Stewed rabbit with lovage cream was an earthy delight, the rabbit encased in tiny balls of lightly fried tapioca, the effect being the crispiest and gentlest of rabbit croquettes. Squid, alexander and ling roe featured tender, slightly macerated pieces of squid sandwiched between feather-light crisps of ling roe: a quick, fresh explosion of the sea.
By this point we had moved, wine-wise, to a delicately honeyed Muscadet ‘Fief du Breil’ (La Louvetrie, Loire Valley, 2011) that paced the increasing depth and complexity of the menu.
The squid snack was followed by perfectly judged Scallops and peas in buttermilk served in the shell, then the arguable star of the snack flight: a mousse of savoury Winslade cheese and potato in which sat a tiny, flavourful morsel of duck heart, deliciously rich.
Cornish lobster, pickled golden beetroot, dittander and sea herbs was well paired with an unusual wine – Etna ‘Vinujancu’ (Vigneri, Sicily 2011): grown from black soil vines at the foot of Mount Etna, the smoky, almost charcoal notes of this unfiltered delight came alive against the meaty richness of the generous chunks of lobster in this course.
Surprisingly savoury was a grilled salad course: salad crisped over embers with sunflower seeds and a truffle custard, served in a beautiful, hand-carved wooden bowl and tossed to taste via a small spade and fork, also hand-carved. We shifted to reds here, beginning with Valtellina ‘Carteria’ (Sandro Fay, Lombardy 2010), made from 100% Nebbiolo, which was a firm, licoricy accompaniment.
A highlight was Hake in caramelised cabbage, potatoes in chicken fat with nasturtium: beautifully presented, the title of the dish neglects the absolutely delicious crisped chicken skin that added crunch to the firm, moist hake.
A trio of desserts finished our meal. Pineapple weed ice cream with butterscotch and celery retained strong notes of all three signature ingredients and made for a surprisingly delicate, and delicious, combination.
Less successful was Hereford strawberries with meadowsweet and linseeds: not a miss, just not a stand-out, the whole being so subtle as to practically disappear in the mouth. Sheep’s yoghurt, milk flakes, black cherries, Douglas fir – was held together solely by the last ingredient, which lifted what otherwise might have been another slightly underwhelming dessert.