Archive for January, 2014

Restaurant Review: House of Ho, Soho, London

Posted on: January 27th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Bobby Chinn

Bobby Chinn


Few chefs can have as interesting a background as Bobby Chinn. Born in New Zealand to a Chinese father and Egyptian mother, he was educated in England, went through a varied series of jobs – including stand-up comedian and commodity broker – in America, before making his gastronomic name in Vietnam. With celebrated eponymous restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon, and a successful role as TV host for World Café Asia on the Discovery Channel, he has entered the continually exciting London restaurant scene with opening of the House of Ho.

Not that his career as a chef has progressed smoothly. Indeed, having earlier sustained a serious injury working as a saucier, he was crippled for a year and given a (premature) diagnosis of “permanently disabled!” Today, with a slim physique and engaging charm, he looks 35 but approaches his 50th birthday. Cool and hip, as befitting his surroundings, he surveys his restaurant and chats to guests. Enthusiastic and energetic, concerned that every aspect of his new venture should be perfect, he openly discusses teething problems in the kitchen, the décor and the restaurant’s acoustics – he prefers less noise and hopes to install surround sound.

After several years of searching for a suitable venue, Bobby has bagged a prime double fronted site in Old Compton Street, in the heart of Soho. The exterior is understated in a matt black wooden finish, with small windows, modest entrance and minimalist signing. The low ceilinged, oak floored interior is deceptively spacious, with 90 covers at plain, bamboo timbered tables and low backed green leather banquettes. The ten metre dispense bar divides front and back seating areas, whilst varied spotlighting, creating a shadowy feel, and bare grey walls also help to create an informal, relaxed atmosphere. This attracts the mainly young clientele, creating an animated buzz in the restaurant.

They come mainly, however, for the Vietnamese cuisine, admired as one of the healthiest in the world, with its use of fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, reliance on herbs and vegetables, and selective use of spices. The House of Ho specialises in northern Vietnamese dishes, (and a few from the south), which are light and  subtle in their combination of flavours, sourcing is impeccable, with a special emphasis on the “ethical purchasing of seafood.” Cooking is accurately timed and portions are generous, with grilling, salads and broths being prominent. Not surprisingly, given Bobby Chinn’s background, the menu also includes some fusion dishes, once again in fashion. Descriptors such as fillet mignon, ceviche, truffle oil, tartare, baby back ribs, scallions, bouillabaisse, frittata and crème brulee testify to the use of western methods and ingredients.

The five sectioned menu, which will change gradually, offers a range of dishes to ensure consistency at pleasingly modest prices.

Fine Dining Guide selected four of the five Light and Raw dishes, priced between £4 and £9

First came traditional Pho Cuon, cold rice noodle rolls, with a slightly gelatinous texture, generously filled with roast duck, dressed with crispy scallions and accompanied by a light, fragrant dip. These provided a deliciously satisfying starter.

House of Ho Duck

A Vietnamese salad featured sweet crab and crisp vegetable noodles tossed in fish sauce. The use of pomelo; sweeter and less citric than grapefruit – often used to partner crab in western dishes – complemented rather than overpowered the seafood. Mint and lemon oil lifted the flavours, whilst Vietnamese crackers added a crisp finish.

House of Ho Crab

Next was a lively seafood ceviche of vibrantly fresh prawns, sea bass and scallops. Mangosteen provided a mild aroma and delicate sweetness to balance the marinade spiked with white truffle oil and coconut jus. Diced sweet pepper added a much needed crispness to this dish which was stunningly presented Cascading from a halved coconut onto a lotus leaf.

House of Ho Ceviche

Another successful fusion dish featured wonderfully succulent salmon tartare topped with a quail’s egg.  Chopped pistachio, herbal shiso and crisp sweet turnip like Jicama dressed in Asian vinaigrette, provided unusual but successful mixing ingredients in terms of flavour and texture. A final flourish was given by a large rice cracker.

House of Ho Tartare

The Hot and Grilled selection, priced between £5 and £9, includes a signature dish of grilled chicken wings with a spicy chilli glaze which took 10 years to perfect. Smokey aubergine, warm scallion vinaigrette with scallions and crispy shallots is equally popular.

