We liked the Bybrook. It had a nice feel to it. And it fitted well in the hotel which is a centuries old house. So, there’s lots of dark wood; lots of stained glass windows. There’s also generously sized tables, with lots of space between them. And there’s comfy chairs – an important aspect when you’re going to spend quite a bit of time sat on them. The serving staff work well as a team and any delays we experienced were almost certainly down to issues in the kitchen. The restaurant trade’s current staffing problems are well known and the consequences have to be accepted.
Until the end of September, an “a la carte” menu is offered alongside a tasting menu. After that, there will only be the tasting menu. I understand why a restaurant might do this – it reduces costs and makes life easier for the kitchen team – but it is not necessarily progress. Maybe they’ve already started to move to the new model – we ordered from the carte but main course portion sizes were not generous, even allowing for its Michelin star status.
The carte offers three choices at each course. And kicks off with a couple of canapes. A smoked cod’s roe tartlet was packed with flavour and, for the other, a mousse of Perl Las was covered in a beetroot glaze and was served on a spoon. We both chose the same starter – effectively lobster “three ways”. It was recommended that a lobster bisque be drunk from its little cup but also suggested that it could be used as a sauce for the other elements. There’s a single bite of lobster in a tempura batter with a dab of mayo to dunk it in. And, the “main event” – a poached lobster tail with thinly sliced fennel and a tiny pickled cucumber. Each element was spot-on and they all worked well together.
In the current fashion, bread was served as a course in its own right. A mini brioche loaf and butter was fine.
For a main course, line caught brill was, erm, brill. And bang-on for seasonal eating. A shellfish mousseline was stuffed into a courgette flower. And a scattering of peas and broad beans just added to the summeriness. The other main course was definitely of tasting menu proportions. The sort that might have had you wondering if you were going to need a visit to the local chippy on the way home. This was Ryeland lamb from nearby Herefordshire. There’s a tiny boned chop, a cube of long cooked shoulder (?), a cube of potato and a teaspoon sized dab each of cauliflower puree and black garlic puree. It all tasted really good but you really did need more.
For dessert, one of us went with a classic Paris Brest – two layers of pastry made a sandwich of coffee cream, topped with a hazelnut praline and, served separately, a milk ice cream. Cheese on the other side of the table – six local ones. The likes of Bath Blue and Montgomery Cheddar, served with very un-local membrillo and caramelised fig. Very thin nut and seed crackers were a lovely crisp accompaniment.
The petit fours we had with coffee were excellent. A single bite lemon sponge cake and a chocolate “cigar” enclosing a passionfruit puree. Good contrast and, unlike many places, actually working well with the coffee as well as showing off the skill of the pastry chef.