Old Raglan Road , Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 9AA
Stephen Terry’s much-lauded inn-with-rooms is custom-built for just about any socialising opportunity (special-occasion or otherwise): there’s plenty for those who enjoy wallowing in oak-beamed pubby rusticity, while others feel right at home amid the varnished wood furnishings and affluent leather sofas. The kitchen thinks big when it comes to local sourcing and bullish contemporary flavours, but also satisfies diehards who get their kicks from plates of pork and venison terrine, duck hash or beer-battered haddock with skinny chips. Overall, the emphasis is on gutsy high-end cooking and flashy presentation without prissiness – as in roast hake and braised octopus with white bean and chorizo fabada, braised rabbit with deep-fried polenta or a veggie riff involving roast butternut squash and char-grilled tenderstem broccoli with locally made feta, savoury granola, yoghurt and deep-fried sage leaves. To finish, check out the ripe Welsh cheeses or take your cue from the calendar with, say, poached Evesham rhubarb, soft-baked cheesecake and shortbread crumble. Head to the bar for real ales or peruse the substantial list of reasonably priced wines.
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1 Silver Street, Winteringham, Brough, Lincolnshire, DN15 9ND
When Colin McGurren took over this beautiful restaurant-with-rooms out in the north Lincolnshire flatlands his aim was to take it into a new era. He inherited a venue with an unassailable reputation for good food, but continues to raise the bar, focusing his cooking on local suppliers as well as home-grown produce from an increasingly productive kitchen garden. ‘People travel great distances to make it here, but the food never does’, says a note on website – a reference to the kitchen’s ‘ten-mile’ ethos when it comes to sourcing. McGurren’s nine-course surprise menu is peppered with enigmatic teasers (‘a pinch of seafood’, ‘braised from the fields’, ‘curiouser and curiouser’ etc), but in practice that might mean mi-cuit of salmon with broccoli five ways and dill, braised beef cheek with aubergine and textures of onion or salt-baked squab with mushroom tea and Parmesan foam. To finish, expect anything from rhubarb, balsamic and strawberry vacherin to Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with grappa sorbet and poached pear. A well-chosen wine list promises glorious sips from around the globe. In short, a top regional destination.
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55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham, West Midlands, B3 2DH
As one of the original stars of Birmingham’s resurgent foodie scene, local boy Glyn Purnell’s flagship restaurant knows exactly how to satisfy its customers by offering a series of light-hearted menus full of kooky but highly convincing ideas. The version entitled ‘Purnell’s journey’ might take you from ‘faux’ Black Canary potatoes with chorizo via monkfish masala with pickled carrots to white chocolate délice with Yorkshire rhubarb and meringue, while ’10 years in the making’ features the likes of ‘1,2,3,4,5... once I caught a fish alive!’ (tuna sashimi, Orkney scallop, black garlic, dashi, seaweed etc) or rump of Wiltshire lamb with smoked aubergine, capers and basil. Diners who fancy some fun can also book for ‘Brummie tapas’ in Purnell’s ‘living room’, where the line-up runs from carpaccio of Herefordshire beef with braised octopus, bresaola, crème fraîche and sweet ‘n’ sour onions to a dessert involving blood orange, white chocolate and dried viola flowers. Well-spaced tables and smart, neutral decor suit the business crowd as well as courting couples, while polished staff rarely fluff their lines. “A brilliant and unusual dining experience”, concludes one fan – and we concur.
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HMP Cardiff, Knox Road, Cardiff, CF24 0UG
Forget all those clichés about prison grub, this enterprising eatery at HMP Cardiff offers “fabulous food in a unique environment with a socially conscious twist”. Like its siblings at other HMPs, it was set up by the Clink Charity as a training establishment for inmates and an ‘opportunity for rehabilitation’ – all supported by local businesses and members of the public. The dining room has a bright, clean-cut contemporary feel, while the food shows a strong European bias – from generous helpings of pan-fried trout with saffron potatoes, wilted rainbow chard and seaweed butter sauce to striploin and braised shin of beef with fondant potato, cauliflower purée, roasted shallots and bordelaise sauce. Start with a ballottine of guinea fowl and ham hock; finish with raspberry mille-feuille. Of course, no alcohol is allowed on the premises, but with “brilliant” food and service as standard, who cares. Note that all reservations are made through The Clink website, including ‘gourmet dinners’. It’s “nice to see an initiative giving something back”, concludes one fan.
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20 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, B15 3DU
Greek-inspired landscaped gardens set a formal tone here, although we reckon the mood in Simpsons’ airy conservatory-style dining room is much more casual these days. Occupying a handsome Georgian townhouse in leafy Edgbaston, this Michelin-starred thoroughbred is “outstanding from the moment you walk in” – with added clout provided by boutique bedrooms and a cookery school (renamed the Eureka Kitchen). Overseen by chef director Luke Tipping, this venue delivers top-drawer modern food with real vision. Measured, thoughtful technique and a respect for the seasons underpin everything, from a starter of Wye Valley asparagus with Beesands crab, XO mayonnaise and crispy rice to Cornish lamb with tomato and courgette tart, spinach and black garlic or Brixham turbot partnered by sprouting broccoli, sea kale, monk’s beard and shellfish cream. To conclude, a dessert involving white chocolate, gariguette strawberry sorbet and almond further emphasises Simpson’s pedigree. A serious French-accented wine list adds gravitas, although staff bring some unaffected local charm to proceedings while making everyone “feel special”. Simpsons is a big shout for special occasions too.
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78 Commercial Quay, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH6 6LX
“One to remember”, Tom Kitchin’s highly regarded Michelin-starred restaurant on Leith’s reenergised waterfront comes complete with a whisky snug and a temperature-controlled wine cellar – not to mention views of the kitchen from a specially designed window. Inside, there are hints of Scotland’s heritage (tartans, sheepskins, silver birch), while Kitchin’s highly distinctive cooking is still founded on seasonal produce from regional growers, producers and fishermen. ‘From nature to plate’ is the mantra, and that translates into clever, complex ideas “presented with flair and wit”: a ‘rockpool’ of local seafood, sea vegetables, ginger and Newhaven crab consommé; boned and rolled pig’s head and langoustine tail with crispy pig’s ear salad; roasted rump ‘cap’ of Highland Wagyu beef with heritage carrots, celeriac and red wine sauce. To conclude, consider something delectably seasonal such as set Knockraich yoghurt with orange meringue and sea buckthorn consommé, but don’t ignore Kitchin’s “melt-in-the-mouth delicious” soufflés. The cosy dining room creates just the right mood, value for money is seldom in doubt, and visitors appreciate the chef’s personal touch as he greets everyone individually in the bar.
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New Forest, New Milton, Hampshire, BH25 6QS
Over the years, Chewton Glen has evolved and expanded from a traditional country house retreat into a small resort – and the food side of things is showing signs of a full-strength comeback after a period in the doldrums. Done out like a swanky conservatory with pale furniture, big windows and splashes of greenery, The Dining Room exudes confidence and casual excellence, helped along by “fabulous attentive staff”. The menu brings together influences from far and wide, although everything depends on impeccable ingredients (many from the hotel’s kitchen garden): tuna tataki with avocado purée, Thai lobster curry and Cornish turbot with chicken wings, aubergine and miso dressing share the bill with slow-cooked ox cheek or Quantock duck breast accompanied by sweet potato, sprouting broccoli and heritage carrots. Oysters, salads, grills and roasts from the trolley also feature, while dessert might offer chocolate fondant with Calvados ice cream or pineapple and black pepper tarte Tatin – all backed by a truly monumental wine list. Meanwhile, a casual restaurant/cookery school, The Kitchen, is helping to raise Chewton Glen’s foodie profile even higher.
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Gidleigh Park, Chagford, North Tawton, Devon, TQ13 8HH
This blissful Devon hideaway bewitches everyone with its unashamed Englishness, aristocratic beauty, luxurious comforts and enchanting natural assets (including a stream meandering through the front garden).
The kitchen produces a procession of simple, yet refined dishes. On the menu, you’ll find the likes of John Dory served with Jerusalem artichoke, chicken dressing and crystallised seaweed, or a mix of duck breast with chicory and onion tart, beetroot and kale. Guests can choose from a seven-course tasting menu or the à la carte, while afternoon tea is served daily, between 3.30-5pm.
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Summerhouse, Darlington, County Durham, DL2 3UD
It may be no more than a dot on the map, but the hamlet of Summerhouse now boasts one of the north-east’s more ambitious and ‘evolving’ kitchens – plus a magnificent wine cellar to boot. Occupying a Grade II-listed former inn once frequented by the eponymous hunt, this reinvigorated restaurant-with-rooms is elegantly contemporary in style with proceedings now focused on just one über-sophisticated tasting menu of 10-15 courses from the cutting edge of modern British cuisine – with added delights if you plump for the ‘chef’s table’ experience. Self-taught James Close is working wonders here and his cooking (now touting two Michelin stars) is exceptionally skilful – witness voguish nibbles ranging from crab tacos or Lindisfarne oysters cooked at 62 degrees. The seasons also rule when it comes to plates of autumn salad, Cumbrian lamb, raw beef or razor clams with celeriac and almonds. After that, flavours collide in a tart of mango, yuzu and coconut, while black olive and chocolate keep company with sheep’s yoghurt; also prepare yourself for the enigmatically titled ‘Skull and Buddha’. Service is top-drawer, and the magisterial wine list offers pedigree, class and value across the rangve.
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Riverside, Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8BY
This is where it all began for Cornish empire builder Rick Stein, but more than 40 years down the line, his illustrious flagship is still “simply glorious” and “a real treasure”. Quality is the watchword here: the spacious white-walled interior (designed by Jill Stein) is bright, modern and artily decorated with a no-bookings cut-price seafood bar at its heart, while the kitchen majors on exemplary fish cookery driven by “super-fresh” daily supplies from nearby Padstow quay. Flavours from Stein’s travels dominate the show, so start with some local Porthilly oysters before cruising your way through the likes of sea bass ceviche with smoked chipotle chilli, black cuttlefish risotto or the famously messy Singapore chilli crab. You can also take the classic route by ordering a whole Dover sole, hake and chips or turbot with hollandaise, before rounding off with Mexican rice pudding or apple tart. The atmosphere can’t be faulted, staff are “fabulous” and the authoritative list is stuffed with seafood-friendly whites; the waterfront location is also a dream – especially if you’re staying over.
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Tower 12, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 3BZ
REOPENS EARLY 2019 WITH CHEF AIDEN BYRNE AT THE HELM
Following Aiden Byrne’s departure, Nathaniel Tofan (his long-term deputy) has taken over as head chef at Living Ventures’ city-centre flagship, which combines a thrilling industrial-lite restaurant with an über-glamorous bar/lounge – located 10 floors apart in a reconfigured office block. The menus are enticing, from a great-value set lunch to multi-course tasting extravaganzas, a carte and elegant afternoon teas. A selection of chef’s snacks – crisp chicken skin with duck hearts, nori rice cracker with cod roe and nasturtium, and creamy foie gras mousse with grated truffle – whetted our appetite for an accomplished, well-executed lunch. Rich pressed confit duck terrine with tender foie gras, leek and pistachio was served with perfectly chewy sourdough and earthy truffle butter, while chicken breast, brined and poached until buttery soft, appeared alongside roasted salsify, artichoke purée and aromatic truffle vinegar. To finish, we liked the combination of sweet, sticky date sponge with parsnip pannacotta and butternut squash ice cream, as well as the skilfully rendered matcha and yuzu teacakes and melt-in-the-mouth mince pie macarons served with tea. A must-visit Manchester destination which continues to impress.
