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We’ve polled our 25 regional reviewers, canvassed Square Meal readers and left no stone unturned in our annual search for the best UK restaurants outside London. Here is our top 50 selection
KEY TO REVIEWS
££££ Above £85
£ Under £45
Prices are based on a two-course dinner (starter and main) for one, including half a bottle of house wine, coffee, cover charge, service and vegetables. The aim is to give an indication of the amount you can expect to pay if you are choosing from the à la carte dinner menu.
1 The Kitchin ££
78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6LX; 0131 555 1755Vibrant flavours from a restaurant that puts ingredients first
Open since 2006 and now well established in Scotland’s top tier of restaurants, The Kitchin has reaped plaudits from all quarters and has a particular approach that enthuses diners, perhaps more
than any other restaurant north of the border. The philosophy of chef Tom Kitchin is ‘from nature to plate’, and this is no marketing flimflam – it makes perfect sense from the moment the food
arrives at your table.
The dining room exudes a sort of subtle chic. The service is expert and engaging – men in black, women in black tops and attractive grey kilts – but the open kitchen reminds you that this establishment has raw materials and talented cooking at its core. Even before the amuse-bouche, for instance, you get a simple pot of crudités with cheese sticks, wafers and sharp Isle of Mull Cheddar dip. You munch these while browsing the menu and wine list then, decisions made, out comes the amuse-bouche itself: pea and mint soup with crème fraiche – like peas eaten from the pod but more intense.
Seasonality is central to The Kitchin’s style, evident in a starter such as shellfish and tomato, a virtual rockpool of seafood with tomato consommé added at the table. It prompts diners to play ‘guess the constituents’, which depend on the time of year and the weather. For every expected mussel or oyster, there might also be octopus, salmon eggs, squat lobster, squid and more, complemented by almonds, broad beans, cicely, sea vegetables and tomato. This makes for a beautiful, visually complex presentation and the succession of tastes creates a synaesthetic short-cut to the sea.
In similar vein, a summer main is lamb, cooked over hay, which takes the diner inland thanks to its associations with farms, fields and fire. The perfect, hay-smoked meat is sliced at the table and presented on a densely flavoured piperade. Finally, an appetising dessert might be rhubarb: a delicate rhubarb and crème fraîche tart with rhubarb sorbet. The mighty, international wine list – running to more than 200 bottles – is equal to the food, although there is limited choice under £35 and by-the-glass choices start at £9.50.
Dining here can take you from vegetable to shellfish to mammal to confection. To risk Pseuds Corner, you could call it natural history à la carte – but everything really does have a discernible link to its origin.
The cooking is excellent, the flavours are vibrant and memorable, while the conceptual journey is unique in Scottish dining.
A roll call of the great and the good, The Kitchin’s list has a strong European slant, but you’ll find some top names from the New World, too. And don’t forget to check out the seasonal suggestions and 20-strong sweet wine list.
BEST BUY 2010 Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa, £37.
2 L’Enclume £££
Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ; 01539 536362
Deft artistry to the fore at Simon Rogan’s top-end Cumbrian outpost
Nothing could be further from nostalgic lakeland sentimentality than Simon Rogan’s groundbreaking restaurant-with-rooms in a former blacksmith’s shop. There’s a lively culinary intelligence at work here, and Rogan’s artistry is seldom less than note-perfect. A visually stunning creation involving two varieties of carrot, presented with slivers of ham fat and a sprinkling of nasturtium flowers, is typical of Rogan’s talent for drawing pure, undiluted flavours from his ingredients. This is subtle cooking with a real sense of fun, matched by fine service.
3 Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
St Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA; 01208 863394
Reels in shoals of diners with simply superior fish dishes
Nathan Outlaw has earned a reputation for some of the most engaging food in the south west, and he shows no sign of slowing down. The venue strikes an understated, elegant pose and the menus are easy to access. Take your pick from the fixed-price lunch and dinner offerings or the more expensive tasting option; either way, the choice revolves around Cornish fish, with just a token meat dish among the starters and main courses. Lemon sole with caper and potato dumplings, and sea bass with curried crab, leek and potato have earned praise. The whole show is satisfyingly underpinned by well-drilled, gracious staff for whom nothing is too much trouble.
