Happy Valentine’s Day! Restaurants all over the country are laying on their own version of the perfect Valentine’s celebration. Some are so cheesy they could melt on toast and others so elegant you’ll feel you’re in a Noel Coward play, but each of them perfect for someone. If you’ve put off booking this evening’s dining until now, it’s still not too late and we’re here to encourage you, if that’s what you fancy, to use our dedicated Valentine’s Day page. Or ring us on 0207 299 2949 and we’ll get you what you desire (if what you desire is a restaurant reservation, that is). Our last-minute function leads you to available tables with a minimum of fussing about. And if non-romantic dining is what you’re after this evening, toptable can help with that too.
Hot Off the Press
Some irresistible cookbooks are at the starting gate and all in a lather, just waiting to be let out this week. Like what?
Clarissa Dickson Wright, the remaining one of the Two Fat Ladies, is about to launch Potty!: Clarissa’s One Pot Cookbook this Thursday, though we’re pretty sure it’s not solely intended for people with just one pot to cook in. Potty! is trailed as ‘Perfect for anyone who loves good food but hates washing up’ and that’s just about 100% of us. By the bye, several sources report that CDW’s full name is Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright. We wonder, though. When her erstwhile cooking and telly partner Jennifer Patterson was terminally ill in hospital, she checked in under the name Vita Circumference.
Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo, available from tomorrow, is partly a cookbook, partly an exploration of Lebanon and Iraq through their cuisines and written by a seasoned foreign correspondent. She’s an American from Chicago, in spite of her exotic name, and this book has been enormously praised in the States where it’s already available. Don’t be put off by the winsome cover pic, Ciezadlo apparently has the fierce-mindedness and eye for telling detail that her journalism demands. She says, ‘“Saying a country has no cuisine seemed like saying it had no culture, no civil society. I decided to go out and find it.”
Irish chef Kevin Dundon, chef/proprietor of Dunbrody House Hotel in southern Ireland and a big media foodie presence over there, has Recipes That Work ready to hit the stands this Thursday. The emphasis is on ‘fool-proof family recipes’ in the rustic, seasonal style he is famous for.
M. Blanc Explains It All For You
Culinary legend Raymond Blanc, chef proprietor or executive chef of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and a few other charming spots, owner of an OBE and general national treasure, is about to demystify great cooking for you with a second series of Kitchen Secrets starting Monday, 21 February, on BBC2. The series cookbook seems to be available here and there already, though its official release date is also this Monday. We’ll be tuning in, of course, because we love his accent almost as much as his cooking. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if someone got their hands on the cookbook and watched the series, then became good enough to appear in the next series of Restaurant, if there ever is one?
Top Sexy Restaurants
The Times just published a list of ’16 sexy British restaurants’ and we are proud to say we have seven of them on toptable right now and at least one with a special offer. The Michelin-starred Bybrook Restaurant in the Cotswolds, set in the ridiculously lovely Manor House Hotel, a 14th century manor house now brought up to date with 21st century comforts. Chef Richard Davies’ modern European cuisine is served in the company of roaring fires and mullioned windows and you’re surrounded by more than 300 acres of privacy. Then there’s l’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh, an authentic French restaurant without a hint of ‘inventive’ or ‘modern’ or even ‘ironic’ about it. The posters on the walls are charming, but even more charming is the very small bill that lands on your table after you’ve dined so very well. Gee’s Restaurant in Oxford is a local landmark, a Grade II listed conservatory and greenhouse built in 1898 and transformed twenty years ago into this charming and elegant restaurant with a fine collection of Gary Hume’s artworks. The ambience is just divine. We know we’ve mentioned the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows a bunch of times, but can we help it if The Times finds it one of the sexiest restaurants in Britain? Okay, here it is in clipped phrases: fine French, 28th floor, views, great service, three special offers now running. Got you with that last one, didn’t we? The Grove in Pembrokeshire is set in an intimate and unique country house hotel with a super restaurant serving modern European cuisine from local ingredients. The panelled dining room is smart and cosy, while the garden room is surrounded by trees, gardens and wildflower meadows. And all the bedrooms have views. Gaucho in Leeds is just as sexy and carnivorous as the other branches of this fine steak-oriented group. The surroundings are grownup and the Argentinean beef is well-hung, which is true of all the Gaucho restaurants. Odette’s in Primrose Hill is refined yet unstuffy, chic and rustic (yes, both), and not only romantic but friendly to singles as you can borrow a book off the shelf and keep yourself company as you dine on Bryn William’s Welsh-inflected British cuisine.
New restaurants on toptable:
The Coach and Horses
The Coach and Horses in Soho is, we say, quite possibly central London’s most famous pub. That’s going some, considering the competition, but it did feature as the setting for Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell and has been the home of London’s rudest landlord as well a haunt of some very A-list celebs. The upstairs dining room is a charming spot to enjoy the classic British menu and the new landlords are charm itself.
Something a bit different: l’Opera restaurant at the top end of the Old Brompton Road is elegantly decorated with touches of gilt and baroque glamour, and yet it’s also a deli and salon de the with a long glass counter displaying their food and today’s menu chalked up on a board. The
staff are keen and friendly and if you’re doing the museums or shopping in South Ken, you’ll be glad you know about this spot.
Devonshire Terrace in the City of London has the sleekness and style of Bauhaus and a flexible attitude to dining. Fancy a meal in the elegant and business-like dining room? Cool. Prefer the luxury of the private dining room? Absolutely. Here’s one thing we really adore about this modern European restaurant: an al fresco terrace for nonsmokers as well as one for smokers. Bliss for those of us who don’t puff.
Dial House Restaurant in Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire is set in the lovely Dial House Hotel, a grand 17th century home set back from the main road which was here before there were even bridges over the River Windrush. These days the hotel has been refurbished to meet 21st century expectations of comfort while retaining most of the original detailing. The restaurant serves the modern European season cuisine we expect from a kitchen of this calibre and the service is both friendly and professional.
Mark Greenaway at Hawke + Hunter
Hip and rising Mark Greenaway at Hawke + Hunter restaurant in the fabulous Hawke + Hunter venue in Edinburgh on Picardy Place is one of the city’s hotspots to drink and dine. The pair of intimate dining rooms are decorated with Caledonia boho-luxe style and have a casual fine dining atmosphere, a perfect backdrop for the vibrant young crowd that gathers here. The whole enterprise really can’t be pigeonholed: it’s a restaurant, boutique hotel, cocktail bar, whiskey bar, below-stairs nightclub and secret garden. One of the most exciting spots in Edinburgh.