- The Gaff
- Origin City
- Story Cellar
- 64 Goodge Street
- The Kirkstyle Inn and Sportsman’s Rest
- Burnt Smokehouse
- The Three Horseshoes
- La Gamba
- 2 Fore Street
- Homies on Donkeys
- Lir: Native Seafood
- Speedboat Bar
- The Halfway at Kineton
- Alexandros Greek Restaurant & Deli
- Asador 44
- Quo Vadis
- Beckford Canteen
- Crisp Pizza W6
- Matsudai Ramen
- Restaurant St. Barts
- The Woolpack
- Bouchon Racine
- The Sportsman Club
- The Black Bull Inn
- The Barley Mow
- Fork Lewes
- Tsiakkos & Charcoal
- Kuro Eatery
- The Dog & Gun Inn
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29 Milsom Place, Bath; thegaffrestaurant.co.uk
The centre of Bath is a riot of chain restaurants, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph: every second glance, you'll spot an Ivy, a Bill's or a Rosa's Thai. So it's a relief to discover – in the city's beautiful Georgian heart – a place that's unapologetically "indie". Walk into The Gaff, and you're confronted by the sight of "tattooed stove creatures" plying their trade. The menu is also "bang on trend", with sharing plates and "dirty" dishes, such as corn ribs and fried chicken. What's clear is that the "tattooed lads" know how to cook: the food here is "seriously top notch". There's "rich and exotic" Sri Lankan pork curry; "fabulous stone bass" served with a bean stew that would "hold its own against the best of southwest France"; "well-executed duck" with a rich faggot and peas; and a "simply fabulous pud of dark chocolate banoffee with sour cream". The one disappointment is the decor, which is a bit "too Caesar-salad-and-sauvignon-blanc" to be a match for the gutsy, original cooking. Dinner for four: £114, excluding drinks and service.
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12 West Smithfield, London EC1; origincity.co.uk
This "nose-to-tail" restaurant, on the south side of London's Smithfield meat market, is possibly the most traditional I've reviewed this year, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. The "comfortable" dining room, with its large tables and non-intrusive music, has a "1990s power-lunch vibe". And head chef Graham Chatham, formerly of Rules, treats his ingredients with "old-school care". But Origin City doesn't need to break new ground, because it's "doing something rather less celebrated: it's cooking up a total storm". Homemade charcuterie – coppa, salami Milanese, ham – has impressive "piggy power", and comes with toast and "ludicrously intense" 'nduja butter. Triple-cooked chips are "crunchy and golden and speak of time and effort" – and "the cooking of stone bass is spectacular": while the "creamy-white flesh slips apart" easily, the skin is so crisp it "makes a rustling noise when a knife-edge is dragged across it". It's all good value too – especially the "carefully arranged wine list", which "barely manages to get above £40". This place is "nothing short of magnificent". Starters £11-£15; mains £21-£42; desserts £8-£10.
17 Neal's Yard, London WC2; storycellar.co.uk
This Covent Garden restaurant is the "younger sibling" of the Michelin two-starred Restaurant Story near Borough Market, said Tom Parker-Bowles in The Mail on Sunday. While the original (which is currently closed for refurbishment) is one of London's most ambitious restaurants, this one has more of a bistro feel: there are "lusciously buttery" red leather banquettes, a bar "topped in gleaming zinc", and an open kitchen serving immaculately cooked steak, dover sole, and a "magnificent" rotisserie chicken for two. With skin that is "crisp and burnished", and served with a clear, intense gravy, it's a "proper bird, with depth and flavour". But there are also some more "original dishes" on the menu – notably "bosky and boozy" snail bolognese on toast. My one reservation about this place is that the wine list is a bit on the expensive side; in every other respect, "Story Cellar is a class act". About £45 a head.
16-18 Beak Street, London W1; mountainbeakstreet.com
Welsh-born chef Tomos Parry made his name by turning “glamorous urbanites” onto the “primeval” pleasures of Basque-accented, open-fired cooking, said Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard. He did this first at Brat in Shoreditch, and then at its offshoot, Brat x Climpson’s Arch. Now, to great fanfare, he has opened Mountain, a “vast, two-floored” restaurant in Soho housed in a site formerly occupied by Byron Burger. As at his other outlets, the menu features several sharing platters – including a “magnificent whole John Dory”. This is impressively sensuous cooking, but what “consistently took my breath away” was the “hidden complexity in so many dishes”. Citric grilled vine leaves were anchored by an “extraordinary housemade curd and girolle mix”. Raw sobrasada (Mallorcan spiced sausage) was served on toast with honey and slivered guindilla peppers – creating bites of “piquant genius”. Rousing and unforgettable, Mountain deserves “the fuss and attention currently engulfing it”. Meal for two plus drinks about £170.
St Mellion, Saltash, Cornwall; crocadon.farm
Remember the word Crocadon, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph. “And remember the name Dan Cox.” Because this restaurant, bakery and micro-brewery in Cornwall, which Cox opened earlier this year, feels like a “distillation of some of the most exciting developments in the UK food and drink scene”. Almost all the produce derives from Cox’s “modest” 120-acre farm. The beer and cider are home-brewed; salads are grown “using the principles of permaculture”; even the crockery is made by crushing up and incinerating the “remnants of your lobster and crab, your lamb bones and scallop shells”. And while Cox has succumbed to the fashion for tasting menus (nothing’s perfect), his cooking is hugely “confident” and “imaginative”. Mushroom parfait is a “marvel of richness and air, grounded with a powder of wild garlic”. Raw pollock is paired with strips of kohlrabi and the “tangy leaf of a herb called Mexican marigold”. For pud, sorbet and herbs are “presented like an Eton mess”. You read it here first: Crocadon is “magnificent, original and quite breathtaking”. Sunday lunch for two: £90, plus drinks and service.