4 The Fat Duck ££££
1 High Street, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AQ; 01628 580333
Thrilling flavour combinations from a gastronomic wizard
Given its three Michelin stars, The Fat Duck couldn’t be more unassuming – its discreet entrance and simply furnished dining room give no hint of the astonishing cooking that takes place here. Heston Blumenthal is arguably the UK’s most famous chef and his 18-dish tasting menu is well worth the high price tag for the rollercoaster ride of thrills it delivers. Every morsel is pure fascination, from the first palate-cleansing mouthful of nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse to the last bite of a wafer-thin carrot and orange lollipop. And there are extraordinary flavour combinations at every turn in between.
5 Restaurant Sat Bains £££
Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA; 0115 986 6566
Masterful magic in Nottingham with skilfully calibrated flavours
Nottingham’s top dining destination goes in for tasting menus that run to seven or ten courses. A visit might begin with two shot glasses to cleanse the palate – one filled with carrot, ginger and apple juice, the other with cucumber and fennel. These could be followed by intricate amuse-bouches of crab croquette, butternut squash soup, and a smooth chicken liver parfait – with tea jelly and popcorn adding contrast, sweetness and crunch. The next course might bring poached duck egg with chervil root, ham, bread and Alba truffle. Expect further gratifying highlights such as: beetroot sorbet served with balsamic; organic salmon with fennel, vanilla, passion fruit and liquorice; dry-aged sirloin of Dexter beef with wild mushrooms, polenta and parmesan salad; and, to finish, chocolate topped with Maldon sea salt and candied violets served with Manni olive oil jelly. Sat Bains’ wife Amanda and her team provide sweet-natured service.
6 Whatley Manor £££
Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 0RB; 01666 822888
A cavalcade of culinary classiness
In the plush dining room of this luxurious weekend retreat, Martin Burge delivers a supreme experience in a succession of sublime dishes. Langoustine tails and bacon glazed in soy alongside cauliflower purée; a sophisticated combo of venison loin, served with its own sausage, cabbage purée, grated chocolate and reduced Shiraz; and, for dessert, an assembly of flawless black truffle ice cream with creamed Roquefort, deep-fried goats’ cheese and candied walnut. Superb.
7 The Waterside Inn £££
Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AT; 01628 620691
A temple of gastronomy by the Thames
This sumptuously furnished yet homely restaurant by the Thames – headed up by Alain Roux since 2002 – offers up one of the most cosseting dining experiences going. From the decadent, pan-fried lobster medallion with white port sauce and ginger-flavoured vegetable julienne to the renowned warm raspberry soufflé, the place is a gastronomic delight, with pitch-perfect service to boot.
8 Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons ££££
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, OX44 7PD; 01844 278881
A beautiful setting and top-notch food from everyone’s favourite French chef
Raymond Blanc’s fine-tuned take on country-house splendour impresses from the moment one’s tyres crunch reassuringly over the gravel, leading through beautiful grounds towards the meticulously maintained manor house. The kitchen earns its keep with near-faultless cooking based on classic French techniques and the best ingredients, with plenty of luxury for your money. By the time the inventive desserts bring proceedings to a thrilling finish, the velvety experience should have lulled you into a sense of such enormous wellbeing that you’re not too troubled by the bill.
9 Le Champignon Sauvage ££
24-26 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2AQ; 01242 573449
Wildly popular and ahead of the game
Open for almost two decades, Le Champignon Sauvage has won a strong foodie following – not to mention two Michelin stars – thanks to the bold, innovative cooking of chef/proprietor David Everitt-Matthias, backed by his wife Helen, who manages front-of-house. Both have been in charge since 1987. Thrilling cuisine is characterised by punchy flavours and contrasting textures. Highlights include silky foie gras royale topped with a warming chorizo foam, and seared, fat Shetland scallops served with raw cauliflower, cauliflower purée and a cumin froth, as well as poached and roasted belly of Gloucestershire Old Spot, pumpkin purée and meltingly tender braised pig’s cheek. A remarkably fairly priced wine list (the cheapest Champagne costs just £22) adds to the pleasure.
