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More restaurant critics are beginning to break free of the confines of the M25, and generally, they like what they find. John Lanchester, writing in The Guardian, finds an ‘insanely great gastropub’ in The Sportsman, while the scallops at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn get The Independent’s John Walsh all emotional. However, The Sunday Times’ London-loving AA Gill leaves Norfolk’s Rose & Crown predictably underwhelmed.
The Devonshire Arms in Beeley, Derbyshire (pictured, above left)
Jay Rayner, The Observer: I liked the decor – it's smart and clever, a vivid multicoloured-stripe motif splashed around the old inn much like the flamboyant lining to a classic Paul Smith suit. The kitchen is competent. They know how to cook pieces of meat and fish. But then, lord save us, they will insist on having ideas with a capital 'I'. Take a special listed as ‘crispy hand-dived Scottish sea scallops, sweetcorn purée, white asparagus, roasted apple purée, cinnamon toast, café latte’. It read cacophonously and ate like it. The little rounds of cinnamon toast were not a wonderful thing. The only positive: I could not detect the coffee. A roasted loin of pork, again cooked with skill, was let down by accompaniments. With mains in the teens, a meal here is not cheap. It is also hugely disappointing, because this lovely inn promises something entirely other.
John Walsh, The Independent: My seared diver-caught scallops were the fattest I've ever seen, and, surmounted by their bright orange roes, sat on tiny flecks of chorizo and a pea purée that was enlivened by tiny actual peas. I've had a version of this dish 150,000 times. This was the best. Getting scallop roes is rare – they lose their lustre so fast, most restaurants don't bother with them. The Harrow have their shellfish flown from Scotland shortly after they've expired and the result is this dish; scallop almost meaty in its suppleness, the roes as soft as foie gras, the purée and chorizo like spicy kisses. I'm not ashamed to say tears pricked my eyes at the perfection of it… This is gutsy English gastronomy you won't forget in a hurry.
Katherine Alano, Caterer magazine: Birmingham has long been known as the curry capital of the UK, but as soon as you step into Lasan you know you're not in your average curry house: taking pride of place in the entrance among other awards is the Gordon Ramsay's F-Word Best Restaurant trophy, which Lasan won in 2009. Chef Aktar Islam is very conscious of working within the seasons and uses a number of traditional techniques. Balchao king prawns, served in a curry flavoured with whole coriander seeds and dry-roasted red chillies, is finished with coconut milk and malt vinegar, whose tangy flavour gives it a unique Goan flavour. Desserts include keshri muzaafa, comprising a fine vermicelli and milk flavoured with saffron.
AA Gill, The Sunday Times: The staff were charming and friendly. The menu is, they say, ‘a mixture of the traditional with a contemporary twist’. I suspect the twist is the timer on the microwave. We began with broccoli and Binham blue soup. There must be some secret brewers' edict, some beery curse, that all pub menus have to have boiled broccoli and green cheese broth on the menu. It is invariably repellent, a vile confection of boarding-school tissues and Shrek fart. The local pheasant and streaky bacon sausage had the makings of a good idea. Sadly, when made, it wasn't. Chipolatas of dry, minced bird, salted to the taste and texture of cattle lick.
John Lanchester, The Guardian: So this is what was on the tasting menu: homemade pork scratchings; home-cured herring; three types of homemade bread, with the pub's own butter; two oyster amuse-bouches, mussel-and-bacon chowder, which was outstanding; pintail duck, superb; home-cured ham, fantastic; braised turbot with crab, running out of superlatives… For now, The Sportsman offers a benchmark for how good, and how British, a British restaurant can be.