If, possibly like some of those curmudgeons who give low marks, you want to go home feeling stuffed then go to your local fish & chip shop; if however you want to go home feeling nicely replete after experiencing a series of often surprising, and always interesting and successful, tastes then head here as soon as you can afford the (£65 per head) tasting menu which is the only offering on an evening.
First, the room. On the 3rd (top) floor above Flannels men’s clothing shop it is airy with well-spaced tables (your private tete-a-tetes will not be overheard here) and very ‘modern’ and edgy art on the walls. A big space (50 covers?) is broken up by strategically placed walls with the bar along one wall and the open kitchen along another. Sitting watching dishes being assembled, and having the chance to chat to the chef and his very small brigade (who often served and explained the dishes) was endlessly fascinating and added to the enjoyment for me. Don’t be put off by the dress policy stated on the website; the night we were there I did not see a single men’s jacket and it’s much more the kind of dressing up that would be appropriate in a continental high end restaurant than a stuffy British one. And finally on the facilities, go to the loo whether you want to or not – surprising toilet tissue!
Now the food. From beginning to end, over 2½ hours and 12 (?) courses later, we were presented with a series of small portions of spectacularly presented and often even more spectacularly flavoured dishes. Each came with its own cutlery presented to the table in a black box – an intriguing touch. Here goes with some of them:
Poached chicken and foie gras ‘sandwich’ between two piece of crispy chicken skin – one of the standout tastes for me. It exploded in the mouth with layer after layer of chickeny flavour which just kept coming and lasted in the mouth. A plate of these alone would have made my night!
Razor clam poaching in a mussel consommé dripped with parsley oil – never has razor clam tasted so sweet. It’s a single mouthful beautifully presented in a sort of tree contraption with a spoonful of the creation balanced on one of the branches.
Langoustine ‘sashimi’ – morsels of raw langoustine served with a lavender smear (yes, he does them!), dill(?) oil, pickled carrot and all sorts of other tiny little bits of flavour that created a harmonious and spectacular whole.
Black cod – wittily presented under a cover of shards of crispy salt & vinegar flavoured potato shards which were drifted with a black (squid ink) powder. VERY upmarket fish & chips was the resultant taste. Clever, witty, moresome.
Ox cheek – clearly cooked for hours, it was soooo…. soft and deeply flavoured before it was covered in a foie gras foam and puffed wild rice.
I’m running out of superlatives for the food, so perhaps here is a chance to talk about drinks. A very ‘sensible’ wine list has maybe 50 bottles but no outrageous £500+ ones and best of all they offer 3 different flights to accompany the meal. One of us opted for the standard one, rejecting the premium pairings, and I was driving so was delighted to find a soft drinks pairing available. Some of the pairings were outstandingly good and the highlight was a carrot and passion fruit juice with the ox cheek, yes it works but how does it work this well? It was actually much more successful than the Oloroso Sherry that accompanied the ox from the alcoholic flight. Servings of wine were plentiful and at least once we got a top-up, no skinflints tasting portions here.
But back to the food…next came a big rectangle of slightly fluorescent orange Perspex (watch out for the interesting range of ‘crockery’) onto which was artfully arranged slices of a cut from near the shoulder of an Iberico pig, some cracking, anchovies and baked purple potatoes, all drizzled with something creamy and pink. Stunning!
Onwards to desserts, starting with the highlight – a tiny little cup cake appearance, which we were advised to eat whole including the (rice paper) wrapping, revealed a mystery chocolate shell which cracked open in the mouth pouring passion fruit flavours over the creamy, and much more complex than I can recall, outer. More please.
Gin & tonic marshmallows, peanut butter doughnuts…
All in all, a wonderful experience and I hope that The Man Behind The Curtain can succeed where Anthony Flinn, despite his many talents, could not. It’s not as good as L’Enclume, which is my closest reference point to the whole experience, but then again they have been open less than a year and that Lake District delight does have 2 Michelin ‘stars’ after all.
GO and be amazed.