As we were starting to come out of the latest lockdown, we decided we needed some dining treats, in the form of Michelin starred restaurants. Not the places within an hour of home that we might go to now and again, but new places within a three hour drive that would involve a hotel stay a well. I made a selection from the full Michelin list and, in due course, we came to book Peels. When we got to booking a nearby hotel, we realised we’d stayed in the area before (going to Gardeners World Live at the NEC) and then wondered where we ate that night. Looking back through our restaurant notes, we saw that it was Peels. That was in 2012. It obviously hadn’t been a memorable meal and, looking back on the review I sent the Good Food Guide, we concluded then that neither the service nor the cooking was as good as it probably liked to think it was. That was in pre-Michelin times, so we hoped that things had improved since then.
And it had. Service was relaxed yet proper – a front of house equivalent of a “smart casual” dress code it you like. The food was bang-on and the courses generally came at the right pace. Food is by way of a tasting menu – they have three. One for omnivores, another pescatarian and the third vegetarian. There are some dishes common to all three with others tweaked for the particularly dietary needs. We could have eaten any of them but fancied the pescatarian one most.
We kicked off with a couple of canapes. A single mouthful tart filled with a rich chicken liver mouse. And a cracker topped with little blobs of cream made from the local Berkswell ewe’s cheese. And for those interested in “food miles”, the cheese travels four miles from farm to restaurant.
That was followed by a carrot cream, softened with a little homemade curd and then spiced up again with chutney and a sprinkle of spiced seeds. Perfectly balanced, we thought. A potato course seems very fashionable on tasting menus at present. Here, it’s diced and dressed with a champagne sauce and a sprinkle of herbs. Around now, a delicious, very crusty bread was served. Then a single scallop, sliced into four, with crunchy sea vegetables, tiny pickled mushrooms and a very salty broth. At first taste, I thought they’d overdone the salt, but they hadn’t.
At this point, folk on the omnivore menu would have been getting Wagyu tartare. We got salt baked celeriac with a horseradish cream. It cried out for a more assertive use of horseradish but was otherwise OK.
Then there was what I suppose on a “normal” menu would be the main course. It was perfectly cooked and lovely piece of halibut. There’s a couple of equally lovely mussels, a bit of texture from chunks of courgette and a nice, if slightly underseasoned, courgette puree. A mussel and halibut sauce set it all off.
At this point, you’re offered an extra course (at extra cost, obviously). They call it “cheese on toast” but that underplays some really ballsy flavours. A sliced of fruit bread is light toasted and topped with crumbled Colston Basset Stilton. Dead simple. Dead good.
And, finally, a set custard topped with raspberries infused with a hint of tarragon and the crunch from well made shortbread biscuits.