On a night when England were playing in the World Cup semi-finals, it was perhaps no surprise that there had been cancellations and it was a quiet night, with bums on just nine seats. This was a return visit for us – we were last here in March 2017. It may be too long a gap for us but perhaps not by much – long, no choice, tasting menus are something to be enjoyed once in a while, not as a place to go more regularly. Whether it was because there were only a small number of diners, or they are now more settled in their own skin, but it was a more relaxed evening than previous. Little touches that brought more hospitality to the experience, if you will. But, as before, we enjoyed the quite intimate environment, with the very open kitchen and the fact that the chefs bring their own dishes to you, explaining what’s what. It’s also worth mentioning that the restaurant has its own farm and much of the produce comes from there.
Tasting menus inherently mean that dishes are small but the meal kicks off (it was a football night remember) with three “snacks” – in a more conventional upscale restaurant, these would be the canapes. There’s BBQ’d tiny carrots, presumably the “thinnings” from a crop, blackened and served with a peach vinegar. And warm sheeps milk curds and whey – very light and delicate and set like a pannacotta. And, if those two snacks were mild in flavour, the third certainly wasn’t – very smoky eel topped with a slice of crunchy cabbage which had been pickled in cider vinegar. Perfect contrasts in flavour & texture.
The first “proper” dish was intended to look like a bowl of East Asian noodles and broth. In fact the “noodles” were shredded scallop, the broth made from miso and camomile. The camomile divided us – I liked it, my companion not so keen. There was then a single plump oyster, dressed with an emulsion of lovage and fat hen and topped with leaves of the same. Both of these grow on the farm and Google tells me that the latter is usually regarded as a weed.
At this point, they bring bread, as a course in its own right. And this is fabulous sourdough, made in house. You won’t find a finer sourdough. It comes with cultured butter which has a slight sour tang to it – worked perfectly with the bread. The restaurant has a “thing” about not wasting food so, if I’ve understood this correctly, in the process of making that butter, there’s whey as a by-product. That’s now cooked and served with griddled onion and raspberries. No, it really shouldn’t work putting onion and raspberry together – but it does.
And, after eating the next dish, I’m a convert to kohlrabi – previously my “most pointless” veg. They bake the veg and then very thinly slice it. It’s presented in the bowl intended to look pasta and, in keeping with that, it’s still “al dente”. There’s an elderberry and gooseberry sauce, which worked perfectly. Perhaps the best looking plate of the evening. For a fish course, there’s a beautifully thin and crisp pastry case. On the bottom, a thick sauce made from the bones of the eel served earlier and seaweed. That’s topped with hake, courgette and potato. This dish was brought to our table by the chef, Sam Buckley, who said he reckoned it’s the first time he’s used potato at the restaurant. It’s a complete delight – packed with flavour and perfectly balanced. For both of us, the best dish of the evening.
There’s then a slice of slow roasted organic saddleback pork, cut from the slipper. It’s delicious in its own right – my companion in life is not pork’s greatest fan but reckoned this was the tastiest ever eaten. It’s served with a few very seasonal cherries and a powerful, thick sauce made from the pig’s blood. A final savoury course is a small square of black pudding made from the same blood – it includes red peppers, pearly barley and has the texture and slightly sweet flavour of a Spanish morcilla rather than a British black pudding. It seems right that you then move form that sweetness into desserts.
And then on to those desserts, the work of the pastry chef - such a talented young woman! We’d already eaten her sourdough and the pastry case for the fish course. Now there’s a sheep’s milk set yoghurt, topped with a fennel and apple granita. It’s the perfect move from savoury to sweet. Then an apricot clafoutis which comes with a apricot stone cream - which intriguingly tastes of almonds. And, finally, some cherries poached in a sugar syrup. It comes with vanilla ice-cream, which incorporates crisp crumbs from the ends of sourdough loaves that they can’t serve earlier. Absolutely inspired!
Well, I said finally, but there’s petit fours to be eaten before the final whistle is blown (football remember?), even though we passed on coffee. There’s a beer sponge (?), shortbread, a strip of chewy salted caramel and the most blackcurrenty blackcurrent jelly you can imagine.
It had been an excellent evening. Getting on for three hours of eating the most exciting food for miles around. But, if you think you’d enjoy any of the dishes we ate, then go very soon. The menu is said to be a daily affair but, certainly, it is going change as the seasons change and what we ate may be not what a diner eats next month, next week, or tomorrow.
And then we were off home which, disappointingly, so was the England team.