We decided on Hanoi’s grilled quails with crispy noodles and were not disappointed. The small, butterflied game birds retained their moist succulence, their flavour enhanced by fragrant Chinese five spice.  A wedge of lime, and a bowl of chopped kumquat, fresh chilli, black pepper and salt proved suitable condiments to be used at the diner’s discretion.

House of Ho Quail

From Ho’s Dishes, six alternatives priced between £9 and £14, we chose two contrasting preparations.

Apple smoked belly pork had been slowly braised before being cold smoked, although this might have been a little stronger. The result was a melting, unctuously rich meat in a dark caramel sauce. A marinated Japanese style egg and braised cabbage – (perhaps more of the latter) – finished this traditional dish, given a unique Bobby twist.

House of Ho Pork Belly

Vietnamese Seafood Bouillabaisse, replete with accurately timed monkfish, mussels and squid, also included tomatoes, okra and carambola, the last adding texture if not flavour. However, the broth, the base of the dish, would have been improved with extra tamarind sourness to balance the excessive sweetness of the pineapple. This was a dish that is still a work in progress.

House of Ho Bouillabaisse

From the four Sides (£2.50 to £4) Jasmine rice helped to soak up the juices whilst Morning Glory, a type of water spinach, added a flavoursome, fresh note.

Desserts, (a choice of three, from £4.50 to £6.50), never a strong point in Asian restaurants, include a trio of ice creams and lemon scented crème brulee. The best, which we sampled, was Molten Marou chocolate cake. Made from cocoa beans ethically grown in Vietnam, it is essentially a chocolate fondant with an oozingly rich interior. Lemon grass ice cream of silky texture completed this fusion dessert.

House of Ho Fondant

Overall, the  meal at the House of Ho was a highly enjoyable experience. The service was welcoming, courteous and efficient. Those visiting for the first time like ourselves could be better informed of the signature dishes. Not that we will resent returning to sample the delights of Duck a la Banana, Grilled chicken wings, Shaking beef and Lemongrass Monkfish with Fish Caramel sauce.

The competitively priced Drinks list, featuring sakes, Old and New World wines and cocktails (starting from £7), laced with home-made bitters and syrups, is an added attraction.

Although Anthony Bourdain has described Bobby Chinn as an “international man of mystery,” there is no secret as to why the House of Ho has made an impressive start, immediately proving popular amongst a well-heeled clientele Its West End location, lively atmosphere, not over ambitious menu and keen prices are a recipe for continued success.

Chef Interview: André Garrett, Cliveden House (Jan 2014)

Posted on: January 18th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Andre Garrett

Chef André Garrett of Cliveden House


André Garrett, now of his eponymous restaurant at Cliveden House, has developed a career at the top end of the restaurant world over a substantial period of time.  Having worked with Nico Ladenis, Guy Savoy and the Galvin Borthers,  André now finds his name above the door at one of the most iconic country house hotels in Britain.  Here, André finds some time to chat to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide.  Interview took place in the library at Cliveden in late December 2013.

Tell us some background about yourself?

I was born in Bath and as a young boy was fascinated by restaurants thanks to my grandmother running a local restaurant.  My career in the kitchen started at the end of the 1980s, after qualifying from City of Bath College, I took a position as commis chef at Hunstrete House Hotel.

After three years, I decided to move to London and started working for Chef Nico (Ladenis). First as Commis Chef at Simply Nico, then Chef de Partie at Nico Central before the same at the three Michelin starred Chez Nico at ninety Park Lane (1992-1994). To further round my experience I spent two years with Bruno Loubet at Bistrot Bruno before returning to Nico (Ladenis) as head chef of Nico Central.

The next major step in my career was joining Chris Galvin at his Michelin starred restaurant Orrery in Marylebone.  From 2000 to 2013, I was to hold various positions within the Galvin group of restaurants including, from 2002 to 2006 Head Chef at Orrery and from 2006 to 2013 as Head Chef at Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane. These restaurants respectively retained and gained a Michelin star.

I’m a firm believer in offering a helping hand to the next generation of chefs; to help them come through and develop their skills – I’m proud to be on the board of the Academy of Culinary Arts, having received a Master of the Culinary Arts (MCA) back in 2005.

