The Bull and Last
Giles Coren, The Times (Rating: Meat/fish 8, Cooking 8, Location 9, Score 8.33)
Having “been back and back and back. Ten, maybe 12 visits.”, Giles has “never been anywhere so many times before a review” than to his newly revamped local “on the edge of what estate agents call Dartmouth Park (always be suspicious of an area named after a park that doesn’t exist)” and “150 yards from my front door”. He’s not shy in his praise for “some of the best pub food I’ve ever eaten”. Hearty-sounding scoff from pea fritters to pig’s head and gribiche that’s “interesting”… “fascinating”… “rare and thrilling”…“so perfect”. Apparently “some people around think the place looks a bit funny: there are huge cows’ heads mounted above the bar, and a red wall covered in tankards” but all-in-all he judges it still “very much a pub”, with staff full of “knowledge and enthusiasm” and a wine list showing “variety and value”.
The Modern Pantry
AA Gill, The Sunday Times (Rating: 2/5 stars)
Between observations on current economic gloom (“I told you so”… every restaurant closure is “a gap in the smile of civlisation”… “none of us wants to encourage dinner parties”) and five top tips for aspiring restaurateurs to survive the downturn, the Sunday Times’s man yawns loudly at this “grey” restaurant painted “in those National Trust matt flat tones that are called things like Dead Pigeon or Maudlin Mortician”. A “weird” omelette is “okay” but about all he seems to be able to recall, and with “atmosphere” – “obviously none” – he dismisses the place as a “a transient grey restaurant that vanished without trace”: “Was it expensive? I don’t think so. Was it worth it? Not really”.
York & Albany
John Walsh, The Independent (Rating: Food 4/5 stars, Ambience 3/5 stars, Service 3/5 stars)
John Walsh records a “stunning” meal at Gordon Ramsay’s “handsome” revamped pub – now “a bar and a hotel” – although he finds the “depressingly-lit” restaurant (decorated in “a horribly muted 1950s shade”) lacks the attraction of the “exceptionally posh American bar” which is “so cool, you feel pleased with yourself just walking in and ordering a gin and tonic”. At Murano, the critic “couldn’t detect many signs of genius” of chef Angela Hartnett’s food, but here (where she oversees the kitchens) “triumphant dishes” are “beautifully cooked, heftily flavoured, lightly sauced, imaginatively presented and lovingly served”.
The Lord Nelson, Nottingham
Terry Durack, The Independent on Sunday (Rating: 13/20)
A “generous, hospitable, well-run, fairly-priced” new opening just outside the city: the latest venture of an award-winning, local pub chain (The Moleface Pub Company). “It’s the kind of place that those with landlord aspirations dream of running in their twilight years” apparently, featuring “a series of cosy, linked dining-rooms decked out with bare, wooden tables and chairs” and a “pub-of-my-dreams” menu where “everything begs to be ordered”. On the downside, “food-styling is rife” but actual results vary (“fun”, “gritty”, “over-done”, “strangely watery”, “blissfully crisp”). Still the place “gets a lot of things right” and the problems diagnosed should be “easily fixed”.
The Giaconda Dining Room
Matthew Norman, The Guardian (Rating: 9.5/10)
In between fantasies of whipping and shackling TV chefs “who deploy name recognition to fleece the innocent”, Matthew Norman cites this “absurdly miniscule” venture as “how it should be done” – not just “the most impressive new restaurant [in] ages”, but also “an uncannily perfect template for the recession/depression”. “Everything is so spot on here that it borders on indecency”: there’s “an unusual and richly enticing menu”, “the best waitress”, and a “lack of artifice stretching from the cosy, upmarket cafe aura… to the prices”. Aussie chef Paul Merrony “unleashes the rigorous accuracy of classical French technique on the kind of inexpensive ingredients… of which we'll be seeing more in the years ahead, and makes them sing like angels”.
Rather than a convincing restaurant, Jay judges this hotel dining room to be a “trannie with a heavy five o'clock shadow and big meaty hands”. “It’s not merely the austere, harshly lit space” but “its origins as the big room… where men in the duct-tape business could meet for their annual conference, are barely disguised”. Chef Santino Buscilgio “writes a good menu” using “solid British produce” in “the service of solid Italian cooking, with the occasional twist or twirl”. But while only one dish is “actively bad” the food “did the job, wihout adding to the gaiety of life”: “Propellerheads like me can write prose poems to a good osso buco; this one was barely deserving of a cringe-making homily in a Hallmark greetings card.”
The Vyse Room, Buckinghamshire
Jasper Gerard, The Telegraph (Rating: 4/10)
“God, it can be depressing returning to this country from France”, and the Telegraph’s man finds little to lift his spirits at this new venture where the chef is Mark Bentley, who, he tells us, was until recently at Heston Blumenthal’s Hind’s Head in Bray. Despite “one of the most magnificent” dining rooms (“light blue with high, stark-white ceilings and French windows leading to lawns and lakes”) everything here is “more Heston Services than Heston B”, indeed a meal of “calumnies” follows. The steak is the “worst… I've ever eaten” (you’d “struggle with a chainsaw” to eat it). Even Jasper’s four-year-old feels “these chips are disgusting” (and he “eats wine gums that have been squashed into pavements”). When the bill arrives “I should protest, but instead I laugh”.
London Carriage Works, Liverpool
Zoe Williams, The Sunday Telegraph (Rating: 7.5/10)
In “an exceptionally lovely area of Liverpool”, Zoe Williams finds “charming service, lovely high ceilings, exposed brick [and] an informal sense of space” at this much-fêted eatery, which she praises as an advert for “urban regeneration”. One “duff” dish turns out to be “stringy” and “not enormously likeable” while another is “a bit late-1990’s, but not off-putting”. Otherwise there are waves of praise for Paul Askew’s “inventive”, “earthy”, and “marvellous” dishes.