point where the domestic kitchen meets the professional. Going out for dinner is supposed to be about what "I" want, rather than the "we". Restaurants are a shared moment of selfishness. But a hulking offer like this can make it so much more. It arrives as the two breasts, the fat perfectly rendered, the skin crisp, the meat still pink, alongside the legs which give the impression of having been confited. There is gravy. There are very good potatoes, the right side of crisp. There is crunchy sweet-and-sour red cabbage, and a dish of wilted spinach for those hankering for greens to soak up the duck fat. I won't pretend; I was a little disappointed we didn't get the rest of the carcass so I could sit there and pick the rest of the skin off until my fingers shone with grease. But that would have been an ugly sight, and my companions should be grateful they were spared it. For two, £44 felt like good value, for a generous piece of cooking.
Price: Meal for two, including drinks and service: £100
On a cold winter's day Amol Rajan doesn't want to leave Newman Street Tavern, London W1
Thankfully, the menu is short and elegantly laid out on a single beige sheet. Of the starters, hot cockles and laver are fiddly and a little limited for £8, but full of aroma and well seasoned. The coddled duck egg with London chorizo is superb for £6, and comes in a sweet vinaigrette that cuts through the fatty meat beautifully. You can also have British classics such as a Devon crab salad (£11), Crown Prince squash soup (£4.50), and smoked ham terrine with parsley salad (£6). When it comes to ordering the mains, I can't eat enough monkfish at the moment, and I suspect I'll never have it cooked as well as the monkfish-and-leek gratin here. Though too dear at £22.50, it is such a wonderful marriage of juicy, muscular white flesh and buttery sauce that I'd call it divine if only I believed in divinity. My mate Francis, meanwhile, has a choice cut of Middle White pig with beer onions, again not cheap at £19, but beautifully done. A bunch of sides are predictable if solid - carrot and fennel (£4) and January King cabbage (£3) best among them - but the desserts show real culinary class. A blood-orange and Campari granita (£5) is icy and delicious, while an Original Bean's chocolate mousse and ice-cream (£6.50) bounces around the walls of the mouth, releasing constant cocoa goodness along the way.
Price: About £120 for two, including wine
Giles Coren says ramen bar Tonkotsu, London W1, is the best of what the capital is doing at the bottom end
I had the eponymous tonkotsu itself (£11), a broth made cloudy from the long, long, long boiling of pork bones and carcass bits to make the stock, which had immoderate depth, stickiness and great piggy narrative. The noodles were firm but yielding, an insanely luxurious chew, and the half egg with its deep, gel-like yolk and pale slivers of salted pork made for a long, wet Japanese carbonara. The gyoza - pork dumplings - were well-made things (£5), and great with the home-made chilli oil, all floaty with ruby-stained flecks of assorted allium. The spinach and sesame salad (£4) had too many bean shoots in it, but then how many more bean shoots than one could you need in a life? This was good, good eating, and I slurped it hard with mouthfuls of green tea and A Town Like Alice on my Kindle, propped up on the soy jug. The coincidence of reading about Japanese military brutality and Allied prisoner starvation over my humble Japanese meal was just that: coincidental. But at the same time weirdly fitting. It is a great but of-its-time-racist novel and one's 21st-century discomfort at the endless "Nip" references is deliciously piqued by being surrounded by Japanese people having lunch. (The staff, on the other hand, are for the most part nimble, smiley, floral-smelling female Europeans.)
Scotland on Sunday
Richard Bath has exceptionally fine food in surroundings that never fail to impress at Ardeonaig, Loch Tay, Perthshire The overseas influence kicked in â¨immediately, with the first dish of our six-course set menu turning out to be one of the dishes that won Thomas Keller such acclaim at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Not that this cheered up Will, who loathes beetroot, so wasn't exactly thrilled at the description of beetroot ice-cream with pancetta, walnut and apple. Still, when it arrived his reaction was the same as mine: pure pleasure. The dollop of â¨purple ice-cream was unfeasibly creamy yet had a surprisingly sweet, subtle taste which was nicely offset by the rasher of crispy pancetta, while the candied walnut added a sugary note and the slivers of granny cox apple cut through the whole ensemble with a streak of acidity. If that was good, the seared foie gras with chicory, which came in what was described as a four citrus nage, was sublime. The foie gras was perfect, but it was the gloriously retro combination with the zesty tartness of the chunks of citrus jelly that really elevated this dish. It also helped that Payne had chosen a beautifully viscous 2008 Rolly Gassmann pinot gris from Alsace that was as velveteen as it was sweet; a perfect choice to straddle the first two courses.
Price: Three-course a la carte dinner £49.50 Tasting menu (six courses) £60