Admittedly I am a London emigree, so my culinary norms have changed slightly, but last night's meal was easily one of the most exciting I've had in years and I strongly urge anyone who has the opportunity to go. Now.
It's a small (22 covers) conversion of a shopfront, decked out in Scandi-style with timber cladding and the exposed smoke and brimstone of the kitchen. There are only 4 members of staff: Sally and George front of house, and James Cross and his sous chef (I didn't catch the name, sorry!) at the stoves. James is a former Roux scholar who has worked at Noma and Per Se, all of which shows. The whole gang met at the Samling up the road. There is something incredibly infectious about them. A Blyton-like enthusiasm. They've just found this amazingly hidden ruin in the forest they want to show you...Tellingly, Sally and George were able to answer every single question about the food with geek-like glee.
Top points from the off for, on learning I wasn't drinking, giving me an apple/pine juice concoction. This continued with the bread. I got a bit lost with the explanation but it uses sourdough methods but made fresh every day so not quite so sour. Well, suffice to say I liked it. And the butter which had been churned to just before the butter-point so was still a bit like snow.
The philosophy is son-of-Noma, but properly understood, rather than the extraneous frills and furbelows from the hedgerows that paler imitations have been using of late. And I kinda don't mind things being served on slates here when the whole county is made of the stuff. Pricing is reasonable - around £8 for a starter and £20 for a main, although we pushed the boat out with specials and extra courses.
My starter was a special of slow roast (56 hours at 64 degrees) octopus, with nettles and pickled pine shoots. Just extraordinary. Marshmallow on the inside, char on the outside, grand. Himself had home-cured char but the star on the dish was a whey gel whose milky sharpness worked unexpectedly well with the oil of the fish. A cheeky inbetweener of another special of scallop on burnt apple with a herb which, after a 10 second delay, exploded with cucumber on the tongue. Again, top points for, when hearing we were going to share, selecting the biggest scallop so they could plate up separately at no extra cost.
For the main I felt a gastronaut obligation to have the notorious 150 (? can't remember, but the oldest currently being served publicly) day aged beef. Wow. One ticked off the bucket list. More interesting than it was pleasurable, perhaps, but an extraordinary textural and flavour combination of mouldy cheese, earth and barbour jacket. It was served with foraged hen of the woods fungus, as was the aged (but not quite so extremely!) Herdwick lamb with lettuce juice.
Afters included a restrained but exceptional cheese board, and I had an elderflower mousse with cucumber ice and blueberries. Lovely. I especially liked the micro-dice of actual cucumber in the ice which remained when the ice had melted to let the flavour linger.
All just brilliant. Their star is in the ascendancy. The ancient beef has become their calling card and I'd seen them featured in the Waitrose magazine, the Guardian and Cumbria Life brandishing it. I suppose there will be those who will venture there to try it just as a sort of culinary dare. But it is SO much more than that. They're less than a year old so probably a bit too soon for this year's San Pelligrino, but I predict they'll storm into the next one.
Just lovely food, cooked and served by people who deserve to become (and earn) stars.