Highly end food in cosy setting (tasting menu only) at Michelin starred pub with rooms in Oldstead by Tommy Banks
The short version is that these were truly lovely dishes and was utterly enjoyable from start to finish. I could have happily sat in the bar all evening and had a plate of the sensational cheese and eel mini tartlet (in potato crisp shell) with Northern ales on hand as it was simply that memorable. A couple of other dishes caused endorphin rush. It was superb to see the young head chef leading at the helm in the open kitchen from start to finish (shielded so far from the lure of TV) and personally bringing various dishes to the tables. A couple of points only that didn’t resinate for me for this visit, but overall, experiences like this are a genuine treat when they are of this calibre in food and hospitality.
From the moment I stepped in to the bar downstairs, something told me this was going to be well done. A rosy, greeting smile, lovely bar area and no sight of the restaurant (upstairs) created intrigue and combined with one of the finest tartlet snacks I have ever had with genuine northern ale by the fire. This disolved the dramas of the four hour journey to get there such was the quality of the opening. I really can’t emphasise how good the eel, mousse-like cheese and acid crunch from the apple was and I genuinely would come in and pay double for some of these at the bar. Unfortunately, that’s the one thing that can’t be done unless you have found space to come for the whole experience. Another delicate snack of a dumpling with garlic at the base and chestnut shavings was also good.
Once sat down upstairs, it was great to see all the chefs together in the open kitchen with the Great British Menu champion and head chef Tommy Banks bringing out at least one dish to each table along with his chef de parties bringing elements out that they had made – very nice touch. It was a treat hearing from Tommy how rare things such as Oca potatoes are and their unique characteristics and it was a very light, yet bitter amuse bouche (slightly more bitter than I was expecting), but hoovered down with no problems at all. The risotto made from spelt (variety of wheat) with sweet, sweet onion and tunworth cheese (from the camembert family cultivated in Hampshire) was utterly delightful.
I loved the fact that the bread was good enough to be a course in its own right (and was offerered to be topped up throughout so full marks there) and the highly moist texture of the bread with cultured butter (rested in a cellar for 24 hours more than usual) gave the butter its interestingly sour and cheese-like quality; in essence, it was basically at the perfect half-way point bewteen butter and cheese. Next up, the slowly cooked beetroot which was smoky, salty, loveliness….and beetroot is not normally my favourite. So bravo Mr Banks for making something customarily difficult to handle, actually nice to eat.
My intolerance to molluscs made me gutted to hear that the scallop dish here is one of their signature dishes but the langoustine in its place was done as well as it could be with interesting, supportive apple and creamed sauce for balance. This was pleasing but I simply can’t put this langoustine in the same league of the The Peat Inn or at Umu. The halibut however, was a triumph. Perfectly cooked and flake-like halibut and having the fennel and salsify was something different and again, the celery was toned down beautifully and the sauce was outstanding – a dish that simply made me want to have this every day as the perfect, nutritious meal.
The venison meat was first class, pure and simple. What wasn’t as successful for me were the brussel sprout leaves and general vegetable decoration on top – it provided a fresh texture but didn’t seem to have much more in flavour to offer. The flavours were, however adequately boosted by the soft Rioja that was perfectly workable in unison. I can’t quite believe I didn’t get any snaps of the lollipops but in ascending deepness were the celery leaf and sheep’s yoghurt, chicory root and hazelnut and finally artichoke, all in chocolate ice cream-like presentation. These were different and great at the same time. The absolute star of the whole performance though was the Douglas Fir dessert and with the spectacular pine sugar on top with the freshness of the lemon verbena and cooled down with the yoghurt sorbet; this was a truly memorable dish wih flavours I have not had before and will not be forgotten.
There was a minor slip on the offer of tea which was sold as included in the price of the menu but this is actually the petit four cake that is (tea is an extra £5). However, the fact that you can easily forget you have already provided a £25 discount, the bill has less of a sting in it as a bonus as it goes down from £85 to £60 and this is actually quite a pleasing secondary effect. Other than a couple of aspects as mentioned which are always not going to get everyone, my only remaining niggle is the lack of choice and only having the tasting menu and no options for snacks or small bites at the bar (so far as I could see). However, it was great hearing Tommy explain that when you have so many freshly prepared and rare vegetables on the a la carte and not many people go for these it can add up to a distinct waste; and that’s great to know as now I understand!
So, if you can withstand the fact that you are going here for a one choice menu in a pub and forget about the ability to drop in for food quickly (with its Michelin star and well-deserved popularity you will also need to plan well ahead for here anyway), this is an exciting and stand out meal / experience within England. With its lovely design and vast acres of freshly grown vegetables (and awesome flavours) combined with nice touches along the way it is clear to me now why this is worth travelling to and I’m very pleased I did. The only remaining question I have is what are the room service food options like….something that actually might have to be done just to gain some!
Food Grade: 85%
Location (Click google logo for directions)