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Stephen Farmer

Stephen Farmer

Listings and reviews (38)

Grayshott Health Spa

Grayshott Health Spa

5 out of 5 stars

I’m officially ‘poor’ at walking. Truth is, my flexibility is well below average too – and don’t get me started on my body fat. You see, this is the kind of analysis you can put yourself up for at this classy retreat in the Surrey Hills. This established spot on the outskirts of a pretty village an hour from central London is a health spa in the truest sense, complete with week-long programmes where diet and activity are closely controlled. Honestly, the last time I heard so much chat about carbs I was channel-flicking past Towie. It’s a beautiful, stately spot that was once home to Lord Tennyson. It’s certainly had a lick or two of paint since then (most recently when it was taken over, back in 2015), but it’s retained its wonderfully creaky charm. It’s nothing like the overly slick and sometimes-snooty spas of the world – and all the better for it.  And while the main building might be old, the outlook certainly isn’t. You can get stuck into classic spa treatments, but those health regimes are as scientific as they come. I didn’t book in for one of those (are you mad?), opting instead for a Thai foot massage, deep-tissue massage and cranial osteopathy. All excellent, but if you want my top pick? Sound healing, which is basically gongs and crystal banged about a bit while you lie prostrate on a bed. New Age and perhaps a little bonkers, sure, but also incredibly relaxing. I totally zoned out and am not ashamed to say that I dribbled. The food here is genuinely excellent. I f

Dorsett City London

Dorsett City London

4 out of 5 stars

They know what they’re doing, these international hotel groups. So it’s hardly a shocker that things at this new Aldgate addition to the Dorsett group were already running as smooth as a baby’s bum on my visit, just a month after opening. This is actually only the group’s second London hotel (they launched in Shepherd’s Bush back in 2016) but with two more soon to come it looks like this big-player in the Asian market is looking to quickly grow its footprint in the capital. And judging by my stay, that’d be welcome. Sure, rooms are compact but every inch of space is packed full of super slick and expensive fixtures and fittings – all with an easy-on-the-eye east-meets-west slant that carries all the way from the lobby to the (very impressive) rooftop bar. But if that doesn’t do enough to help the Chinese middle classes (surely a target market) feel right at home? Mandarin translations everywhere and authentic Nong Shim Shin Cup noodles in the mini-bar should do the trick. The food and drink output should draw the eye of locals, too. It’s got one of the capital’s best doers of dim sum (Shikumen) and the 24-hour VQ downstairs – a bar and restaurant from an admirably reliable stable with outposts in Bloomsbury, Notting Hill and Chelsea. Plus there’s that gorgeous sky-high bar (Jin Bo Law) fourteen floors up, where you can either gaze out across the east London landscape or, like me, simply contemplate why there were three massive breasts on one of the walls. My conclusion? An

Sticky Mango

Sticky Mango

3 out of 5 stars

I’m guessing the crowds being turned away from this new South East Asian restaurant in Waterloo were lured by the high-end menu from a chef with previous experience at Soho’s super-spendy Spice Market. And yup, the food is mostly great, even if the prices sometimes border on bananas. I ordered nasi goreng, the classic Indonesian/Malaysian fried rice dish, simply to see if it was worth the £14 price tag (not really). But oysters with a late, gentle hit of heat from chilli tapioca pearls were superb, the meat in an ox cheek rendang was gloriously tender and pork belly steamed buns had me cooing like a pigeon. Service was a bit scatty but staff were clearly keen to please and there’s scope to make the two-floor rabbit warren of a restaurant feel less dated. Overall, good food, could do better on the rest.

Mama Lan

Mama Lan

3 out of 5 stars

I hadn’t expected to leave this Shoreditch branch of the Beijing dumpling specialist bowled over by a cold, slippery noodle salad that I’d only ordered as an afterthought. But then I hadn’t expected to be nonplussed by the dumplings either. All I could think of when tucking into one filled with beef and spring onion was: Cornish pasty, a foodstuff I find baffling at the best of times, let alone when it’s masquerading as dim sum – like a butch northern (or, I suppose, southern) brickie slipping into a chemise. Still, everything else here was ace. That glorious noodle salad had punchy hits of chilli, good-quality shredded chicken, al dente noodles and a scattering of crushed peanuts for texture and salt. Crispy chicken wings were great too, as were chicken ‘buns’, even if I’d have preferred a steamed bun to the grilled, flat ones served here. I didn’t love the room, though. It’s as high as it’s wide and not helped by stark, sterile lighting. At least cheery staff improved the vibe. And they were well-drilled enough to suggest they’ll be adept at catering for the quick lunches and pre-party pit stops for which this place seems set up.