Taking part in certain competitions has also sharpened my skills, broadened my horizons and provided a stimulus moving forward and I can see this will do the same for others: For example, winning the 2002 Roux Scholarship was a great honour and gave the opportunity, amongst many other things, to spend time in the kitchen of Guy Savoy in Paris. In addition, being selected to represent the UK in the 2007 Bocuse d’Or competition was important for development.

Having been a head chef in top end restaurants, I have realized the need to constantly evolve and develop skills and to that end completed a Level 5 Management and Leadership diploma.

So with this new opportunity ahead of me, at Cliveden House, I am thrilled to have my name above the door at such a prestigious venue and look forward to repaying the faith in me of those that have brought me here…

How would you describe your intended cuisine at Cliveden?

My goal is to create an iconic restaurant within this iconic property.  We’ve opened in a positive way, having started with a strong classical base which marries my background perfectly with the style of the ‘house.’  For example, poached Dover sole Veronique is a classic with modern techniques applied to lighten and lift the dish. I look forward to the menu evolving over time and across the seasons.

What do you make of your new home at Cliveden?

A uniquely British, classic, iconic country house.  The objective is to restore it to its full glory as one of the major destination hotels (and restaurants) in the country.  The bricks and mortar alone are so full of history and character and I bet they might tell a story or two!  To imagine this was once owned and lived in by a family (The Astors) is incredible.  I actually filmed here for the Roux Scholarship programme that aired earlier this year and until that point hadn’t realised that this was actually Albert Roux’s first job in the UK working for the Astors!

Describe the menus currently on offer?

We have three menus – a competitive three course set lunch at £28, which shows value and choice with three alternatives on each course.  We have an a la carte with six choices on starter, main and dessert at £65.  We have an eight course tasting menu for £95.  I’d like to see the tasting menu have strong sales – its not just a ‘greatest hits’ from the a la carte, there are four unique dishes on this menu so we want to encourage people to try this while at the same time having a breadth of alternative choices available.

What’s your kitchen management philosophy?

I think I have a strong will and strong mentality but at the same time I don’t like too much noise in the kitchen – the team should be quietly focused and determined at all times to get things done.  I also like a sense of control, although this doesn’t always happen (smiling) – if there is some shouting its because something has gone wrong and I would say it would be the exception to the rule.

In general, my philosophy is that with the amount of hours we all put in, the chefs have to be enjoying what they are doing, not just to have a happy life, but to do their jobs well.  That is so important in the context of understanding the responsibility of achieving excellence for the customers. Attention to detail, mentoring and training are all other key aspects of running a successful business and these apply equally in the professional kitchen.

In terms of developing the creativity of the team, this comes with responsibility.  Over time, for example, the set lunch dishes may be opened up to sous chefs (and others) to create something within the parameters that I might set.  So I might say, “these products are seasonal and a good price, I want ideas for dishes from you for this menu.”

Equally as time goes on and the team show me what they can do, some responsibility may cascade down in terms of the a la carte menu and so on.  These are opportunities I never had early in my career, in the days when a young chef was just told what to do in a hierarchical set up.  Having said that, there remains a hierarchical environment but one where responsibility and opportunity is cascaded down on merit.

What is the size of the brigade in the kitchen?

The brigade of chefs for the food operation of the hotel is 17 heads, which over time, will need to be nearer to 27.  There’s a lot to do in a hotel; the pastry section alone is pretty much a twenty hour a day operation; The Cliveden Club is an all day dining facility which can get very busy at weekends; private dining, room service and main restaurant.  I’m sure most chefs would say they need bigger teams (smiling).

André Garrett Restaurant and private dining has its own space and I’ve been fortunate with the space and layout of the kitchen.

How would you describe the front/back of house communication at Cliveden?

Logistically it is a challenge as the kitchen is downstairs and the main restaurant upstairs.  Not a unique challenge as I’ve experienced it before in London kitchens.  We’ve toyed with various ideas for systems to work out the best form of communication between kitchen and dining room: Intercoms, head pieces, video and so on.  Realistically (and in keeping with the nature of the property), we are likely to have someone dedicated (a chef de passe) to providing the link.

What do you think of sites in the internet age like trip advisor?

