Reviews: Jay Rayner finds a lot to enjoy at Manchester's Delhi House Café, while Liz Edwards finds a warm welcome at the Mitre at Hampton Court
The Observer's Jay Rayner visits Delhi House Café in Manchester and finds ‘there is a lot to enjoy here'
The restaurant has just turned eight days old as I lollop through the door, but it feels like a mature business well into its stride. It also boasts some of the best trained, and most cheery staff I have come across in a long while.
A Goan prawn curry, in a deep-spiced tomato-based sauce, has an inbuilt culinary timer. You get the sweetness of the sauce and the fresh squeak of the seafood first, before the sudden punch of the chilli heat. Tandoori lamb chops are on as a special, and while they've trimmed off a little too much fat for my liking, they are still a glorious, spice-crusted exercise in bone nibblage.
My doubts are over two deep-fried offerings. The Amritsari fish fry brings crisp, golden battered pieces of fish and prawns, with barely any thumb print of the Indian tradition within which they are being served. They could come from anywhere. It's the same with the JFC, which stands for Jama Masjid Fried Chicken. In an age when you can't move for deep-fried bird, a plate of distinctively Indian-spiced drumsticks would be marvellous. These carry just a whisper of something strident.
Still, there is the compensation of a dessert menu. There's a boldly sweet shortcrust pastry tart layered with gajar halwa, that mess of carrots cooked down in milk and sugar. It's topped with Nutella and sits in a puddle of spiced custard. There's also a more mellow cheesecake with a thick base made with gooey Mysore pak. Think of it as an Indian equivalent of fudge that is trying to reduce its sugar content so it doesn't get banned by the department of health.
Price: small plates from £4.95; large plates from £6.95
Liz Edwards of The Sunday Times finds great food and a warm welcome in a showstopper location at the Mitre at Hampton Court
The Mitre is a 17th-century coaching inn that has just this week reopened – and the new owners have given it about as much of a makeover as you're allowed to give a Grade II-listed building.
The building dates from 1665 (the year of the Great Plague, if you're into unfortunate symmetry), when Charles II realised his palace just wasn't big enough to accommodate all his guests. In the 1960s it became something of an "It" spot but it suffered in recent years.
Step in Hector Ross, formerly at the helm of Surrey-luxe hotel Beaverbrook, with his new boutique hotel brand, the Signet Collection. The plan is to take "beautiful yet tired" properties and bring them back to life. The Mitre is the first to get the "defibrillator" treatment, with the help of the chef Ronnie Kimbugwe, and the designer Nicola Harding (Beaverbrook is on her CV too). The result is a hotel with 36 bedrooms, two riverside restaurants, suntrap terraces and a residents' library stocked with help-yourself decanters, where the lead-in rate of £180 seems entirely reasonable.
Harding's design is a vogueish blend of antique elegance and contemporary nous that'll keep your aged aunt from tutting and your Gen Z offspring from eye-rolling (scarce plug sockets aside). So there's wooden panelling, curly-toed tables, heavy chests of drawers, well-stuffed upholstery with tassels and skirts, and hundreds of secondhand books; but also a lot of colour in gorgeous Ottoline wallpapers and bold paintwork.
Ross counts the Pig's Robin Hutson as a family friend and mentor, and he obviously has a flair for hospitality – that welcoming glass of fizz is just the start. He has put in baskets for dogs, bunk beds (in three rooms) for children, daily cheese-and-wine tastings, and bedside bottles of King's Ginger liqueur to take care of the nightcaps.
So the rooms are lovely, the food's great, the welcome is warm – hotel manager Claire Fyfe, an interior designer, MasterChef finalist and ray of charming sunshine, embodies all three – but really the Mitre is all about the location.
The Telegraph's William Sitwell thinks Hot Stone in London's Islington is "genuinely fabulous"
Encouraged by my pal Joe – an aficionado of Japanese restaurants – we had been sipping sake by the glass. The plan had been to go easy on the Japanese rice wine, what with carafes seeming a little pricey. So a small glass of sake could be sipped for flavour and effect, and a glass of wine to quench the thirst (we did also drink water). But Hot Stone in Islington is so good, so authentic, every dish so tantalising in looks and flavour and the dishes so multitudinous that we kept needing to order more sake to keep up with the food.
We started with scallop carpaccio, which came in a large shell, with a dose of plum sauce and edible flowers. They slipped down dreamily; a delicate taste of the sea, that lesson in how seafood and fish barely need heat to bring further flavour. There was seared salmon with a perfect balance of truffle and yuzu. Other selections of sashimi and sushi revealed the extraordinary fact that when fish is cut differently, it creates a different texture and flavour.
