Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /volume1/web/saltyplums.co.uk/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1633 Welcome to Salty Plums, a food blog

Review: The Fordwich Arms

Fordwich Arms

Fordwich Arms

Kent is super-beautiful. Seriously got some of the most stunning countryside in the UK. I’m using the word bucolic here, and I’m meaning it sincerely. So many of the villages are staggeringly pretty. Visit Chilham, Ickham, Wickhamburgh, Fordwich and Lenham, then tell me it ain’t true. Actually there’s a mistake in that list: Fordwich isn’t a village. It’s the smallest town in Britain.

The Fordwich Arms looks great inside, all cosy wood panelling and comfy chairs, a real squire’s bolthole after a long day sniping at poachers and dealing with unruly tenants. Or whatever squires do. The welcome is warm too and we were nicely looked after. It might look like a pub but it’s a fine dining restaurant to the bone. Please note that we enjoyed a potent Negroni and then sucked down a bottle of 2005 Tondonia Rioja. This may impact the crispness of the reviewing!

Snacks

Snacks

Three little snacks at the start were all lovely, with a tiny roll of celeriac around ricotta and crisp chicken skin being the prettiest. Best taste was the pure pleasure of a slice of pickle and a blob of whipped cod’s roe sandwiched between two potato crisps. Do yourself a favour: buy a tub of taramasalata, a bag of ready salted and a jar of gherkins. Make your own. They’re AMAZING.

First starter was an absolutely magical slice of trout, intensely deep pink and yielding like butter, served with a vivid pea mousse and a good blob of horseradish snow. It’s not an unfamiliar combination but this was cooked and balanced to perfection.

Followed by a more complex dish of hake with (follow me here) asparagus, wild garlic, baby onion, swede puree, wild mushrooms, semi-dried grapes and a cream sauce made with the lees from Gusbourne vineyard. This was a triumph. The sweetness of the grapes, swede and the onions picked up and intensified the wine-cellar-y flavour of the cream and made a real wonder of the smartly pan-fried piece of hake. Very clever. I’d have left the asparagus off, but that’s me.

Pig

Pig

Now, what can I say about the suckling pig dish that followed? Hmm. How about OMGBESTPIGEVER!? This was a monstrously good fall-off-the-bone piece of meat with perfect crackling and a deeply piggy flavour. In a pan to one side, hay-smoked belly was equally profound. Some sensible veg and a deeply good Grand Marnier sauce. Oh, and a couple of pieces of charred apricot that made a tangily brilliant relish for the meat.

Good puds to finish us off. Seasonal and delicious muddle of strawberries and strawberry sorbet. And then a white chocolate dish that paired up very effectively with confit lemon ice cream and coffee crumble. Solid finale from the blob school of fine dining desserts.

The Fordwich Arms is already a serious contender for meal-of-the-year. Faultless cooking, full flavours, three absolutely stunning dishes, a beautiful setting, great service. The tasting menu is £65 at the moment and that’s great value. Get thee to Kent! And do thyself a favour, make a weekend of it.

Hake

Hake

Review: Alchemilla, Nottingham

Alchemilla has one of the most stunning dining rooms going. It’s an old coach house beneath the pavement in front of the splendid old town houses that the coaches once belonged to. Their maitre d’ showed us the photos of the place when they took it on: there were tree roots growing through the ceiling and standing water on the floor. But someone had a good eye for possibilities, because its now a beautiful stripped-back space with natural light coming from the original roof windows and most of the tables tucked into booths that were of course once the parking spaces for coaches. It’s basically magical. And they looked after us beautifully. So how magical is the menu?

Alchemilla

Alchemilla


The first bite, a tiny warm chicken and porcini tartlet, was dreamily good; a light almost liquid mousse with crispy little shards of chicken skin and bright lemon thyme. Neat. The seaweed-flavoured crackling with parmesan was okay, and my cracker had missed a few seconds in the fryer so was still chewy in parts.

Enoki over duck liver

Enoki over duck liver

My next course of duck liver and enoki was, I have to say, destroyed by soy sauce. So overpowering that it lurked on my palate and in my throat and messed with my next couple of courses. I should have sent it back in hindsight. Instead I left some. It’s a nice idea and I can actually see exactly how the salt/umami taste cuts nicely into the duck liver. Maureen did much better with a raw dice of scallop doused in a pleasant mix of buttermilk and dill oil.

A nice piece of BBQ celeriac was smothered by quinoa soaked in a hefty sweet/salt sauce of some kind. Felt unbalanced and odd. The final starter was better, a wild grain risotto with crispy wild grain on top and a healthy grating of aged parmesan. Or maybe the soy sauce was starting to wear out, washed down by some very good Jurancon.