10 The Crown at Whitebrook
Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, NP25 4TX; 01600 860254
Imaginative cooking in a rural setting
This is one of Wales’ top dining destinations thanks to James Sommerin’s endlessly interesting, quality cooking, with each meal punctuated with engaging and imaginative diversions. A knowledgeable sommelier is on hand to guide you through the enormous wine list, while service is impeccable and devoid of stuffiness. Windows in the immaculate, pale-toned dining rooms look onto a tree-covered hillside.
11 Gidleigh Park ££££
Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH; 01647 432367
An amazing backdrop to enjoy Michael Caines’ celebrated and adventurous food
While the stunning setting is a crowd-magnet, it’s executive chef Michael Caines and his team that draw visitors from far and wide. The kitchen offers both classic dishes and more modern preparations that prove why Caines has won Gidleigh Park two Michelin stars. The kitchen’s dazzling expertise is matched by an equally professional front-of-house team, and there’s also a blockbuster wine list.
12 The Walnut Tree inn ££
Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 8AW; 01873 852797
Chef at the top of his game continues to enhance the growing reputation of Welsh cuisine
Gastro-hero Shaun Hill is hitting his stride at The Walnut Tree. He has turned what was briefly a sinking ship into a standard bearer for down-to-earth, skilful cooking with terrific ingredients – most of them local. The result is a highly distinctive menu that showcases what Hill has learned in his long career. You will find steamed brill with tempura of oyster and the signature pheasant pudding with crisp sage and bacon, as well as pappardelle with hare sauce. While dishes such as venison with its own cottage pie and roasted salsify, or wild duck with Parmentier potatoes and morels crank up the comfort. The place looks fabulous, with original features to the fore and modern improvements, such as efficient heating, tucked out of sight. On fine days, the seating overflows into the pretty garden and courtyard.
13 The Hand & Flowers £
West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2BP; 01628 482277
Gastropub it ain’t, and a new kitchen has improved things still further It may still look and feel like a pub, but The Hand & Flowers is now a cleverly reworked, classy restaurant-with-rooms, run by a larger-than-life chef with a great pedigree. Following the installation of a new kitchen, Tom Kerridge’s cooking seems to have gone up a notch – although his menu is largely unchanged. Genuine flavours, respect for British ingredients and a refreshing lack of pretension are his trademarks. Four fabulous bedrooms are housed in a nearby cottage.
14 Midsummer House £££
Midsummer Common, Cambridge, CB4 1HA; 01223 369299
Classy fare from Cambridge master
Daniel Clifford’s bold interpretation of classic French cooking earned Cambridge its first Michelin star back in 2002 and its second in 2005 – with his keen eye for quality ingredients keeping things spanking-fresh ever since. Much is made of contrasts, as in a stunning starter of seared scallops with a succession of textures and flavours such as celeriac, truffle and caramel. And with the wonderfully indulgent desserts and spot-on service, readers consider this ‘just about perfect’.
15 Adam Simmonds at danesfield house £££
Henley Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2EY; 01628 891010
First-class food and beautiful interior
Adam Simmonds’ elegant, self-named restaurant is undoubtedly one of the South East’s finest destinations, with the luxurious, Anoushka Hempel-designed interior providing a mellow backdrop for the chef’s exceptional menus. There is a serious talent at work here, creating dishes that are highly intricate with flavours, textures and aromas all working in harmony. Charming service and a cracking wine list enhance the experience at this dazzling set-up.