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High Street, Harome nr Helmsley, Yorkshire, YO62 5JE
Since arriving at The Star, chef/proprietor Andrew Pern has turned this 14th-century thatched hostelry into a Michelin-starred repository for top-drawer seasonal produce from Yorkshire and beyond. Fish and game always play a part – as in fillet of turbot with wild garlic pie, charred garden alliums, moss parsley and oyster velouté or saddle of local venison ‘cooked over pine’ with a braised faggot, spiced red cabbage, fermented black garlic and sauce d’epices. A ‘locals menu’ offers some simpler pubby ideas such as creamy mussels in Ampleforth cider or venison cottage pie, while dessert might be milk ‘n’ honey – a little chilled buttermilk and Champagne rhubarb cream with Harome honey, rhubarb sorbet and honeycomb. The heart of the Star is still the bar, where you can eat without booking amid ‘Mouseman’ oak furniture, brass ornaments and touches of tartan; otherwise take advantage of the sheltered front terrace and garden. Note that accommodation is across the road in Cross House Lodge – it’s also worth taking a stroll around the “fabulous village”.
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3 West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2LS
In stark contrast to the nearby The Hand and Flowers, Tom Kerridge’s Coach conversion is an eminently user-friendly, no-bookings all-day boozer-cum-eatery with a terrific atmosphere and capable staff. This compact, cosy place puts the bar centre stage, with music playing, comfy leather banquettes and bags of foodie appeal. Breakfast ‘hotdogs’, kippers and kedgeree do the business first thing in the morning, while the full menu offers ‘small plates’ with the option of ‘meat’ or ‘no meat’. Choose the former and you’re in the world of the rotisserie, with competition from the likes of the Coach burger or venison chilli with red wine, chocolate and toasted rice cream; choose the latter and you could have Caesar salad, moules marinière or fish fritters with tartare sauce. For ‘sweet’, check out the gypsy tart with Old English spice and blackberry sorbet. Grazing plates, cakes and nibbles fill in the daytime gaps, alongside pints of ale and a concise list of quaffable wines by the glass. This is “food at its best”, and the award of a Michelin star is testament to the Coach’s class.
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9 Market Square, Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire, HP7 0DF
“Excellent in every way”; “a high-end star”; “a gem outside London” … readers continue to heap praise on Laurie and Jackie Gear’s Artichoke – a “small place with a great ambience” that seems to get everything right. Really confident clued-up staff help things along nicely, the well-oiled open kitchen adds its own entertainment, while the food is reckoned to be outstanding value for the quality on show. Laurie’s team are capable of delivering “unassuming world-class dishes” from an ever-evolving repertoire that runs in tandem with the seasons while hoovering up the best from the region’s producers. Regulars have their own favourites from the line-up: a picture-pretty plate of smoked haddock tartare with Royal Russet apple, radish and “beguiling” horseradish cream; a fat juicy roasted scallop with charred octopus, carrot, sea beet, pork and tarragon dressing; a vivid plate of Yorkshire grouse with blackberries, blackberry sauce and a cornet of foie gras ganache. Our own top picks include dishes from nearer home – notably saddle of Buckinghamshire venison partnered by smoked celeriac purée, a marvellous blue-cheese crumble, poached quince and cavolo nero. Presentation has “reached new heights” of late, especially when it comes to desserts such as a lemon bavarois with Arbequina olive oil jelly, citrus salad and powdery lemon thyme sherbet. Brilliant-value tasting menus and perfectly matched wines top things off admirably.
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Macknade Manor, Canterbury Road, Faversham, Kent, ME13 8XE
David and Rona Pitchford’s covetable Georgian manor house on the outskirts of Faversham is the very model of an unpretentious country restaurant-with-rooms, combining a “gorgeous setting” with personable service overseen by the hosts themselves. Inside, all is cosily domestic, although the refreshingly restrained menu suggests serious culinary intent (despite some determinedly old-fashioned touches and a sprinkling of food-related literary quips). For more than three decades David has honed his own version of Anglo-French cooking, relying on top-drawer ingredients and well-tutored expertise to deliver the goods. The seasons matter here, with pickings from the manor's own walled garden, local game and fish from south-coast boats deployed in harmonious ways. Examples of his “beautiful fresh local food” might include ‘fruit-fed’ loin of pork with spinach, pickled Russet apple and pork jus as well as roast breast of pheasant with spiced red cabbage, blackberry purée and celeriac, but the repertoire also accommodates more eclectic ideas – crispy crumbed king prawns with smoked paprika and lime aïoli and compressed watermelon, for example. To conclude, try the famed deep lemon tart or the hot blackberry soufflé. Impressive wines too.
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New Oxford House, 16 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, West Midlands, B2 5UG
“What a place! Food is top notch and the setting is lovely”, so writes a fan of this latest offering from Michelin-starred chef Adam Stokes (formerly at Glenapp Castle in Scotland). Occupying a one-time sandwich shop in Birmingham’s commercial district, this stylishly sophisticated gaff has been tricked out with faux marble, globe lights, mirrors and a cathedral-like trompe l’oeil centrepiece to create a dramatic backdrop for the chef’s formidable culinary talents. On offer is a choice of menus defined by clever, playful conceits and terse dish descriptions – from ‘guinea fowl, shiitake, smoked potato, braised leek’ to ‘halibut, asparagus, wild garlic, Jersey royal’. Opening salvos might include a punchy combo of Norfolk quail with Jerusalem artichoke, hen of the woods mushrooms and monk’s beard, while seasonally inclined desserts could feature Wye Valley rhubarb with orange blossom and yoghurt. Set lunches are “a good option for client meetings”, but whatever you choose, this head-turning Brummie challenger is bang on the money for a city with an ever-rising foodie profile.
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Castle Street, Beaumaris, North Wales, LL58 8AP
Although this Anglesey favourite (circa 1472) changed its name from the rather archaic Ye Olde Bull’s Head to the more truncated Bull – Beaumaris, it still boasts original timbers, open fires and displays of antique weaponry (notably in the bar). However, you’ll notice that the old warhorse has moved with the times, especially if you opt for serious dining in The Loft. Shoehorned into the eaves of the building, this dramatic space is strikingly designed with arty partitions, bold paintwork, mirrors and a skewed ceiling – a dressed-up backdrop for head chef Andy Tabberner’s ambitious modern food. There are always plenty of intriguing ideas for those who want to explore the byways of contemporary cuisine: rabbit loin with squid, chorizo and fennel; roast fillet of Dover sole with asparagus, elderflower and orange; Creedy Carver duck breast with cauliflower, cumin and pineapple, for example. The dessert line-up also delivers picture-pretty plates such as white chocolate cheesecake with rhubarb and pink Champagne. More informal food is available in the conservatory-style Coach brasserie.
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Sparkwell, Plympton, PL7 5DD
This re-born Devon village boozer still has an affectionate pubby feel, with original beams, an old fireplace and a proper bar for the drinkers – although the emphasis is now firmly on inventive high-end cooking. Following Anton Piotrowksi’s move to pastures new, the kitchen is now in the hands of his development chef Luke Fearon, who helped to devise many of the must-have dishes on the original menu. He also knows how to “mix ingredients unexpectedly” without going over the top: don’t miss the ‘little warmer’ of braised oxtail with haricot blanc velouté and puffed wild grains or chicken terrine with smoked hazelnuts, pickled shimeji mushrooms and fresh truffle. The West Country’s food heroes all contribute, and the result is an inventive repertoire far removed from your average touristy pub grub – anyone for Cornish crab and scallop with green apple, seaweed and wood sorrel or yeast-glazed Sladesdown duck breast with boudin and summer herbs? Also expect wacky desserts such as a trio of single-origin chocolates or a ‘bikini bottom’ with pineapple and lime. Wines are taken seriously too.
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352 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 2NF
Occupying a prime site deep in Edinburgh’s “touristville”, this gloriously gothic 16th-century building is renowned for its genuinely archaic and extravagantly baronial decor – a riot of elaborate tapestries, luxurious drapes, statues and cherubs, plus an enchanting Secret Garden reached via stone staircase. It’s a shoo-in for romance with a big dollop of heritage thrown in for good measure. The kitchen covers all bases, and it isn’t afraid of bullish Franco/Scottish flavours: dressed crab, haggis, steak tartare or Oban oysters on ice could precede roast turbot with parsley sauce, grilled fillet of Scotch beef or roast loin of Cairngorm venison with black quinoa, pumpkin, pickled pear and bitter chocolate oil. For afters, indulge in frozen berries with Amaretto sabayon or a deconstructed marjolaine. Prices are “steep”, although you can also soak up the Witchery experience by ordering from the two-course lunch and theatre menu. Sadly, the regime sometimes creaks under pressure, but all is forgiven once you start perusing the extraordinary wine list – a huge all-embracing tome stuffed with treasures from around the globe.
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Green Street, St Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, JE2 4UH
Noted for its swish boutique opulence, the trendsetting Club Hotel & Spa sits well in St Helier’s fashionably moneyed financial quarter – although cool elegance prevails in the flagship Bohemia restaurant. But don’t be fooled by the dining room’s wood panelling, leather chairs or muted brown and grey furnishings, because there’s nothing subdued about Steve Smith’s Michelin-starred cooking. A bewildering array of menus is offered, although the ‘surprise’ and ‘prestige’ options provide the most comprehensive demonstrations of the chef’s talents. From the first taste of ‘shrimps, pistachio and brown butter’ to the last mouthful of ‘spiced apple and blackberry’, it’s a roller-coaster of intricate flavours and contrasting textures. Along the way, you might sample the following: oyster cassonade with cucumber and yuzu; turbot with Cevennes onion, smoked eel, rock samphire and mustard; belted Galloway sirloin with broccoli, English wasabi and oxtail on toast. Meanwhile, the carte offers some more approachable ideas including lamb loin and braised neck with Jerusalem artichoke and goats’ cheese. The food is matched by an impressive international wine list, with France in pole position.
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Shiplake Row, Binfield Heath, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 4DP
Named after George Orwell, who spent his childhood in the area, this brilliant eatery has been painstakingly realised by Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman – two chefs known for their “clever creativeness” (according to one reader). Well-bred pubby charms, good looks and reasonable prices belie a defiantly British repertoire based on locally sourced ingredients, foraged pickings, home-grown vegetables and honey from the owners’ hives. The kitchen works hard, setting the tone with superb home-baked sourdough bread before diners are treated to a cavalcade of picture-perfect plates ranging from a “thoughtful composition” involving three kinds of home-grown tomatoes, goats’ cheese and sweet onion to proper honeycomb in a “heavenly” chocolate cream. In between, it’s “brilliant fine dining” all the way, whether you’re sampling a “staggeringly good” dish of veal sweetbread, with charcoal mayo salsify and pickled cabbage or sea-fresh monkfish in company with salty crispy kale, roast cauliflower, brown butter and cream. Set menus offer outstanding value and the thoughtfully chosen wine list features some “exemplary Coravin flights” – although Orwells’ “unfussy ambience” remains one of its greatest assets.