64 Goodge Street
London W1; 64goodgestreet.co.uk
This new opening in Fitzrovia is the latest outpost of the Woodhead Restaurant Group, which owns such “reassuringly brilliant places” as Clipstone and The Quality Chop House, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. This time, the group has taken over a former travel agency and “reimagined it as an elegant French bistro”. In the compact and “gloriously quiet” dining room, we are served a series of superbly executed French classics. Comté and black-truffle gougeres are “earthy, doughnutty mouthfuls of loveliness”. Saddle of lamb comes with a vibrant sauce paloise – a bearnaise made with mint rather than tarragon – and for pud there’s a “very good slice of gâteau marjolaine, a chocolatey stack of meringue, ganache and hazelnut” invented by the legendary Fernand Point. 64 Goodge Street only opened in August – but it has “hit the ground running”. From about £65 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service.
6A Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds; larkrestaurant.co.uk
Housed in a building that was once a bus shelter, this 20-seat restaurant in Bury St Edmunds is “not a glamorous space”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. “Instead, all the glamour is on the plate.” The “smallish plates” that emanate from the “tiny kitchen” startle with their ingenuity. Crunchy radishes are served with a “silky quenelle of whipped lardo”. A courgette flower is stuffed with baba ghanoush before being “expertly tempuraed”. Terrific hash browns are served two ways: either topped with a tartare of muntjac and radicchio, or with the garlicky “wonder-dip that is mojo rojo”. More impressive still is the “special” – rabbit shank and black pudding pie – which turns out to be the “love child of a wellington and a scotch egg”, and is a “masterclass in classical cooking”. You could use all sorts of words to describe Lark – ambitious, clever, hugely enjoyable – but I’ll go for just one. “Like that rabbit shank pie, it’s special.” Snacks £2.50-£7; plates £11-£28; desserts £10-£12.
57 Newington Green, Islington, London N16; cadetlondon.com
“I’d travel anywhere for a good charcutier,” said Tim Hayward in the FT. And so when I heard about an interesting one in north London, in the basement of a wine bar, I knew I couldn’t stay away. And happily, the charcuterie I was served at Cadet exceeded “anything else I’ve eaten in London”. The man responsible is George Jephson, who has “worked around food most of his career and, inspired by time in France, taught himself charcuterie from scratch”. His pork rillettes – served with sweet-sour cucumber instead of the usual gherkins – were a “kind of apogee”, being of a texture that allowed the “pork-flavoured fat” to “smear onto the bread like clotted cream”. I have long believed that pâté en croûte – layers of terrine encased in pastry – is “the test of a good charcuterie”: Jephson’s version was exceptional. Cadet isn’t just for charcuterie lovers: there’s also a daily changing menu, cooked by former St. John chef Jamie Smart. Just one dish was available on the night I visited – lamb shank with peas and mint – but it was outrageously good. Cadet may not know whether it’s a wine bar, charcutier or restaurant, but I am certain that “I must have more”. Starters £4-£6; small plates £8-£22; desserts £5-£9.
1 Bowood House, Empson Street, London E3; polentina.com
Having lunch at Polentina in Bow, east London, is a “rather peculiar” experience, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. The place doubles as the “staff canteen of the sustainable fashion factory ApparelTasker”. And so I ate surrounded by factory staff, looking out on “a load of sewing machines”. But the food is “wonderful”. A single Sorrento tomato stuffed with herby carnaroli rice has sweetly “yielding” flesh while remaining “supportive of its innards”. Spaghetti with bottarga is a delicious “tangle” of pasta, garlic and fish roe. Long-stewed bobby beans are “draped over very good, fresh ricotta”. Polentina, which offers a longer menu in the evenings, will inevitably get “slicker and more famous”. So go soon, because “like the Sex Pistols’ first gig in the Common Room at St Martin’s College of Art, it’s good to experience a new thing when it’s weird and unsettling”. From about £25 a head, plus drinks and service.
The Kirkstyle Inn and Sportsman’s Rest
Slaggyford, Northumberland; theksi.co.uk
It is rare, in this day and age, to be offered a three-course set menu for £30, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. But that’s what you get at this “astonishingly reasonably priced” inn in the North Pennines, which has recently been “gorgeously refurbished”. It’s the only pub for miles around, and “word is clearly out”: nosing through “recent Tripadvisor chunterings”, I read that some locals have already been five times for lunch. The menu is niftily balanced between “ornate” and hearty – appealing both to foodies and lovers of pub grub. Berkswell sheep’s-cheese mousse is served in “delicate dollops”, with Northumberland honey and tiny mushroom caps. Stewed beef cheek is soft and rich, with a “walloping lump of creamy mash”. But there’s also cod and chips with “perfectly seasoned” batter, and sirloin steak with cavolo nero and chips. The Kirkstyle Inn is testament to the power of a good restaurant to bring “joy to its community” – and well worth making a detour for. From about £35 a head à la carte; set three-course menu £30.
