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

Review: Yuzu, Manchester

Tempura

Tempura

Yuzu is a nice reminder of eating out in Japan. It’s small, three or four tables and a counter. Plainly furnished, bare wood. The menu is small too. And the food is all excellent, right down to the perfect rice with just a hint of vinegar.

There’s one tiny oddity that annoys me. If you’re sat at the counter, which most couples will be, then you eat with your face one foot from a wooden wall. You can’t see into the kitchen, the barrier is simply too high.

Leave that aside, and you’re in for a treat. We had lovely kara-age chicken with a tangy vinegary dipping sauce. Some splendid vegetable tempura, with a beautifully light and crisp batter, the veg cut expertly so that it was exactly the right level of al dente once fried. I haven’t had tempura this good since Japan. We have the black cod set for main course. The rice is good as mentioned, so is the miso soup. The black cod is a superb and slippery piece of fish, the teriyaki sauce to pour over it just deep in flavour and delicious. Top notch.

It works out under £20 for a starter and a set, basically excellent value. Just try getting a table instead of the counter.

The view at Yuzu

The view at Yuzu

Review: Where The Light Gets In, Stockport

WTLGI

WTLGI

This is a restaurant that seems to polarise reviewers. I’m going to cut to the chase: my experience of Where The Light Gets In was in the “meh” category.

Yes, it’s achingly hip. The chairs are plain wood, no cushion, Scandi minimalist. Beards are prominent. In all this I agree with other reviewers. But then other reviewers typically go on to say “…but this is still the most exciting meal I’ve had all year” and that makes it all alright. Whereas I’ve had a small handful of meals recently that I’ve enjoyed more than WTLGI. Mind you, the smoked eel amuse bouche was exceptional. And the dining room and service are both strikingly welcoming!

Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the cooking is absolutely superb. I could call out the wonderfully cloud soft piece of cod, as white as snow and soft as silk. No-one could better that. Or the buttery dollop of celeriac that they’d wisely resisted pureeing. It’s about 200% celeriac. I think they’ve probably just gone a bit far in stripping it all back.

Cod

Cod

The flavour profiling here is deeply of-the-earth organic. It’s not meant to fizz & zing, or theatrically wow, or lusciously indulge, or take you on any crazy culinary journey. It’s meant to elicit a quiet grunt of satisfaction. Buttermilk ice cream and blood orange granita. I’ve had buttermilk ice cream before, but never wearing its sour farmyard lacticity so proudly on its sleeve. Hrnn. See? That’s a quiet grunt of satisfaction.

I can see why it divides reviewers. The main course exemplifies it. A slice of lovingly cured pork with a pronounced tang of fennel, soft and chewy and everso honest. Served with accompaniments in three little shared bowls: the aforementioned celeriac, some red cabbage, and grain mustard. Small bowls for four diners, we all had to be super-careful not to take more than our share. Nice mustard but… well, nice mustard. The celeriac was wizard. The red cabbage? Was some red cabbage.

Pork

Pork

The wine pairing took up the same theme. Lovely local beer to start. Then two biodynamic white wines of the “cloudy farmyard” variety, neither of which were any good (it’s not often I actually leave half a glass of wine!). The final three wines were great though, including a lovely biodynamic red from the Loire.

My conclusion is going to be a collaboration. Because I know and trust some of the critics who have enjoyed their “best ever X” at WTLGI, and I don’t imagine for a moment they’re mistaken. And even the photos on their blogs look more appetising than the menu we had. So what I think is this: if you’re going to have a frequently changing menu and you’re determined to push boundaries and you’re still in your first year, well, then I guess you’re not going to hit the high notes every night. And we maybe got unlucky. £75 each before drinks is either going to be money well spent or a bit of a waste, depending what you get.

I’m going to end by calling out the excellent service, though! The young team here love what they’re doing, and look after their guests superbly. I hope WTLGI only gets better from here on out.