Tootoomoo

Tootoomoo

3 out of 5 stars

This poky new Islington spot – part of a small chain of pan-Asian restaurants – takes its name from a traditional Indonesian folk story about a little girl and a giant. The version I know (girl gets eaten, giant gets dead) is a few shades darker than the cheery tale scribed on a chalkboard here. Foodwise, there was no scrimping on flavour but many items lacked finesse, nuances often lost in a barrage of sweetness. The meat on the barbecue ribs was nice and tender but dominated by a sugary sauce. A duck and watermelon salad was similarly overwhelmed by too much hoisin. Szechuan beef and a rendang curry were slightly more sophisticated, but by this point my palate was a bit bamboozled. The room was busy on a Friday lunchtime, though, with many diners clearly swayed by decent prices and the charmingly ramshackle interior. They ate happily too, which makes me think Tootoomoo will do well. But my advice? Ease off on the sugar – after all, it’s the ‘in’ thing these days. Well, that and going to hell in handcart.

Yoobi

Yoobi

3 out of 5 stars

This new spot off Oxford Street (sibling to Yoobi in Soho) specialises in temaki: little cones of nori filled with rice and fish. I like to think of them as how the Japanese might reinvent the burrito, a carb coma swapped for a light snooze. Temaki-only joints have been trending in the States for a little while but, apart from Yoobi and a couple of street food vendors, they’re fairly elusive in the UK. Like most things here, they were enjoyable. Sure, they fell apart a bit, but Yoobi clearly knows where to get decent fish: the salmon and unagi (eel) in two of the temaki were of good quality, as were the fat, fresh slices of salmon tataki and tuna sashimi. My only gripes? An errant bit of unadvertised avocado in one of the temaki, and nobody explaining how or where to order (head straight to the till, fyi). I get the impression this almost minimalist space of few tables and plenty of room for queues is aimed at the takeaway crowd. It’s certainly calmer than the slightly frantic Lexington Street original – and all the better for it.

Koyama

Koyama

3 out of 5 stars

I once dated a girl who lived near Koyama. Her dad drove a Volvo, spoke softly and wore pyjamas. I reckon he’d like this place. Why? It plays safe – in this case, a rather comforting virtue. All of the food we tried was resolutely enjoyable. Sushi was good quality, the tempura was light in texture and the teriyaki salmon sweet and with a good bit of gingery heat. But is it likely to draw the hordes from beyond Finchley? I doubt it. But then, I don’t think this place has designs on being anything other than a reliable neighbourhood restaurant. Its sweet, knowledgeable staff will definitely help with that. So, sure, Koyama is hardly likely to set the culinary world alight, but I’d be quite happy to have it at the end of my road. And pyjamas do keep the heating bills down.

Dip & Flip Brixton

Dip & Flip Brixton

Please note, Dip & Flip Brixton has now closed. Time Out Food editors, August 2019. They must get through a fair few metres of kitchen roll at this new Brixton branch of the French dip specialists Dip & Flip. There’s a roll on each table, and I tore off at least five sheets wiping gravy from my face and fingers. My date used even more, having managed to somehow get gravy on her forehead. You see, gravy’s a big thing here. It’s central to a French dip (a roll filled with roast meat dipped in gravy) but also comes as an accompaniment for nearly everything else on the menu. So they’d get it right, right? Not quite. I like mine with big salty depth where you can taste the bones but this was, well, meek. Still, it’s redundant alongside the burgers anyway – they’re much better left to their own devices. My charred-but-still-pink patty was loaded with flavour and got a big thumbs up for going heavy on the seasoning. And the dips? A curate’s egg. The sweet and tender slow-cooked lamb in mine was glorious but the soon-soggy bread roll pretty much gave up on playing the host. I ate it pining for the burger I’d just shared, resenting my date for finishing it off. We won’t stay in touch.