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54 The Shore, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH6 6RA
Chef and well-respected restaurateur Martin Wishart has held a Michelin star here since 2001, and standards remain sky-high at his suave flagship restaurant on Leith waterfront. Thick pile carpets, stripped pine panelling and mellow colour schemes create a mood of suave sophistication, while Wishart’s cooking takes account of Scottish produce – although his seasonally changing repertoire bears all the hallmarks of rarefied and refined French technique. You could open your account by ordering ravioli of snails with Shetland mussels, Ayrshire wild leeks, garlic shoots and white onion velouté, before tackling braised veal cheek with a fricassee of peas, morels and broad beans. After that, a dessert of brown butter pannacotta with blackcurrant crémeux and Granny Smith granita might beckon. There are also two tasting menus (including a veggie version featuring the likes of basil gnocchi with sprouting broccoli, monk’s beard, celeriac and Parmesan), while the superlative wine list offers some fine food-matching possibilities. Some readers applaud the “flawless attention to detail” and the service from “friendly French-speaking staff”, while others point out that lunch is “excellent value for money”.
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Faversham Road, Seasalter, Kent, CT5 4BP
It’s picked up a sackful of awards in recent years, but The Sportsman “hasn’t been spoiled by its celebrity” – so writes a fan of this unlikely Michelin-starred roadside pub overlooking the bleak Kent marshes. Shabby-chic interiors, mismatched farmhouse furnishings, blackboard menus and real ales set the tone and you’re still expected to order at the bar, but congenial laid-back service adds to the charm of the place and the cooking is never less than “sublime”. Maverick chef Stephen Harris is a champion of local sourcing and self-sufficiency who bakes bread, cures fish, churns butter and even produces his own sea salt. Yes, it may sound “weird” and homespun, but the food hits the heights without ever seeming overly fussy. We’re fans of the memorable book-in-advance tasting menu (a procession of pitch-perfect seasonal delicacies), but the daily carte also yields pleasures aplenty: poached rock oysters with apple and seaweed; thornback ray with brown butter, cockles and sherry vinegar dressing; smoked maple-cured pork loin with chorizo sauce; braised turbot with mussel and bacon tartare. For afters, there might be a nostalgic combo of jasmine-tea junket with rosehip syrup or a textbook raspberry soufflé with ripple ice cream. A final word on value from one reader: “you may not be getting the luxury and style that many starred restaurants provide, but you aren't paying for it either”.
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Beachcliff, The Esplanade, Penarth, Cardiff, South Wales, CF64 3LA
Occupying the ground floor of a grand old Edwardian building overlooking the estuary on Penarth’s esplanade, James Sommerin’s restaurant gets everything right. The light-drenched dining room is smart but free from formal frippery, with a view into the open kitchen from generously spaced tables, while FOH (managed by James’ wife Louise) is warm and natural, but also well-informed – whether you’re enquiring about the all-British cheese display or the treat-packed wine list. With a Michelin star under his belt, Sommerin delivers some show-stopping dishes, be it a liquid pea ravioli smothered in sage cream and Serrano ham (as seen on Great British Menu), wild sea bass with langoustines, ginger and artichokes or a dessert involving banana, chocolate, peanut and caramel. Great produce is a given (we love the 32-day aged sirloin), and the food is reckoned to be superb value too. Diners opting for the tasting menu are treated to the full show, “with the chefs serving and explaining each course”. And if you’re going down that route, you might fancy making a weekend of it by booking one of the beautiful boutique rooms.
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53 Meeting House Lane, Brighton, BN1 1HB
“The outstanding performer on the South coast for the past few years”, declares a fan of 64 Degrees – and we’re not about to disagree. Like Brighton itself, it’s edgy, hip, leftfield and idiosyncratic – a rockin’ modern eatery from veteran local chef Michael Bremner (ex- Food for Friends and finalist on TV’s Great British Menu in 2017). It’s a thrillingly theatrical concept too, with an open kitchen occupying half the space, chefs wheeling out the dishes as they’re ready, and half the punters perched on yellow-topped stools by the pass. On offer is a tersely worded, on-message daily menu of “clever, clever” small plates (four each of meat, fish, veg and desserts), all “beautifully thought out” and presented with real panache – as well as sense of fun. Picking at random from each section, you might have flat iron misozuko with Bovril and shallot, a fish riff involving brill, grapefruit and chilli or a veggie plate of Gorgonzola, kimchi and hazelnut. After that, keep things sweet with a Rum Bear jelly – a corpulent booze-soaked little beast that looks like a mutant from the Haribo menagerie, sitting alongside a heap of blazing-yellow sherbet. OK, your wine might be served in functional glasses, but staff are clued-up and accommodating, prices won’t cause any panic, and the whole shebang fizzes.
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Midsummer House, Midsummer Common, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB4 1HA
Daniel Clifford has been busy of late. Not only has the chef masterminded a serious refit of his two-Michelin-starred restaurant by the banks of the river Cam, but he has also reintroduced a conventional carte alongside his now-famous tasting menu. The lovely conservatory-style dining room’s new summery look (floral paintings, patterned chairs etc) chimes perfectly with the views over Midsummer’s gorgeous garden, and the atmosphere is helped along by “perfectly attentive” staff who know how to welcome their guests and foster a genuinely convivial atmosphere. “Precision and all-round excellence” are the watchwords. Meanwhile, Clifford’s kitchen maintains its reputation for “startlingly innovative” food in the modern idiom. Looking at the carte, there are many dishes we’d order in an instant: maple-glazed veal sweetbread with poached turnip, ox tongue, pistachio and maple syrup foam; buttered Cornish cod accompanied by roasted langoustine, cauliflower purée, Malossol caviar and oyster leaf; pork cutlet baked in salt and hay alongside a black pudding dumpling, apple and creamed cabbage (a masterpiece designed for sharing). Among the desserts, who could resist the reimagined tarte Tatin with garlic and bay-leaf foam or the Grand Marnier soufflé with poached kumquats and crème fraîche sorbet? The food is supported by a comprehensive, thoroughbred wine list designed to top off any “special occasion”.
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The Midland Hotel, 16 Peter Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M60 2DS
Simon Rogan is long gone, but his protégé Adam Reid continues to turn heads at this flagship restaurant within Manchester’s vintage Midland Hotel. Though the grand dining room’s opulent decor hasn’t changed, eating here feels less formal than before – but no less impressive, with Reid stamping his own distinctive mark on proceedings. We’ve had our share of thrilling encounters here – from seared scallop with trout roe and roasted onion broth to a superbly executed dish of salt-aged duck with vivid purple beetroot and pickled elderberries. Other standouts have a noticeable North Country accent – think nibbles of dripping toast with grated tongue or a Lancashire ‘tasty’ cheese and onion pie with lovage and eel, as well as a meat-free combo of ‘tater ash’ with mushroom ‘catsup’, bread and butter. To finish, rhubarb jelly with ginger malt ice cream is one option, but don’t miss Reid’s ‘Golden Empire’ dessert – an award-winner from Great British Menu 2016, consisting of a golden candy apple adorned with hazelnut crumble and meadowsweet custard. Meanwhile, spot-on service ensures a stunning gastronomic experience without any fine-dining stuffiness.
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Shire Hall, High Pavement, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG1 1HN
Located beneath Nottingham’s historic Galleries of Justice, this super-slick, effortlessly stylish venue has all the right ingredients for a night out. Whether you’re in for some post-work socialising or a hot date, Ibérico is a cool customer with its rustic-chic blend of Moorish tiles, leather sofas, mirror-backed frescoes and vaulted ceilings. Get things started with a glass of txakoli (the fruity sparkling white wine poured from a dramatic height), while contemplating a menu that mixes classic Spanish tapas with contemporary Asian-inspired dishes. Charcuterie and cheeses are a fixture, but the full line-up might run from lamb tartare with black garlic, pickled radish and sourdough via mushroom carpaccio with truffle sauce and pickled mooli to grilled mackerel with ajo blanco, grapes and tarragon. Pans of seafood paella suit those who are famished, while desserts offer anything from churros and hot chocolate to macerated strawberries with yuzu yoghurt and sorrel. Livewire staff are well up to the job. A casual sibling, Bar Ibérico, is at 17-19 Carlton Street, Nottingham NG1 1NL.
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St. Mary Bourne, Andover, SP11 6BT
Part country boozer, part restaurant, part boutique B&B, the seriously revamped Bourne Valley Inn is going strong with an energetic young couple at the helm. Sit in the bar or relax in the beer garden with a pint of well-kept ale or a glass of wine; otherwise head to the restaurant for a teasing menu of eclectic bistro-style dishes loaded with flavour – from salt ‘n’ pepper squid with aioli or ham hock and corn-fed chicken terrine with charred leeks to lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, devilled kidneys or local hogget with crushed new potatoes, ‘pick your own’ asparagus and rosemary jus. Fans of pie and mash, fish and chips, burgers and Caesar salad are also well accommodated, while pud might bring a signature knickerbocker glory or lemon posset with lemon balm granita and pistachio biscotti. Sunday lunch revolves around traditional roasts, while Sunday evenings are reserved for tapas and cocktails. BVI also boasts a bespoke cake shop, and the gorgeous barn conversion next door is tailor-made for private events.
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Whitebrook, Monmouth, South Wales, NP25 4TX
Set among pine forests and trickling brooks, this long-time gastronomic beacon on the edge of the bucolic Wye Valley now serves a real taste of its surroundings. Mixing delicate French technique with super-premium Welsh produce, Raymond Blanc protégé Chris Harrod currently employs a full-time forager to provide pickings for his kitchen. These wild things now form a vital component for his distinctive cooking: Wye Valley asparagus might be paired with ‘hedgerow pickings’, maritime pine and Tintern mead, while Orkney scallops are garlanded with pickled alexanders, roast chicken skin and nasturtium. Elsewhere, ground elder pops up in a dish of day-boat turbot, while wild chervil and bittercress are the chosen feral companions for a plate of squab pigeon and forced rhubarb. Desserts also get the treatment, as in a combo of blackcurrant, camomile and sage. Readers “love” the tasting menu, the set lunch is bargain and warm courteous service is a given – whatever the occasion. There’s also an impressive wine list to peruse (including some local Welsh names), or you can try Chris’s own pine-infused gin – perfect if you’re staying over.
