[Portsmouth, NH] Black Trumpet

Back in the 1980s, when we first started to visit America, finding good food was difficult. You’d have checked in to your hotel and only knew of the restaurants you could see or had driven past. You never got to know of the great little places, just round the corner, that the locals raved about. The internet now means there’s no excuse if you have a poor dinner. Whilst the likes of Tripadvisor can be helpful, I still turn to foody discussion forums to find the real gems. Which is how we came to be having dinner at the Black Trumpet.

It’s a small place, right on the waterfront, with a short menu offering tapas sized plates, larger appetiser sized ones and full main course plates. Short menus are always a good sign in my book. Means the chef can concentrate on doing things well. And the chef here does things very well.

We decided to share one of the small plates and one of the medium ones as starters. The small one was the daily changing three mezze items – each a couple of bites. There was eel wrapped in nduja, a pollock and crab cake with aioli and a beef rosti. All delicious. The medium plate was described as fattoush but the chef was being very flexible in her/his interpretation. Yes, there were salad leaves and bread, but it was more like an Italian panzanella than a Lebanese fattoush, even allowing for the addition of chickpeas which is not traditional in the Middle Eastern version. There was quite a vinegary dressing which wasn’t any improvement on the traditional lemon. But everything worked well enough.

Our server had explained that there was a fish of the day dish. The restaurant bought off a particular day boat – he mentioned that, until a couple of months before, he had worked on the boat which caught fish only using road and line. He’s made a great career move – he really is a natural for the hospitality industry. So, the fish was cod – a good sized fillet, simply grilled and served with fregula and lightly spiced carrots. Great dish which, without too much cheffing about, let the natural flavours come through.

The other main course was the day’s special. A breaded pork schnitzel, topped with crème fraiche and a black apricot relish (a fruit that I hadn’t come across before). It came with whipped potato and wilted lettuce – both of them excellent accompaniments. A really well conceived and delicious plate of food.

We shared a dessert – rhubarb oat crisp. Poached rhubarb, not overly sweetened, topped with the oats and a spoonful of crème fraiche. Another seemingly simple dish which offers evidence that, in cooking, less is very often more.

We’d had a great time. I just wish it wasn’t on the far side of the Atlantic from home – we’d be regulars otherwise.