Welcome

Welcome

Review: Hambleton Hall, Oakham

Hambleton Hall

Hambleton Hall

Fine dining has evolved a lot. And so it’s lovely sometimes to rock up at a country house hotel in the middle of nowhere, be settled by the fire and brought champagne, then taken through to a high-ceilinged dining room, seated at a white linen clad table, and served superb food and good wine by a highly polished but very friendly team of pros.

There’s no punchline, that’s just what Hambleton Hall has been doing for years, and is still doing brilliantly by my reckoning. Of course, it helped that the temperature outside was -5, that there was snow blanketing the fields and the lane we had to pad down with torches from our nearby pub B&B was treacherous with giant lake-sized puddles. That just made the arrival more cosy. Shout out to the Finch’s Arms; comfy rooms and good breakfast, if you can’t afford to splurge on a room at the Hall!

Smoked eel terrine

Smoked eel terrine

Getting back to dinner. Maureen’s starter was a terrine of beetroot and smoked eel, with a scoop of delightfully creamy horseradish sorbet. The terrine was a triumph, two flavours that go incredibly well together given over in a generous quantity that was as light as it was moreish. My starter, a fricasse of morels with a poached egg set on a punky garlic sauce that had been foamed up, was as richly pleasing as you’d expect. Still, Maureen won the starters.

We both went for hare wellington next, which just goes to show how brilliantly discerning we are. Because this was a monstrously good plate of food. Seriously, I am beyond words. Perfect pastry, perfect hare, perfect gravy, and a perfect rich hare ragu on the side. The veg was good too. But that wellington! I hereby declare that I could eat hare wellington every day until I keel over and die happy.

Hare wellington

Hare wellington

Pud we also both went for quince and honey souffle with caramelised almond ice cream. I cannot resist quince, even though I’m so often disappointed when overzealous cooking destroys that delicate, ephemeral perfume. Needn’t have worried, this souffle was perfumed to the max and the funk of honey is a really smart flavour to pair with it. I also want a lot more caramelised almond ice cream in my life.

And then we retired to the lounge for coffee and petit fours, as you do.

They looked after us beautifully at Hambleton Hall, and at £73 for the 3 course menu that counts as great value for the whole experience. The puddles and the cold couldn’t faze us on the totter back to our B&B, we had hare wellington to sustain us!

Moresl

Morels

Review: The Larder, Nottingham

The Larder

The Larder

I seldom order steak. Not because I don’t like steak. I do like steak. But I also like an interesting plate of food, an unusual vegetable, an exciting accompaniment, an inventive sauce. And yet no matter how wonderful and inventive the rest of a restaurant’s menu looks, the steak is always served with a f*cking side salad and chips. Every. Bloody. Time. Steak is clearly universally accepted as “the safe option” or “what unimaginative diners order” and so I seldom order steak. Sigh.

So how about the steak at The Larder? Well… yeah, f*cking side salad and chips! But never mind, because Maureen ordered it instead of me. And it was a stunning piece of meat, beautifully seared. I got to scoff some because my beloved can never quite get through a whole main course. And yet I also got to enjoy some gnarly haggis with champ, charred spring onions, and a peppy puddle of grain mustard gravy. So, double win.

Mackerel

Mackerel and kimchi

Our starter was a fillet of mackerel, the skin scorched until it had bubbled up to crispy goodness. Served on top of a stack of unabashed kimchi, gutsy and funky. I think I’ve done the mains, yeah? The steak really was the star of the show – an obscure cut, labelled as “spider steak” but that doesn’t seem to match what I find when I google it. The cut Maureen got was as soft and yielding as fillet, but with a very close-grained texture almost more like venison, almost livery. Mmmm.

Pudding was a green tea posset with a cardamom biscuit. Okay, so a posset is always going to be odd without the acidity of citrus to balance is, but this actually worked well; the usual sweetness toned down. The little shortbread biscuit had a good hint of cardamom in it.

Good wine list. We found a splendid Burgundy in the bin-ends, lucky us. And the bill of £26 for 3 courses before drinks is really good value, in particular the steak which is only a few quid more than the other mains.

Haggis

Haggis

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