161a Midland Road, Leyton, London E10; instagram.com/burnt.smokehouse
The pitmaster at Burnt Smokehouse is the fabulously named Tiberius Tudor, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. Tudor, who is Muslim, spent two years working in smokehouses in Texas – including the legendary Franklin Barbecue – and decided that there was scope for a halal barbecue joint in his corner of northeast London. The place had only been going a few weeks when I visited, but already had the “kind of buzz you get when somewhere no one knew they needed has opened”. Lamb shoulder – cooked out back in a pellet smoker and sold (like the brisket) by the 100g – was “crisped and tender”, and demanded to be pulled apart by “fat-slicked fingers”. A “very good burger” grilled on a plancha consisted of “two seared patties with a serious depth of flavour”, dollops of grilled onions, house sauce and homemade dill pickles, plus “a coating of American burger cheese”. Eating here will get you messy – it’s “an eight-napkin-three-shirt-oh-sod-it kind of place” – but you won’t regret paying a visit. Meats £2.50-£10.50/100g; sauces and sides £1-£6; dessert £5. Walk-ins only.
The Three Horseshoes
Batcombe, Somerset; thethreehorseshoesbatcombe.co.uk
The Somerset village of Batcombe, near fashionable Bruton, is a “place of excruciatingly pretty cottages, grand houses and the smartest-looking playground I have ever seen”, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph. At its heart stands The Three Horseshoes, a pub built in the 17th century, which has recently been “tarted up with a deft and subtle touch”. Overseeing the food is Margot Henderson, co-owner of Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch (and wife of St John founder Fergus Henderson). And it is what you’d expect from her: “no nonsense” and “generally very good”. Watercress soup is “nothing simpler than the sublime taste of an English spring”, while mince on toast is a “nightmare of school food” elevated to “dreamlike status”. I also “triumphed” with my main – skate wing with onions and leeks and capers – while the treacle tart for pud would have swept the board at any English fête. Dinner for two: £86.50 excluding drinks and service.
Unit 3, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London SE1; lagambalondon.com
For a long time, it has been all but impossible to get a good meal on London’s South Bank, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. For a place that prides itself on its “eclectic and diverting” cultural scene, the food on offer has been decidedly mediocre. Happily, however, things are changing. The team behind the “terrific” Marksman pub in Hackney recently opened Lasdun inside the National Theatre. Now comes this “pleasing take on the Spanish repertoire” from the team behind Applebee’s fishmongers in Borough Market. Unsurprisingly, seafood is what La Gamba does best. Chipirones (baby squid) come in a “rustling and lacy skirt of batter” – a reminder of the platefuls of deep-fried seafood that “pour out of the tapas restaurants of Málaga”. Seafood rice is topped with prawns and mussels that have a “squeaky freshness”. But many of the non-fish dishes are impressive too – notably fried potatoes with nuggets of chorizo and a fried egg “slumped across the top”. What a refreshing change from the “dreary” chain restaurants that have dominated the area. Tapas £4.50-£15; large plates £19-£36.
91 Golborne Road, London W10; strakers.london
Thomas Straker, the eponymous chef-proprietor of this new Notting Hill restaurant, has become notorious for racking up millions of views on Instagram and TikTok, said Tom Parker Bowles in The Mail on Sunday. That made me eager at first to avoid his restaurant, which I assumed would be “glib and ephemeral”. But when I finally went along, I discovered just how wrong I had been. Unlike most “social media mayflies”, Straker is the “real thing”, serving food that is “ballsy” and “often beautiful”. Our meal started with “puffy and blistered” flatbread, spread with creamy stracciatella and an intense tomato sauce. Monkfish crudo was “clean as a coastal breeze”, while a plate of fresh pappardelle with pork ragu was “gleefully light, yet with just the right amount of chew”; that dish came with an “eye-watering” price tag of £34. But mainly, there’s a “joyous generosity” to Straker’s food. He may have “cheekbones that could slice sashimi” – but he really knows how to cook. About £70 a head.
2 Fore Street
Mousehole, Cornwall; 2forestreet.co.uk
This tiny bistro-cum-café is as lovely as the Cornish village that it lives in, said Tanya Gold in The Spectator. So much so that it features in a well-loved children’s story: Michelle Cartlidge’s “The Mousehole Mice” features “a café particularly beloved by tourist mice”. Inside, it’s extremely pleasant: “subtle art” adorns the walls, there’s “absolutely no nautical-themed décor”, and there’s a delightfully secluded garden, which is a “rare thing in Mousehole”. The cooking, while simple, is exceedingly good. Chef Joe Wardell trained with Raymond Blanc, and he produces food “of the same vivid yet familiar kind” – essentially “home cooking, but idealised”. Think blue-cheese soufflé; crab soup with parmesan toast and rouille; and rice pudding with strawberry jam. There’s also a “good, well-priced breakfast”. In a part of Cornwall that has been largely “hollowed out” by tourism, places as “skilful” and “charming” as this are rare. Starters £8.25-£11; mains £16.50-£21.50.
