by Emma Dance
13 October 2017
Emma Dance gets her tastebuds tickled by the tasting menu at Restaurant 56
I’m often asked questions like, “What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this year?”, or “What’s your favourite restaurant?” And usually I’ll give a very non-committal response; something like, “That’s like asking someone to choose a favourite child”, or “It really depends what sort of mood I’m in.” Because I don’t like to be drawn on these types of things for a couple of reasons. 1) Often I can barely remember what I ate yesterday, let alone three months ago, and 2) chefs like Andrew Scott and Nick Bennett (the duo who run the kitchen for Restaurant 56 at Sudbury House Hotel) make it so flippin’ hard to choose!
Take, for example, the eight course tasting menu that they cooked me the other day. Just about any of the courses on it could be in the running for a ‘favourite dish’ title.
It all started with a butternut squash tartlet with Driftwood goats’ cheese. Other tartlets with similar descriptions appear on menus around the country, but I’d lay money on this particular example being one of the finest. The pastry was impossibly thin and crisp (no hint of soggy bottoms here), and although the goats’ cheese may have been light in texture its deliciously salty tang delivered a proper punch of flavour. Butternut squash gave sweetness, but scattered among the soft cubes were delicately pickled morsels, which added a hint of sharpness and just the slightest crunch to complete the whole symphony of flavours and textures.
The chicken liver parfait which came next was seriously fine. A glossy sphere contained a parfait that was silky and smooth, while the compressed melon and a melon-and-Madeira gel that came alongside brought just enough sweetness to balance the dish.
The Cornish blue lobster ravioli which followed was stuffed so full of the delicious, sweet sea-meat it looked as if it were about to burst (of course, it didn’t; the team are far too skilled for such an error!) and the rich, creamy bisque which drenched it amplified the flavours of the sea.
Blushing pink Creedy Carver duck was as soft as butter, but it was the bitter chicory, earthy beetroot, and plums that were both sweet and sour which shared the plate that really brought it alive.
They’re a considerate bunch in the kitchens, so at this point they had factored in a bit of a break in the form of a ‘London Street Detox’, which – after four courses with skilfully matched wines – seemed like just what was needed. It turned out to be a berry-flavoured kombucha (a natural probiotic drink, loaded with antioxidants) which is fermented onsite, and was living proof that something that tastes good can actually be good for you.
The cheese course was a revelation – a kind of deconstructed cheesecake made using Brinkworth Blue cheese, digestive biscuits, shavings of white chocolate, and purée and gel made from Mirabelle plums. Every mouthful was a fairground of flavours, swinging between sweet and savoury with the occasional whisper of sharpness, and I loved it. Even with my shocking memory, this is a dish that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry!
Pre-dessert (which is obvs just an excuse for two puds) was 56 Pimms Cup, but of cours e it wasn’t just a glass of the summer cocktail. It did, however, have all the flavours, with a light Pimms jelly encasing little pieces of fruit, cool freshness coming from a cucumber granita, and a cloud-like strawberry foam almost floating over it all.
The whole shebang ended with a peach mousse, crowned with a brandy snap disc, honeycomb and quenelle of apricot sorbet. The light textures and fresh, fruity flavours were a perfectly well-judged end to such a luxurious feast.
So you see, when I’m faced with meals like this, how could I ever possibly choose a favourite dish? #firstworldproblems
Restaurant 56, Sudbury House Hotel, 56 London Street, Faringdon SN7 7AA; restaurant56.co.uk