When you’ve eaten Clare Smyth’s food, you’ll know exactly why the Good Food Guide rates it the second best restaurant in the UK and why Michelin awards it two stars. This was an absolutely faultless meal and that, in our experience, is a pretty rare occurrence.
Looking online, we could only get a reservation for 6.30. And, they don’t open the front door until then, so there was quite a few of us milling around outside watching the front of house team getting their pre-opening briefing. Once inside, you pass through a small bar area on the way to your table. You also pass the kitchen (wave from Clare). The dining room is really nice – soft neutral colours, dimmed lighting (but not so dim that you can’t see to read the menu), comfy chairs, spacious tables not crammed together. Considerable thought has gone into this. Considerable effort has also gone into training the front of house staff. This is a crew absolutely at the top of their game.
As for the food, they offer two tasting menus and a short carte which is what we ordered from – these days we usually prefer to choose from a carte than to have a tasting menu. . There’s a selection of eats that they call “the beginning” – call them canapes, snacks or whatever – all single bite. A light as a feather pumpkin gougere made a change from the more common cheese version. Nori had been fashioned into a tiny tart, filled with jellied eel and spritzed with malt vinegar. This was the first thing I put in my mouth and it was one of the best things all evening. An act of genius to get so much flavour into such a small thing. A little pastry tart was filled with an obscenely rich foie gras parfait and, finally, a smoked chicken wing dressed in honey and thyme.
There was another tart for one starter – very, very thin and buttery. It’s filled with a Jerusalem artichoke barigoule – a preparation that sort of pickles the veg. There’s also an artichoke mousse, a malt crumb and it’s surrounded by an artichoke “soup”. It’s delicious and, perhaps, my partner’s favourite dish (although see later for dessert). Scallop tartare was as light and fresh as you like - a dice of the raw scallop presented in the shell with sea vegetable consomme. I thought there was nasturtium leaf in there or certainly something that gave that sort of contrasting bitterness. We’d also been served bread at that point – a really fab sourdough and we were offered more once we’d scoffed the first lot.
Monkfish was perfectly roasted and was topped with a Swiss chard “cigar” wrapped round shrimps. There’s also a small piece of perfectly crisp skin and a brown butter sauce. I hesitate to say this but the other main may have been the better bet – and I didn’t order it. There’s a small piece of Wagyu beef fillet, topped with oyster and served with a Guinness sauce. Served separately is their take on a cottage pie – if an upside down version. There’s mashed potato, topped with long cooked beef and vegetables, finished off with an oyster crisp. It’s just bloody lovely.
For one dessert, there’s “pears different ways” poached and a fantastic Poire Williams sorbet which all managed to be both sweet and palate cleansing at the same time. There’s was indeterminate about the other dessert (which, for my partner, vied with starter as best thing eaten). It’s a lemonade parfait which is a signature dish for Clare. This is perfectly balanced citrus sharpness – you really wouldn’t want it any sharper. For contrast, there’s a topping of honeycomb crisp.
Have started the meal with “the beginning”, it was now time for “the end”. It’s back to the kitchen’s skill with a superbly thin pastry tart, a single bite holding a warm chocolate and clementine ganache. So rich, and contrasting well with the two wine jellies – one a sauternes and the other from Banyuls (a red dessert wine, apparently).
And, having paid and on our way out, it was nice to be invited to say hello to Clare and tell her just how much we’d enjoyed ourselves. Fantastic!