First of all I think this type of site is here to stay, it’s a byproduct of the modern world where everything is immediate and interactive. Many years ago if someone didn’t like your restaurant they would probably go away and moan about it to their friends and family and maybe not come back.  Now they vocalise this in a different way. Since Trip Advisor took steps to manage the site better (they had some bad press themselves), I think that you have to accept the feedback gracefully and take the rough with the smooth.

When you are on the right side of the feedback it is a powerful marketing tool for the restaurant.  All things cannot be to the tastes of all people and accepting that is important.  There is also the scope, when details of fact are mentioned, rather than matters of tastes, to have the opportunity to put in place changes for the better of your restaurant.

The web generally has definitely played a part is raising the profile of chefs and restaurants and must be a good thing.

What is your view of inspector led guides like Michelin?

An important benchmark of recognition in your career and as such of equal importance to chef and customer.  I hold them in high regard, they remain anonymous (even if you get to recognise one or two of the top inspectors), they remain important, respectable and a gold standard, too.

The AA is also important: They have a number of great guides. The Good Food Guide is also impressive – the top 100 list has certainly given them a lift.

All of them are good for the trade.

Do you eat out? If so favourite places?

I was at the Green Man and French Horn last week – I love what all the Terroir group do, fairly simple, rustic but good honest food!

I’m actually amenable to all types of food – my girlfriend is Italian so we seek out the best in Italian cuisine, I also like Asian food.

I’m not just interested in eating in cities, as I’ve been impressed with everything from the pubs through the restaurants to hotels in this part of the country.

Which chefs do you most admire and why?

After the Roux Scholarship I had the privilege of spending some time learning at Guy Savoy which was inspirational.  Alain Chapel and Michel Bras have also been inspirational on the French side of the channel.

In the UK Sat Bains, is a big inspiration for the way he deals with ingredients.  Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles as an original Roux Scholar and holder of two Michelin stars at an iconic property.  Finally, Le Manoir for being an institution in what they do and having achieved that is something admired in the industry.

What are your ambitions for the future?

To get this restaurant strong and solid, performing well and getting all the necessary work done. Hopefully the André Garrett Restaurant and the hotel will evolve together to achieve all their joint objectives.

AA Three (3) Rosette Awards January 2014 Press Release

Posted on: January 14th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


The AA today announces the latest restaurants to be awarded the coveted new 3 and 4 AA Rosettes. Eight of the restaurants celebrating new higher Rosette awards are from London with the other 11 ranging from Loch Ness to Jersey .

Of the restaurants receiving the awards just one has obtained the prestigious 4 AA Rosettes, namely The Greenhouse in London.

Simon Numphud, Manager at AA Hotel Services said, ‘The Greenhouse has everything we look for in a four Rosette restaurant, namely a passion for excellence, superb technical skills and intense ambition as well as national recognition for its cooking.  Restaurants serving food of a three Rosette standard are worthy of recognition from well beyond their local area.  I am delighted that these restaurants hail from such far-reaching parts of the country, and is a great demonstration that wherever you are in Great Britain you can find excellent AA Rosetted restaurants.’

The new 3 Rosette restaurants are:

  • Black Swan Hotel, Helmsley
  • Fallowfields Hotel and Restaurant, Kingston Bagpuize
  • Restaurant Tristan, Horsham
  • Restaurant Story, London SE1
  • The Grove, Narberth
  • Bo London Restaurant, London W1
  • The Lovat, Loch Ness, Fort Augustus
  • Ormer, St Helier, Jersey
  • Design House Restaurant, Halifax
  • Hedone, London W4
  • HKK, London EC2
  • Roux at Parliament Square , London SW1
  • Galvin at Windows Restaurant and Bar, London W1
  • The Black Swan, Oldstead
  • Lower Slaughter Manor, Lower Slaughter
  • The Burlington at Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey
  • Adam’s Restaurant, Birmingham
  • Bingham, Richmond upon Thames 

The Greenhouse, London

Tucked away behind gates in a wide Mayfair Mews; the thinking behind the name becomes apparent as you stroll down the decked pathway, lined with bamboo plants, box hedges, bay trees, sculptures and little fountains on the way to the front door – a lovely, tranquil garden setting that instantly puts you in a relaxed mood. Sadly, alfresco dining isn’t an option, but you do get views of the garden from the serenely stylish dining room, where the extremely professional yet very friendly service plays its part in creating an oasis of calm and refinement. Natural, restful shades of beige and ivory are offset by modern darkwood floors, avocado-coloured leather banquettes and chairs, tables dressed in their finest white linen, and a feature wall taken up by a filigree display of tree branches to emphasise the garden theme. Many great chefs have run the stoves at The Greenhouse over the years, and today’s incumbent, Arnaud Bignon, is not about to let the side down. He cooks from the heart, starting with the best ingredients money can buy and combining techniques old and new to produce dishes with clean, precise flavours that look beautiful on the plate.