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Oldstead, York, Yorkshire, YO61 4BL
“Special, unique, warm, unpretentious” is one reader’s verdict on The Black Swan, while another settles for “inventive, sublime, always pleases”. Either way, you shouldn’t mistake the Banks family’s 16th-century pub-with-rooms for a bog-standard country boozer – even though it still has a rustic flagstoned bar, ‘Mouseman’ furniture, local ales on tap and lovely views of the rolling Yorkshire Wolds from the highly productive kitchen garden. The serious business takes place upstairs in the Michelin-starred dining room, where chef Tommy Banks offers “exemplary, creative AND tasty food” built around a challenging 12-course tasting menu that reflects the best of Yorkshire’s seasonal larder and produce from the family’s smallholding. Langoustines are paired with salted strawberries, scallops are cured in rhubarb juice, lamb is given the salt-aged treatment, and a signature dish of crapaudine beetroot is cooked slowly in beef fat – although other dishes such as cod with cauliflower and parsley strike a more conventional note. As proceedings head towards their conclusion, you might be offered ‘damson and kernel’, sheep’s milk with Douglas Fir oil or even ‘root vegetable toast’ – not exactly your run-of-the-mill desserts. Saturday lunch is a trimmed-back version of the full works, while the impressive global wine list offers a staggering selection by the 100ml glass (thanks to Coravin). The atmosphere is engagingly welcoming, the rooms are “beautifully furnished” and the whole place has alluring appeal.
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Farnborough Common, Locksbottom, Kent, BR6 8NF
Keen out-of-town prices combined with pleasingly elegant decor, capable service and clever cooking make Chapter One well worth a drive down the A21. Chef/patron Andrew McLeish fashions all-manner of worldly-wise dishes from top-drawer materials and the result is vivacious Michelin-starred food with a high degree of culinary technique. The kitchen deals in exquisite plates loaded with big, bold flavours: starters of braised veal tongue with pickled shallots and sauce gribiche or mackerel rillettes with scorched cucumber, Greek yoghurt, horseradish and mustard ‘frill’ might give way to crispy cod brandade with poached egg, braised oxtail with salt-baked celeriac or Josper-grilled Ibérico pork shoulder and braised cheek with roasted carrots and roscoff onion. “McLeish also uses venison he has personally culled”, says one who knows. The bread is “to die for”, while appealing puds might include milk chocolate and praline mousse with hazelnut cream and raspberry sorbet. With “first-class service” and sommeliers on hand to help with food-matching selections from the extensive and “fairly priced” wine list, Chapter One is “great every time”.
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Peat Inn Hamlet, near St Andrews , Fife, Central Scotland, KY15 5LH
Smart, classy and alluring, The Peat Inn does tweed curtains, low beams and log fires better than just about anyone. Indeed, it’s become an iconic Scottish destination, beloved by its many admirers and a source of delight for newcomers who stumble upon the place. Chef/proprietor Geoffrey Smeddle’s Michelin-starred cooking has certainly raised the bar in these parts, and his commitment to seasonal produce is as unwavering as ever. His ever-changing menu might open with a complex dish involving roast veal sweetbread and breast of East Neuk wood pigeon with purple asparagus, smooth liver parfait, and smoked almond dressing, while mains could run from lemon sole with poached surfer clams, Jersey royals, spring onions, parsley purée and wild herbs to honey-glazed breast of Gartmorn Farm duck accompanied by shallot-braised potatoes, fresh peas, Wye Valley asparagus and morel sauce. Desserts such as hot strawberry soufflé with strawberry and red wine sorbet and vanilla madeleines also shine brightly. Wines are out of the top drawer, while service is formal and expert – but never stuffy. In short, it’s all about quality.
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3-4 Beacon Terrace, Torquay, Devon, TQ1 2BH
Torquay may be synonymous with Basil Fawlty and co, but The Elephant has put this Devon seaside stalwart back on the foodie map for all the right reasons. Boasting a gorgeous location overlooking the English Riviera, here is a capacious modern destination with lots of possibilities – a Michelin-starred restaurant for the whole family. The action takes place in a casual bare-boarded room with terrific harbour views and a menu of bang-up-to-date brasserie cooking fuelled by produce from chef/proprietor Simon Hulstone’s 69-acre Devon farm. A starter of heritage vegetable ‘samosas’ with goats’ curd and pickled mustard might precede roast Southdown lamb with black garlic, Roscoff onion, savoy cabbage and thyme jus or pumpkin fondant with spiced carrot juice. There’s Devon-reared beef too, while sustainable fish from the West Country boats could yield sea trout cured in brown sugar with lime-leaf emulsion or Brixham plaice accompanied by confit chicken wings, clams, brown bread and fried capers. After that, perhaps try forced rhubarb with baked custard and blood orange sorbet. Cheery service does what’s needed, and the wine list offers excellent value.
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Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Grange-Over-Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ
“An amazing end-to-end experience” chimes a fan of Simon Rogan’s cleverly reconfigured Lakeland smithy – and we’re not about to disagree. L’Enclume looks and feels gorgeous, although there are precious few distractions – apart from views of the garden from the conservatory-style dining room. Rogan’s cooking is all about distilling the essence of flavour, allowing nature, landscape and the seasons to gel harmoniously on the plate. Everything revolves around produce from the chef’s organic farm, combined with foraging trips and an unswerving commitment to Lakeland ingredients. The result is a multi-course tasting menu, devised on the day and delivered in style by “fine-tuned” staff who are at the top of their game. Proceedings begin with a swift procession of tiny mouthfuls: a glistening carmine beetroot leaf; fermented cabbage and Ragstone cheese; flaky crab and carrots, etc. After that, it’s hugely pleasurable avalanche of revelatory flavours, taking in everything from native lobster with broad beans and elderflower to Goosnargh duck with cherries and smoked beetroot. Elsewhere, an “exquisite” bowl of turnip broth with lightly pickled turnips, wild mushrooms and cheese dumpling wowed one visitor, as did the clutch of sweet/savoury conceits – notably a sorrel granita with forest berries and buttermilk. Alternatively, Rogan's chef’s table and development kitchen (Aulis) provides a more intimate culinary journey, while an “exceptional” wine list adds the final gloss. “It’s unlike anything you’ve ever tried”, concludes a determined fan who took two trains and walked for 40 minutes to eat at this two-Michelin-starred holy grail of modern gastronomy.
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24-26 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2AQ
Since launching Le Champignon Sauvage back in 1987, David and Helen Everitt-Mathias have turned this Cheltenham champion into a destination cherished for its highly personal approach and exquisite, one-Michelin-starred food. Famously, David hasn’t missed a service since arriving here and he continues to apply red-hot technique to top-drawer produce and seasonal pickings. The result is a procession of “truly breath-taking” dishes ranging from pig’s trotter stuffed with nettles, snails and ox tongue (a standout for one reader) to partridge with sourdough gnocchi and turnip or roast cod with confit chicken wings, chicken juices, salsify and woodruff. Game fans might also relish the roasted wood pigeon with black pudding cream, potato and fig terrine, dandelion and burdock salsa, while desserts could feature a luscious duck egg custard cream pointed up with rhubarb and hibiscus. David’s wife Helen and her team “couldn’t be more friendly or helpful”, and the wine list is a veritable treasure trove of delights. Above all, it’s reckoned to be “phenomenal value for money” when compared to similar places in Michelin’s starry galaxy.
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68-78 Vicar Lane, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS1 7JH
“Obscure food in a fashionable environment” is one reader’s snapshot of The Man Behind the Curtain. Taking its name from a quote in The Wizard of Oz, this cool white space atop Flannels clothes store promises views over the city’s rooftops and a menu that throws down lots of boundary-smashing gauntlets: thrills and challenges abound as maverick chef Michael O’Hare conjures up a riot of cutting-edge Michelin-starred dishes – although the whole experience sometimes feels like performance art. At lunchtime, you can graze from a ‘rapide’ menu, but the real action takes place in the evening, when it’s all about ‘the permanent collection’ – a tasting extravaganza involving 10 to 14 ‘sequences’ (aka courses) running from Wagyu beef with olive juice to a dessert involving cardamom and lemongrass soup with chilli sorbet. In between, expect the unexpected as the chef conjures up tomato tartare with beetroot and macadamia nuts, ackee and salt fish with tripe dumplings, artichoke and brioche Rossini or bowls of birds’ nest and kimchi ramen. To drink, off-piste wines and wacky cocktails are the stars – in short, this place is a genuine one-off.
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The Golden Ball, Lower Assendon, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 6AH
Situated just outside Henley-on-Thames, in leafy Lower Assendon, family-run Luscombes is “a restaurant with soul” – a likeable rural eatery that oozes pubby olde-worlde charms with its rustic furniture, warm neutral tones and cosy fireplace. Lunch is an affordable deal, while dinner is a classy but pleasantly unpretentious affair, with generous space between tables and a menu designed to whet the appetite. Chef/patron Stephen Luscombe, who trained with Marco-Pierre White, is passionate about locally sourced produce and his food is a “picture of reliability”: cheese soufflé is dressed up with celery and walnut salad), local venison and chicken pie with creamed mash pleases the traditionalists, and there’s pork belly with devils on horseback and winter cabbage too. Fish comes up from Stephen’s native Cornwall (think mackerel on toast or cod with BBQ cauliflower, apple, pine nuts, sherry vinegar and chips), while desserts such as raspberry soufflé are well worth the wait. With friendly, swift service and a well-considered wine list added to the mix, Luscombes is spot-on for the neighbourhood.
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Lenton Lane, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG7 2SA
It sounds almost too surreal to be true – a boundary-pushing restaurant-with-rooms housed in a collection of converted barns near the Nottingham ruing road, with a flyover for company. Mind you, the eponymous Sat Bains is very much his own man, and his relentlessly inspired two-Michelin-starred cooking represents “experimental fine dining at its best”, according to one fan. Meticulous planning comes as standard, and we’ve been bowled over by the results. Evening meals take place in two rather neutral, stone-floored dining rooms, allowing diners to focus on Bains’ brilliantly balanced, colour-coded tasting menus – a succession of startling dishes with high-powered hits across the board. An introduction entitled ‘NG7 2SA’ (the restaurant’s postcode) celebrates the area’s wild pickings and sets the scene for esoteric marriages and cutting-edge concepts – think veal croquette with hollandaise, pickles and autumn ceps; tagliatelle of kohlrabi with ‘glasshouse’ pesto and Parmesan 2012 vintage or tagine-spiced Anjou pigeon partnered by a pastilla, melon and feta. After that, a ‘crossover’ signals the move towards sweetness in the shape of, say, Bramley apple with caramel, waffles and pine. This is no place for penny-pinching, so take full advantage of the stupendous big-money wine list. Meanwhile, Amanda Bains oversees a team of lovely staff who “go out of their way to make your stay so special”.
More detail about Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms
Morston, Holt, Norfolk, NR25 7AA
“A Michelin star without the pomposity!” declares a fan who adores this class act on the north Norfolk coast. Morston Hall may boast high walls and a stately Jacobean facade, but the mood is low-key, laid-back and personal, with TV chef/proprietor Galton Blackiston and his attentive team creating just the right mood for celebrations large and small. With help from his head chef, Blackiston maps out a no-choice dinner menu served at just one sitting – a limited offer, but the results are presented with “real innovation and panache”. Introductory items might include a taster of Earl Stonham Wagyu beef with bordelaise sauce or roasted Jerusalem artichokes with goats’ cheese mousse, while the centrepiece could be Holkham venison with salt-baked beetroot, cabbage and white pepper jus or Dover sole with a Beaufort cheese crust and salsify purée. Exotic granitas refresh the palate, while dessert could bring hazelnut bavarois with chocolate sorbet. Although Morston Hall’s culinary reputation hinges on dinner, Sunday lunch also offers great value. Genial staff are as local as the ingredients on the plate, and the wine list is an impressive worldwide compendium.
