John Lanchester wonders if Mark Hix has bitten off more than he can chew with Tramshed, London EC2, a roast chicken and steak joint in the East End
The chicken is the more dramatic main course option: it's served upright, claws intact, on a specially designed platter. I was more in the mood for steak, or "mighty marbled Glenarm sirloin", as the menu calls it. The meat is aged in a Himalayan salt chamber (why Himalayan salt? dunno) and came rare. Hix is good at sourcing and this was a very good piece of meat, flawlessly cooked. It wasn't particularly exciting, and I think I can cook it at least as well at home. But as I'm probably making clear, I didn't really see the point of Tramshed, which may merely mean that I'm not the intended customer. Chips were thin, more like pommes allumettes than old-school British chips, but did at least taste of spuds. Strictly for research purposes, we shared apple pie and custard - a success, though a seriously filling one. Overall? You can sum Tramshed up in three words: chicken and steak.
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service, about £80
Jay Rayner is pleased that his old student hangout, Leeds institution Whitelock's, is in safe hands and lives on
For example, the starters, which were the clear winners, included a spiced tian of white and brown crabmeat, one of the prime ingredients from the North Yorkshire coast nearby, on mandolined mango with a smear of chilli salsa. The Headingley lady in her Yorkshire-pudding hat would have been dismayed, but I liked it very much. Even better, in that I wished I'd ordered them, were seared discs of black pudding with fragments of smoky pancetta, apple crisps, a perfectly poached egg and a sprightly dressing with a little maple syrup to soften the porky edges. A main course warm salad of chicken and local chorizo was fighting desperately against the notion that it was girl's food. It looked like half the bird had been thrown in there, with a couple of leaves to protect its modesty. It was completely unfinishable. Ditto the huge mound of good mash that came with a hunk of pork belly. The meat had proper tooth-breaking crackling, though could have done with an extra hour in the oven, and the gravy was over-sweetened, but these issues can be sorted.
Meal for two, including wine and service, £65
John Walsh discovers artful cooking at Mazi, London W8, a restaurant aiming to reinvent Greek food
Mazi suffers from a slight confusion about whether it's a tapas joint or a showcase of cheffiness. Our waiter told us that "most of the dishes are meant to be shared" but some looked so exquisite, only a philistine would dream of sharing them. More shareable are the "cold jars" - feta spread with caramelised nuts, beetroot, goats' cheese and a grape reduction, a fava-bean purée with pearl onions and Vin Santo syrup. Their version of taramasalata is "fish-roe mousse" - a stunningly light, just-frothed-up cream of fish eggs, breadcrumbs and olive oil, came with ribbons of lemon confit and vanished leaving a light kiss on the taste buds. Spanakopita is a mélange of spinach and feta, crushed against thin wafers of filo pastry; the triple texture's a delight. From the hot starters we had Grand Mama's meatballs, served on sliced cucumber. They looked overcooked but exploded with flavour, heightened by a mint and sesame dip. As evidence of the care they take in the kitchen, some accompanying crisps turned out to be delicious, chicken-skin crackling.
Rating: Food 4; Ambience 4; Service 4/5
Price: About £110 for two, with ouzo, wine, Metaxa brandy, mastiha...
Independent on Sunday
Lisa Markwell says if you can save up, you're in for something unusual and exemplary at the Cube, London SE1, Electrolux's pop-up restaurant currently featuring Sat Bains
To, hunker munker with affluent foodies, I experience such delights as a horseradish panna cotta topped with wild-garlic soup, the heat of the latter muddling them deliciously. Then scallops seared on one side, with elderflower mayonnaise (nicer than it sounds) and a basil-and-strawberry sauce that teeters on too sweet. It is testament to Bains's skill that it comes off. A blackened leek purée is a sinister backdrop for a ragu of spring lamb, but blobs of lemon purée elevate it and highlight the flavour of the meltingly soft lamb. More and more arrives but - for brevity - here's a high and a low of the seven courses. A small bowl of Jersey royal potatoes with dashi, pork fat, ham and pickled shallot is, well, nasty. The little spuds are a bit too firm to enjoy, and the fat not quite rendered enough to lose its chew. It's the one plate I don't consider licking clean. But each dish has been accompanied by an excellent wine and the highlight is a Lachamte sparkling sake served with a treacle sponge that tastes like pine-scented paradise and stops everyone in their tracks.
