What the experts recommend
Seoul Kimchi 275 Upper Brook Street, Manchester (0161-273 5556) The table I manage to bag just before 7pm on a Tuesday night at this rammed Korean corner shop turned restaurant is “by far the worst table for two I have ever had the pleasure of lunging for”, says Jay Rayner in The Observer. It’s so close to the door you have to lean in every time anyone enters or leaves; it’s cramped; and the view is of a “quasiindustrial cul de sac”. Yet for the “cheap, gutsy Korean soul food” on offer here, I could forgive anything. Highlights include jeon (a thick savoury pancake) with squid and prawn; fried chicken with a “sweet and salty, hot and fiery” gochujang sauce (a “culinary opioid”); galbi (soy-marinated Korean beef ribs); and a bibimbap (rice bowl) of ground beef – “one of the single most satisfying items of comfort food available”. One point: Seoul Kimchi is unlicensed, but the food cries out for beer; you can bring your own drinks for minimal corkage. Meal for two: £30-£45.
The Wigmore 15 Langham Place, London W1 (020-7965 0198) This recently opened addendum to the swish Langham Hotel claims to be a pub, says Marina O’loughlin in The Guardian. And so it is – in the sense that it sells alcoholic beverages and its menu features pies, roasts and toasties. In other respects, The Wigmore is “as far removed from Wetherspoon as it’s possible to be while sharing the same atmosphere”. Walls decorated in a “beautiful”, high gloss sage green “bring to mind Victorian gin palaces; there’s intricate parquetry underfoot; and the bar appears to be lined with endpaper from ancient, precious books”. The food is pub grub as “reimagined by angels” (in the guise of consultant Michel Roux Jr). A “prince” among chicken pies – properly crisp crust, flavourful meat bound in cream and loads of leeks – comes with Robuchon-style, perfectly smooth buttery mash. I love the idea of crabmeat on tiny crumpets with slivers of nori. And a cheese toastie oozing “excellent aged cheddar, red onion, mustard and cornichons in the most lascivious way” is verging on Satanic. About £30 a head plus drinks.
Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms Station Road, South Leigh, Oxfordshire (01993-656238)
This just-opened place is part of a trendy new hotel chain called Artist Residence – and visually it’s a curious beast, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. It is housed in a 16th century farmhouse, “cosy and dark” and traditional – but is decorated with “kitsch hipster artworks” including a vast neon sign that, in chaotic pink capitals, reads, “WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?” Still, the staff are “extremely friendly” and the food is decent – local ingredients, vegetables they’ve grown in the garden – without being astounding. Grilled sardine is nicely salted, with a crunchy dusting of golden batter, complemented by fennel and buttery samphire. A “hearty wedge” of grouse is enlivened with pearl barley and cocoa nibs, girolle mushrooms, lardons and chunky savoy cabbage underneath. And a pudding of many flavours and textures – fat strawberries, champagne jelly, crumble, sorbet and ice cream – is “luscious”. Three courses for two: about £80 plus drinks
Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms: “a curious beast”