16 John Campbell at Coworth Park £££
Coworth Park, Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7SE; 01344 876600
Ambitious new project from one of the UK’s most highly rated chefs
John Campbell has taken on his biggest challenge to date – overseeing three restaurants at Coworth Park, a vast eco-friendly hotel complex, owned by the Dorchester Group and bordering Windsor Great Park. The flagship dining room showcases some of his greatest gastronomic hits (cannelloni of pressed squid with lobster and avocado, say) and a Shire menu based on produce from within a 70-mile radius.
17 Northcote ££
Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn, BB6 8BE; 01254 240555
The pride of Lancashire
Respected chef Nigel Haworth continues to give Lancastrian produce a good name with his updates on classic regional recipes. Or if you’re just looking for a great Sunday lunch, then roast sirloin of aged Dexter beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings is at the heart of a terrific four-course deal (£36 plus coffee). Accommodation is much appreciated by those wishing to explore the upbeat, international wine list.
18 Restaurant Andrew Fairlie ££££
Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF; 01764 694267
Exceptional food with the wow factor
You feel grown-up in Andrew Fairlie’s hands: the result of a seamless combination of gastronomic experience, careful service and a decor that’s just formal enough to create a sense of occasion. Fairlie’s love of food has communicated itself to the restaurant team, too, who are eager to share their intimate knowledge of how each dish is concocted. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the sommelier, too: he will pick out some great complementary choices.
19 Purnell’s ££
55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham, B3 2DH; 0121 212 9799
The undisputed star of the Brummie dining scene
Birmingham residents should be happy to have a venue of this calibre in their midst – especially as chef/owner Glyn Purnell is considered a rising star in the culinary world. Main courses sparkle with unusual combinations: roasted zander with crayfish, snail, bone marrow and parsley braised lentils, fennel, fennel pollen and parsley purée packs a coherent punch. And sensible portions leave room for accomplished desserts, such as burnt English custard ‘surprise’ with warm autumn fruit
crumble, hazelnuts and quince sorbet.
20 Tyddyn Llan ££
Llandrillo, nr Corwen, Denbighshire, LL21 0ST; 01490 440264
Homely feel and warm welcome in this beautiful part of north Wales
Bryan and Susan Webb make a formidable double act at their restaurant-with-rooms on the edge of a snoozy village in the lovely Dee Valley. Brian’s dedication to sourcing fine seasonal and native ingredients marks out his culinary style. Loin of local spring lamb with artichokes, peas, broad beans and mint is one of many dishes typically handled with aplomb.
21 Bohemia ££
Green Street, St Helier, Jersey JE2 4UH; 01534 880588
Shaun Rankin’s Jersey royal is as popular as ever
Bohemia’s loyal local following speaks for itself. Its restrained dining room might betray its hotel location, but the cooking has made this a destination in its own right. Showcasing ingredients that are often grown, reared or caught for the kitchen, Shaun Rankin delivers an array of picture-perfect dishes without over-gilding the lily, while the young crowd get their kicks from mojitos in the popular bar.
22 Castle Terrace ££
33-35 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2EL; 0131 229 1222
Second Edinburgh outfit from The Kitchin team thriving under chef Dominic Jack
Castle Terrace opened for business in summer 2010, a second venture from the team at acclaimed Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin, which has taken the top place on this list. Cheffing duties are in the experienced hands of local boy Dominic Jack, although The Kitchin’s ‘from nature to plate’ ethos still applies. Raw materials of distinguished provenance go into starters including a sushi-style ceviche of wild halibut, and mains such as seared hampe (flank) of Scotch beef with roasted winter vegetables, bone marrow croûton and bordelaise sauce. Poached pear with winter fruits and a rosemary consommé is a typical dessert, while wines by the glass start at £5.50. The interior of the contemporary dining room takes a subtle approach, which defines the mood.
