The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon has an outstanding meal at Steve Drake’s Sorrel in Dorking
I ordered the ‘Discovery’ tasting menu. It began with two exquisite snacks: filo pastry with mackerel, and the creamiest broccoli mousse with kiwi.
The first course proper was another mousse, this time pumpkin, with smoked paprika, Parmesan and parsley: melty, sweet and crunchy. Next: scallop, smoked cauliflower, cucumber and curry cannelloni. Again, a tiny swirling blizzard of competing textures and flavours: soft, crunchy, savoury, sweet.
Chicory, samphire, pork cheek, blood orange and chervil: the least remarkable thing on the menu, by virtue of being merely good. The salt-baked beetroot, by contrast, was excellent. Tangy, tingly, salty and sweet. (I know I keep saying sweet, but virtually all the dishes had some element of sweetness. From here on, assume a dish is at least partly sweet unless stated otherwise.)
A lissom poached monkfish (not sweet!) was followed by duck, date and a peculiar concoction on the side called liver meringue. Then a cheese dish that looked like a miniature bakewell tart: the inevitable sweetness offset by the stinky, glowering brutishness of the Barkham Blue cheese.
Two puddings. First, something called Carrot Tobacco. Imagine a sugary Shredded Wheat, the size of a thumbnail, but made from dehydrated carrot and served on a blob of ice cream. I guarantee it tastes much better than it sounds. Pudding number two: the burstingly fruity Blackberry Waldorf.
There’s lots to love at Sabor in London’s W1, says The Guardian’s Grace Dent, and lots that could be a little better, but it’s still some of the best Spanish food in Great Britain
Two plump, shiny gambas come in an oily garlic slick for £8. A plate of freshly blanched purple sprouting broccoli comes with a beurre blanc so sumptuous that I eat it like a belted galloway let loose among the petunias. But I’m less struck by the frit mariner, a puzzling plate of soft onion, aubergine and pepper with white fish and two prawns hiding sporadically in its midst and located only via autopsy. And white pepper is scattered liberally on many of the dishes. But I fell in love with the bombas de chocolas, a trio of saucy praline- and hazelnut-flecked doughnuts: teeth-encrustingly naughty. I love the rhubarb and mascarpone tartaleta much less, despite the deftness of its pastry bed and the freshness of all its innards. It was a too-tart tartlette.
There’s lots to love here, and lots that could be a little better. But it’s still – and this is testament to Barragán and Etura – some of the best Spanish food in Great Britain.
About £40 a head, plus drinks and service. Food: 8/10; atmosphere: 7/10; service: 8/10
The Sunday Times’s Marina O’Loughlin wants to love Bryn Williams at Somerset House on London’s Strand
The recipient of a cauliflower steak dish (yes, of course there’s a cauliflower steak dish) — an intimidatingly large slab of the vegetable, charred from the grill, dotted with fat, sweet, golden raisins and salted fresh grapes, served with a side dish of the richest, creamiest, cheesiest polenta I’ve eaten outside Piedmont — is still rhapsodising about it days later. I’m moved to swoop a chunky, golden-crusted chip through the polenta and am suitably ashamed: double-carbing, the most pleasurable transgression. Williams can certainly cook.
And he has a firecracker, if occasionally magpie, creativity too: I’ve seen compressed watermelon with seafood before, initially a Thomas Keller signature, I think, now adopted by everyone from Simon Hulstone in Torquay to Quay in Sydney. But the version here is an absolute blast of freshness, the fruit transformed by its dehydration, the crab sweet, perky, enchanting, a frond or two of salty sea asparagus and a slick of herbed oil the savoury base notes that hold it all together.
I want to love Bryn Williams at Somerset House, but what I feel is more a kind of awed respect. The staff all behave as though a smile or a bit of a chat might crack their cool. This is with the very notable exception of Federica, a Neapolitan charmer who radiates warmth and welcome like a walking ray of sunshine. She’s evangelical about Williams, recounting every stage of his “celebrity” while talking us into ordering a “lav-and-er” dessert I’d never have contemplated otherwise. It turns out to be astonishing: shards of crisp, lavender-scented meringue, lemon syllabub of clean, airy sharpness, suave, mauve blueberry ice cream: none of it too sweet, all of it a showstopper.
