The second thing that we like is the wine list which, if we hadn't been driving, we could have spent more than a happy day with. At the very top end, by way of admittedly relative bargains, a Lafite Rothschild 1981 is listed at £550 while on wine-searcher.com, retailers are pricing the same bottle north of £700! Like we say, relative bargains.
Having dispensed with what we like, now let's talk about what we don't like: everything else. It is generally our preference to try the tasting menu at multi starred restaurants as we really want to get a taste of the kitchen's offerings. We've noted in the past though that at some top restaurants tasting menus can be repetitive and in one of our recent posts we stated that 'there is something of a tasting menu formula: foie gras, hand dived Scottish sea scallop, venison for winter, lamb for spring'.
We were therefore dismayed to find that in Gidleigh Park's 'Signature Menu' of eight courses, the first course is scallops, the second course is Terrine of foie gras and the main is Lamb. Yawn. The first dessert after cheese is described as Exotic fruit salad which promises a passion fruit sorbet while the second dessert is listed as Plate of apricot. This all sounds so terribly dull. And in the age of globalisation, is passion fruit really that exotic? If they really think that, this could be even more depressing than the menu has already hinted it will be. We decide to opt for the a la carte unable to face such a me too tasting menu.
A senior waitress appeared shortly after and said there had been a problem in the kitchen with our dish, the chef wasn't happy and and it was being re-plated. At 2:15, the starter finally arrived. We're just really bored by now and already thinking that the food will have to be spectacular to save the day: way too much to hope for. The starters we've ordered are: Loch Duart salmon, Oscietra caviar, salmon jelly and cucmber, honey, soy and wasabi and Greek yoghurt vinaigrettes, and the second starter is Devon quail, quail raviolo, herb puree, truffled egg yolk and quail jus.
First impression? We are astounded how the plates look: heavy handed and amateur quite frankly. Where's the light touch, where's the finesse? The quail raviolo is stuffed with both a quail mousse and chunks of quail breast rendering odd textures without additional reward. The quail eggs are cold and offer no excitement. The dish feels clumsy to us, like something a fledgling restaurant might serve chasing (unsuccessfully) its first star.
As for the Loch Duart salmon, it's a massive 'so-what'. Since arriving, we've waited over an hour for this and it's no more than salmon on a plate.The salmon nearly went for a last swim in a river of my tears. At one starred Galvin at Windows they serve a starter of Cured Loch Duart salmon, Cornish crab, avocado cream and caviar which was equally as good, better in fact. We also think back to the brilliant Lasagne of organic salmon, tiger prawn and Oscietra caviar, watercress mousse and Champagne beurre blanc at the no Michelin starred London fish restaurant One-O-One and quiver at the thought of how much better their dish was, how much cheaper and how much more caviar came with it.
Where's the magic here, again, where's the finesse? The only light touch evident seems to be with the caviar: as the third picture below shows, the salmon came with just eight beads on each piece, the caviar hardly seems worth mentioning it's so sparsely there. The plate is again over decorated as if filling up the plate with stuff will make up for the lack of a single identifiable brilliance that could otherwise carry a whole table.
We're even more surprised by the plating here. The cod looks like something Princess Beatrice might wear on her head for a royal wedding. There is simply nothing enticing about how this plate looks, it's simply piled high and covered with puree. In fact, it's off-putting. When we consider the plating finesse that went into Simon Rogan's dishes at L'enclume and Simon Hulstone's dishes at The Elephant, we find it utterly remarkable that this is the main course on a £100 a la carte menu. On tasting, the chorizo and lemon swamped any taste of cod you were hoping for providing for the same judgement on the balance of flavours as we gave for visual presentation.
The turbot dish was little better. It could hardly look more thrown onto the plate though if you tried. There has then, in two starters and two mains from the full price a la carte menu, been almost no aesthetic value to the food that's been presented to us. The turbot itself tasted good at least, though supporting ingredients including the scallops were totally underwhelming seemingly lacking a point in being there.
£100 for three courses (okay, £99 to be exact). 2 Michelin stars. This is a meal that barely (if at all) reached the level of one star in our opinion. On this leg of our tour of Britain, we got to try one Michelin star eateries Sienna and The Elephant as well as top restaurant pub The Jack in the Green. All three served us a better meal. All three presented dishes to us that we considered to be more attractively presented, offered better cleaner flavours, and delivered a simply better overall food and service experience.
Against two star rivals, in our opinion, Gidleigh Park pales in comparison to The Ledbury or Hibiscus (with their brilliant cep tart for example). Outside of London in the UK both Le Manoir and Le Champignon Sauvage were vastly better and compared to 2 star Osteria Francescana in Italy it is, forgive the cliché, night and day.
It breaks our hearts that brilliant one star restaurants in the UK like L'enclume and Apsleys are denied their second star if this, what was delivered to us today, is held in such regard by Michelin, but here of course, we're just banging our heads against the tyre wall.
So disappointing: in our view, poor service, uninspired menus, little plating skills, lazy execution; we should stop there.
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