23 Royal Oak £
Paley Street, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 3JS; 01628 620541
Village pub owned by Parky and son has definitely got people talking
Owned by Sir Michael Parkinson and his son Nick, this village pub has been put on the culinary map by chef Dominic Chapman, whose sturdy cooking chimes well with his quality ingredients. Start with a beautifully executed chicken liver and foie-gras parfait with fig chutney and toasted brioche, say, or lasagne of rabbit with wild mushrooms and chervil. The high standards are maintained with an incredibly comforting West Country brown hare and trotter pie, while sea bass partnered by samphire, cockles and mussels doesn’t disappoint, either. The Royal Oak’s stone tiles, exposed brick walls and wooden tables give it a classily bucolic feel.
24 Fraiche ££
11 Rose Mount, Oxton, Merseyside, CH43 5SG; 0151 652 2914
Futuristic flair with natural influences
A small but perfectly formed restaurant serving modern – even futuristic – cuisine (the sign in the window says ‘Future French’). Fraiche may be low-key, but it’s quietly concentrating on getting all the details just right.
25 The Hambrough ££
Hambrough Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1SQ; 01983 856333
Delightfully slick venue set in a wonderful boutique hotel
Overlooking the sea and gardens above the harbour at the south end of Ventnor Bay, this smart, minimalist restaurant kitchen goes down the local produce route. Service is assured, confident and slick, while the impressive wine list favours Europe, including Slovenia.
26 Michael Wignall at the Latymer ££
Pennyhill Park Hotel, Bagshot, Surrey, GU19 5EU; 01276 471774
First-rate food in country-house hotel located in stunning Surrey setting
Chef Michael Wignall is on dazzling form here. Recent highlights from his top-end menu have included: ballotine of pigeon served with morels, boudin blanc and beetroot; crisp chicken skin and butternut squash; and a dish of plaice with scallops, oyster beignets, creamed polenta and edamame beans. The professional front-of-house team does its job admirably. More comforting, classic food is served in the recently refurbished brasserie.
27 The Sportsman £
Faversham Road, Seasalter, Kent, CT5 4BP; 01227 273370
Welcoming atmosphere on the coast
Hidden away on the fringes of the marshes, The Sportsman might appear shabby, but once inside you’ll be seduced by the coastal light sweeping in through airy rooms, the scrubbed tables decorated with jars of wildflowers, and the freshly baked soda bread. Highlights include mussel and bacon chowder, fork-tender belly of pork with apple sauce, and crispy duck with smoked chilli salsa and sour cream. Cheerful service creates a friendly and relaxed vibe.
28 The Harrow at Little Bedwyn ££
Little Bedwyn, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 3JP; 01672 870871
A must for wine lovers: a star-studded list to match the excellent food
Despite its pastoral name, The Harrow isn’t a timeless local pub, but a full-blown country restaurant in a secluded village on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Serious ambition is confirmed by an array of awards and testimonials, and the interior affirms its classy credentials with muted modern shades, high-backed leather
chairs and crisp white linen. The full wine list is an oenophile’s delight.
29 The Peat Inn ££
Nr St Andrews, Fife, KY15 5LH; 01334 840206
Great food and wine, roaring log fires: what else do you need?
Geoffrey Smeddle, at the helm since 2006, has retained the authentic commitment to seasonal produce, but his ever-changing menu has raised the bar. Expect delights such as field-reared veal with pot-roast root vegetables, quince, chestnuts and juniper sauce, or hot pear soufflé with pecan ice cream for pud. Service sets the tone: formal, expert but never stuffy. Tweed curtains, low beams and log fires complete a seductive night out – or, if you are staying over, a seductive night in.
30 The Pipe and Glass inn £
West End, South Dalton, Yorkshire, HU17 7PN; 01430 810246
Perfect pub grub in an historical setting
The Pipe & Glass Inn has given east Yorkshire’s rather limited dining scene a real shot in the arm. The 15th-century pub has been done out with good taste, while the kitchen works to exacting standards, delivering food with strong, regional overtones. The menu might open with a taste of Yorkshire game before moving on to braised crispy lamb, and to conclude, perhaps, with a trio of Yorkshire apples – a crumble with blackberries, a sticky sponge and a sorbet.