Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin says the pork chop alone is worth a trip to Oren in London's Dalston

17 August 2021
Reviews: Marina O'Loughlin says the pork chop alone is worth a trip to Oren in London's Dalston

Marina O'Loughlin of The Sunday Times says the pork chop alone is worth a trip to Oren in London's Dalston

Middle Eastern breads deserve to have hymns and poems and odes written to them – paeans, litanies. Oren's are divine, all made on site (as are dips and pickles and their own resonant baharat spice mix). The first, a bubbled flatbread, comes with sieved tomatoes, the vivid pulp joyfully scarlet in its puddle of fine, nippy olive oil; and insanely silky tahini – not a trace of bitterness.

This is from Nablus, apparently, a town on the West Bank known for being the nutty sesame paste's original home. Plus their own uncompromisingly fiery grilled chilli harissa. I could have stopped here, well-mixed martinez (the classic martini's heady older sibling) in hand, plunging the bread from tomatoes to harissa heat to suave tahini, not really needing much else.

But the menu is a siren song, drawing you in with the likes of hake kebabs – kebabs in the kofte sense, so more like toasty-edged, dill-packed fishcakes – on a generous bed of cool, thick tzatziki. Or black bream ceviche, the fish so fresh it almost crunches, a forest of perky herbs and mandolined radishes on top, swimming in citrus and more of that good oil.

Meat is treated with butch tenderness: black-red slabs of roasted mallard breast, its gaminess tempered by barbecued little gem lettuce, the meat leaching out the most delicious roasting juices. I love a bruiser of a Tamworth pork chop, juicy and with just a touch of blush at the bone, beautifully paired with the caramel squelch of slow-roasted garlic cloves and the sting of preserved lemon. This is how I want to eat pork from here to eternity.

The short menu changes regularly, so this is a snapshot, a flavour of what to expect. Some things are constants: the flatbreads; a pitta Jerusalem mixed grill (stuffed with smoke- and cumin-scented chicken livers, duck hearts and lamb sweetbreads with tahini and turmeric-pickled mango); a dense, intense, venial sin of a chocolate mousse. And, hooray, the pork chop: that alone is worth any trip to Dalston. Any trip anywhere, basically.

Price: meal for two, including 12.5% service charge, £119

The Daily Telegraph's William Sitwell finds sublimely skilful cooking at Pythouse Kitchen Garden in Tisbury, Wiltshire

[How] incredibly splendid Pythouse Kitchen Garden is. What was once a series of greenhouses, potting sheds and outhouses is now a restaurant, small shop, and cuttings, herb and vegetable garden, and there was a marquee. This is where most of the summer dining takes place.

As we studied the menu at our table, decorated with fresh flowers, a line of hessian cloth and a pot of rosemary, we sipped on the house non-alcoholic aperitif Sprigster with tonic. The brew is scented with the botanicals that crowded the view from the tent.

The menu has starters and veg; you just choose your dish ‘from the fire' and a pud. We nibbled first on a light ‘yellow-split-pea whip', a subtle and soft mush of pulse, with the lightest fragrance of the garden and a whole radish. There was beetroot, too, with slender roasted carrots, and delicious bread made with potato. It was all sublimely natural, skilfully cooked and presented with a deft artistic bent.

As was my dish of beef, the remnants of a retired dairy cow whose service to mankind was perpetuated as her flesh was well aged in salt then cooked nicely over charcoal. It came dressed with a long, curling piece of veg: a garlic scape. The chef pickles it to soften, then tempers it briefly on the grill. It tastes gently of garlic, but earthy and fresh too.

Our lunch ended with the most sublime chocolate mousse: rich, light and dappled with bits of cocoa, hazelnuts and puffed grain.

Pythouse Kitchen Garden is a bucolic English paradise deserving of global fame. Turn up and get a tour.

Score: 5/5. Price: three-course lunch for two, excluding drinks and service, £63

Jay Rayner of The Observer is outraged by the prices and quality at the Polo Lounge at the Dorchester hotel in London

Bloody hell, look at those prices. The bread basket is £16. The salads start at £28. A bowl of pasta is £38. A steak is £135. Certain items are described as Polo Lounge "signature" dishes. Prime among them is the McCarthy salad, which costs £38 and arrives looking like someone with an organising compulsion has been at the Garfunkel's salad bar.

There are separate sections for chopped beetroot, skinned tomato, bacon minced to a paste, chicken breast with the texture of value-range cotton wool, cubes of sweaty, squeaky cheese, shredded egg and, on top, an avocado that's been halfway through an egg slicer. Underneath is shredded romaine, including the gnarly hard bit at the centre. They offer to toss it table-side. Once it's been mixed with an over-emulsified, over-sweetened balsamic vinaigrette that looks like congealed gravy, I know where it should be tossed.

