Our pro says…

Olive - - Eat -

The table­cloths might be miss­ing at Clare Smyth’s de­but but the tone is un­de­ni­ably for­mal. Don’t let that be con­fused with stuffy, though – Bri­tain’s most lauded fe­male chef has made her first solo mark thor­oughly mod­ern. *I got a wave from Clare but don’t think I was recog­nised.

Dé­cor is stripped back and con­tem­po­rary – via a small bar (where you can eat, too), you’re led to a dra­matic chef’s table in front of the glass-fronted kitchen, and through to the bright din­ing room.

Clare isn’t the only one with fine-din­ing pedi­gree in the restau­rant. An army of staff are bet­ter versed than most, thanks to restau­rant di­rec­tor Rob Rose, who worked for a decade at Restau­rant Gor­don Ram­say. Along with head chef Jonny Bone – who has Gera­nium in Copen­hagen on his CV – and Clare’s pas­sion for the pro­duce of her home soil, means menus that are sur­pris­ingly un­fussy, in­gre­di­ent-led and low-waste.

The à la carte prom­ises three courses for £65 but de­liv­ers seven if you count four canapés – in­clud­ing the light­est tomato and basil gougère – tangy sour­dough with ‘vir­gin’ but­ter (more like a sour cream cheese), a pre-dessert, and pe­tits fours of mini, still-warm choco­late tarts and pas­sion fruit and pep­per fruit pastilles.

Colch­ester crab royale to start comes in three parts – a bowl of sweet white meat sur­rounded by a moat of brown meat, a crab dough­nut and a flute of shell­fish broth. A sin­gle Isle of Mull scal­lop is cooked over wood fire and de­liv­ered un­der a cloche of smoke. A brack­ish, but­tery sauce is lifted by herbs and chopped coral pearls of roe.

The short-but-sweet grouse sea­son was cel­e­brated with trimmed breasts, bread sauce and a fag­got, re­vealed within a red cab­bage jacket. It was the ox­tail-stuffed Roscoff onion, though, that won: the onion, the meat and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing gravy as rich, dark and glossy as trea­cle.

Desserts are fine and dandy – a choco­late and hazel­nut crémeux is a mas­ter­ful play on tex­tures and Snick­ers flavours; while slith­ers of pear and meringue, with fresh ver­bena, and a poire Wil­liams sor­bet per­fectly bal­ance sharp with sweet.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

Yes, the bill will be eye-wa­ter­ing but rest as­sured you’re in safe hands (lots of them). This is old-school Bri­tish fine din­ing, up­dated.

To­tal for two, ex­clud­ing ser­vice: £188.50

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