Because of the lack of external influence, Eric's food reflects his character and interests, and as is the case with many self taught chefs, the food is unashamedly contemporary. For Titchwell Manor, that works out rather well, because it nicely compliments Norfolk's existing top end food scene. Down the road, Chef Galton Blackiston at Morston Hall does brilliant but more traditional food, while up the road, the starred restaurant with rooms The Neptune (not yet visited) does the modern British thing with local ingredients. It's my guess that Eric's style of food would seldom be found at either.
Recognising however that not everyone local is ready to transition to sous vide lamb over a steak or a pie (or a steak pie), there is a more traditional menu available, but what Eric got his 3 Rosettes for, and where his passion clearly lies, is his ‘Conversation Menu’, a seven course tasting menu. If seven courses sounds a little too much but you still want to taste the good stuff, a slightly shorter version (A Brief Conversation) is also available.
How do you start a conversation? Mackerel it seems, here cooked with a blowtorch and served with a bergamot miso curd, and cucumber. We know several chefs who believe that you can’t beat the rapid intense heat of a blowtorch for cooking mackerel and the miso in the dish is just one of many Asian influences within the menu. This works well overall, easing you in with nothing too risky, and quality local mackerel well cooked is always, by and large, going to be a hit with me.
"Parsley root, popcorn, Szechuan" is next and is where diner eyebrows no doubt start to be raised. A parsley root puree, some parsley root, chestnut cooked in brown butter, popcorn butter powder and some smashed popcorn together with Szechuan peppercorn will cause you to stare initially and wonder just what exactly it is. Dive in, and the overall effect is rather pleasing in fact, obviously delivering a large play on textures, but with a sweet creaminess around that textural play also; it’s a surprisingly comforting dish for such an unfamiliar construction.
It’s listed as 40 Degree C salmon on the menu though I’m sure a few people will think their food has come out cold. Of course, this is salmon sous vide and it comes with Japanese mushrooms, dashi and stonecrop. This puts me in mind of all sorts, Jason Atherton is one of the thoughts that pops in my head given the ingredient list, while stonecrop makes me think of any number of ardent forager chefs out there. It’s done well so it’s totally enjoyable, though it still amazes me somewhat that even among chefs, cooking sous vide can still raise fierce debate. I can't imagine it's so common in Norfolk however and this dish could well be a big part of any table's conversation.
Already to the main, Norfolk lamb; I would expect nothing less. Two cuts offered up, the belly, also sous vide, and the loin coated in maple. It comes with buttermilk and ground elder. People expecting Sunday roast lamb with the trimmings might be in for a surprise but this is again good stuff, Eric clearly a devotee of sous vide, gets good results from it and quite frankly, from the diners point of view, all we should care about is whether it gives satisfaction on eating, it does (even if for me, the sweet maple glazed loin was the star here).
There’s perhaps something of a theme in the menu of mixing sweet and savoury so that dishes play on the full range of your palate and the cheese course extends this nicely, bringing Brie de Meaux together with quince, custard and truffle. Just the day before, we had complimented The Square for bridging sweet and savoury with their composed Stilton dish and here we have something similar. It’s clever, and offers you something you are almost certainly never going to produce for yourself at home, which for me is a large part of why you would go to a restaurant in the first place. Not for Eric then the easy opt out of a simple cheese board: the extra effort is appreciated. Throughout the food, one detects a lot of thought, energy and effort, and you can really feel that this is a team that is pushing. Every dish also has a well thought out textural dimension.
Rhubarb sorbet with yogurt cake and burnt orange is rather too dominated by the orange, but a liquid chocolate cake is spot on and the chocolate caramel centre oozes pleasingly onto the plate as your spoon taps into it; this is faultless.
Finally, there’s a parsnip cake which I think could be a disaster, vegetables in desserts are forever in my book a wild card. However, with baked white chocolate (ice cream and shard), the slight bitterness in the parsnip works well when it's taken all together and I surprise myself by really enjoying the dessert.
There’s lots of technique in Eric’s food, lots of creative ideas and more than a few uncommon ingredients. The end result however is not frighteningly radical, rather, good plates of food that you can readily enjoy. We've already mention Jason Atherton in the post but other chefs like Matt Gillan (The Pass at South Lodge) and Paul Foster (Tuddenham Mill) strike me as a natural peer group of young dynamic chefs, doing things their way, taking risks that pay off and so properly creating a unique British food scene. Anyone who embraces contemporary food therefore will welcome the emergence of a strong new talent like Eric in that arena. With three AA rosettes recently awarded, and Eric still in his early thirties, we should all expect to hear a lot more of Eric Snaith and Titchwell Manor in the coming years.
Next stop: Hambleton Hall
Location Map for Titchwell Manor
Disclosure: we were guests of the chef