The menu is, to my mind, modern British with a twist. Most dishes seem to have some sort of pickled element, and although I was drawn to 'Variations of garlic soup: cultivated, wild & fermented', the idea of goat bacon was too tempting to pass up. Especially 'goat bacon, burnt chicory, pickled root, apple balsamic, coriander crackling, jerk oil & parsley ferment'. This was not a pithy menu, but rather ingredient-heavy, a listing of parts.
My dish arrived on an enormous plate, a pretty pile of vegetables centre stage. Goat bacon tasted of lamb, slightly salty and tender. Bitter slivers of chicory blushed pink on the plate, tempered by a sweet onion jam. Sharp bursts of a pickled root (I'm not sure what) completed the sweet, bitter and savoury balances, though I couldn't taste much jerk in the oil. I'm not sure I missed it much.
Ham hock broth with a poached egg was perfectly clear and poured table-side. Any notion that perhaps soup wasn't fitting for the weather was put to one side; with the rainbow chard, lovage 'crackling' and parsley, it was Spring in a bowl.
Then, we waited. We waited and waited and waited. Perhaps if we had a bottle of wine to while away the time over, and we didn't have anywhere to be, we might have been ok. But we sipped on our fizzy elderflowers and was tapped our feet impatiently, glancing furtively at the door to the garden. Almost 45 minutes later, our mains arrived.
My 'butter-poached pollack with nettle, fondant potato, purple sprouting broccoli, pickled samphire, squid ink & fondant potato' was another pretty dish. The poached fish was firm and pearlescent, the meat flaking away densely. I had expected it to be very rich due to its poaching liquor, but instead the dish was light and bright. The vibrant green nettle sauce and the black squid ink gave the (again enormous) plate some drama, while incredibly brittle fish skin shards, the best kind of fishy crisps, gave a little texture contrast. The potato was sweet and fudgy, crisp on the outside, and I wished for more. I loved this dish very much. A side dish of sauerkraut (have I mentioned I love pickles?) had the tang of lactic fermentation, a method of pickling that uses the natural bacteria in the vegetable to preserve, rather than the quick-fix of vinegar.
Somerset goat came in the form of meatballs and a cylinder of slow-cooked meat. The spheres were shot through with herbs, fork-tender yet sturdy. Rainbow chard, pickled pear and artichoke crisps made up the vegetable components, while burnt onion and apple balsamic sauced the dish. We neglected any carby sides and this was the perfect size for lunch in the sunshine.
So obviously we wanted dessert. The Montezuma brownie with salt and pepper ganache was as decadent as it sounds. A crisp, sugary crust gave way to an almost-liquid inside of obviously high-quality chocolate. The scoop of malted barley ice cream we ordered seperately suited it so perfectly I wondered why they weren't served together. Though I couldn't taste any pepper in the ganache, its saltiness was just the right foil against the sweetness of the brownie. I fail to remember what the orange blobs are.
After having spent just under 2.5 hours having lunch, we were keen to get going so we paid the not insubstantial (£70 for 2, booze-less) bill inside, where we could get someone's attention. The waiting staff were nice enough when they were around, but the restaurant was full and they were hard to find. No real harm done, but had the service been on top form, it would have been a damn near perfect lunch.
Barley Wood Walled Garden