Black Swan Hotel, Helmsley

The Black Swan has been right at the heart of this lovely little market town for centuries, and in the 21st it’s looking rather dapper both outside and in. It’s full of old-world charm, with open fires and antiques aplenty, alongside bags of contemporary swagger. There’s an award-winning tearoom should you fancy treating yourself to a cream tea or a Yorkshire parkin, while the newly refurbished and relaunched Gallery restaurant is the place to head for something more substantial – and rather more special. Paul Peters is a chef who cooks with a high level of skill and a good deal of creative flair, sourcing the finest Yorkshire ingredients and turning them into dishes that wow with their clearly defined flavours and beautiful presentation. The restaurant doubles up as a gallery during the day, showcasing original artworks available to buy, while during the evenings the focus switches to dining, with the elegant tables dressed in their finest white linen, with sparkling glassware and soft music playing in the background. The front of house staff are well versed in the menus, and they’ve got a lot to remember given that they include a six-course tasting menu and a ten-course ‘gastronomic’ option.

Fallowfields Hotel and Restaurant, Kingston Bagpuize

When it comes to sourcing raw ingredients for the kitchen, they don’t have to go far from the front door at Fallowfields. The family-run hotel may be small – just ten bedrooms – but there’s so much land surrounding the delightful, honey-stoned building that as well as an orchard and kitchen garden, they keep Tamworth pigs, chickens, sheep, quail and their own herd of Dexter cattle. With produce as fresh and local as this, Matt Weedon must be the envy of many a chef in these parts. The restaurant is as lovely as you could hope for, housed in a conservatory with views of the lawns and paddocks, and candlelit at night. It’s a light and airy setting by day, romantic in the evenings, although it’s clearly the assured modern British cooking of Matt and his team that make people travel great distances.

Restaurant Tristan, Horsham

The 16th-century building in a pedestrianised street in the heart of Horsham is a bit of an historic gem. It looks gorgeous from the outside, and once inside the first-floor restaurant (downstairs is a casual seating area for daytime light bites, coffees and cakes) it’s a real mix of original features like exposed wooden beams and bare floorboards, with a contemporary decor of cream-painted walls broken up with some feature black and cream floral wallpaper. The pale-wood tables are simply set with olive-green place mats and crisp linen napkins, while chocolate-brown leatherette seating completes the modern look. Chef-patron Tristan Mason’s food is certainly from the modern end of the spectrum too, but that’s not to say he doesn’t draw on his solid grounding of classic French technique (having trained with Marco Pierre White you’d expect nothing less).

Restaurant Story, London SE1

If you want to eat at Restaurant Story, you need to be quick off the mark: a table at this new addition to every foodie’s must-visit list is so in demand, bookings are only being taken on a month-by-month basis. So why the big fuss? Well, word has got round that chef-patron Tom Sellers is a real star who honed his skills with some of the greats of the industry (Tom Aikens in London, Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York and René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen) and is turning out some truly stunning food at his first solo venture. The setting is a Nordic-styled wood-clad building at the Tower Bridge end of Tooley Street (easy to spot then), where floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of The Shard. Inside it’s all clean-lined modernity, with polished concrete floors, chocolate-brown leather chairs and blonde-wood tables, and, thank heavens, an open kitchen. The menu – presented inside an old book as a first hint at the ‘story’ theme – follows the tasting format (either six or ten courses), with each stage designed to reflect Sellers’ journey through life, with some clever plays on childhood memories.