Homies on Donkeys
686 High Road Leytonstone, London E11; homiesondonkeys.com
This Leytonstone taqueria isn’t a place that stands on ceremony, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. You don’t get cutlery – diners are instructed to “get messy” – and with its graffiti-strewn interior, it has the feel of a “suburban skate park”. But there’s one compelling reason to eat here: the “truly astonishingly good” tacos, all of which are “complex and lovingly made”. Take camarón enchilado, or king prawn tacos: “fat prawns in a heroic amount of garlic and chilli, served in a tomato base”. Equally impressive are the “smooth, intoxicating” refried beans, and the “top-class” guacamole. While tacos dominate the menu, there are normally a couple of specials. One in particular – slow-cooked, braised chuck flanked by wobbly bone marrow still in its bone – could feature on an end-of-year roundup of “debauched things that offer nothing-but-calories happiness”. You won’t get “bells, whistles and forelock-tugging” at Homies on Donkeys, but the food here is an outrageous treat. From about £12 a head, plus drinks and service.
Lir: Native Seafood
The Marina, Coleraine, County Londonderry; nativeseafood.co.uk
On their website, the owners of this new fish restaurant in Coleraine, an hour’s drive northwest of Belfast, proclaim their commitment to “zero waste and sustainability”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. They also extol the virtues of fermenting, smoking and “whole-fish butchery”. While such “nerdiness is delightful”, it wouldn’t mean much if the food wasn’t good. Fortunately, it is “very good indeed”. A case in point is deep-fried hake “Kiev”: a “golden-brown barrel-shaped piece of beautifully cooked white fish”, from which oozes the “finest garlic butter known to humanity”. Or there’s monkfish sausage roll, its puff pastry “exquisitely laminated”, accompanied by a “thick fermented chilli ketchup with just the right bash of warming heat”. In every dish, the approach is inventive and thoughtful, “without being annoyingly so”. And for those who can’t get a table in the main restaurant, there’s a separate dining area on the deck outside, with its own street-food menu. In a region not renowned for its ambitious restaurants, Lir “deserves to thrive”. Starters £7.50-£8.50; mains £16-£29; desserts £7.50.
Upper Ground, South Bank London SE1; lasdunrestaurant.com
Although many have derided it as ugly and “brutalist”, I have always loved the National Theatre, Sir Denys Lasdun’s “masterwork” on the South Bank, said Tim Hayward in the Financial Times. So I was interested to try Lasdun, a restaurant on its upper level. And “to my utter delight”, it proved superb – and the perfect match for its surroundings. For not only is the dining room “breathtaking”, but the “austere but elegant” cooking feels wholly “in tune” with Lasdun’s vision. My meal started with black treacle sourdough and salted butter, followed by Norfolk leeks, asparagus, goat curd and hazelnuts, served with an impressive dressing. For my main, I opted for a dish of lobster, which tasted “so damn fresh” it might have just been pulled out of the Thames. One word of advice: don’t get to Lasdun too early; wait until the pre-theatre “rush has passed” to fully appreciate “excellent food”, and the “soul-nourishing architecture”. Starters £14-£24; mains £23-£26; desserts £11.
30 Rupert Street, London W1; speedboatbar.co.uk
This Thai restaurant on the edge of Soho is designed as a tribute to the bars found in Bangkok’s Chinatown, said Tom Parker Bowles in the Daily Mail. It looks the part, with its “mortuary-bright lights” and “utilitarian metal tables”. And the food is the real deal too, as you would expect from executive chef Luke Farrell – one of those rare Westerners who really understands Thai cookery. There are “vast raw prawns of impeccable quality”, served in an “elegantly fiery herb-flecked dressing”; and crispy chicken skins that come coated in zaep, a “salty, spicy, sour sort of seasoning that gets you reaching for the beer”. These snacks are followed by equally fine main dishes: an “astonishingly good pickled mustard green salad”, studded with slices of robust sausage, and “glorious, majestic suckling pig, the skin as brittle as a crème brûlée topping, the flesh lusciously tender”. Speedboat Bar may be a few thousand miles from Bangkok but, for a taste of the city’s flavours, you can’t do much better without hopping on a plane. About £30 a head.
The Halfway at Kineton
Kineton, Guiting Power, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; thehalfwayatkineton.com
There was a time when visitors to this “lovely old Jacobean inn” in the Cotswolds were best to stick to beer and crisps, said Giles Coren in The Times. But now it is run by “two Big Boys of the Gloucestershire restaurant scene” – Nathan Eades and Liam Goff – and the food alone is “worth a very big detour”. Arriving there after a walk on a Sunday in April, we found the place “rammed” with locals tucking into such meaty delights as slow-cooked shoulder of Cornish lamb, and roast Herefordshire sirloin with braised chuck. I resisted these, and went for the veggie option: a mushroom and celeriac pie I’d spotted on the pub’s Instagram feed. And it proved “epochal”: a “shimmering golden dome” sitting on a “thick, creamy celeriac purée”, with dark mushroom gravy streaming down its sides “like the stickiest veal jus”. The rest of our meal was equally fantastic: the best roast potatoes I’ve ever had in a pub; “out of this world” cauliflower cheese. There aren’t many places I’d rather be after a “long walk in the English cold”. Pie with all its trimmings: £19.50; meat roasts £22/£23.
