Over the years, we’ve eaten here a number of times and, truth be told, have never come away thinking “Wow, that was an excellent meal”. It’s not that there’s anything actively bad about the place (apart from the awful soulless 1980s dining room). It’s just that, in comparison with other Michelin starred places we’ve eaten at, the food is only OK.
That said, canapes in the bar were pretty good. A little tartlet filled with an overly salty brandade. A squid ink prawn cracker topped with avocado and lime. And, probably the nicest thing we ate all evening – a little bowl with a well flavoured dashi broth, with enoki mushrooms and a tiny bao bun filled with pork. On the side of that, a prawn cracker topped with lardo.
As for the menu, it’s short – just four choices at each course. But, before that, there’s really good bread. There’s nine or so on the trolley, all baked in house each day. They serve you up some at the beginning of the meal and will keep asking you if you want more. It’s not a bad idea to eat some more as main courses are very light on carbs.
One starter featured scallops with a scattering of cobnuts picking up on the sweetness of the shellfish. There was, I think, a dab or two of fig puree – I’m basing that on the dish being called “Three Figs” – which put it a bit past the sweetness barrier for me. The other starter, titled “Bombay Mix”, were cod cheeks in a light tandoori spicing and mussels from along the North Wales coast at Menai. It was topped with a few long strands of the vermicelli stuff you see broken up in a packet of Bombay Mix.
For mains, one of us went with very seasonal grouse. It comes supposedly at medium rare but this was past that and I’d certainly have preferred it a bit rarer… There’s a scattering of elderberries, some nicely crisp bacon and chervil root which also added crispness if not much flavour. But this was a miserly portion – they serve it on a small plate, but that will fool no-one. This was tasting menu portioning without all the extra courses you get on a tasting menu. The sort of size that makes you wonder if you’re going to need a bag of chips on the way home. The other main course, dover sole, was also a bit light on substance. A pleasant enough fillet of fish, with a few bits of octopus and squid and a scattering of borlotti beans.
Call us Philistines if you will, but desserts for us should be big, bold and fun – sending you off into the night on a high note. And neither of these were. I’d expected one called “Honey Bee” to be dripping with the flavour of honey but it was only vaguely there in the background. But at least this was some flavour – I really couldn’t say what was on the rest of the plate – it really didn’t look or taste like anything recognisable. The other plate took the very fashionable route of using a vegetable in a dessert. In this case the Crown Prince pumpkin which gave the dish its name. With chestnuts and the vaguest hint of coffee, my partner enjoyed hers more than I had mine.
Service is generally good here. But it’s one of those places where they don’t leave the wine and water on your table. Now that’s fine, it the staff are entirely on the ball spotting when you need a top-up. These weren’t.
Now, we’re not well endowed with Michelin starred places in the northwest and we’re loath to pass by on one but I think this place may finally have run its course with us. As I said at the beginning, there’s nothing actively bad about it but, equally, there’s nothing actively great and I suspect we could spend the £230 that it cost with more fun elsewhere.