Over the years, we’ve fallen in and out of love with this Michelin 1* restaurant. On the plus side, it’s nice to have one place on your “regular visit” list that does proper formal service. It’s not starched formality and it’s not up itself, but it is formal – more formal than other Michelin starred places we know in the northwest. On the minus side, the food doesn’t always quite hit the mark, which is disappointing for a place that only offers four choices at each course. Oh, and the room is just horrible and badly needs a revamp – as it is, this is hotel dining room, circa 1980.
My biggest moan from this latest visit was actually nothing to do with the restaurant – the two tables on either side of us, decided to start up a conversation. One party did eventually apologise to us – but then continued to chat across us for several minutes more, before getting our clear message and getting up and sitting down at the other table. By then, of course, we were irritated which is not how you hope to enjoy a night out. Before all this, we’d started off in the bar with a couple of drinks. They quickly bring you olives and candied almonds, followed by canapes. These divided us – my partner didn’t like any of them, I though them fine. There were three sorts – all with toppings on something crispy. So, there was crisp fish skin topped with caviar, crisp potato skin topped with a mousse and a piece of pork crackling topped with prosciutto and apple (how the partner managed to not like the last one beats me).
Once in the dining room, the bread trolley is brought over. Nine different loaves, all made in house. There’s a dark rye, a particular good sourdough and another where red wine replaces some if not all of the water used in making the dough. These are all good and second (and third) helpings are offered later. One starter is bang on for seasonality. Flakes of white crabmeat, white and tiny green asparagus, poached in green tea. A lovely light beginning. A much more butch affair was on the other plate. Finely diced sautéed duck, earthy mushrooms contrasted with the sweetness of a Pedro Ximenez jelly. It’s topped with a little slice of griddled brioche. It all works really well.
For one of us, there’s a main course featuring grilled veal fillet topped with, I think, a horseradish cream. Alongside, a mix of sliced radish and thin slices of veal pastrami. It’s all OK but the best things on the plate are the horseradish and a powerful onion broth which is poured round everything. The other main course was red mullet, the flesh perfectly cooked but the kitchen fails to give it crispy skin and who wants to eat fish skin that isn’t crispy. There’s a “torched” prawn which was unpleasantly chewy and was left on the side of the plate. Courgettes provided the five a day contribution.
We didn’t fancy any of the desserts so had cheese. They keep a good cheese trolley here and, in something of a change from previous visits, they now offer a number of British cheeses, alongside the mainly French selection. It’s divided into categories – soft, hard, blue, goat (and another which I’ve forgotten). You’re invited to select one from each category. It comes with grapes, celery, crackers (or more bread from the trolley – the baguette in this case for both of us) and a lovely fig chutney, for which I’d mug the chef for the recipe. Can’t recall the cheeses we ate but all were in perfect condition.
Coffee and petit fours were decent enough.
As mentioned earlier, service had been fine throughout. It’s one of those place where it takes three members of staff to bring food – one to hold the tray and two to take the plates from the tray and put it in front of each of you. I don’t usually mention prices in reviews – they are what they are – but worthy of note are the eye-wateringly high wine prices – my partners half bottle of sauvignon blanc coming in at no less than £44.
We will be back to eat at Simon Radley but it’s fair to say it will be with declining enthusiasm.