Alexandros Greek Restaurant & Deli
68 Warwick Rd, Carlisle; thegreek.co.uk
Alexandros has been “feeding the good and greedy of Carlisle for more than two decades”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. And they clearly love it: when I visited on a Wednesday lunchtime, the restaurant was “doing trade of which others can only dream”. It is very much “a family affair”: one of the owner’s sons works front-of-house; another is in the basement baking the excellent breads; the kitchen is headed up by another family member. Much of the menu feels familiar: “there’s tarama, tzatziki, souvlaki and the rest”. But there’s a “pleasing restlessness” to some of the dishes here, such as cheese-stuffed squid in a seafood bisque, which feels as if it could have come from “off the Marseille docks”, or an “especially squid-happy corner of Italy’s boot”. This is “reassuring cooking”, which attends to the essentials while “pushing at the edges of what we assume Greek food” to be. Starters £5.75-£9.95, mains £14.50-£28.50, desserts £7.50.
14-15 Quay St, Cardiff; grupo44.co.uk
Located “a stone’s throw from Cardiff Arms Park”, this restaurant has one overriding purpose, says William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph: to “satisfy your inner cave-person”. Set up by two brothers who travelled extensively in Spain, it specialises in “large cuts of meat and fish”, roasted “over the coals of the parrilla grill”. We begin with various “magnificent bites” – Cantabrian anchovies with Spanish salami; a pair of prawn croqueta – before the first of our main courses arrives: a whole grilled squid “lightly touched by the fire”. It’s a “thing of serene, pinkish beauty” – and the tastiest squid I can remember eating. Next up is a shoulder of suckling pig: “we attack the pork, delving through its crisp layer of fat and deeper into the soft, young piggy flesh”. The wines accompanying this feast are “equally fabulous” – especially the restaurant’s own UVA 44 syrah – and service is charming and enthusiastic. Asador 44 is a “tremendous” way to experience the “glory of rustic Spanish cuisine”. £142.50 for a family sharing lunch, excluding drinks and service.
26-29 Dean Street, Soho, London W1; quovadissoho.co.uk
This venerable Soho establishment has for the past 15 years operated as a private members’ club, with a “bijou members’ dining room” on the first floor and an “extremely cramped public restaurant downstairs”, said Tim Hayward in the FT. Last year, it finally got round to upgrading and expanding its ground-floor restaurant – creating a fitting space in which to appreciate the talents of head chef Jeremy Lee. Lee’s food, while “too generous and enjoyable” to be called “haute”, is nonetheless “considered and lovingly built”. “Spot on” Cullen skink is followed by “outstanding” skate wing with brown butter. Then comes the pie of the day – chicken velouté with a suet crust – and it proves “beyond my most fevered anticipation”, the suet crust an “almost inconceivable combination of crispness and flexibility”. The “same balance of craft and comfort” is evident in desserts such as lemon tart and orange crème caramel, which are “sweet but also tart enough to cleanse”. Starters £9.50-£12.50; mains £21.50-£28.50; desserts: £9.50-£10.
94 Kensington High Street, London W8; bigmammagroup.com
Jacuzzi, in west London, is “no mere restaurant”, says Tom Parker Bowles in the Daily Mail. Rather, it’s a “place where Pasolini meets Pizza Express” – where you feel as though you’re “playing a bit part in some crazed Dolce & Gabbana fever dream”. That isn’t surprising, because it’s the latest venture from the Big Mamma group, owners of such “gloriously OTT” restaurants as Gloria and Ave Mario. Here, the “floors are extravagantly tiled”, jazz purrs from hidden speakers, and the lighting is “not so much soft as downright crepuscular”. But cut through the camp, and there’s real quality to be found in the cooking. Culatello di Zibello (cured pork) is “excellent”, the slices “paper-thin” and “sweetly piggy”. A “vast” T-bone Fiorentina steak could easily feed four, and “I’d happily come back” for the pizza alone. “Prudes and purists” may disapprove of Jacuzzi – but the place is a real “pick-me-up”. About £40 a head.
11-12 Bartlett Street, Bath; beckfordcanteen.com
The menu at this new restaurant in Bath is not one that needs to be “cogitated over” for hours, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. On the contrary, it “demands to be gobbled up”. The latest addition to the Beckford Group – which owns several popular pubs and restaurants in the west of England – it is housed in a former Georgian greenhouse and specialises in modern British classics. My friend and I “snuck in at 6.30pm” – the place was booked out – and started our meal with rye old-fashioneds accompanied by “hunks of oozy rarebit titivated with pickled onion”. “Good sardines” arrived on toast; there was “luxurious and balm-like” chestnut soup; and another starter of leek and smoked eel was topped with a “perfectly wobbly” egg yolk. Even better was my main course of monkfish, served with silky curried butter and “concertina-style confit potatoes”: it’s “shaping up to be one of my dishes of 2023”. There is nothing fussy about Beckford Canteen – it’s just a “charming place where the food is dead good”. From about £55 per head, plus drinks and service.