The Grove, Narberth

It sounds rather lovely, and it is. The neat, pristine white house, with a fascinating history going all the way back to the 15th century, is surrounded by a gorgeous restored Georgian walled garden, and has stunning views of the Preseli Mountains. It’s a beautiful spot, no question, and inside it’s all rather luxurious, with the period features of the house enhanced through gentle modernisation. The elegant restaurant looks out over the grounds and is sumptuously furnished in warm tones, with soft lighting, works by Welsh artists on the walls (most of which are for sale, should you want a souvenir of your visit), and an open fire in the colder months. In such a setting, you’d hope the food would be up to the mark, and head chef Duncan Barham and his team certainly don’t disappoint. The starting point for the seasonally changing menus is tip-top produce, sourced from the garden and the local environs and brought in fresh every day: you can taste the difference (as a certain supermarket might say). The brilliant thing about this kitchen is that it knows how to treat these superb ingredients (local beef, lamb and venison, fish delivered to the door by a local fisherman) with restraint and respect to produce dishes that sing with natural flavours and are impeccably balanced.

Bo London Restaurant, London SE1

Unless you’ve lived in Hong Kong or visited the city’s gastronomic hotspots on holiday, you’re unlikely to have heard of chef Alvin Leung and his award-winning restaurant Bo Innovation. But that’s probably about to change now Leung has landed in the UK capital and launched his second boundary-pushing restaurant, the aptly named Bo London. Leung describes his style of food as “X-treme Chinese”, with the self-taught chef’s aim to break down perceptions of traditional and regional Chinese food by playing with ingredients and techniques and combining centuries-old recipes with modern cooking methods. The menu at Bo London features some of his favourite dishes from Bo Innovation in Hong Kong , alongside new dishes inspired by British cuisine and culture. The restaurant’s look is by no means showy, decorated as it is in muted browns and beige in the front section, with a brighter, more airy dining area at the back, but the food is designed to knock your socks off, and it does through the theatre of its presentation (many of the one-bite creations come on unique crockery designed by the chef himself), through the novelty of the dishes, and the flavour delivery achieved through a masterful lightness of touch. The brilliantly conceived 12-course ‘Ode to Great Britain ’ menu reinvents classic British dishes in Leung’s own inimitable style.

The Lovat, Loch Ness, Fort Augustus

The house has been here, in an elevated position at the southern tip of Loch Ness, since Victorian times, and it’s looking rather dapper having been rescued after years of neglect and given a major overhaul by the current owners. Today’s hotel not only has a glossy sheen – a successful combination of period charm and modern style – but it’s run on sound eco-friendly principles (ask about the biomass wood chip boiler), so you can be sure everything you’re served in the restaurant is as local and sustainable as possible. In fact, there’s a lot going on in chef Sean Kelly’s world, for as well as being extremely choosy about the ingredients he uses in his five-course dinner menus, he’s also incredibly imaginative and creative, producing dishes that never fail to bring a smile to your face. The restaurant (there’s a more informal brasserie too) is an elegant room with high ceilings, wood-panelled walls and views across the grounds to Loch Ness through large bay windows, while the friendly staff are fully versed in the intricacies of each dish.

Ormer, St Helier, Jersey

It was a sad day for St Helier’s foodies when Shaun Rankin announced he was leaving Bohemia restaurant at the swish Club Hotel, but thankfully he didn’t go far: here he is, running his own place in the centre of town, and it’s a real gem. The site on Dom Street has been lavishly done out with hints of art deco style (the refurb totalled £1.4 million, apparently) and it looks stunning with its wooden floors, chandeliers, plush blue velvet and mustard yellow leather seating, and darkwood tables simply decorated with small lamps. There’s a lively bar on the ground floor, a fabulous terrace on the street out front – prime for a spot of people watching – and upstairs a smart private dining room and a roof garden and cigar terrace for those balmier Jersey days. And so to the food: Rankin is a firm believer in the superlative quality of Jersey’s produce from land and sea, and thus his menus showcase the best the island has to offer in dishes that impress with their depth of natural flavour and beautiful presentation; seasonality and freshness are the watchwords here.

