Our pro says…
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