The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - The Telegraph Magazine
‘This will win over any tasting menu sceptic’
63 Bartholomew Cl EC1A 7BG 020-4547 7985 restaurantstbarts.co.uk
LUNCH FOR TWO
£170 with truffle shavings and cheese; excluding drinks and service
The greatest restaurants often have the most subtle entrances. There is little to suggest the goings on at The Fat Duck, save a small sign outside of a knife, fork and spoon. Entrance to one of Marrakech’s most exclusive establishments was gained by meeting a man in a cloak down an alleyway who held aloft a lantern. Not even a magnifying glass would help locate the door to Al Gatto Nero in Turin.
So St Barts is in good company. It’s just that its impossible-to-find credentials are a little premature, since it’s a recently opened restaurant in a new development called Barts Square in Smithfield. And while my Sherlock-esque talents helped me locate the place, my pal Joe was standing outside the door when he rang to ask me where it was.
The situation is also not helped by the fact that the front door is so stiff you need a battering ram to get in. So I suggest they hire a man with a sandwich board, on that main road off Bartholomew Close called Little Britain, to help steer diners in the right direction in the early months.
After which, and they deserve this, such should be their reputation that getting lost will serve as an essential amuse bouche to the dining experience.
Get through that door and you’re in a Scandi-style space: minimalist, clean, light woods, fur throws on the chairs in the bar, an open, immaculate-looking kitchen. On our Wednesday lunch it was very quiet with just one other table occupied, but I hope you’ll do your bit to change that.
The boys behind it own Nest, in Hackney – a sweet little hangout – and the brilliant Fenn in Fulham. So this is their audacious third child, launching in a cash-strapped era with a compulsory evening tasting menu for £120 per head, without booze and stuff.
I shudder then dive for cover at the first glimpse of 15 courses (what do you take me for, a gluttonous food critic?), so I’m happy to do lunch: five courses and bread for £60.
And what a calming, assured and revelatory gastronomic embalming it proved to be. We were served by Alice, whose knowledge and grace came with a canny sales talent, as her sleight of hand saw us consenting to shavings of truffle and a cheese course, ramping up the bill by an amount that could afford you lunch for two and glass of wine at a modest bistro.
A pre-starter mouthful delivered ‘duck ham’ – cured slices that were strikingly gamey – before we gulped down little bowls of scallops swimming in a soup of peppers; such a clever and delicate dish, the raw seafood tempered by a hint of that pepper whose usual brash obviousness had this time been tamed.
Then, under a pile of chives and a soft mountain of shaved truffle, was hiding a heady, comforting mix of onion and cheese. A light mouthful of crab on a fluffy sauce hinted with ginger were the pearly gates to an epic plate of duck with January King cabbage (hispi is so last week), charred and cooked in duck fat. The mash it came with had tasty bits of braised duck leg lurking. This was a heroic course, a perfect balance of melting duck with crisp skin and red berries, wholesome but not so big it dragged you under the waves. Then, before a celeriac pastry with walnut ice cream (oh, yes) we squeezed in a cheese course.
This is a set menu to turn the tastingmenu sceptic; a deft and clever example of modern British cooking.
Hear ye, hear ye, fill your boots at St Barts! And get lost!
It was a heroic course, a perfect balance between melting duck with crisp skin and red berries