Total: For two, including 12.5% service charge £121
The Times’s Giles Coren is impressed by the Woodspeen in Berkshire
I had a crab risotto off the special menu, not cheap at £18 and pretty small, but beautifully made, the grains firm and lively but gritless, the crabmeat fresh and sweet, juicy little brown shrimps in there, beads of cauliflower, olive oil, spot of balsamic. Esther had their own-smoked salmon, perfectly cured, sliced vertically, muscular and fat with slivers of yellow and red pickled beetroot, blobs of goat curd, strips of Granny Smith, a wonderful riot of colour in bleakest, snow-bound winter. As was the roasted scallop with its chorizo and broccoli.
The bass was a picture: fat white flesh wobbling beneath a crisped silvery brown top, sitting on plump beans in a bright white chowder, basil leaves, some orange of pumpkin … And a tranche of cod was equally impressive, sitting on rounds of braised onion and scattered with tiny brown shrimp.
Cooking: 7; service: 8; score: 7.5. Price: £75/head
Studio 88 near London’s Leicester Square is brilliant except for the food, according to The Observer’s Jay Rayner
The service is terrific. Managing table service cheerfully when 80% of the room is on their feet dancing, as they were from about 8.10pm, is not easy. This lot managed it with grace and professionalism. What’s more, they had to do so in the face of adversity, which is to say, the notion that putting food in paper cones, placed in spindly holders, is a good one. It isn’t. Each time they served us with a cone they made a point of putting it directly into our hands.
It took me a while to work out why. If they put them on the table they would invariably fall over, as the only one they placed down did, spilling its contents. Sadly, they replaced it, which meant we got to try their take on salmon tartare. It involved avocado, olives, currants, coconut and despair. Mine. If someone had made this for me at 3am from what was lurking at the back of the fridge, I’d have understood. But to pay someone to do it seemed to me like a terrible error of judgment.
Crab croquettes were mostly potato and had a “Mum’s gone to Iceland because she hates me” quality. They were served completely tepid, which is unsurprising given they were in a paper cone. The worst of these tepid dishes was an extra sharing platter of dim sum at a shocking £20, which reminded me of those sold in a well-known Asian supermarket chain. They’d been allowed to cool and coagulate until they were stuck to the slate they had been served on. Maybe they were trying to save us from eating them. We pushed the slate aside and leapt up to dance to Don’t Stop Me Now.
Meal for two, including glass of prosecco: £50
Fay Maschler reviews Bowling Bird in London’s Farringdon in the Evening Standard, a restaurant “agreeably timeless and happy in its own skin”
Meat cooking is at the restaurant’s heart. I’ll be going back to eat one of the cuts of beef, probably the côte de boeuf with roasted shallots and sea salt, but I can tell you now about exceptionally well-flavoured rack of Borders lamb, its fat rubbed with cumin and caraway and little dots of black olive caramel providing sweet-savoury punctuation. Wild haunch of venison hung, says its recipient, almost to the point of being able to canter back to the forest, is also notable — and munificently served.
Fish dishes tried include chargrilled — few items escape that fate — octopus served with beetroot, paper-thin slices of raw mooli and alfalfa sprouts; king prawns, also grilled, accompanied by lemongrass aioli; and dish of the day of Sardinian fregola cooked with tomatoes, garnished with a pair of langoustines and zhooshed up with ’nduja. A dessert shared is tarte Tatin, where the pastry could be puffier but the caramelised apples are excellent.
Tom Chesshyre of The Times enjoys the creative design of the newly launched boutique inn, the Cow in Dalbury Lees, Derbyshire
The Cow is full of surprises. The bar comes with strange stools made from tractor seats and milk churns. A table to one side is fashioned out of an old butcher’s block. Furniture and fittings have been artfully constructed from reclaimed wood and shiny sheets of copper and zinc. The reclaimed wood look continues in the rooms, which have a pared-down style and (slightly comical) paintings of cows on the walls. Old machine parts have been cleverly transformed into lamps and some rooms have cowhide chairs to go with desks made from reclaimed wood.
Most food is sourced within 30 miles and it’s served either in the bar or in a small dining section with a fireplace. The menu mainly comprises small plates such as stilton and plum rarebit, marmalade-glazed chipolatas with chutney, and baked aubergine. The idea is to order two or three each and share, or have a couple to share as a starter and then one of the larger plates. I do the latter, enjoying the hot smoked salmon flatbread (like a little pizza) and potato croquettes to start, followed by a fine pheasant casserole and, for pudding, a sweet Bakewell trifle with cherries and almond sponge.
Videos from The Caterer archives