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36 Clarke Lane, Kerridge, Bollington, Cheshire, SK10 5AH
Snuggled away in the well-manicured Cheshire countryside, this tranquil, neatened-up boozer still finds room at the bar for thirsty locals, although inspired cooking is the real draw here. Various menus and options are available on different days, but the food always shows serious gastronomic ambition, with bold, creative flavours shining through in, say, starters of duck egg with wild garlic velouté, ham hock and spring onion or wood pigeon with shiitake mushrooms, parsnip and watercress. After that, well-chosen seasonal produce receives fiddly high-end treatment, as in lamb rump accompanied by asparagus, nettles, sweetbread, beetroot, pressed potato and salsa verde or Danebridge trout and mussels with samphire, quinoa and lemongrass. To conclude, we like the sound of the cereal pannacotta with wild rice granola – another example of the kitchen’s idiosyncratic approach. A team of well-tutored, knowledgeable staff attend to every detail, and there’s a sharp terroir-led wine list too – what more could you want in this neck of the woods.
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Knowle Hill, Chew Magna, Bristol, Somerset, BS40 8TQ
A 200-year-old cottage boozer in the heart of the Chew Valley, The Pony & Trap is prized for its bar food (“as good as it gets”) as well as its Michelin-starred dining room – although there’s not a starched tablecloth or fawning waiter in sight. Family-run and dependant on chef Josh Eggleton’s foodie pals for many of its ingredients (note the list of local suppliers on the menu), this prestigious hostelry is known for serving up food that’s “a little bit special”: cured monkfish with crispy cheek and grapefruit; lamb rump and sweetbread with malted rye, swede and wild garlic; butter-poached brill with a hay-baked oyster, peas, radish and buttermilk. After that, we suggest bracing yourself for apple cake with caramel, walnuts and clotted-cream ice cream. An “excellent” tasting menu wraps up the whole repertoire in a desirable 10-course package, while the place shows its pubby roots with a cracking Sunday roast. In the words of one fan, “Josh Eggleton has got to be a chef to watch right now”.
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Capel Dewi, Nantgaredig, Carmarthen, South Wales, SA32 7LH
Run in the style of a chill-out country inn with scrubbed-up rustic surroundings and a dressed-down outlook (no tablecloths, no obligatory wine pouring), this wonderfully remote and gently idiosyncratic Y Polyn never fails to please. Readers regularly applaud the kitchen’s commitment to “high quality fresh Welsh produce”, so expect big portions and earthy presentation, although culinary inspiration comes mostly from the Mediterranean. Typical dishes might run from pappardelle with venison ragù, or warm confit duck terrine with pickled mushrooms and spicy fruit sauce to roast rump of Welsh lamb with caponata and salsa verde or pan-roasted brill with baby spinach, red chard, Jerusalem artichokes, cockles and anchovy butter. After that, pear tarte Tatin or egg custard tart with raspberry ripple ice cream await – or you can delve into the assortment of prime Welsh cheeses to go with something from the extensive wine list. “Very good value” is also guaranteed, with prices including a big dish of vegetables, water and superb home-baked sourdough bread.
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The Midland Hotel, 16 Peter Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M60 2DS
“Mr Cooper’s made a difference to Manchester when it opened” – and it still does, according to one local fan. Named after a certain Mr Thomas Cooper (a well-known local gent whose house and renowned gardens occupied the site back in 1819), this classy-looking dining room within the historic Midland Hotel is now an international brasserie with a standout cocktail bar attached. The interior plays to the theme with various areas recreating Mr Cooper’s house, while ingredients are of the highest quality. Visitors are sold on Mr Cooper’s “constantly changing menus”, a host of ideas ranging from buttermilk tiger prawns, Spatchcock spring chicken with a red wine and thyme jus, and sweet potato lentil and coconut curry. Desserts roam around too, taking in everything from caramel tart with mascarpone ice cream, to a clementine, pomegranate and pistachio meringue. With its keen prices, kids’ deals and Sunday roasts, Mr Cooper’s still does the business – even if it’s more conventional than its neighbour, Adam Reid at The French.
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6 Middle Street, Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8AP
“Paul Ainsworth and his team have something special here”, notes a fan of No. 6 – a restaurant that challenges Rick Stein’s dominion over Padstow. This Georgian terraced house is an endearing charmer, from its composed, elegant interior to its “delicious, inventive and beautifully presented” Michelin-starred food. The kitchen delivers wave after wave of inspired, fashionable dishes spanning everything from a smoked haddock ‘quiche Lorraine’ to ‘all the rabbit’ with grilled bread and September damsons. After that, keep things diverse with, say, local hogget, red garlic ketchup and sweetbread fricassee or the fish of the day from Cornish waters – perhaps white crab with leeks royale and ‘jack shell gravy’. The British cheeseboard is well worth investigating, while dessert could bring ewe’s milk cheesecake in puff pastry with bitter cocoa sorbet or Ainsworth’s famous reinvented ‘trifle Cornish’ flavoured with Tregothnan tea prunes and saffron. Visitors are treated to the warmest of welcomes, service is “top-notch” and the set lunch gets a big thumb-up. Those wanting a sleepover should check out the Padstow Townhouse (also owned by Ainsworth and co).
More detail about Paul Ainsworth at No. 6
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire, OX44 7PD
We’ve said it before, but Le Manoir is damn near perfect in every department – a sentiment echoed by legions of fans, who seldom stint on the superlatives when it comes to Raymond Blanc’s fine-tuned take on country-house luxe. This immaculate Oxfordshire mansion is quite simply “faultless”, the “perfect treat” and a dream ticket for out-of-town indulgence with its ever-courteous staff, silkily choreographed service and “exceptionally creative” French-inspired cooking. Blanc’s vision of ‘sustainable harmony’ is buoyed by produce from Le Manoir’s showpiece organic gardens, and the result is a “superb, well-balanced menu full of seasonal flavours and surprises” – from veal sweetbread with spring asparagus, peas and morels to the ever-popular risotto of garden vegetables with tomato essence and chervil cream, salt-baked pigeon with cabbage, wild garlic and bacon or confit Gigha halibut with squid, chorizo and smoked red pepper. This is clear-minded, limpid cooking from a kitchen that knows all about consummate technique. There’s also room for gasp-inducing extras, peerless patisserie (millionaire shortbread with salted caramel ice cream, say) and lovingly ripened cheeses from M. Blanc’s home region (and beyond). Of course, it costs a fortune (particularly if you take a serious dip into the aristocratic wine list), but readers concur that the experience is “worth every penny”.
More detail about Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 1AD
Occupying a first-floor space above Victoria Street with wraparound views of Edinburgh's landmarks, Ondine is a “sleek but unpretentious” space with a crustacean bar holding centre stage, plus a jazzy helping of baroque fabrics and jaunty art. This is ‘a proper seafood restaurant’ declares chef/proprietor Roy Brett, who learned his trade with fish guru Rick Stein, and is renowned for his use of sustainably sourced, “super-fresh” produce (Ondine is accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council). Fixed-price lunch and pre-theatre deals might bring oyster ceviche ahead of Shetland mussels with soy, black beans and ginger, with lemon meringue pie for afters. Things move up a notch in the evening, when the kitchen offers more flashy stuff ranging from roasted shellfish platters and fruits de mer to sea bream curry, brown crab risotto with butternut squash or grilled Mull scallops in the half-shell with Chanteraise sausage and garlic butter. Although meat eaters might be offered rib of Orkney beef with oyster mushrooms and chips, Ondine is really about “the best seafood served by the friendliest staff”.
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The Caledonian, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 2AB
A genuine French brasserie straight out of the brothers Galvin mould, this egalitarian eatery on the ground floor of the extravagantly restored Caledonian Hotel takes its cue from Chris and Jeff Galvin’s London big-hitter Galvin Bistrot de Luxe – in other words, it’s a very different prospect to the ultra-posh Pompadour by Galvin upstairs. Instead of palatial pomp, it promises a series of buzzy interconnecting rooms with much attention focusing on the centrepiece seafood counter. You can pitch up here for oysters and crustacea or sit down for honest-to-goodness French bistro food done with the Galvins' brio and sense of occasion. Prime Scottish ingredients get a good outing, from Berwick crab mayonnaise or Scrabster cod with artichoke barigoule to a trio of Perthshire pork with pommes Anna, cauliflower and heritage carrots. To conclude, keep it fabulously French with peach Melba, tarte Tatin or raspberry soufflé with raspberry sorbet. Service is impressively on point, children are more than welcome, and the wine list is a corker, with terrific bottles at every turn.
More detail about Galvin Brasserie de Luxe at The Caledonian
The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol, Somerset, BS1 6FU
“I can still remember and describe every dish from the tasting menu” admits one reader who had a “phenomenal experience” at Michelin-starred Casamia – Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’s hugely impressive harbourside restaurant located on the ground floor of the old Bristol General Hospital building. Inside it’s “simple but stylish”, surprisingly warm and inviting, with enthusiastic staff aiding and abetting the busy chefs as they take diners on an immensely flavoursome gastronomic journey inspired by the seasons. One-word descriptions give few clues to the sheer brilliance of the food, but all is revealed once the “delicately complex” creations start arriving on bespoke crockery: ‘salad’ means a super-fresh mix of dark and light green seasonal leaves with charred broccoli, sweet carrot and savoury juices; ‘beetroot’ is a masterly combination of yoghurt sorbet, pickled fennel and beetroot risotto with soft rice and pistachio for texture; ‘rainbow trout’ brings together a superb confit with a bisque, some delicate roe and wonderful “skin crisps” – an outright winner among a clutch of “world-class” dishes. ‘Turbot’ and ‘duck’ are also subjected to mind-bending transformation, while desserts (if that’s the word) could include ‘passion fruit’ – actually a “staggeringly good” three-part riff (granita, jelly, seeds) topped by a tarragon-flavoured custard and little dabs of meringue. With culinary invention “taken to a new level”, a top-class wine list and explanatory table service often provided by the chatty chefs themselves, Casamia is a genuine one-off and a worthy winner of the SquareMeal Award for the Best UK Restaurant, 2018.
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Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn, Lancashire, BB6 8BE
A comfortable country house hotel on the edge of the Ribble Valley, Northcote has held a Michelin star for over two decades. Chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen has recently taken the reins from her mentor Nigel Haworth, and while the restaurant’s snow-white cloths and sparkling glassware still smack of traditional fine dining, the new menu is fresh and modern. Lancashire’s natural larder provides ample opportunity for seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to shine. Char-grilled asparagus was packed with flavour, served simply with creamy sheep’s curd and sharp wood-sorrel leaves, while deliciously sticky lamb breast came paired with a pillow of caramelised shallot purée. A photogenic dish of fat, sweet scarlet prawns with wild-garlic foam and beurre blanc sauce was a technically perfect rendition; we followed it with an earthy plate of succulent squab pigeon, its breast roasted on the bone and the confit leg accompanied by turnip and morels. Matched with note-perfect wines and friendly service, this is a treat of a tasting menu: light and playful, but with real confidence and skill on show. An inviting new chapter for this legendary Lancastrian heavyweight.