The three diminutive crab cakes for £32 have a rigid shell the development chefs at Findus would envy and taste only lightly of crab, as if embarrassed about the star ingredient. They come with a sauce reminiscent of school-dinner salad cream circa 1975. A £38 bowl of rigatoni bolognese has a grimly sweet and cloying sauce that tastes mostly of tomato ketchup and profit.

But there are positives and they must be accentuated. There's a sweet cloud of chilled strawberry soufflé, with a little compote at the bottom. It's a £20 delight, but a delight all the same.

Katie Gatens of The Times says it's best to arrive hungry to the Loch & the Tyne in Old Windsor

After closing two restaurants mid-pandemic, Adam Handling has launched this sustainable pub with two bedrooms. He met his two senior chefs, Jonathan McNeil and Steven Kerr, while working in Scotland and the northeast of England; they are co-proprietors – hence the name.

My bedroom, Loch, is a cosy mix of forest greens and slate greys, with a dash of opulence in the form of a freestanding bathtub. Tartan throws, whisky cocktails, homemade shortbread and hot-water bottles with knitted cosies make the rooms ideal for hibernating come autumn.

It's best to book to secure a table in the restaurant – and to arrive hungry. It's popular among locals, and the dining room is full of life on a Saturday night. There's plenty of outside seating – you can eat on the wraparound wooden terrace, which has benches scattered with House of Hackney cushions.

The food is a blend of pub classics and fine dining, with flavours from the two regions. I start with a glass of sparkling wine from Handling's Kent vineyard, and order ham hock with a pease pudding velouté and lovage oil (unrecognisable from the stuff I slathered on sandwiches as a child). The Balmoral chicken comes with a haggis crust, charred broccoli, miso and black garlic paste, paired with a red from Renegade, an east London-based winery. Finish off with the creamy custard tart.

Price: B&B doubles from £187, mains from £18

Luciano by Gino D'Acampo
Luciano by Gino D'Acampo

The London Evening Standard's David Ellis finds Luciano by Gino D'Acampo at the ME London to be more Bella Italia than bellissimo

At a time when so many restaurants struggle to open for more than a handful of days each week, D'Acampo's got this place firing up for lunch and supper Monday through Sunday, indicating either enormous public demand, tons of backing money, or both. Luciano is Gino Jr and, well, you wouldn't open a dreadful place and then pin the blame on your first born, would you?

They were probably still playing catch and going fishing when the room was designed…but things seem to have broken down around the point that someone insisted on a cocktail with chunks of pepperoni in it.

There was less delinquency in the food menu, which offers an enormous range of straightforward Italian fare. Honestly, it's endless. There's cicchetti; antipasti; a choice of carpaccio and tartare; insalata; pasta, risotto and gnocchi; Neapolitan-style pizza; a list of fish ("dal mare"); another of steak; another of miscellaneous mains – lamb (which they didn't have), veal Milanese (likewise).

Much of what we ate seemed to strangely taste exactly alike. I do understand "bland" is not seasoning in the way, say, salt is, but… king prawns with chilli and garlic butter? Nothing. Calamari fritti? Almost tasteless. Linguine seafood lacked the vibrancy and acidity to make any flavour stand out, and if I'd been told the lads down the road in Bella Italia had cooked it, I wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.

Price: meal for two plus drinks, around £200

The Aberdeen Press and Journal's critic finds the Galley Whitehills, in Aberdeenshire, to be much more than a casual café

The Galley is a seafood restaurant and snack café catering for all tastes and the nation's favourite – fish and chips – still has a special place on the menu. But it rubs shoulders with dishes that would not be out of place on a top-end menu, and some with a distinct Spanish twist.

The star of the show for me was my main course of Mediterranean fish stew. This type of combination in all its forms is one of my all-time favourites.

A rich herb and garlic tomato sauce held all the goodies in place – chunks of scallops, monkfish, haddock and rock turbot smothered with mussels.

More tomato bread was deployed on the sauce; I would have happily used a whole loaf.

For my wife, duo of chicken and scampi: battered chicken fillets and breaded scampi with salad and hand-cut chips. In retrospect, the scampi was so good she wished she had asked for a plateful of that instead.

We indulged ourself at the end with creamy, mousse-like cheesecake and homemade fresh fruit pavlova, both with ice-cream – perfect for a summer afternoon.

It's a family-run business here and you can feel the love. This was one of those occasions when we set off full of apprehension and without a plan, but it turned out brilliantly; plain sailing, in fact.

Score: food: 4/5; service: 4/5; surroundings: 4/5. Price: meal for two, £80

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