We cooked beautiful little cuts of Australian wagyu beef on a hot stone and popped on king prawns as well. And we ate an aubergine so good that I would fight you for it. Cut lengthways, the heart was rich and sticky, the skin with some bite but tender enough to eat.
Hot Stone is a classic Japanese place of dark wood, sharp edges and prompt, efficient service. It is genuinely fabulous.
**Price: lunch for two without drinks or service, £180.50
Tom Parker Bowles of The Mail on Sunday discovers ‘peerlessly consistent French brasserie food' at Le Colombier in Chelsea
On a hot, late August afternoon, the outdoor tables are booked. They always are, for those linen and Tod's-clad regulars, old Chelsea to their core, treat this place like their local canteen. There's chilled house rosé, and good bread, and a half dozen crevettes sitting on ice, bracingly fresh and dunked into homemade mayonnaise.
More expertly sourced fish with the ‘vintage' sardines, La Quiberonnaise, served in their bright yellow tin with a fistful of chopped shallot and a good squeeze of lemon. They were canned last year and allowed to age slightly, giving the expertly deboned and beheaded beauties an exquisitely subtle depth.
Fish soup has a suitably rusty hue, and with its hint, rather than blast, of piscine bosk, it's not so much swaggering, salty old sea dog as elegant boulevardier with a deep, dark past. Snails arrive out of the shell, the sauce delivering a creamy jolt of garlic and Pernod-laced delight.
Roast grouse ‘à l'Anglaise' may not strike one as part of the French culinary canon. But it's every bit the equal of its brethren at Wilton's or Rules. Cooked rare, the sweet flesh is served with clear gravy and bread sauce.
In fact, the only bum note of the entire lunch is a tomato salad, served as cold as the mortuary slab. A tiny quibble. Because Le Colombier not only cooks up peerlessly consistent French brasserie food. But does so with the broadest of smiles.
Price: about £40 a head
Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard visits Korean restaurant Sollip in Bermondsey, south London, and enjoys its cassoulet
The menu is divided into snacks, other dishes, and desserts including a snack of Jochung (grain syrup) Madeleine. Gougères made with aged Cheddar and fermented soybean have a depth charge usually denied to choux dough. Gamtae sandwich, a doll's house sando, is made with Duckett's Caerphilly and seaweed. What I find fishy, a friend describes as truffley.
Pictures of the neat slice of daikon tarte Tatin sitting quite near a spoon of chilli chive potato cream are appearing in social media. As a recipe idea it is a cunning notion, but would be much improved hot from the oven – as its apple inspiration is usually served – rather than cold and lonely.
Best of what we try (in hindsight I regret not ordering braised beef shortrib with black truffle butter rice) is Sollip cassoulet, incorporating belly pork and notably virtuous cannellini beans with 10-months-fermented kimchi slightly revving the broth.
Sollip is a brave, still rather tentative mom-and-pop endeavour. Service is not its strong suit but that can easily be improved. Independent and to some extent groundbreaking, it deserves support.
The Guardian's Grace Dent enjoys a broad church menu at Wong Kei in London's Chinatown
Of an afternoon, Wong Kei is steeped in a peaceable semi-silence of scraping bowls and gossiping grans. The staff served me a large plate of soft, sticky-skinned aubergine with sliced fish over rice. The fish is wrapped in batter, the aubergine rich and meaty.
I'm a huge fan of the deep-fried bean curd, pleasingly bland yet fluffy on the inside, scorched on the outside and carpeted in fierce chilli and minced garlic. The ma po bean curd with beef is also heavily decent, the stewed brisket beef hot pot dependable, while the Hong Kong-style pork chop seems as popular now as it was in the 1990s. And Wong Kei's menu remains a broad church: deep-fried intestine, bitter melon and stewed ducks' webs sits close to lemon chicken and Singapore noodles.
On the ground floor of Wong Kei, I took a pew and poured tea, ordered bean curd, some aubergine and extra dry noodle in oyster sauce, plus some takeaway cold roast duck and soya chicken on rice for Charles for when he got home from work, as well as a chow ho fun mixed seafood.
"Can I keep hold of the menu?" I asked the waitress, who immediately went to take it off me. "No, you can't – you'll get it dirty," she said, snapping it away in a delicious burst of semi-rudeness. That made my day. The world might be sliding to hell in a handcart, but my beloved Wong Kei is alive and kicking.
Price: about £10-15 a head, plus drinks and service