Crisp Pizza W6
The Chancellors, 25 Crisp Road, London W6; @crisppizzaw6
If you’re apprised of culinary hype, you will probably know that The Chancellors – an “outwardly unremarkable” pub in London’s Hammersmith – is home to Crisp Pizza W6, said Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard. This “permanent kitchen residency” has become a choice destination for “aficionados of all stripes”, who’ve dubbed the New York-style pizzas “perhaps the best in the capital”. I’m not sure that accolade can really be justified – “pizza’s pleasures are intensely personal” – but there’s no doubting that Carl McCluskey’s thin-crust pizzas are works of “urgent, crunching genius”. The pepperoni – “a disc of oven-scorched dough, bubbling cheese and cupped coins of pepperoni” – has a “profoundly flavoursome chew”. With the Vecna – named after the villain in Netflix’s Stranger Things – the same pepperoni base is given a “candied sweetness courtesy of dribbled hot honey”. You’ll probably have to queue to eat these pies – The Chancellors doesn’t take bookings – but there’s a “honed simplicity” to what McCluskey does that makes his slices worth waiting for. Meal for two plus drinks about £50.
27 Uxbridge Street, London W8; akub-restaurant.com
The food of Palestine is “too often hazily described as merely Middle Eastern”, said Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard. So it’s a good thing that it has a new London “champion”, in the form of this “remarkable little restaurant” in Kensington – the first British venture by the Bethlehem-based chef Fadi Kattan. My friend and I sit not in the elegant main dining room, but in the “indoor courtyard” directly behind it – a space decorated with “bushels of dried foliage, hung from keys that represent lost Palestinian homes”. Our meal begins with “confrontationally fragrant” za’atar bread, which is “ably abetted” by a range of dips: fava bean foul, red lentil moutabal, a “snapping, fermented chilli shatta”. This is followed by “beguiling” arak-cured sea bass, a “reinvention” of the lamb stew mansaf – here it comes as a “fried dough parcel” – and finally a “bulbous, featherlight” rum baba, flavoured with fenugreek, cardamom and pistachio. A place of “enlivening, domestic warmth”, Akub is a “stylishly executed and enormously meaningful act of cultural preservation”. Meal for two plus drinks, about £120.
183-185 Clare Road, Cardiff; matsudai.co.uk
Matsudai Ramen is the “only dedicated ramen shop in Wales”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. It is the brainchild of James Chant, a former tour manager who became obsessed with the noodle dish after growing disillusioned with the music industry. You might wrinkle your nose at the idea of a “40-something white bloke from Cardiff” making such a “profoundly Japanese dish”, but Chant’s version is undeniably tasty. His “signature” tonkotsu broth – made by boiling pork bones for a dozen hours or more – has “an almost Dulux gloss to it”, and is profoundly flavoursome. Even more revelatory is his vegan one: it is the “richest of savoury broths”, given a creamy edge by the addition of oat milk. Toppings are impeccable too: generous slices of crisped pork belly; eggs with “perfectly jellied yolks”; “paving slabs” of deep-fried tofu. But there are other wonderful things on the menu: the triple-fried marinated chicken thighs “are as good as any I’ve tried anywhere”. Small plates £4-£8, ramen £12.50-£15, dessert £7.
Restaurant St. Barts
63 Bartholomew Close, London EC1; restaurant-stbarts.co.uk
The people behind this new restaurant in Smithfield also own Nest in Hackney, and the “brilliant Fenn in Fulham”, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph. Their “third child” is their most audacious venture yet: “launching in a cash-strapped era”, Restaurant St. Barts offers evening diners a compulsory 15-course tasting menu that costs £120 a head (rising to £140 from April). Since the prospect of 15 courses makes me want to “shudder then dive for cover”, I opted to go there for lunch instead, which costs a mere £60 for five courses. It proved “revelatory”. There was a “clever and delicate” dish of raw scallops, swimming in a soup of peppers; a “heady, comforting mix of onion and cheese” under a “soft mountain of shaved truffle”; and a “light mouthful of crab” on a fluffy, ginger-inflected sauce. But best of all was the “heroic” and “wholesome” duck, served with cabbage, mash and red berries. “This is a set menu to turn the tasting-menu sceptic” – and a “deft and clever example of modern British cooking”. Lunch for two: £170 with truffle shavings and cheese; excluding drinks and service.
Slad Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire; thewoolpackslad.com
This 300-year-old watering hole in the Cotswolds village of Slad used to be the local of "Cider with Rosie" author Laurie Lee, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. It “still has about it a literary feel” – as evidenced by the fact that it has its own minuscule bookshop – but these days the “main event” is the cooking of Adam Glover, formerly of the celebrated Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow. The daily changing menu is full of sophisticated but “hearty” dishes. Starters include “plump, earthy chicken livers” with persillade on toasted sourdough, and “fearsome slabs of duck pâté served with brandied prunes”. For mains, there’s a “large, luscious pork chop” with creamy polenta, and onglet with fries and pickled walnuts. “This is confident, swaggering cooking that almost doesn’t care whether you like it.” But I certainly did. From about £45 a head, plus drinks and service.
66 Cowcross Street, London EC1; bouchonracine.com
The chef Henry Harris used to run a “beautiful bistro in Knightsbridge called Racine”, which closed in 2015, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph. After a break from full-time cheffing, he is back with this fabulous new venture, housed in a “panelled room of tantalising hospitality” above the Three Compasses Pub in Farringdon. Bouchons are restaurants typically found in Lyon, which serve “good honest food to good honest workers”; and the menu here – chalked on a “vast blackboard” – is a “roll-call of Lyonnaise beauties”. I start with Bayonne ham and celeriac remoulade, and move on to “pure and wholesome” rabbit in mustard sauce. My son, meanwhile, has immaculately spiced steak tartare, which comes in a “generous dollop”. A side dish of spinach – look away now – is “creamed and spun with foie gras”. To finish, I have a “nifty” pot au chocolat. With a great value wine list and good honest service, Bouchon Racine is simply wonderful: “if you don’t like it, you don’t like food”. Dinner for two: £129.50, excluding drinks and service.