On to the main, a jolly decent plate of duck; pink and toothy breast, slowly roasted leg and a couple of pieces of heart. You can always win me over with a bit of fowl heart. I liked the punchy little pieces of sweet pickled alexanders stem, and the kohlrabi was… kohlrabi. Meh.

Yogurt with sorrel

Yogurt with sorrel

And then the meal really took off, with three superb desserts! First a stickily delicious bit of diced loquat (look it up!) surrounded by loquat stone cream and sandwiched between two delicate amaranth biscuits. Sublime combo of textures and the floral perfume of the fruit. Second pud was a really inventive and scrumptious combination of curry, coconut, cardamom and chocolate. Smart to choose three flavours that really stand up to the chocolate, which provided our dinner theatre in the form of a chocolate foam mousse turned into feather-light “ice cream” by plopping it into dry ice. Final pud was a bright and cleansing frozen yogurt stacked with an architectural display of wood sorrel leaves on pine gel. Proper nordic forest on the tongue.

So what am I concluding about Alchemilla? Our 7 course menu was £50, and that’s a fair price for the level of ambition on show. And, yeah, for the awesome dining room. It’s all part of the experience! That said, there were definitely a few problematic dishes, a lack of balance and refinement mainly. I found them easy to forgive because it was an otherwise lovely lunch, and really exceptional desserts. I’ll go there again next time I’m in Nottingham – it’s a good discovery.

Celeriac

Celeriac

Review: Folium, Birmingham

Open kitchen at Folium

Open kitchen at Folium

I think perhaps the most satisfying thing a food blogger can do is review a restaurant “before it was famous”. It is for me, anyway. My list of great finds includes: Casamia, Ynyshir and The Black Swan. Particularly Ynyshir, which I got to before any of the major newspaper critics or any other bloggers. In pre-blog days we also tried The Hand & Flowers and L’Enclume long before the Michelin man discovered them. So have I found another future star with Folium? Time will tell, but I’ve got a good feeling!

After a run of pop-ups to hone ideas, Ben Tesh and Lucy Hanlon have a bright and modern dining room in the Jewellery Quarter. There’s nothing novel about the decor, it’s textbook modern British fine dining grey with a really open kitchen for watching the action. Service was friendly but perhaps lacking polish (they’ve only been open four months). We picked the £65 tasting menu and skipped the wine pairing.

Mackerel and wasabi

Mackerel and wasabi

Kicking off, a heart-warming bowl of smoked eel and potato foam, with added umami from a rich chicken stock. Unusual to get a hot dish of smoked eel, it was absolutely superb. Followed up with another spiffy starter, of diced cured mackerel with tiny spheres of pickled cucumber, a soft white wasabi sorbet and oyster mayonnaise. Looked beautiful and ate divinely, with plenty of bouncy flavours.

They made a splendid dish out of kohlrabi, my hat is truly off to them for this one. Long ribbons of the veg cooked to a texture very close to good linguine, doused with a rich and nutty parmesan sauce spiked with truffle flavours and a healthy grating of fresh truffle on top. This was a real treat to eat, I’d have scoffed a whole bowlful happily.

Kohlrabi pasta

Kohlrabi pasta

Cod with a mussel and parsley sauce was accomplished, but easily forgotten for the main course. Two plump, glazed pieces of the most delicious salt marsh lamb, with all the fat melting nicely into the meat. The theme of salt marsh was doubled-down with sea kale and plenty of powdered seaweed, and a blob of magic lamb-fat mayonnaise alongside. Very focused. Very good.

Nice pair of desserts to finish; sheep yogurt, spruce, lemon thyme and white chocolate worked just exactly as well as it sounds and showed real finesse. Chocolate mousse and cobnut crumble was equally good. I am a sucker for chocolate and nuts in any form.

This was a great meal, full of ambition and very well executed. The kohlrabi and the lamb were the two dishes that really stood out and, yeah, made me think that I might have stumbled on a restaurant that’s going to be the critics’ darling some day soon. We’ll see. At the very least, Folium gets a proper shout-out from me as a great new option in the middle of Birmingham!

White choc and spruce

White choc and spruce

Review: The Milestone, Sheffield

Battered cockles

Battered cockles

Sheffield. Medium-big industrial city on the edge of the Peak District. I can report that the middle of Sheffield is really quite handsome, worthy of a few hours wandering. And that a twenty minute drive will have you among some of the most beautiful hills in England. Where it seems to fall a tad short is with good dining options, or certainly those that anyone has written about. We ended up at The Milestone, self-identifying as “Sheffield’s premier gastropub”.

It seems to be the linchpin of an industrial area around the old cutlery factories that is currently being regenerated and stocked with bars and more dining options. It’s a friendly place, with a stripped-back pub feel, although it’s certainly dedicated fully to dining these days. The atmosphere is buzzy, tables tucked in close together, but we didn’t feel squished. And they love gutsy flavours here.

