Reviews: Liverpool is lucky to have Madre, says Grace Dent, while Ravinder Bhogal waxes lyrical about the Wolseley

08 June 2021
Reviews: Liverpool is lucky to have Madre, says Grace Dent, while Ravinder Bhogal waxes lyrical about the Wolseley

Liverpool is lucky to have Mexican bar and restaurant Madre, says The Guardian's Grace Dent, where the focus is on fun

Right now, Madre feels more like a boisterous bar with a nod towards the bottles of Valentina hot sauce on each table, but the food menu is nonetheless ambitious, much as you'd expect from the folk behind Belzan and the now-closed Volpi going into a collaboration with the people from Breddos Tacos in London.

The tuna tostada, for example, is a fearsome, black plate of sashimi-grade tuna loin marinated to the colour of midnight in soy, mirin, agave and Habañero, then topped with an avocado purée and large, roughly chopped slices of green chilli. On the menu, it sounds intriguing, but on the table it needs a more delicate balance, because this is fine fish being bombarded with noise.

A large sharing plate of barbecued pit-roasted sweet potato and cauliflower arrives in salsa matcha butter with spring onion and feta. The cauliflower is semi-hard, which makes me think the kitchen is maybe having an off day, but we move on, undeterred, to a large sharing bowl of shell-on prawns on a bed of soft mango and radish and swimming in emerald jalapeño and roast garlic butter. That slick of buttery goodness at the bottom of the plate is the most delicious thing we eat all night; the side of refried beans, meanwhile, is finely pulped and a little forgettable.

At this point, I ditch all plans for dinner and order two incredible Café Madre cocktails, made with popcorn-flavoured vodka, Patron XO café, Nixta coffee liqueur and espresso. I have a strict one-only rule with any espresso-based martinis, because one is always delicious and evening-transforming, two always feels like a good idea but is really one too many, while after three there's a risk that by the end of the night you'll be plotting a coup in a faraway country.

Right now, Madre is an unmissable cocktail bar where the food has taken a back seat. But it's fun, it's definitely open and it's making many, many Liverpudlians happy.

Price: from £25-£30 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service

Ravinder Bhogal, chef and owner of Jikoni, waxes lyrical in The Observer about London's loveliest dining room, the Wolseley in London

Behind the grand facade, the Wolseley feels like its own universe – dense with wealth, cultural capital and anecdote. In the course of its 18 years, it's become a London stalwart, a favourite of the late greats – artist Lucian Freud and food critic AA Gill. It's discreet yet provides ample opportunity for double takes – notable Londoners and Hollywood A-listers relax gawker-free among the hoi polloi. There aren't any icy reservationists, yet there's a sense that you got lucky when you find your posterior perched on one of its plush leather banquettes, your face illuminated by the kind of vanity lighting that makes Instagram filters look lame.

People don't come to the Wolseley for the food – although it is always more than serviceable. The menu maintains a backbone of classics, as well as seasonal specials. Right now, there are tender lobes of blushing salt marsh lamb that taste of the delicate coastal flora it might once have grazed on. The chicken with Madeira sauce which promises fragrant morels, however, only manages to deliver a sharp kick of salt. The barely touched plate disappears quickly from the table with an apology and, despite my lack of fuss, it disappears from the bill, too. There are seared scallops that arrive on the shell, swimming in a buttery potato mousseline and wafting of garlic; while soufflé Suisse is a fragile, gravity-defying miracle of Gruyère suspended in egg whites that vanishes quickly in decadent, cheesy blasts.

It's the puddings and viennoiserie, though, that dip you over the knee for a pulse-quickening kiss à la française. You'd have to be dead inside not to fall hard for the pretty-in-pink peach melba éclair – a majestic puff of choux stuffed with peach crème diplomat and raspberries. Festooned with fondant icing and curls of ruby chocolat, it's a joy-filled antidote to bleak times. The Lucian, served in a championship silver coupe, is a mound of whipped cream resting perilously on three scoops of ice-cream – pistachio, hazelnut and almond praline – served with ribbons of hot butterscotch sauce that cling to my spoon like satin.

The Wolseley
The Wolseley

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis of the East Anglian Daily Times indulges in "bewitching" dishes at the Crown and Castle in Orford, Suffolk

Chef Jake is raring to go after over a year out of the kitchen (lockdown hit just one year into his stint at the hotel) and is keen to impress with dishes that sing of seasonality, showcasing local produce – some sourced just moments away from the premises.

I opted to begin with the crispy Blythburgh pork belly with chicory, radish and pumpkin seed granola. It was, if you like, an anti-nourish bowl. What I mean by that is, instead of slices of avocado over the salad leaves (à la Insta trends) it was garnished with cubes of crisp-edge, soft-cantered pork.