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Cliveden House, Taplow, Maidenhead, Maidenhead, SL6 0JF
Famed for its racy aristocratic shenanigans back in the day, Cliveden still lives and breathes unashamed extravagance – although it’s also an entrancing prospect for high-end gustatory satisfaction. André Garrett’s sumptuous, softly hued dining room sits well amid the hotel’s flamboyantly Italianate glamour with its billowing drapes, ostentatious crystal chandeliers, portraits and velvety fabrics, but for all its adornments, there’s a feeling of genuine intimacy about eating here – and the views are stunning. As befits such a setting, the chef’s gently stimulating contemporary French cuisine promises rich seasonal rewards: Orkney scallops are simply served with radish, lemon and herb oil; ‘locally stalked’ fallow deer might arrive with watercress, chestnuts and pickled blackberries; rack of Devon lamb is embellished with artichoke, sprouting broccoli and lavender. Mighty servings of beef Wellington please the old guard, while desserts include peanut butter parfait with toffee, chocolate and honeycomb. Service is suitably “gracious” and the spectacular wine list is tailor-made for living the high life, although diners who don’t belong to the National Trust may baulk at paying a surcharge for ‘admission’.
More detail about André Garrett at Cliveden
Llyswen, Brecon, Mid Wales, LD3 0YP
Polished period perfection is the order of the day here. The house may be Jacobean in origin and chock full of antiques, but it’s also in pristine condition and the staff are second-to-none. Arrive early for a stroll round the hotel’s organic kitchen garden and acres of gorgeous grounds, although the beautiful, pastel-hued dining room decorated with paintings from the hotel’s impressive art collection is a delight in its own right. The kitchen favours all things seasonal, fresh, home-grown and foraged – note starters such as a pheasant egg with mushroom, leek and ham crumb or cock crab with buttermilk, rhubarb and oxalis. Mains are similarly eclectic, from Welsh beef tartare with native oyster, cauliflower and ‘smoke’ to suckling pork belly accompanied by polenta and fermented cabbage, while desserts such as apple textures with blossom and caramel bring proceedings to a fresh and zesty close. Llangoed Hall is also noted for its ‘prestige’ tasting menus (including a vegetarian version), afternoon teas and excellent wine cellar.
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152-154 Hills Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 8PB
ALIMENTUM CLOSED PERMANENTLY OCTOBER 2018
A cool prospect for adventurous Cambridge foodies, Alimentum comes modishly tricked out with polished wood floors, tinted glass, black tables and funky red chandeliers. An element of kitchen theatre is also present, thanks to a feature window that allows views into the kitchen. Bold strokes and challenging high-impact ideas shine brightly, from pork belly with langoustine, caviar, yuzu and cucumber to halibut with broccoli, wild garlic and oyster or 80-day aged beef sirloin and cheek partnered by charcoal, Jersey royals and salsa verde. Meals are fleshed out with lots of intensely flavoured extras, while flamboyant desserts offer new takes on the old classics such as ‘Battenberg’ or ‘Black Forest’ (dark chocolate, cherry, cherry beer and kirsch). Back-up comes from a strong international wine list with some particularly inviting selections from France and Italy – also watch out for the increasingly popular ‘supper club’ and ‘wine club’ events alternating on the first Sunday of each month.
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High Street, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2AB
“Slightly more accessible” than the neighbouring Fat Duck, this reconfigured 15th-century coaching inn promises “the quality that you'd expect from Heston Blumenthal, but without the bells and whistles”. Refreshed and dolled up in 2017, the ground-floor dining room retains its ancient pubby feel via reclaimed panelling, rich red leather banquettes and antique beams, while the newly minted ‘Royal Lounge’ upstairs comes draped in quirky Heston-isms including a 3D-printed cockatrice and a blunderbuss chandelier. Food-wise, the old carte has been replaced by three regularly changing set menus named after English queens. The three-course ‘Mary’ version might yield a chicken, leek and ham pie pot pie with mash followed by a ‘quaking pudding’ (cinnamon, nutmeg and compressed apple), although dishes from the four-course ‘Aleyn’ also show customary Blumenthal precision (seared scallops Waldorf with celery, walnut dressing, sea vegetables and dill oil, for example). Elsewhere, the fabled Scotch egg comes with mustard mayo, while other classics such as lapsang souchong-cured salmon also put in an appearance. Service is chirpy and relaxed, and there are some “great G&Ts” alongside the serious wine list. “A place to remember.”
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10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH3 9DS
“Wonderful space… wonderful food” raves a fan of Timberyard. Housed in a shabby-chic timber warehouse and one-time theatrical props store, this restaurant is rightly proud of its enterprising approach to foraging, butchery, curing and growing your own, while the “delightful” owners also support Scottish producers, as well as stuffing their drinks list with “hidden gems” (including natural wines, floral cocktails and small-batch beers). Meals revolve around a choice of multi-course menus, with many dishes beautifully adorned with herbs and flowers from the Timberyard ‘patch’. Well-balanced small plates might range from mackerel, oyster, parsley, kohlrabi and horseradish to veal sweetbread with truffle, artichoke, sea purslane and hazelnut, while bigger items could include cod with white asparagus, capers, raisins and turnip or a combo of venison and beetroot bolstered by ramsons, juniper and onion. For dessert, sweet strawberries might appear alongside lemon verbena, sheep’s yoghurt and elderflower. Private dining takes place in an old brick shed and there’s a sought-after south-facing yard for alfresco meals, while “enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff” add the final gloss to this idiosyncratic Edinburgh destination.
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Market Place, Lavenham, Suffolk, CO10 9QZ
The dashingly handsome Great House still invokes pleasing thoughts of France in the heart of medieval Lavenham – no wonder it remains a go-to destination for many readers. Ancient timbers, muted colours and modern artworks create a cosseting atmosphere, while Régis and Martine Crépy play perfect hosts to an appreciative crowd who flock here for sharply tuned French cooking with plenty of modern flourishes. Quality is at a premium as the kitchen works its magic with perfectly judged flavours and textures: baked Isle of Man ‘queenie’ scallops with courgette fondue, Madras curry, tomato, garlic and parsley butter; French pigeon breast roasted on the bone with caramelised endive, red beetroot and bay leaf sauce; rack of English lamb with rocket jus, sautéed wild mushrooms and garlic espuma. Desserts are artistic creations such as a white chocolate and strawberry ‘sphere’ with rhubarb, red fruits and crème de menthe sorbet, although it’s worth eyeing up the terrific selection of cheeses from Suffolk and France too. Young Gallic staff are beyond reproach, lunches offer tremendous value and oenophiles can revel in the generous wine list.
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33-35 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 2EL
There’s something rather special about Dominic Jack’s contemporary dining room in a Georgian townhouse beneath Edinburgh Castle Mound. Like its elder sibling The Kitchin, Castle Terrace is the real deal: the food is out of the top drawer, service seldom misses a beat, and there are treasures galore on the high-value wine list. ‘From nature to plate’ is the now-familiar mantra, and raw materials of distinguished provenance go into starters ranging from a tartare of North Sea gurnard with apple and crispy croûtons to ravioli of fresh herbs with a spring pea velouté. Every detail is also spot-on when it comes to clear-flavoured mains such as seared monkfish wrapped in Ayrshire ham with peas à la française or roasted and braised Inverurie lamb partnered by aubergine and apricot. To conclude, a veritable galaxy of smile-inducing desserts might feature anything from a warm Granny Smith apple pie to Scottish heather honey soufflé with sour-cream ice cream. Great-value lunch packages are worth a punt, and engaging staff make everyone feel valued.
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11 Charles Street, Hoole, Chester, Cheshire, CH2 3AZ
Funky young chef (and master of crowd-funding) Gary Usher has done a terrific job here, turning the Sticky Walnut into a brilliant local bistro that receives top marks for consistency, value and quality. Gary’s upbeat, sparky cooking matches the restaurant’s offbeat vibe with a succession of creative ideas amalgamating influences from the Med and beyond – all served at very reasonable prices. The eponymous ‘sticky walnuts’ might appear in a roast beetroot salad with spiced pumpkin seeds and ricotta, but he doesn’t overplay the ‘nutty’ theme, preferring to channel his energies into intriguing dishes such as crispy duck hearts with pickled shimeji mushrooms, wild garlic and silver skin onion or butter-braised skate wing with caramelised cauliflower, yoghurt and sunflower-seed crisp. Some meaty mains are a tad more conventional (think chateaubriand with cauliflower cheese and red wine sauce), while eclectic desserts might include spiced coconut rice pudding with poached pineapple and sugared hazelnuts. The food is complemented by some intriguing world beers, trendy aperitifs and plenty of wines with gentle mark-ups.
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Hambleton, Oakham, Leicestershire, LE15 8TH
A “breath-taking” location overlooking Rutland Water is just one reason why visitors graduate towards Hambleton Hall – a quintessentially English country retreat done out like a petite French château, complete with superbly landscaped grounds, terraced gardens and magnificent antique-filled interiors. The restaurant occupies an appropriately stately room, while “impeccable” well-tutored staff mix grace and good humour with consummate attention to detail. Long-serving chef Aaron Patterson produces top-class food in the modern idiom, and readers confirm that the results are “absolutely spectacular”. A prettily designed menu celebrates the seasons, and the kitchen follows suit – think a terrine of heritage carrots with spiced carrot ice cream followed by fillet of John Dory with sorrel risotto, fennel and orange. Presentation is picture-perfect, whether you’re in the market for a plate of Launde Farm lamb or something luxurious from ‘gourmet corner’ – perhaps fallow deer with celeriac and chocolate tortellini. To finish, signature soufflés and tiramisu lead the pack, or you might fancy lemon, fig and sablé breton. Set lunches are deemed “good-value”, and the authoritative wine list is proudly prejudiced ‘in favour of the little guy’.
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Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland, PH3 1NF
Gleneagles’ extravagantly expensive redevelopment continues apace, although there are no signs of upheaval at Andrew Fairlie’s “top-class” two-Michelin-starred restaurant nestled within the world-famous hospitality resort. Occupying “the most perfect setting” in a quiet corner of the complex, this is a calm, sophisticated space with enough formality to create a sense of occasion – think diffuse lighting, soft furnishings and lively paintings hung on textured brown/black walls. Fairlie’s precise and highly assured cooking is rooted in the classic European tradition and he’s a master of refinement: home-smoked Scottish lobster dressed with warm lime butter has been on the menu since the very early days, and other dishes also seem like old friends – the Highland lamb loin with slow-cooked shoulder, onion and red pepper, for example. Elsewhere, sophistication is the watchword (think wild mushroom and truffle ravioli with minted pea velouté or fillet of red mullet with saffron and fennel), while desserts such as lemon curd with citrus fruits and white chocolate are works of art. The “amazing” wine list may be as long as a school register, but the sommelier is eager to offer teasing suggestions.