Maureen started with battered cockles, marrowfat peas and tartare sauce. Battered cockles are exactly the crunchy/salty flavour bombs you expect them to be. My starter was a sticky chunk of treacle-glazed beef shin with burnt onion puree. Satisfying combo, though the bone marrow bonbon with it wasn’t a great idea; the deep-fried crunch overwhelmed the subtle goo within.

I went all out on soft & sticky with glazed pork jowl for mains. Meltingly soft cheek, good celeriac mash, and the bitter bite of braised chicory to cut through the gooey meat. Nice dish. Maureen’s beef brisket in a soy and peanut sauce was an oddity, served on noodles with a mixture of shredded veg and sesame dressing. But I am here to tell you that it ate very well, the sauce powerful but balanced, the toasted nutty taste working well with the soft beef. The beef perhaps a tad dry, to be fair.

Peanut beef

Peanut beef

Pud was claimed as Yorkshire Parkin but this was a throughly deconstructed affair. The parkin came in the form of shards of gingery biscuit, went very well with chocolate crumb and mocha gel, and the really brave – and delicious – black mushroom ice cream. A thoroughly funky and unashamedly mushroomy taste. I’m not sure the whole dessert was more than the sum of its parts, but I did like all the parts.

I can recommend The Milestone for dinner in Sheffield, though be ready for some thoroughly OTT flavours. At £29 for 3 courses it feels about right to me.

Parkin

Parkin

Review: Etch, Brighton

Etch

Etch

Etch is not in Brighton, it’s in the neighbouring town of Hove Actually. This is an old joke. Apparently if you made the mistake of asking a resident of Hove “Are you from Brighton?” then the reply would always come back “Hove, actually” and so the town adopted that name. The impression being that Hove is the posh part. Given the sky-rocketing house prices and mass immigration of London commuters over the past couple of decades, I don’t think the joke really works any more. And certainly Brighton central is where many of the recent exciting dining options have appeared. So, nice to find Etch at the very back-end of Hove.

It’s a really handsome dining room in an inky blue colour with burnt orange leather chairs and an open kitchen. The window booths look especially inviting. Service is also friendly and modern, with chef Steven Edwards clearing plates and checking in with diners while other chefs and waiters share the work in bringing dishes forth. The wine list is short and fairly decent.

We plumped for the 7 course tasting, and kicked off after the nibbles with a very splendid bread course (and good for them, they don’t count it towards the 7 even though it was awesome!). A glossy brown marmite brioche served with a spiky green seaweed butter and crispy seaweed. The salty/ozone of the seaweed just amped up the gently yeasty marmite perfectly. No idea what kind of late night fridge raid inspired this combination, but it’s magic.

Marmite bread

Marmite bread

After this, seven courses of pretty nifty cooking, with some great ideas, good combinations, pretty plating and satisfying flavours. There’s probably a tad of finesse still lacking in places but it’s all there. Among other things…

A neat piece of hake with crispy skin, scorched leek topped with fish roe, potato cream and a bonbon of the hake offcuts. The hake just a little more cooked through than it needed, the potato cream too creamy.

Quail breast rolled in parma ham and poached to a pretty pink with quail liver tucked in the middle – and it was that intense liver that brought it all to life, along with the earthy disk of roasted celeriac underneath. Nice. Nice quail samosa alongside, too.

Textures of onion and cauliflower were good, except for the two blobs of mayonnaise that overwhelmed the great vegetal flavours of the dish. The onion and cauli also didn’t make much attempt to come together.

Doesn’t matter, the main course was the star. Nicely pink roasted rump, punky jerusalem artichoke puree, a nice pongy lift from a wild garlic pesto, and a truly splendid jerusalem artichoke dauphinoise in the middle. Good, sticky gravy. Nice heap of wilted wild garlic for balance. The cigar of braised and shredded shin was a bit overpowered and on the dry side, but I’m picking holes in an excellent plate of food.

Beef and j-choke

Beef and j-choke

Nice set of textures in the main pud, too; a crumbly honey cake, gentle honey cheesecake in an admittedly under-flavoured orange gel, neat touches of burned honey and best of all a stunningly good burnt orange ice cream. I can’t really describe the flavour beyond “wow”.

Reading back, I feel like I’ve been critical. But we had a splendid lunch, and at £60 each before drinks I reckon we’re in the right ballpark. It was splendid because everything looked great, there’s a lovely atmosphere at work, and all the dishes worked well even if I could spot some room for improvement. So that’s basically a thumbs up.

Hake

Hake

Page 1 of 5112345...102030...Last »