Design House Restaurant, Halifax

It may be in a converted old mill, but inside it’s a thoroughly modern affair, with white-topped tables, back-lit wall panels in caramel and cream, and framed prints bringing splashes of colour to the white walls. Halifax ’s food-loving inhabitants of all ages have really taken this place to their hearts, and it’s not surprising given its buzzy vibe, friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff, and contemporary, inventive cooking. You can soak up the atmosphere perched on a tall white-leather stool at the central bar, before moving to your table to dine from either the à la carte or tasting menu (or if it’s the middle of the day perhaps the two-course lunch menu at an incredible £10). Chef-proprietor Lee Marshall is a Halifax lad who, together with head chefs Ben Varley and Dave Duttine, is keen to promote the best of the local larder; the cooking from the open-plan kitchen follows the seasons faithfully.

Hedone, London W4

The open kitchen takes centre stage at the ever-buzzing Hedone, and that’s only right, as it really is the nerve centre of the operation; ingredients at the pinnacle of freshness and quality arrive daily, informing what makes it onto the ever-evolving menus (as certain ingredients run out, so one table may not get exactly the same dishes as another). In short, it’s all about the ingredients, and that’s not surprising when you learn that the man behind it all is food blogger and ingredient-expert-turned-chef Mikael Jonsson. Almost everything is cooked to order, and there’s a great deal of skill and creativity on show. There’s a three-course option for a very reasonable £35, but if you can push the boat out and go for the tasting menu or ‘carte blanche’ (chef’s surprise menu) then do it – you won’t regret it. The home-baked sourdough bread is so moreish it’s hard to hold back, but with so much good eating to come you’d be wise to.

HKK, London EC2

Just a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station, this is one Chinese restaurant that really is a cut above. Its modern, minimalist, clean-lined looks – all mushroom-coloured banquettes, black chairs with slate-blue cushions and a glass-walled kitchen – tell you from the off that this is going to be something a bit special, and indeed the various tasting menus (plus set and à la carte menus at lunch) follow classical lines but with some European twists, and ingredients are of the highest possible quality. There’s a swish bar for drinks and dim sum, with the dim sum selection – top notch stuff – also served in the restaurant.

Roux at Parliament Square , London W1

Whichever way you look at it, this is a restaurant with serious pedigree. Just a few paces from the Houses of Parliament, it’s on the ground floor of a listed building designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of London ’s Natural History Museum no less. The Roux in the name needs no introduction, although it isn’t Michel Roux jnr who’s cooking here on a daily basis – he’s over at Le Gavroche, of course, while Steve Groves is in charge of the kitchen in Westminster . The restaurant may not be well-known to the masses, but those in the know – and that includes a good deal of politicians and architects from the local environs – keep on coming back for the clean, precise, classically based cooking that keeps a keen eye on the seasons. If cocktails are your thing, a pit-stop at the bar upstairs is a must before moving on into one of the two dining rooms, each done out in soothing neutral tones with crisp linen, fine glassware and sparkling silverware, where the service is polished but by no means fussy.

Galvin at Windows Restaurant and Bar, London W1

It’s been open for nearly a decade now, but a table in Galvin at Windows is still one of the hottest tickets in town. The view of the capital from the 28th floor of the Park Lane Hilton is enough of a draw in itself, and while the window tables are the prize spots, the restaurant’s clever split-level design allows everyone a share of that stunning panorama. Chef-patron Chris Galvin is renowned for his bold, creative take on French haute cuisine, and while he doesn’t man the stoves here on a daily basis, newly installed head chef Joo Won is fully versed in the signature style. If you haven’t managed to bag a window table in the restaurant, your luck might be in the bar, where spectacular views and equally impressive cocktails go hand in hand. In the restaurant itself, the look is all 1930s glamour, with tables dressed up to the nines, and service that’s on the ball whether or not the master, Fred Sirieix (you may have seen him on the telly), is on duty. The cooking eschews butter, cream and rich sauces in favour of clean, vibrant, natural flavours, with seasonality a watchword.