Hatchetts

Hatchetts

3 out of 5 stars

I haven’t seen somewhere look this much like an untouched ’80s wine bar since, well, the ’80s. And while I’m as partial to a trip down memory lane as the next man, the dining room at Hatchetts, a Mayfair restaurant and bar, just looks a bit shabby and dated. But what do I know? Maybe this is the start of a glorious post-Brexit return to the kind of venues we had before mass immigration took hold. Let’s hope not. Thankfully the food is less stuck in the past. My buttery, beautifully al dente celeriac risotto was a doozy, helped in no small part by excellent earthy depth from four plump snails and a drizzle of their braising jus. Lightly pickled red mullet – sharpness balanced brilliantly by punchy salt cod foam – was almost as good, as was a rich but nicely balanced dish of partridge with rainbow chard, bacon and a plum sauce. The only slight dud? My main of chicken-glazed cod, which was wonderfully cooked but then let down by aggressive seasoning. Service was excellent, and tactile to the point of flirty, which is fine by me. Unlike the £2 per person cover charge, which is of course an absolute piss-take.

Sushi and Robata

Sushi and Robata

3 out of 5 stars

It’s been a long time since I ate in a school canteen but the loud and characterless communal food hall at Whole Foods – home to a number of concessions, plastic trays and hairnets – brought the memories flooding back. I half expected a bigger boy to demand my lunch money. In truth, a couple of the players here are pretty serious: a branch of ramen joint Bone Daddies has just pitched up, and now there’s Sushi and Robata, which comes from prominent sushi chain Genji. Nearly everything I tried at Sushi and Robata was good, especially some excellent ruby-red tuna nigiri (with rice warm enough to suggest it had just been hand-rolled), some high-quality, super-fresh salmon sashimi and some beautifully tender duck, smoky from the robata grill. In fact the only duds were the skewers of skirt ruined by a topping of watery grated mooli – good neither for texture nor taste. Prices are far from democratic, but this part of town is a different world entirely and nearly all the tables on our lunchtime visit were taken – mostly by an international crowd with expensive haircuts. They’re clearly not put off by the setting, but then I doubt their school canteen was much like mine.

Galvin at The Athenaeum

Galvin at The Athenaeum

4 out of 5 stars

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve recommended the Galvin brothers’ restaurants. Even after they royally ballsed-up a lunch a few years ago I still find the likes of Bistrot de Luxe, Windows, La Chapelle and Cafe a Vin (now Hop) rolling easily off my tongue when asked by friends for places to go. The reason? Reliably impressive cooking and spot-on service. Up until now they’ve focused on French-influenced food, but at this new spot at the Athenaeum hotel they’re championing Blighty, which was either a remarkably prescient move (goodbye Europe, hello bunting) or just a change of tack. Let’s go with the latter. It’s a switch that they’ve handled with ease – the cooking on our visit once again had me waxing lyrical.   I enjoyed peas with ricotta and preserved lemon on sourdough, and a big hunk of rib-eye was good too, but it was my pork belly that really stood out. Its combo of beautifully cooked, sweet and soft meat with a sticky apple glaze, a ribbon of perfect crackling and a salad of lettuce, apple, hazelnuts and just the right amount of earthy black pudding was a belter. I was genuinely a little sad when it was all gone.     The only downer? It’s a venue that never manages to escape its hotel setting. Sure, they’ve clearly spent a fair old whack on kitting it out, but the dining room feels a little soulless. Plus there’s barely a pause between lobby and restaurant, which hardly screams exclusivity. But I can easily let that kind of thing slide when the food is this good. I l

Maki

Maki

2 out of 5 stars

Credit where credit’s due: the boxes at this new takeaway sushi spot at The Bower development in Old Street really are great. I’m not usually that taken by packaging but here I found myself poring over these sleek, robust and roomy packs. So too did a vegetable miso soup, thick with salty, earthy flavour and bobbing with bouncy shiitake mushrooms. But the sushi itself? A disappointment. To be honest, none of it looked that appetising lined up in rows behind Perspex. Some of the rice on the maki was lifeless and dry, looking far from freshly prepared. The nigiri seemed perkier but was sloppily put together, some of the fish slinking off as if keen to escape. I sampled a few nigiri (salmon, seared salmon on black rice and eel in a sickly sweet sauce) and some maki (soy roast beef, crayfish and spicy tuna). None of it came anywhere close to wowing. The influx of restaurants and bars at The Bower is presumably geared at keeping Silicon Roundabout workers well fed as they beaver away earning their bitcoins. I’d be amazed if they spent many of them at Maki.

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