Veg­gie pi­o­neer

WIN­NER: Richard Buck­ley of Acorn, Bath

Olive - - EAT -

“Acorn is one of the most ex­cit­ing restau­rants we’ve vis­ited this year,” raved our judge af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ve­gan cook­ing of Bath chef Richard Buck­ley. De­spite be­ing a life­long vege­tar­ian, Richard didn’t want to cook vege­tar­ian food. Or, at least, not the kind of stodgy lasagnes and wor­thy len­til bakes that most restau­rants were of­fer­ing at the time. Acorn doesn’t re­ally shout about its ve­gan-ness be­cause Richard wants to cook good food that just so hap­pens to be ve­gan, rather than be de­fined by it. This is vi­brant food that keeps din­ers in­ter­ested to the last bite, with a bal­anced com­bi­na­tion of flavours and tex­tures. “This cer­tainly isn’t nut roast ter­ri­tory,” gushed our judge, who sin­gled out a main course called One Whole Cau­li­flower – an el­e­gant ar­range­ment of roasted flo­rets, truf­fled purée, mo­lasses-cured stalk and sautéed leaves, with onion and fenu­greek cro­que­tas to add crunch, and pud­dles of creamy, savoury spelt rice pud­ding for rich­ness. There’s se­ri­ous process here, too, with Richard work­ing in “the lab” to get al­mond milk to form curds for the con­fit tomato our judge started with. He is jus­ti­fi­ably proud of the rich mush­room par­fait with a jel­lied top that looks for all the world like a chicken liver ver­sion, and tasted (to our om­ni­vore judge at least) “even bet­ter”. This is not only clever ve­gan cook­ing but clever cook­ing full stop.

Head judge Laura Rowe says: “Richard’s food has con­tin­ued to im­prove and im­prove over the years and it’s lit­tle sur­prise to us at O that he’s won this award. He im­pressed our judges with his ap­proach to plant-based cook­ery, shun­ning easy wins from carbs or cheese, and in­stead dis­play­ing the true ver­sa­til­ity and in­ge­nu­ity that can be achieved with veg­eta­bles alone.”

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