Eating out is a hobby for us. We have our favourite places that we visit regularly, varying from Indian “street food”, through the Modern British bistro places and including a couple of Michelin starred restaurants. But you sort of get overly comfortable with the places, even if you’re only visiting them three or so times a year. So, this year, we decided that every three months we’d stay overnight somewhere and eat at a new high end Michelin place. We’ve already been to Le Gavroche in London and The Kitchin in Edinburgh and we looked forward to eating at Sat Bains. Actually, it’s not new. We were here in 2011, around the same time that Sat and I used to play on the same food forum.
Little has changed since then – and that’s a good thing. There’s still a friendly welcome, serving staff absolutely on the ball and the only decision to be made is whether to have the 10 course tasting menu or the 7 course. That’ll obviously be the 10, please. Now, I didn’t take notes and have had to rely on memory, so I may have missed the odd dish and, almost certainly, have forgotten the full description of each dish given by the server. The dishes mentioned below are in the order I remembered them and may not have been the actual running order.
Lovage soup was a belter of a start, the clean celery like flavour really coming through with a horseradish ice cream contrasting nicely. A sourdough cracker provided crunch and a very fashionable nasturtium leaf gave it a peppery seasoning. Then a just cooked scallop cut in half and interleaved with black truffle and crispy chicken skin and there’s a truffle sauce. It was served early on and may have been the best thing we ate. Certainly I remember us asking ourselves “was that better than the scallop” and not getting more than “hmmmmm?
Sweetbreads are never going to be the prettiest thing on a plate but I love their flavour and slightly fatty texture. Again there’s very light cooking – just one each – and it sits in a parmesan cream with a scattering of peas. Next, a seemingly simple preparation of wild Scottish girolles, packed with flavour in themselves and enhanced with a quite herby cream sauce.
The humble spud was elevated to Michelin stardom. It’s fried to crisp and sits in a chive and seaweed veloute. Yes, it’s simple but there’s real skill in that simplicity. Then perhaps our least favoured dish but then neither of us are that keen on kohl rabi. Here’s it’s cut into a fine strip of “tagliatelle” and sits in a butter sauce. The server makes a pesto at the table, with herbs from the garden, including mint and coriander, Parmesan and a really poky olive oil. A spoonful of the pesto tops your “pasta”.
The only choice you get in this menu is the main course – pigeon breast or monkfish. One for one of us and the other, erm, for the other. The pigeon came with a light coating of shawarma spices and was perfectly pink. There’s a black pudding made from the heart and liver and, for contrast, pickled melon, feta and “coleslaw”. This was big, bold flavouring and it worked so well. And there was nothing wimpy about the monkfish plate, which comes with a mushroom ketchup, wasabi mayo, pickled veg, a little chicken wrapped in nasturtium and a red wine sauce.
The introduction to the desserts is that now well established one of using vegetables, not fruit. So, there’s a “jammy dodger”, two crisp biscuits sandwiching crème patissiere, topped with a tomato jam. And a carrot. I’ve no idea what they’d done to this but it was sweet, with a chewy caramel texture. And there’s sherbet to dip it in – just like the sherbet dabs of my childhood. Next up, a chocolate marquise (?) and a yoghurt ice cream, topped with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. On first mouthful, it seems a bit weird but, by the second mouthful, you know it’s lovely. That’s followed by frozen strawberries which topped a Sweet Woodruff cream and a strawberry jam. And, finally, candy floss on a stick just as you’d get at a fair. Except that inside, is an ice cream with the flavour of Thai green curry. An inspired finale.
Well, I say finale. But we actually finished with coffee. And instead of the usual petit fours, there’s four thin sheets of chocolate, each with different flavouring – green tea and the like. Delicious.
It’s the case that, with a long tasting menu, there will always be dishes you prefer over others and that was certainly the case here. But there wasn’t one that we didn’t like and, indeed, all the courses were perfectly balanced with one flowing easily into the next. It really is a special place.