The Sportsman Club
13 High Street, West Bromwich; sportsmanbarandrestaurant.co.uk
Britain’s “Desi pubs” date back to the 1950s, when they opened in places such as Leicester and the West Midlands to cater to men from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who’d come to the UK after partition, often without their families, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. Today, they “sit right at the heart” of those same communities, and bring a “beautifully precise extra dimension to British pub culture”. I decide to try the Sportsman Club, in West Bromwich, after reading a glowing review on the “ever insightful Meat and One Veg blog”. Although the place is far from pretty – it’s a “modern pub built for maximum capacity” – this is more than made up for by the food. My friend and I start with the “huge mixed grill for three”, of which the star is the “tender and juicy” chicken tikka. We follow that with bakra lamb curry on the bone (a “wonder of thick, spiced ghee-rich gravy and bone marrow suckage”), chilli fish from the menu’s Indo-Chinese section, and a “soothing, ferrous” saag aloo. Unable to manage it all, we “make our loved ones love us even more by carting home the leftovers”. Starters £3-£10.50, mains £4.50-£10.50, desserts £2.
43 Topsfield Parade, London N8; kalimera.london
This Greek restaurant began life in 2015 as a gourmet food truck in Hoxton, said Julie Bindel in The Spectator. It proved so popular that it now has three permanent sites: two in France and this one in London, minutes from my home in the “media-luvvie enclave of Crouch End”. I’m very pleased to have discovered it, because everything here is “pretty much spot-on”. The menu is modern but with plenty of classics, and everything is “cooked from scratch, the old-fashioned way”. An “indulgent slab” of creamy feta cheese is pan-fried in crispy filo, and comes drizzled with chilli honey and a dollop of baba ganoush. There’s a “perfectly formed” Greek salad, and various “beautifully presented” mains, including souvlaki, kleftiko and moussaka. But the real “revelation”is the dessert menu – especially the orange cake, made according to the chef’s mother’s recipe. “One mouthful and I was suddenly on the deck of a sleepy taverna, overlooking the Aegean sea.” Starters £4.50-£12.50; mains £17-£22; desserts £8-£10.
The Black Bull Inn
44 Main Street, Sedbergh, Cumbria; theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk
The Black Bull Inn in Sedbergh performs a “juggling act”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. With its “curving booths in red leather”, local beers, and bar menu offering hearty sandwiches, it feels, in many ways, like a traditional country pub. But in the restaurant proper, the offering is rather different. Nina Matsunaga, the head chef, was raised by Japanese parents in the German town of Düsseldorf, and she brings those influences to bear on her “intricate” and detailed cooking. “Perfectly cooked” mackerel is layered with nori seaweed, wild garlic buds and caviar, resulting in a “fish dish unashamed of its funky pelagic depths”. Tangles of shredded beef are “wrapped in a delicate, wafting shiso leaf” and deep fried in “lacy tempura batters”. Desserts, if anything, raise things higher: so light is a disc of duck-egg custard that it “seems to be holding its shape merely through strength of character”. And yet such “lofty culinary ambition” doesn’t come with a “side order of dreary, puckered formality”. This is still “very much a pub”. Starters £9.95-£11; mains £18.50-£28; desserts £7.50-£8.50.
The Barley Mow
82 Duke Street, London W1; cubitthouse.co.uk
There are many places you can go in London “for a light supper, full of subtlety and grace”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. The Barley Mow isn’t one of them. Situated in Mayfair, it has recently been renovated by Cubitt House, a group that specialises in giving glossy makeovers to pubs in smart London neighbourhoods. The food is overseen by Ben Tish, and it proves as “butch and beguiling as the fit-out”. Starters include a “shirt-destroying” hot meat bun – a brioche roll stacked with slow-cooked beef and pickles – and a plate of fresh cockles in a “hot liquid swamp” of garlicky butter. Mains are equally tempting: I order slow-cooked pork belly, which comes with “big puffs of crackling”, a herb-stuffed round of the loin, and a “bronzed” gratin dauphinoise. None of this is exactly cheap – we are in Mayfair, after all – but “the problem with really expensive things” is that sometimes they are “really nice”. Bar snacks and starters £8-£18, mains £19-£36, desserts £10-£12.
14 Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex; fork-lewes.co.uk
The “quirky, charming” town of Lewes has tended to have a fairly limited dining scene, says Grace Dent in The Guardian. But with the arrival of this neighbourhood restaurant, things are looking up. Fork may be “small and intimate” – those sitting near you will “hear every word of your chat” – but it’s “bursting with ambition”, and the food it serves is “fancy and imaginative”. A quenelle of chicken liver pâté served on “moist, home-baked brioche” is the sort of dish that “sets out a restaurant’s stall”: every element feels “pondered over, including the placement of the micro cress and pea shoots”. Better still is cauliflower velouté, which “sounds as if it might be a humble soup, but is in fact sating and complex” – a rich concoction featuring blue cheese and hazelnuts and a topping of “slightly sweet beignets”. Times are hard for restaurants – and especially for small, independent ones. “So if you can support places such as Fork, please show willing.” Two courses £30, three £38, plus drinks and service.