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Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, South Wales, NP7 8AW
“A great all-round experience!” exclaims an admirer of this reinvigorated Welsh icon; others simply confirm that it’s a truly special restaurant. We’re also fans of chef/patron Shaun Hill, and reckon he deserves a round of applause for putting The Walnut Tree back on the Michelin-starred map in his highly distinctive manner. This place works to a magic formula, serving keenly priced, intelligent food in refreshingly unfussy surroundings (beams, local artwork, rustic furnishings etc). The “calm yet friendly” vibe is helped along by chatty but knowledgeable staff, and vegetarians “always feel very welcome” here. Cracking set lunches are a bargain, while the equally good-value carte could yield anything from twice-baked Lancashire cheese soufflé with beetroot to skate with grilled octopus and red pepper sauce or veal kidneys with streaky bacon and cassis. Cleverly realised British and European flavours also collide on the pudding list – think Jaffa torte or caramel fondant with milk ice cream. The location in the foothills of the Black Mountains is glorious and the whole place regularly resounds with chat and laughter – there’s even bookable cottage accommodation nearby.
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The Chester Grosvenor, Eastgate, Chester, Cheshire, CH1 1LT
The majestic Grosvenor hotel’s hot-shot restaurant is a sight to behold – a luxury-strewn pillared room with a veritable battalion of dutiful waiters primed to deliver silky-smooth, highly polished service. If time seems to stand still amid the antiques and gilded accoutrements, Simon Radley’s Michelin-starred food certainly doesn’t look back, and his willingness to embrace all things new yields a menu with countless rich possibilities: a starter entitled ‘jellied eels’ involves poached and fried oysters, sea vegetables and leafy lemon purée, while ‘two hens’ brings butter-poached Black Leg chicken, native lobster and Périgord truffle. Elsewhere, ‘tongue and cheek’ is an amalgam of veal pastrami, grilled fillet, cracked mustard, hot radish and cipilloni onion broth, while desserts aim to challenge and surprise – think preserved Catalan tomato with iced nectar, fruit candy, goats’ curd and almond turron or a pairing of Gariguette strawberries and Sarawak pepper with minted sweet peas. However, some things never change – the bread trolley is a thing of wheaten beauty, the wine cellar remains thrillingly well stocked, and intuitive staff know all the right moves.
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Waldorf Astoria - The Caledonian, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 2AB
A classy proposition from start to finish, the ever-fabulous Pompadour at ‘The Caley’ represents the first Scottish foray for Chris and Jeff Galvin – the duo behind London big-hitters such as Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and Galvin at Windows. Inside, breathtaking views of Edinburgh Castle vie for attention with the elegant interior, a grand vision of belle époque affluence involving hand-painted Chinese panels, florid cornicing and pink chandeliers. The food more than matches up too, thanks to a kitchen that melds French technique with prime Scottish ingredients. The menu ‘gourmand’, in particular, showcases great culinary skill and precision – from a delicate lasagne of North Berwick crab with layers of scallop mousse and beurre Nantais (a reworked Galvin classic) or roast Loch Etive sea trout with fluffy herb gnocchi, sea beet and mussels to croquette of Lake District pork with grapefruit and pickled celeriac. After that, baked Crowdie cheesecake with Perthshire strawberries should fit the bill – otherwise, opt for the alluring trolley of artisan French and British cheeses. Suggested wines pair beautifully with the food, and formal yet friendly service completes a thoroughly luxurious experience.
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Burchetts Green Road, Burchetts Green, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 6QZ
There’s plenty of competition hereabouts, but readers rate this highly idiosyncratic pub as one of the best gastronomic destinations in the area. The Crown is a quirky little place, with an infectious atmosphere in the tiny bar, a pleasing conservatory and a plainly decorated, cream-walled dining room. As one of the restaurant scene’s more eccentric characters, chef/proprietor Simon Bonwick runs the kitchen single-handedly and leaves front-of-house to members of his (very large) family – especially his eldest son. That said, the results on the plate are hugely impressive, marrying British seasonal ingredients to the big-boned richness of French provincial cuisine: rillettes of wild boar with beer pickles; croustade of sorrel and spinach; slow-cooked veal cheek with ‘rather nice veal sauce’; roast cod with watercress and horseradish. To conclude, expect French-inspired ideas such as tarte Tatin, pistachio charlotte and Black Forest ‘cadeau’ as well as hot treacle sponge (‘like when you were little’). Unbeatable prices and a passionate, personable approach to hospitality also do much to enhance the persona of this Michelin-starred rural rendezvous.
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Ferry Road, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2AT
Its picture-book riverbank location may look and feel as English as The Wind in the Willows, but everything else at the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn speaks of top-end French gastronomy with a real sense of occasion – the culinary equivalent of haute couture. It’s all about silky sophistication and Gallic polish here, from the sumptuous furnishings and punctilious professionalism of the “impeccable” staff to the intricacies of the “perfectly executed” cooking. Expect a cavalcade of masterstrokes with that unmistakable Roux thumbprint: teasing amuse-bouches such as venison tartare on potato and whipped goats’ cheese; flaked Devon crab with ginger-scented cucumber jelly and oscietra caviar; fillet of turbot roasted in nut-brown butter with root vegetables, morels and vin jaune sauce; grilled pigeon breasts and crispy leg served with sweet pepper pipérade, potato terrine and ‘devil sauce’. After that, a cleansing granita sets things up for some truly astonishing showpiece desserts – perhaps chocolate cannelé with hazelnut praline and lime. “Everything par excellence”, drools an admirer. The wine list delves deep into the archives of French oenology and prices are scary, yet the sheer joy of dining at this serene stronghold of subtly reinvented haute cuisine is unsurpassed: “it’s hard to find a poor place to eat in Bray, but every visit feels incredibly special”, quips one admirer.
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4-5 Fishmarket, Folkestone, Kent, CT19 6AA
One-time Gordon Ramsay acolyte Mark Sargeant continues to make waves at this terrific seafood eatery on Folkestone’s harbour front, with the airy ground-floor dining room and upstairs bar/terrace both capturing the phenomenal views full on. Seafood is touted as the speciality, and its shines from the very start – perhaps cucumber-cured mackerel with wasabi, ‘salty fingers’ and pickled beetroot, a lobster and salmon pasty or even of plate of Sonny’s locally smoked fish. Mains continue the squeaky-fresh maritime theme (think fritto misto or baked cod with heritage tomatoes, wild garlic and spring leeks), but the butcher also has his say with good-looking properly aged steaks, slow-cooked beef ribs or cider-braised duck leg with pears and Brighton Blue cheese. The kitchen makes its point emphatically through a simple respect for top-drawer raw materials, while desserts bring on the likes of Kentish gypsy tart or vanilla buttermilk pudding. Any murmurings about high prices are drowned out by cheers for the “stunning” location.
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16 New Street, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2EZ
Andreas Antona spent his formative years in the kitchen of this Warwickshire coaching inn before upping sticks and eventually moving to Simpsons in Birmingham – so it’s fitting that he’s back in charge of the revitalised Cross. Inside, there are all the signs of a mature, expert facelift, with swathes of upholstered leather and baronial wood panelling offset by tin ceiling tiles and industrial lights, while Antona’s long-time colleague Adam Bennett runs the kitchen. The result is elegantly worked food with a Michelin star to its name and a focus on “stunning” Euro-accented flavours – from wood-smoked eel with ‘potatoes, potatoes, potatoes’, sorrel and capers to loin of Cornish spring lamb accompanied by glazed carrots, apricots, cracked wheat, sheep’s yoghurt and spiced jus. The Cornish crab soup with saffron mayo is “to die for”, while dessert could bring orange and gingerbread soufflé with chocolate and cardamom ice cream. Service is “as good as the decor”, set lunches are a savvy choice for the local business crowd, the wine list reads well and they stage terrific wine evenings too.
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Church Lane, Shinfield, Reading, Berkshire, RG2 9BY
The very model of a smart country-house restaurant, this Grade II-listed vicarage has played host to some of the UK’s top chefs over the years (Nico Ladenis, John Burton-Race, Alan Murchison etc), and it now has a new wunderkind in the shape of Tom Clarke. Like his predecessors, the current incumbent brings high levels of Michelin-starred sophistication to proceedings, creating “beautiful plates” and wonderfully honed flavours from a larder of seasonal ingredients – think goose liver parfait with gingerbread and rhubarb, loin of hogget with sweetbreads and asparagus or poached loin of cod with oyster and coriander. The cheese trolley is a treasure-trove of ripeness, while desserts might offer a ‘toffee apple’ riff involving apple parfait, caramel and pecans. Well-drilled service depends on “amazing teamwork”, set lunches are a bargain for the blue-blooded Berkshire set, and the patrician wine list is notable for its impressive selection of organic/biodynamic bottles. The building may not look much from the outside, but the chocolate tones of the interior give out a soothing warmth and notable private rooms also catch the eye.
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Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys, Mid Wales, SY20 8TA
Manicured grounds, luxury rooms, courteous service and the peaceful surrounds of an RSPB nature reserve have long been a lure for VIPs and those after some Welsh R&R – although the star attraction at this glorious restaurant-with-rooms is the “awesome” cooking of chef/patron Gareth Ward. From the first taste of the home-baked bread with cultured butter through to the final sampling of strawberries with elder and yuzu, meals are shot through with intense flavours – not surprising, given that wunderkind Ward trained at high-flying Restaurant Sat Bains. ‘Ingredient-led, flavour-driven, fat-fuelled and meat-obsessed’, says a note on the menu and the results speak for themselves: mackerel might be paired with rhubarb and back fat, pollack is exotically embellished with black beans, and salmon could be given the BBQ treatment. There are also starring roles for Welsh lamb and Welsh Wagyu beef, while ‘desserts’ offer a profusion of sweet (and sometimes savoury) delights, from ‘birch porridge’ to miso treacle tart. Wines fit the top-end scenario, the dining room is a modern vision, and the chef’s table is a shoo-in for that special Michelin-starred occasion.
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Colbost, Isle of Skye, Highlands, IV55 8ZT
“Well worth the long trip”, Eddie and Shirley Spear’s converted crofter’s cottage by the shores of Loch Dunvegan promises matchless Highland hospitality, a lovingly curated wine cellar and food of tingling freshness for those who venture over the sea to Skye. Everyone is transfixed by the “unique setting and incredible scenery”, but there’s also plenty to admire in the stone-walled dining room with its contemporary grey tones and food-related prints. The kitchen sets great store by sourcing and seasonality, although “stellar” Scottish seafood is the trump card – think scorched Dunvegan langoustine tails with fermented cucumber, tempura oyster and buttermilk or halibut roasted in Douglas fir with salsify, jus gras, Iron Age pork and baby gem. Also expect excellent meat and game, from wood-fired Skye red deer with charcoal-roasted beetroot to Orbost Soay lamb with pickled winter cabbage, black garlic and bramble wine sauce, plus fine British cheeses and desserts such as hibiscus and crowdie cheesecake with wheatgrass. Best of all, book a place at the ‘chef’s table’ within the state-of-the art kitchen, then retire to the House Over-By next door – “a wonderful place to stay”.