Price: Lunch at 12pm, £175; dinner 7pm, £215 (price includes champagne reception, minimum six-course tasting menu and matched wines)
The Daily Telegraph
Matthew Norman finds an impressive chef at odds with his uninspired surroundings at Restaurant One-O-One, London SW1
I had a fillet of red mullet floating on a deep red, ambrosial shellfish bouillabaisse, and the referee went for Scottish scallops with quail eggs, truffle-infused potato mousseline and crispy pork belly. "Beautiful," he gushed. "Sweet, perfectly browned. I could do without the potato - the French can't stop adding ingredients - but I love how the saltiness of the pork belly goes with the scallops." The Frenchman in question is one Pascal Proyart, a borderline genius and foodie demigod who remains largely unknown to the wider public, possibly because, heretic that he is, he prefers cooking to going on the telly. Similar obscurity enshrouds this restaurant for different reasons. Done out with lots of wood and thick carpet, it has the classic soullessness of the prosthetic hotel attachment (the hexagonally hideous Sheraton Park Tower), which no amount of abstract daubs or squiggly glass sculptures in the windows can disguise.
Price: A la carte about £90; set lunch £17 per person for two plates from the "petits plats" menu
Marina O'Loughlin says fairytale surroundings and folksy Russian charm go some way to making up for the incomprehensible and unpalatable menu at Mari Vanna, London SW1
Our dinner continues in the same stolid vein: rib-sticking food at prices to make your eyes water harder than glugging chilli vodka. Take delicate-sounding aubergine "caviar", for instance (the real stuff is available, too, but since it starts at £55 for Ossetra, unclear whether wild or farmed, we'll pass, thanks): it's a murky sludge with none of the alluring smokiness and depth of its relatives, imam bayildi or baba ganoush. Or sour cream-doused pelmeni, their dense, chewy pasta casings like Korean mandu dumplings, spurting juices from a waterlogged sea bass filling. The fish tastes entirely of itself: fresh, sweet and unsullied by aromatics - or much flavour. But oh, the place is pretty. It's like an enchanted house wreathed in flowers, one that never needs dusting: every surface sprouts a knick-knack or geegaw, Russian doll, vintage photo or softly glittering chandelier.
Price: Meal for two with wine, water and service, costs about £150
London Evening Standard
David Sexton says the favourite old Barnes restaurant Sonny's has got a revamp, with Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard relaunching it as Sonny's Kitchen, London SW13, but not necessarily for the better
Calf's kidney on creamed onions (£14) was a welcome alternative to the usual offal offering of calf's liver - the kidneys judiciously cooked, still a little pink, on top of a sweet buttery mess, doubtless prepared in bulk and ladled out, decorated with some crisp-fried sage leaves. A side of plain spinach was uninviting, a bowl of over-fried string chips more useful. The Wigmore cheese, a lovely, oozingly soft ewe's milk cheese from Berkshire (£7.50), was only two small slices, albeit served with lots of different biscuits and a little mound of unwelcomely spiced carrot salad. Lemon posset (£7) was at once very sweet and very sharp, as it should be, topped with a raspberry coulis, and served with yet more beignets, little creamily filled crispy doughnuts. So an awful lot of trouble has been taken in the kitchen to make the customer feel spoiled, for a fair price, too - yet we didn't enjoy the food much. The mean verdict would be Café Rouge with knobs on. Perhaps we chose badly; perhaps it was a duff evening; maybe this menu isn't meant for already spoiled mainlanders.
Price: A meal for two with wine, about £100