The Black Swan, Oldstead

What isn’t there to like about The Black Swan? In a lovely, quiet little village in the North York Moors National Park , the quaint old building (it’s been here for some 500 years) is run as a restaurant with rooms by the Banks family, who have lived and farmed here for generations. It’s a real family affair, with Tom and Anne Banks working in the bar and restaurant, son James managing front of house and his brother Tom heading up the kitchen. It’s no wonder the place has such a homely, friendly feel, further enhanced by the charming period features of the house and the cleverly designed interiors which lend a real sense of luxury to a visit here. The bar is cosy with its roaring log fire, oak tables and stone-flagged floor, and serves a proper pint of local real ale (along with some excellent wines by the glass, and cocktails, if that’s more your thing). For the restaurant you need to head upstairs where you’ll find a charming, uncluttered room with an oak floor, Persian rugs, an open fire, and candles on the tables giving a gentle, soothing glow. Chef Tom cooks with the seasons and with a great deal of passion and flair, and his menus are full of interesting, exciting combinations as well as some gently updated classics.

Lower Slaughter Manor, Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter Manor epitomises what the Cotswolds is about: a gorgeous, honey-stoned 17th-century house in a picture-postcard village, it has olde English charm in spades and is a wonderfully relaxing place to stay. The elegant interiors have been brought fully into the 21st century without jarring with the antiquity of the house (although the recent refurb to the restaurant – all grey walls and seating, and grey and red curtains – is said to be a little bit too modern for some older guests), and the staff are as friendly and welcoming as you could hope for. There are several lounges for lounging in before dinner – perhaps with a G&T and a few well-made canapés (plaice goujons with tartare sauce, and ham hock with apricot purée maybe) in hand; it all augurs well for what is to come. And what is to come is some classic, highly skilled cooking from head chef Jamie Raftery, who draws on the abundant local larder for his finely wrought seasonal dishes.

The Burlington at Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey

There’s no two ways about it, The Devonshire Arms is a fantastic country-house hotel. Right in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, surrounded by 30,000 acres of land making up the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate (the ruined abbey is a stone’s throw away), this one-time coaching inn dating back to the 17th century is in a fabulous location. Yet it has a lot more going for it besides its geography, with welcoming log fires in the numerous quiet and comfortable lounges, luxurious bedrooms, a swish spa and two restaurants – the more informal Devonshire Brasserie & Bar, and the jewel in the crown, the Burlington Restaurant. The dress code has been relaxed in recent times (smart casual is now the required attire) but the room remains as elegant and traditional in style as ever, with its pale aubergine walls decorated with classical architectural drawings (borrowed from the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth, no less), soft lighting, and antique tables dressed with designer silverware and sparkling crystal. Here, head chef Adam Smith presents his individual take on modern British cooking, with dishes that impact on both the eye and the palate in equal measure, and are honed largely from the estate’s excellent produce, as well as herbs, vegetables and fruits from the kitchen garden.

Adam’s Restaurant, Birmingham

As newcomers to Birmingham ‘s dining scene, this is the way to make a good first impression. Adam’s is a pop-up restaurant, you see, here for two years before they open a more permanent restaurant elsewhere in the city centre. By that time it is likely chef-patron Adam Stokes and his wife Natasha will have a legion of fans. Their restaurant is right at the heart of the city’s action and looks rather good for a temporary address. There’s a decidedly contemporary and city-slicker feel all round – inside and out – with a deliberate lack of starchiness. Adam has experience in top-end kitchens and his cooking is creative and modern, but avoids look-at-me attention seeking – everything is on the plate for a reason. The format is based around tasting menus – five or nine courses – although there is a three-course lunch. There is nothing temporary about this place. It will be a central part of the Birmingham restaurant scene in its time here, and one can only look forward to their next venture. Get here while you can.

Bingham, Richmond upon Thames

With so many chain restaurants dominating the centre of town, this little independently run boutique hotel just a short stroll along the river is a breath of fresh air. It occupies a rather handsome pair of Georgian townhouses, with gorgeous Thames views from the covered balcony (the hot ticket for alfresco dining during the summer months), and an interior that could’ve come straight out of a glossy design magazine. The chosen colour palette is one of easy-on-the-eye neutral hues, with statement teardrop chandeliers and cleverly-recessed lights softly illuminating the glamorous dining rooms – a sexy boudoir scene of velvety curvaceous banquettes and chairs in pale gold, feature mirrors and silk curtains. It’s a glamorous setting indeed, but it certainly doesn’t upstage the cooking of Mark Jarvis, a talented chef who has the good sense to source impeccable, sustainably produced ingredients, mostly from the local area, and to do as little as possible to them so their natural flavours just sing out.