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Sprigg's Alley, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, OX39 4BX
“Where better to escape London” says a fan of this lovably eccentric eatery high up on Bledlow Ridge. “The Napier” has been a fixture of the Chiltern scene since the 1970s, seducing countless visitors with its unique oddball charms: whether you’re here for a dreamy repast under the pergolas or a snuggle-up by the fire surrounded by surreal sculptures and crazy curios, ever-present host Julie Griffiths and her cheery team will ensure that a pleasurable time is had by all. Chefs come and go, but the current main man is delivering some tip-top dishes with a strong seasonal accent: Brixham crab salad arrives with lavache crackers, pickled fennel and cucumber, while rump of Welsh lamb might be paired with buttered hispi cabbage, dauphinoise potatoes and lovage. There’s a rich haul of locally bagged game too, while desserts such as gariguette strawberry and brown-sugar pavlova are a real treat. Otherwise, a mighty tray of ripe cheeses whiffs invitingly, and the “superb” wine list promises fun as well as the prospect of serious drinking. Frenetic Sunday lunch sessions often last long into the afternoon.
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6 New Road, Port Isaac, PL29 3SB
“The ultimate in classy fish cuisine”, Nathan Outlaw’s two-Michelin-starred flagship regularly proves why it’s up there with the very best in the business. The restaurant’s seafront setting and fabulous views resonate with the “sounds of satisfaction” coming from each and every table – testament to the sheer virtuosity of Outlaw’s cooking and his sympathetic approach to super-fresh Cornish seafood. Diners are offered just one tasting menu (lunch and dinner), but the balance, quality and invention are staggering – just consider a dish of sublime brill (“lightly cured by the master himself”) decorated with peas and mint. Outlaw also gives more humble species their full due: herrings are pickled and served with cucumber and seaweed; cod is lifted to “a whole new dimension”, lightly salted and matched with cuttlefish in red wine; lemon sole fillets are presented as a pair (one breadcrumbed, the other ‘au naturel’) with the simplest of accompaniments including purple sprouting broccoli and spring watercress. Finally, there are two “highly developed” desserts – perhaps a fresh-tasting rhubarb and custard ice cream ‘sandwich’ (“a delight to behold”) followed by a St Clement’s meringue pie with the flavours of oranges and lemons “ringing out”. Outlaw’s beautifully calibrated displays are backed by studiously matched wines, while service cleverly balances sociability with impressive expertise. It’s a tour de force – “a truly outstanding dining experience, and one to treasure.”
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Windsor Road, Chobham, Surrey, GU24 8QS
“A complete rounded visit” awaits at Stovell’s – a sympathetically restored “mind-your-head” 16th-century farmhouse that blends rough-hewn beams, mullioned windows and low ceilings with vivid wallpaper, contemporary furnishings and deep-pile carpets. Fernando Stovell’s “epic food” continues to receive rave reviews as he fashions complex, finely honed dishes strewn with global influences – from guinea fowl (roasted over an open fire) with quince to a deconstructed beef Wellington with truffle mash (“an absolute must”) or melting Ibérico pork neck with pork popcorn, onion crisp and avocado three ways. There are also simple grills and a dedicated tasting menu inspired by Fernando’s Mexican homeland – think, fish tacos, duck carnitas and ox tongue infladita with chilli morita and black lime. To finish, keep it lively with a “tennis ball” of chocolate mille-feuille or carrot cake “served in a mini garden pot” with confit baby carrots and smoked sour-cream icing. The global wine list offers plenty of keenly priced drinking, but also check out the fab barrel-aged cocktails and “amazing” home-distilled gin. “You’d pay a ton more in central London for this”, cheers one fan.
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5 South Embankment, Dartmouth, Devon, TQ6 9BH
“A fine example of a chef/patron restaurant” this well-liked seafood stalwart has the kind of warmth you might associate with a bedded-in eatery on an Italian backstreet – not a Devon waterfront. Eating here is always a real pleasure, and the staff are “equally welcoming to young and old alike”. Proprietor Mitch Tonks has positioned himself as the natural successor to Rick Stein’s crown in the West Country, and he certainly knows all about “supremely fresh, brilliantly cooked fish”. Much of the daily catch comes from nearby Brixham, and the kitchen treats its seasonal haul with due respect: mussels are steamed with vermentino wine, bay leaves and chilli; hake is dressed with broad beans, peas and mint hollandaise; John Dory is partnered by slow-cooked fennel and tomato. Elsewhere, Dover sole, monkfish and red mullet are grilled over the fire, along with Pyrenean lamb chops, osso bucco and salt-aged Glenarm steaks. Italy dominates when it comes to desserts such as scroppino, zabaglione and lemon tart. The £20 ‘locals menu’ offers terrific value, and the extensive fish-friendly wine list vigorously supports European vineyards.
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8 Vicarage Fold, Wiswell, Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 9DF
Hidden away in picture-pretty Wiswell, this atmospheric and stylishly reconfigured Lancashire hostelry now cuts quite a dash with its thoughtful blend of rich heritage colours, mismatched antique furniture and country prints, while young informed service and a bold, contemporary menu belie the traditional surroundings. Local lad Steven Smith is on top form at the moment, delivering a succession of high-end crossover dishes such as a pork pie baked in brioche with roast langoustine and a sauce of char-grilled asparagus or roast rump and kofta of Herdwick lamb accompanied by BBQ baby gem, miso aubergine, mint and yoghurt. Elsewhere, those with plainer tastes get admirable satisfaction from plates of simply grilled fish and slabs of 60-day aged Hereford beef with duck-fat chips, while desserts hit the heights with show-stopping soufflés and luscious creations such as dark chocolate with pineapple poached in Pedro Ximénez caramel, rum, raisin and peach sorbet. The food is matched by an impressively diverse wine list loaded with classy bottles at very reasonable prices. With its superb outdoor eating area, this place is also a shoo-in for special bashes.
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79 Upper St. Giles Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1AB
Roger Hickman’s immensely likeable restaurant is a treat to visit with its comfortingly familiar interiors, civilised demeanour and understated elegance – and it comes with the bonus of cleverly crafted modern food. Sharply defined seasonal flavours are the key to Hickman’s cooking, as in blowtorched mackerel with mackerel mousse, gooseberry and horseradish or lamb’s sweetbreads offset by textures of garlic and potato terrine. Thoughtfully sourced and sympathetically handled ingredients also stand out when it comes to mains such as roast turbot with ceps, salsify, mash and chicken wings or duck breast and pressed leg accompanied by turnip, crispy egg yolk, blackberries and wild rice. Hickman likes to give classic desserts a contemporary spin – think strawberries with yuzu, pistachio and basil or a fusion of chocolate, honey, cashew nuts and milk. Service is always courteous and affable, set menus are excellent value and the wine list comprises a fine collection of carefully chosen bottles from across the globe.
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Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Brockenhurst, SO42 7QL
From the ivy-meshed Georgian house ringed by New Forest oak to the racks of wellies and rooms furnished like an antique country pile, everything about the laid-back Pig feels just right. At its heart is a “charming” glass-roofed restaurant with a suitably horticultural vibe, while the enthusiastic kitchen is fed by seasonal bounty from a productive walled garden, polytunnels, a smokehouse and the local countryside (courtesy of a resident forager). Expect “creative, slightly rustic, on-trend food” from a menu full of artisan treats: honey and mustard chipolatas feature among the moreish ‘piggy bits’; ‘walled garden’ fritters are served with wild garlic mayo; New Forest mushrooms pop up everywhere, and fish might include whole plaice on the bone with pink fir potatoes and brown butter sauce. For afters, the lemon and basil posset with macerated strawberries has bags of seasonal oomph. Alternatively, pizza-style flatbreads are served from the wood-fired oven on the terrace (no need to book). The weighty wine list is stuffed with unusual bottles, while cocktails include zany concoctions served in Kilner jars. “Great service” also gets the nod.
More detail about The Pig
126 West Street, Marlow, SL7 2BP
Tom Kerridge is currently doing for Marlow what Rick Stein did for Padstow: his name is everywhere, and his fingers are in an increasing number of local pies – including The Shed, a new private dining room a few doors away from his two-Michelin-starred flagship. “What’s not to love” exclaims one reader, and we’re not surprised when others wax lyrical about The Hand and Flowers: “fantastic and not too fussy”; “incredible food, so unique yet beautifully simple” – the plaudits just keep coming. The pay-off for lucky diners is a rolling menu of Kerridge’s greatest hits and tricksy fresh-faced ideas with a seasonal smile – think lamb and haggis toast with chorizo mayo, whipped cheese and mint jelly, slow-cooked duck breast with apricot purée, morels and a Moroccan-style savoury tart or the fish du jour served with char-roasted alliums, cheese mash, avruga caviar and sauce ‘bonne femme’. This is a world away from your average gastropub fodder, and there are delicious surprises right to the very end: one reader loved the “mini ale” served with his dessert (a boozy chocolate and ale cake with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream). The only downside is the fact that you have to book “ages in advance”, but that’s small beer when the restaurant can deliver such quality, warmth and pleasure.
More detail about The Hand and Flowers
1 High Street, Bray, Maidenhead, SL6 2AQ
“Words can’t describe how incredibly entertaining a trip to The Fat Duck is” – so writes a fan who was “made to feel like royalty” at Heston Blumenthal’s three-Michelin-starred wonderland. To say it’s pricey is an understatement: prospective diners currently have to shell out £325 up front for a ‘ticket’ that allows access to the 17-course itinerary. In return, the lucky ones are whisked away on an imagined day out, a holiday trip evoking lots of playful childhood memories with “incredible” staff acting as grown-up guides. It’s the “little touches” and personalised wizardry that really count, in fact the whole show is one gasp-inducing, side-splitting bonanza – although the theatrics are never at the expense of flavour. ‘Rise and shine’ means fun-pack cereal boxes (all crisp grains and jellies) as well as ‘cold… and hot tea’, while a trip to the beach involves the now-famous ‘sound of the sea’ (cured seafood nibbled while listening to the sound of surf through headphones). Later on, a proper three-course ‘dinner’ touts everything from hay-smoked veal sweetbread with baby gem to a boned and crisped chicken’s foot with red-wine mayo, before ‘counting sheep’ sees a meringue resting on a pillow floating above the table thanks to magnetic levitation. And we haven’t even mentioned the mushroom truffle log, the whisky gums or the sweets from the custom-built doll’s house. The verdict? “Five hours of sheer magic”. Yes, eating at the Duck is an immersive, multisensory fantasy, but we’re with readers who dub it a must-do “experience of a lifetime”.
More detail about The Fat Duck
1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH7 5DX
Occupying a building dating from 1836 that was once home to a gardener, with vegetable patches at the front, this charming restaurant delivers seasonal dining at long communal tables. A weekend brunch menu offers the likes of Arbroath kippers, beech-smoked anchovies and local bacon, while a daily changing lunchtime à la carte and evening tasting menu reflect the best of Scotland’s natural larder. On our visit, a snack of crisp Perthshire organic chicken skin was packed with intensely savoury flavour. We followed this with perfectly charred mackerel and a rich green fragrant lovage soup with fresh peas and smoky pancetta. Succulent Gigha halibut was served with a delicate lobster raviolo, while tender organic pork fillet came with asparagus spears, sharp gooseberry and a plump brawn dumpling. To finish, sweet, sticky honey cake was tempered by aromatic woodruff ice cream, strawberries and crisp meringue. Matched wine pairings are available from the inviting drinks list. Flawless cooking in laid-back surroundings.
Images by Jamie Ferguson
More detail about The Gardener's Cottage