2 East Street, Ashburton, Devon; emiliaashburton.co.uk
This recently opened restaurant on the edge of Dartmoor is a place of “almost tear-jerking” charm, said William Sitwell in The Daily Telegraph. Housed in a former bank in the pretty town of Ashburton, it consists of a “modest-sized room with a kitchen at one end” and a “scattering of old wooden tables”. The Italian-inspired menu is a “model of tight, appetising precision” – and the food could hardly be more delicious. My buddy and I begin with a stew of peppers and borlotti beans, which is a “paean to rich and hearty rural bliss”. Subsequent dishes are also “too good not to share” – “impeccable” tagliatelle with veal ragù, and a “similarly glorious” dish of roasted ray. Finally, there’s creamed rice with damson and pistachio – a “dish that single-handedly rescues the reputation of rice pudding”. Anyone who has ever daydreamed of opening a “little place in a small rural town” could learn a thing of two from Emilia: it “has it all”. Lunch for two: £78 excluding drinks and service.
Tsiakkos & Charcoal
5a Maryland Road, London W9; tsiakkos.co.uk
This long-established Greek-Cypriot restaurant in west London is a “reminder that amid the fetishising of the new by people like me, great places carry on doing great things year after year, untroubled by any of that”, said Jay Rayner in The Observer. It’s not easy to find, as there’s “no signage on the turquoise frontage”. Instead, be guided by the “heavy waft of charcoal smoke” that drifts enticingly down the street. Once you’re in, walk past the “open kitchen with its charcoal grill, tended by a couple of bearded men, to the half wood-panelled dining room at the back”. The short menu is built around a “classic repertoire”: we choose hummus and taramasalata, thick slabs of grilled halloumi, a dish of meltingly tender “slow-burnt pork”, whose “sweetly glazed skin is a sticky, chewy wonder”. It’s food that makes you feel “properly looked after”. Tsiakkos & Charcoal may not be a place where “wheels are reinvented”– but it’s “damn lovely”. Starters and sides £4.50-£9.50; mains £13.50-£18.
Hillgate Street, London W8; kuro-london.com
This Italo-Japanese restaurant has a rather austere vibe, said Jimi Famurewa in the London Evening Standard. Occupying a “big-windowed corner berth” on a Notting Hill backstreet, its interior is dominated by a “long, low stone bar”. But if the space feels a bit “cold and featureless”, the same can’t be said of Andrianos Poulis’s cooking, which brims with “personality and life”. A Japanese potato salad has a “hypnotic creaminess”, and comes adorned with flecks of smoked mackerel and a “sunny cascade of grated cured egg yolk”. A Milanese-style cotolette of crumbed red bream is paired with the “deep, mustardy sweetness of a barbecued carrot sauce”. Kuro Eatery is the sister venture of the “minimalist” Kuro Coffee across the road, and plans are afoot to open a bakery too. At a time when many restaurants are “mortally imperilled”, such empire-building may seem like “ill-timed overreach”. But my hunch is that this will be a neighbourhood empire that “triumphs rather than topples”. Meal for two plus drinks about £120.
The Dog & Gun Inn
Skelton, near Penrith, Cumbria; dogandgunskelton.co.uk
This Michelin-starred pub seven miles northwest of Penrith is refreshingly different from the “big beasts” of the Lake District’s dining scene, said Grace Dent in The Guardian. Whereas the likes of L’Enclume, Allium and The Forest Side specialise in “ornate, multi-course fine dining” for gastro-tourists, this place seems to want to pretend that it’s “not a Michelin-starred establishment at all”. Dinner here is “hearty and heartwarming”, and you won’t spend half your meal learning about the “provenance” of the ingredients. But the cooking is still extremely accomplished. A “very good” twice-baked cheese soufflé is served piping hot in an iron skillet, and sits “in a puddle of unctuous, cheddary goo” with a black truffle “mohawk” shaved over its head. A vermouth butter sauce that comes with a dish of halibut pulls off the trick of being “sweet, boozy and citrussy all at the same time”. It took me ages to get to the Dog & Gun – but I’m already “making plans to come back”. From £55 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.
12 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh; leftfieldedinburgh.co.uk
Despite its name, there is nothing unconventional about this Edinburgh bistro, says Jay Rayner in The Observer. It’s a place that quietly goes about the business of giving its customers a “nice bit of dinner”. Notwithstanding the “occasional knowing flourish” – a mayo rendered “deep pink” courtesy of gochujang; a hummus “boosted by fistfuls of chopped basil” – the cooking here is of a type that a “century’s worth of French chefs would nod at approvingly”. Hake is “sensitively fried”, and sits “in a lake of a beurre blanc dotted with black beads of roe”. A piece of slow-braised brisket is served with pommes Anna, kale, a “hefty grating” of Shepherd’s Store cheese, and a “deep lustrous truffled gravy”. In other ways, too, LeftField is extremely inviting: the “cosy” dining room is a space you want to linger in, and the waiters exude an air of relaxed enjoyment. There may be more ambitious restaurants in Edinburgh – but this was “just the thing” for a dark winter’s night. Starters £8-£12, mains £14-£25, desserts £7.50-£8.50.
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