The mushroom polenta was dark as night....and bewitching in flavour. In fact, it was probably the most flavoursome dish of the evening. Polenta can either be soggy or dry as an old flannel. The kitchen team here had got it spot-on, with a crisp, almost potato fondant-like outside, yielding to a melting middle ram-packed with the rambunctious, beefiness of mushroom, and a whisper of truffle. Supporting acts of mushroom ketchup and ricotta bon bons made this a gorgeous plate of food.

The seared scallops with celeriac, apple and pancetta were wibbly, fresh and cooked to soft, plump perfection. Apparently Jake dehydrates the roe (which many people leave on the side of the plate) and uses it as a dust over the shellfish to give more welly to their flavour.

Price: £26 for two courses, £8 for an additional course

The Sunday Times' Marina O'Loughlin enjoys sophisticated riffs on ingredients at 111 by Modou in Glasgow

It's quite the story: Senegalese Diagne arrived in Glasgow in 2013 and ended up sleeping rough. [Nico] Simeone decided to take a punt – "He had an unbelievable work ethic" – and set about teaching the young man everything about the kitchen, from knife skills to cooking the increasingly popular 111 menu. And now he's chef-patron.

There was a chicken ragù with a number of textures of artichoke – a small dish with a big thud of flavour. Garnet-fleshed pigeon featured several treatments of red cabbage, toasted hazelnut and the pop and snap of mustard seeds. One starter, called simply Roscoff onion, came with so many riffs on the prized pinkish vegetable – an oblong of "cake", a caramelised slump, crisp-fried golden slivers on top and a vivid green purée of spring onion just by way of a change of chord – that it verged on the orchestral.

The most elaborate plate brought a chunk of perfectly black-red venison – all the meat is excellent – accessorised not only by another slow-cooked savoury ragù but a cube of layered potato interleaved with more venison and a truffled cannolo, the most delicate, crisp filo tube wrapped round a creamy filling that tasted like truffle-oiled Philadelphia (not a complaint). Vegetarians aren't ignored, though: I loved the chewy nuttiness of spelt risotto, even if it seemed a little basic compared with its complicated meaty cohorts.

Price: £35 per person for five courses

Giles Coren of The Times admires the cooking but is taken aback by the prices at Jason Atherton's Harrods Social

Harrods Social: big, breezy and built originally as the inhouse Harrods Brasserie.

The menu was a joyful little thing and I rubbed my hands with glee at the sight of all this fresh, British, seasonal stuff – Cumbrian beef tartare, Wye valley asparagus, English garden salad, south coast halibut.

Although, ye gods, the prices! My salad – a dozen good leaves, one thinly sliced Jersey Royal, four chopped runner beans and a well-salted "green goddess" dressing – was marked as "21".

My food was excellent: a small bundle of gleamingly fresh Devon crab on a slice of nashi pear with tiny leaves and a sharp lemon gel (£19), followed by three spears of asparagus with its hefty Parmesan sablé, the buttery heads of four morels and a ball of confit egg yolk that was not as nice as an actual egg (£19), that salad and then the hake.

I also established, after a bit of chat, that the pricing truly isn't the Atherton group's fault at all. Not only are the prices set by the not especially bargain-hunty sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, but the chefs Atherton puts in have to come off his payroll and join the Harrods one. Harrods buys the produce. In short, it's still the Harrods Brasserie but they get to put "Social" above the door and have a Jason Atherton menu in return for a consultancy fee.

Score Can't give a score, didn't pay. Price: I don't know precisely, but about £150 including water and service, which is what I donated to Hospitality Action when I got home

The Daily Telegraph's William Sitwell grazes on a selection of small plates at Fenn in London

The hideous-looking fried chicken, named FFC (Fenn fried chicken, ha ha ha) is very good: soft meat, crunchy batter and a hit of that vivacious but still gentle wild garlic.

It's one of a horde of little sharing plates that come from the kitchen. The oysters – Cornish rock – were so meltingly tasty we ordered more. We had a dainty pile of potato dumplings topped with grated Lincolnshire Poacher (croquettes with cheese, if you need it translating), and the beef tartare was a great example of the wonder of eating raw cow – tender beef made an intense red by the mixing of fermented chilli.

My pal applauded the confit duck egg with wild mushroom, but I take issue with the phenomenon of a soft egg being anywhere near consommé or soup. It's a fancy dish, but I think a runny egg needs something firm and dry to sit on, not a pond, regardless of the skill of its construction.

A plate of Jersey Royals and asparagus was joyfully presented in an artful swirl. It had all the right tones of crunch and softness, and came with a further flash of spring in the form of watercress sauce.

We then had a smattering of puddings that ranged from a nimble custard tart – laced with nutmeg in a way that celebrated that fragrant seed without crowding the palate – to a tart Granny Smith sorbet and a nicely obvious salted-caramel ice-cream.

Price: dinner for two excluding drinks and service, £111. Score: 4/5

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