When we were last here, in July 2017, we came away a bit unthrilled. I know it is foody heresy to say that about a Gary Usher place but, in truth, the food had been no better than OK. So, we returned thinking that we’d give it a last chance. Thankfully, all was well and we had a nice evening.
I see a menu showing a starter of “crispy pigs head” and there’s not really any need for me to look further. It’s delicious shredded meat encased in breadcrumbs and fried. It looks for all the world like a fish finger – and tasted even better. There’s a couple of spears of charred asparagus, a dollop of mustard mayo and it’s lifted by very thin peelings of mooli given a light pickling, the vinegariness contrasting nicely with the piggy. The other, much lighter, starter featured chicory (the cigar shaped one, not the leafy frisee one), pickled tomatoes and, for richness, smoked cheddar beignets. Two pretty much faultless plates.
Last time we were here, plaice had been particularly disappointing – my mum would have called it invalid food – the sort of bland indifferent plate that you might give someone recovering from what is politely called a “severe stomach upset”. This time it was absolutely bang-on. Perfectly cooked with a delicate, almost sweet flavour. It comes with pickled leek and grelot onions. There’s a dab or two of a burnt leek dressing which added a depth of flavour.
Braised featherblade was an object lesson in how to braise beef. Long cooked so it fell apart at the touch of the fork and coated with the now sticky braising liquid. The menu said that it came with watercress, but it was actually mixed salad leaves – not an improvement on the pepperiness of the cress but it did the job of mopping up juices. There’s a pickled walnut puree which was lovely in itself but you didn’t really get anything assertive from either walnuts or pickling. Presumably that’s intentional. Oh, and there’s chips. Parmesan and truffle chips. These are great chips – proper chip sized chips and fried to a good colour. An absolutely cracking dish.
We’ll often pass on dessert but the first two courses had been so good that we felt we had to try them. In similar style to my piggy starter, I really didn’t have to look past doughnuts. There’s five of them – single mouthful sized. But it’s the accompaniments that really make this – lime flavoured yoghurt, a brown sugar jelly topped with mint granita. There’s contrasts in texture and flavour going on here that work perfectly. Apricots are just coming into season and they had been carefully poached – soft and fully cooked but not so much as to start going mushy. They come with a lemon thyme ice cream that could have done with more of the herb to make it stand out and crisp olive oil shortbread biscuits. Two more well conceived and well executed dishes.
If I have a criticism of the place, then it is a minor quibble. Just slow down the service a bit. It’s not that it was so fast it felt rushed, but there wasn’t breathing space between the courses and we were in and out in an hour. But, it is a minor quibble and rather this than the finger tapping you can get in some places hoping that some food might eventually arrive.